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David Poland

By David Poland

A Promise & No Delivery…

Sorry about that… my regular computer is being fixed, the holiday has been a holiday and I spent yesterday’s blogging time writting something so long that it didn’t really fit the blog.

But here is the start of it and a link and maybe you’ll find something worth fighting about…

Why Some Opinions Mean More Than Others

One has to wonder whether the editors at the New York Times sat down in a meeting a couple of weeks ago and decided, "Let’s fuck with the Oscars," but reading this Sunday’s movie section, you wonder how it all came together if they did not.

First, there is the most sincere piece of the lot, is by A.O. Scott and is headlined, "The Most Overrated Film of the Year." The target is Sideways. And although the text of the piece is a lot less incendiary than the headline (something happening more frequently at the Times, as headlines go headhunting in a way that suggests more Murdoch than Rosenthal), it smacks of campaigning.

Tony "A.O." Scott has grown into the job in significant ways in the last few years. Actually being a film critic, when you care about it, does help you become a real film critic… especially when you are bright as Scott. Of course, there are still moments when you get the feeling he’d still prefer to be reading instead of watching, but they are becoming fewer and fewer between. In any case, the real battle for Best Picture seems to be shaping up to be Sideways vs. Million Dollar Baby, with The Aviator and whatever other two films are nominated as potential spoilers.

Do I have to tell you which film Tony Scott had at the top of his Top Ten this year?

The rest…

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29 Responses to “A Promise & No Delivery…”

  1. L&DB says:

    The critical response to this, Lifetime movie with men, has
    to have some deeper reasoning behind it. There were
    better performances in just about every other
    film critics loved. Better directing, writing, cinematography,
    but we the moviegoing public are supposed to believe
    you, the critics, that this is the best? For what
    reason are we to believe you?
    When one of the better critics, even if he loved
    the film, starts questioning the rest of you. There
    apparently has to be something MORE to this film’s
    adulation. I am glad I am not alone in thinking
    that the love for this film shows a particular
    precuity in the thinking of critics. A thinking
    that has become more aggrevating when you look
    at year end list and most of the films are depressing
    to the nines. A beleagured lot critics seem to
    So I give AO Scott some props for at least putting
    this out there. It’s a worthy question that should
    be asked because the critics of this continent are
    forcing this average film on a moviegoing public
    that a film like this was never really made for.

  2. Joe Leydon says:

    Even though I’ve come to think of A.O. Scott as one of the very best film critics working for a U.S. newspaper, I don’t agree with his take on “Sideways.” Still, I think he raises an interesting point: The overwhelming majority of A-List (in terms of influence, status and accomplishment) film critics working in the US today are middle-aged white guys. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that most of the B- and C-listers — hell, even D-listers, like me — also are MAWGs. (It’s quite a change since the ’60s and ’70s, when you could argue that Pauline Kael and Judith Crist were as well known as, if not MORE well known than,their male peers.) And, yes, I would agree that many of us felt shocks of recognition while watching “Sideways.” It’s one thing to see a picture and think, “My God, I know that guy!” But it’s something else to see a picture and think, “My God, I AM that guy!” Don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying you MUST be a MAWG to love (or fully appreciate)”Sideways.” But I am saying that quality may not be the ONLY reason why this terific movie is receiving near-universal acclaim.
    P.S. I define “middle-aged” as 40 and up. But I would concede that, since 36 is the median age of the U.S. population, according to the most recent Census figures I’ve seen, you could just as easily make 37 your cut-off point.

  3. viktor says:

    I was waiting for your reaction: thx for keeping up with my (now very high) expectations!
    BTW happy and fulfilling 2005!

  4. JT says:

    Ok, a few days ago, I saw Sideways for the very first time. I live in a small midwest town and i had to drive 300 miles round trip to see the flick (I also saw Kinsy for the first time that day, too) and I think it is just about the best thing that I have seen so far at the movies.
    I read Scott’s piece in the Times yesterday morning and while I don’t believe the film is overrated at all (the quiet grace of the film, outside the huge laughs is what gives it its resonance), I understand where Scott is comning from.
    Last year, when Lost in Translation was big, I and most of my friends, in fact, almost every person i spoke to, thought that film ws severely overpraised, though we all loved Bill Murray. I could see why critics loved it, though, cause they must’ve identified with this middle aged doughy guy, adrift not only in a foriegn land but also in his own life.
    I think I agree with you, Dave. Maybe they do sit around and try to create some press just to stir things up. I like A.O. Scott and the other critics at the Times, but in this case, they won’t be able to stop the train.

  5. alkali says:

    D.P. writes:
    “The third group of Best Actor winners in the last 20 years are the Over 50s – Duvall, Newman, Hoffman, Hopkins, Pacino, and Nicholson – every one so veteran that you don’t need a first name to identify them and, most likely, you can recall what characters they played in their wins.”
    Actually, with the exception of Hopkins, remembering the character they won for isn’t that easy. Remembering the character(s) they should have won for is easier.

  6. bicycle bob says:

    hes doing exactly what he wanted to. to get attention and cause a stir by bashing the little film that far and away is the best of the year. smart move by him

  7. Geek, Esq. says:

    This isn’t your best stuff, DP.
    Scott is someone who enjoyed the film, but who disagrees with the critical consensus that Sideways is one of the greatest, if not THE greatest, achievements in the history of cinema.
    Being a dissenter does not make one part of a cynical conspiracy. He’s just pointing out the the emperor is wearing no clothes–in other words, that critics as a group share biases and can be manipulated as such.
    “Do I have to tell you which film Tony Scott had at the top of his Top Ten this year?”
    Do we have to tell you which film Manohla Dargis has at the top of her Top Ten this year? Or where Sideways lies relative to M$B on your own list?
    Also, you need to step outside of Critics’ World when it comes to the Oscars–the idea that the race is between Million Dollar Baby and Sideways is completely absurd. No film with as little mainstream appeal as these two has won Best Picture in my lifetime, and I suspect ever.
    The Oscar race is NOT about those two films, and any attempt to view it through that flawed prism will render the subsequent analysis plainly erroneous, as is the case here.

  8. Josh Massey says:

    That’s a great point, alkali – I thought the same thing while reading it. I mean, when you think of Robert Duvall, do you really think of “Tender Mercies?” Same thing with Paul Newman and “The Color of Money,” or Al Pacino with – shudder – “Scent of a Woman.” A good number of people would remember Dustin Hoffman and “Rain Man,” but how many remember that Tom Cruise should have taken home Best Actor that year and wasn’t even nominated?

  9. jjo says:

    Thank God A.O. Scott had the courage to buck the “herd of wimps” trend that critics are following in championing a movie as bland and pointless as “Sideways”. Why this movie is getting so much attention is beyond me. It is a badly-shot, anemically-directed story about two goofs who have surrendered their power to women at the beginning of the story, then surrender their power to women in the middle of the story, and in case that’s not enough, they surrender their power to women at the end of the story: as characters, they go absolutely nowhere! It is a movie about weaklings, made for weaklings. And what’s with the split-screen travelogue stuff in the middle; would someone tell Payne that visuals like that went out with bellbottoms.

  10. bicycle bob says:

    went out with bell bottoms? did bell bottoms ever go out of style?
    some people win for all the wrong roles/movies. its like the academy realizes their error and rewards them for crap.
    watch marty s win for the aviator this year

  11. Stella's Boy says:

    Isn’t there also an element of people enjoying going against the vast majority? Having fun being the lone dissenter? Sideways is not my favorite movie of the year, but it is easily in my top 10. I’d say the same about Lost In Translation last year. It seems that suddenly it becomes cool and trendy to say you hate them and don’t understand all the hype. Of course some people genuinely dislike them, and they’re not wrong. But I do think some just enjoy hating what’s popular, for kicks.

  12. David Poland says:

    A couple of points…
    One, I don’t think that winning the majority of critics awards says that the film is the best film ever made. In fact, I doubt you could find a single critic in any group who thinks that it is the best film ever made and I doubt you will find more than one or two who would put it in their Top Ten All Time. That is one of my points. You – and Tony – are living in “critics world” if you make that leap.
    Second, it is unlikely that there will be a $100 million movie in this year’s race… unless one of the nominees takes off. So does it have to be F9/11? If The Aviator does $90 million, does that make it a lock? How do you know what Million Dollar Baby’s commercial appeal is? So could you be more specific about your call there, Geek, Esq?
    Seems to me that there are currently three leaders and you named two of them. Aviator is three. Of course, I keep saying, whatever two others get in, the real race this year will be after nominations. Yes… anyone can win. Box office will be in play. There is lots of room for almost anything to happen. No? Please be specific and affirmative, not just negative.

  13. bicycle bob says:

    i was under the assumption the academy awards were about best pictures, best this and that, etc. not about getting over this 100 million plateau.
    van helsing did over a 100. should be make room for it on the best picture list because sideways and eternal sunshine and the aviator etc won’t get over 100?

  14. Stella's Boy says:

    Theoretically, the Academy Awards are supposed to honor the best, but is that ever the case?

  15. Mark says:

    I would hope so. I would pray they didn’t just reward box office. Thats for the Golden Globes.

  16. Stella's Boy says:

    I certainly don’t believe that the Academy recognizes the five best films of the year. Chicago was the best movie of 2002? Please. Not even in the top 20. It’s not as bad as the Golden Globes, but there is much room for improvement.

  17. Joe Leydon says:

    Something to consider: The Academy wants high ratings for the Oscarcast. And the best way to make sure people watch is to nominate movies that many, many people have a rooting interest in. Might that have at least a tiny influence on the voting?

  18. PeppersDad says:

    Joe Leydon –
    That’s an interesting theory, but I do not think it’s a credible one. Unless you’re accusing the Academy of stuffing its own ballot box, I cannot imagine any member being the slightest bit influenced by concern for the show’s ratings. While I do believe voting choices may be overly affected by the Weinsteins, I don’t think they’re in any way affected by the Nielsens.

  19. Josh Massey says:

    My own personal “favorite of the year” and Oscar’s Best Picture haven’t been the same title in over a decade (“Schindler’s List”).

  20. Joe Leydon says:

    Pepper, I would hope you’re right. On the other hand, Academy members surely are aware of what does or doesn’t attract a big audience for its Oscarcast. And they have a vested interest in making sure the numbers are high, since the fee paid by ABC for telecast rights doubtless is affected by audience size. Consider this: In 1997, “The English Patient” was the big winner, but drew the smallest Oscarcast audience ever. However, one year later, “Titanic” — the highest-grossing film of all time — was the runaway winner and attracted the show’s biggest crowd ever. Once again: I’m not saying ratings will be the ONLY influence, or even the MAJOR influence. But… Let’s put it like this: Everytime there’s a golf tournament on TV, I’m sure the PGA officials hope Tiger Woods makes it to the final round.

  21. PeppersDad says:

    Joe Leydon-
    I don’t disagree at all that Academy members sometimes root for box-office success stories, especially high-risk ones like Titanic. The avalanche of nominations and awards bestowed on Return of the King is further proof positive of that, and Oscar ratings were way up last year as well. So I grant you that there is probably a cause-and-effect relationship between the nomination of blockbusters and high ratings for the Oscar telecast. But that’s not the same as saying that a nomination/vote for a blockbuster is ever consciously (or even unconsciously) entered to boost the show’s Nielsens. If that were the case, I doubt Miramax could have become such a regular, high-profile presence on Oscar night.
    Then again, your original statement was that it might have “a tiny influence” on voting. Anything can have a tiny influence, I suppose.

  22. Mark says:

    Oscar ratings are not predicated on the movies that are nominated. They tend to get the same ratings every year. The host matters more than if Julia Roberts wins or Judi Dench. I would like to think box office plays no part in voting.

  23. Geek, Esq. says:

    I don’t believe anyone is faulting anyone for their individual opinions on the film. The point is that the OVERALL critical reception for this film–with it winning seemingly every category at every major critics group–is overblown. Is it really possible that this film is that far superior to every other film in every major (acting, writing, directing) category?
    Of course not. The point is that it is getting the unanimous adulation normally reserved for films like Schindler’s List. Hence the overrated claim–no individual critic would put it in that league, but collectively that is just what they have done.
    As far as “critcs world” and box office are concerned, it seems that you are looking past the need for a BP winner to have mainstream appeal. That, I believe, is the operative factor behind the undeniable correlation between box office and winning the Oscar BP. The ONLY objective reason (i.e. not based on anecdotal word of mouth) to think that M$B and Sideways are the two big dogs is to go by critical reception.
    As far as box office success is concerned, The Aviator made more in its second week than Sideways has made in its entire nine week theatrical run. That is a giant red flag as to which film enjoys greater mainstream appeal.
    Regarding M$B, I don’t know where it will wind up. My take is that still has to prove that it has significant mainstream appeal. It could prove me wrong and do very, very well, but we won’t know until then.
    In short, mainstream appeal to ordinary moviegoers is more important to picking a BP winner (though not a nominee) than is a film’s success in winning critics awards. And it is plainly clear that The Aviator trumps Sideways in the former by a good margin.

  24. bicycle bob says:

    lets compare shall we. aviator has a huge box office star and the best director of the last 30 years. sideways has pig vomit and the guy who had to watch take after take of kathy bates naked. who would have thought it would even be a contest in box office?

  25. Barry says:

    Box office, who knows, but critics groups and academy members like the underdog. if Napoleon Dynamite can do $45 million, I suspect Sideways will manage at least that much.

  26. Mark says:

    How does Napoleon not get a best actor award? Genuis performance. Who else could have played him? Honestly. Vote 4 Pedro.

  27. Stella's Boy says:

    I’m pulling for Napoleon Dynamite to get a few Razzie nominations. Seriously, one of the most overrated movies in years. Painfully bad.

  28. Dan R% says:

    While I did enjoy ‘Sideways’, and would rate in no. 3 in terms of 2004 films I have seen (have yet to see the two big question marks: ‘Hotel Rwanda’ & ‘M$B’). Yet I wouldn’t be rushing to put it in the same class as ‘Schindler’s List’ and I’m not sure that the Academy will be doing the same either. Let’s face it, no matter what, the Academy is more likely to pick the epic over the small movie these days. This isn’t the small movie era anymore. ‘American Beauty’ was an anomoly. In fact all five movies of that year were smaller movies – even if the Green Mile did take a few hours to tell it’s essentially an intimate character study. Since then it’s been a lot of epics with (for the most part) strong character performances.
    So yeah, the Academy likes a certain type of film as of late, and ‘The Aviator’ is that type of film for me. Of course after crowning Rings last year for all of its lovely excess and glory, perhaps the voters will want to go with either SW or M$B, but for some reason I doubt that’ll happen…and if it does? Well then all bet’s are off…Still I saw the Online Critics nominations, and with the exception of Garden State (favorite easy going movie for me but not in the ranks of the other 4), and I had a glimmer of hope…maybe that’ll be the Oscar BP Noms…I can dream.

  29. Mark says:

    When did Schindlers List become Citizen Kane? And I’m Jewish.

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