This week’s was the 64th and last Criticwire Survey by yours truly. Last fall, right around Thanksgiving, I took a friend’s suggestion and answered every single Survey question to that point in a single post. Now it’s time for Round 2. The critics put themselves out there answering these questions — and often received quite a bit of criticism themselves as a result. It’s only fair that I should have to do the same.
They were an enormous time suck, but I’ve really loved doing these surveys. I’m going to miss them. I hope the next Criticwire editor keeps them going — and invites me to contribute.
Matt Answers Every Other Criticwire Survey Question
“Assuming they don’t already have them, you can’t go wrong with any of Roger Ebert’s ‘Great Movies‘ books. They perform two services: providing hours of entertainment and illumination, and suggesting all kinds of movies to watch that you’ve likely never seen before. I like to lather, rinse, repeat it: essay, movie, essay again, movie again…”
“For 2012, I would have said Denis Lavant from ‘Holy Motors,’ who gave all 11 of the year’s best performances.”
“I would say critics, audiences, and even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences overrated ‘Searching For Sugar Man,’ a fairly tepid telling of an admittedly remarkable story. By structuring his entire film as a mystery — one that was readily spoiled by nearly all of the marketing and publicity — Malik Bendjelloul essentially sapped all the human drama out of it; the one guy you want to hear speak is the one guy you hear from the least. For a far more interesting and emotionally resonant take on a very similar subject matter, watch the recent documentary “A Band Called Death.”
“Richard Brody’s ‘The Movies Aren’t Dying (They’re Not Even Sick)” leapt immediately to mind.”
“Although I’ve really grown to think of ‘Death Proof’ as Tarantino’s most underrated — and perhaps, from an auteurist perspective, most important — work, I still don’t know how the answer to this question is anything but ‘Pulp Fiction.’ How can it be anything else? No, seriously: how?”
December 31: What’s your most anticipated movie of 2013?
“I gotta say, I didn’t end up liking it very much, but I was reeeeeeally excited for ‘Pain & Gain.’ But that would still have been #2 behind Adam McKay and Will Ferrell’s ‘Anchorman: The Legend Continues.’ God, I hope that’s good.”
January 7: In cases where a film is based on a book — like “Gangster Squad,” opening this Friday and based on a book by Paul Lieberman — do you prefer to read the book before seeing the movie, or avoid the book until after you’ve reviewed it?
“I’m on the record on national television saying this: if you’ve made a good movie, you’ve made a good adaptation. And generally, I’d rather go into a movie cold and let the movie be its own thing for that very reason. Afterwards, I may go back and read the book — but generally I won’t go out of my way to read something when I know it’s coming soon to a theater near me.”
“The hardest question out of all these surveys. I loved ‘Terminator 2’ as a kid — as you probably have guessed if you’ve ever read one of the 18,000 articles I’ve written about Arnold Schwarzenegger — but without ‘Terminator 1’ there is no ‘Terminator 2.’ And as good as ‘T2’ is, and as well as its special effects have held up over the years, I think I’d now give the edge to ‘The Terminator.’ ‘T2’ is fun, but the whole killbot learning to be a good dude is kinda dumb. ‘The Terminator’ is scary, exciting, romantic, and something about that impossible time loop just seems so poetic and sad to me now.”
“Has ‘Anvil! The Story of Anvil‘ gotten enough attention and acclaim? The correct answer is no.”
“Have you ever seen ‘The Sting II?’ Exactly. It’s not amusingly bad like ‘Staying Alive’ or ‘Batman & Robin.’ Just horribly, terribly, devastatingly, tediously awful. And ‘The Sting’ is one of my all-time favorites. To sully that movie’s memory with such a pathetic knock-off feels borderline criminal.”
February 4th: What is Steven Soderbergh’s best film?
“My wife and a few friends recently watched ‘Out of Sight‘ at our apartment. I was in my office doing work and I went out to the living room to ask my wife a question, and saw they were watching it. It had just started. I watched the introduction. Then I went back to work. Then about a half hour later, I went back with another question and watched a few more scenes. Then I realized I was inventing excuses just to sneak more peeks at this now (gulp) fifteen year old film that I’ve seen at least two dozen times. So that’s my answer.”
“I do — sometimes. At a film festival, if I feel strongly about something (and particularly strongly positive), I’ll tweet something, mostly in the hope that other people at the festival will be encouraged to seek out the film and cover it themselves. What I don’t do, and what I think some critics are far too quick to do, is tweet something before they’ve fully made up their minds about it. I don’t think a tweet along the lines of ‘I don’t know what I just saw!’ is particularly useful.”
“The critics had a ton of great suggestions for this question, including Best Stuntwork, Best Opening Credits, and Best Comedy. But I’ll echo the sentiments of Andreas Stoehr and others who argued that the Academy most needs an award for Best Soundtrack or Best Adapted Score. The use of existent music in films is as or more important than the use of original music, and yet there’s no award that honors it.”
“Well, it’s tough to guess about something after it’s over. Looking back over the list of nominees, I probably would have said the biggest surprise would have been that Robert De Niro would not win the Best Supporting Actor award, as many were predicting. I would have been right about that — but wrong about who would have won in his place. I’d have guessed Tommy Lee Jones and not the eventual winner, Christoph Waltz.”
“The Maysles Brothers’ “Gimme Shelter,” about the Rolling Stones and their doomed concert at the Altamont Speedway. The film contains some of the most incredible live performance footage of the period, but what really sets it apart is the fact that the Maysles managed to capture the chaos and even a glimpse of the murder that occurred at Altamont, and that they convinced the Rolling Stones to sit down and view the footage and let them film their reactions to it. The juxtaposition of their larger than life personalities before Altamont and their devastated faces afterwards tell an incredible story about the end of the 1960s.”
“God these are hard questions. Who writes these things? I don’t even know that I have a favorite director, let alone a least favorite movie by them. I guess I’ll just go with an immediate gut reaction and say “Topaz,” by Alfred Hitchcock. I’ve tried to watch it several times, and I don’t know if I’ve ever gotten all the way through it.”
“I love ‘Sleepless Night,’ but I would still vote for ‘Speed,’ the ‘Die Hard’-in-a-bus whose simple premise and massive success probably inspired almost as many ‘Die Hard’ knock-offs as ‘Die Hard’ itself. It’s just one of those rare Hollywood productions where everything worked: the chemistry of the stars (a very muscular Keanu Reeves, a very young Sandra Bullock, and a very villainous Dennis Hopper), the cleverness of the premise, that goddamn bus jumping that gap in the overpass.”
“I don’t know if ‘dislike’ it, but I might be the only film critic on the planet who doesn’t worship at the altar of ‘Blade Runner.’ I’ve watched at least three different versions of the film, and while I greatly admire parts of it — particularly the production and the incredible atmosphere — I’ve never fully fallen in love. But I’ll keep trying. Like George Costanza says, ‘It’s not you; it’s me.'”
“This may be stretching the boundaries of what is considered a dud (it grossed $215 million worldwide in 1989), but I totally reject the consensus belief held by most of my peers (and Bill Murray) that ‘Ghostbusters II’ is a disaster. It’s no ‘Ghostbusters I’ but it’s still a totally solid sequel. And it’s almost as quotable as the first movie (‘Being miserable and treating other people like dirt is every New Yorker’s God-given right.’). The only reason to look forward to a “Ghostbusters III” is for the resultant wave of pieces that finally reevaluate ‘Ghostbusters II’ as a solidly entertaining movie.”
“Again, who writes these things? They’re too hard. I have to go with an essay from The Great Movies, simply because that series has meant so much to me over the years and I’ve read and reread the essays in all three volumes so many times. At the new RogerEbert.com, the Great Movies section now lists all 300+ titles on a single page in reverse chronological order. The first essay, from September 15th, 1996, was “Casablanca.” I’ll choose that not only its great prose and insights (‘What is intriguing is that none of the major characters is bad. Some are cynical, some lie, some kill, but all are redeemed.’) and for starting one of the greatest film criticism series in history.”
April 15: Aliens invade earth and announce their plan to destroy the entire planet — unless we show them a movie that proves our culture has value to the universe. What movie do you pick to justify our existence?
“‘Ghostbusters II!’ Kidding, kidding. Well, you can’t just show them a good movie; in my mind, it has to be a good movie with some sort of redeeming message about the value of human life or society. Which is a problem because most great movies are about horrible things and people and most movies with uplift are pure schmaltz (hopefully these aliens have middlebrow tastes). I guess I would pick ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ It presents a beautiful dream of a meaningful American life and, as a bonus, I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t cried at the end of it. Maybe if we can get the aliens feeling sentimental, they’ll be merciful.”
“Martin Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas.'”
“Super-hero division: ‘The Dark Knight.’ Non-super-hero division: ‘Art School Confidential.'”
“The most popular responses in this poll were Rian Johnson and Sarah Polley. Based on the quality of both of their last two films, I see no reason to stray from consensus.”
“‘Ghostbusters II!’ Kidding, kidding. Having just rewatched it for my interview with Mel Brooks, I’ll say ‘Spaceballs,’ which I watched endlessly as a child — we’re talking wore-out-a-VHS-tape endlessly — and which I could easily watch just as endlessly as a man-child. On the flip side, it may not have been truly ‘beloved,’ but I can remember dragging my parents to the theater to watch ‘Problem Child.’ Don’t ask me why. Having just rewatched that film as well, I would like to formally apologize to my parents for the grief I caused them as a kid. I am so very sorry.”
“Jacques Tati’s ‘Playtime‘ is one of my very favorite movies, and I own it on DVD. But I never bought it on Blu-ray — because watching it at home, even on a decent HDTV, doesn’t convey the greatness of the movie. For that, you need to watch it on the big screen — preferably in 70mm, where Tati’s incredible deep focus photography can best be appreciated. Generally, I would recommend seeing any movie at home — even on your computer — over not seeing it at all. But not ‘Playtime.’ See it big or not at all.”
“Maybe a better choice for Veterans Day than Memorial Day, but I’d still recommend ‘The Best Years of Our Lives,’ an Oscar winner for Best Picture in 1947, and beloved by older generations but still widely unknown an unseen by younger critics and cinephiles (I only saw it for the first time myself about two years ago). Again, it’s about veterans returning from World War II rather than those who laid down their lives to protect our freedom — but I don’t know a movie that better portrays the physical and mental toll of war than this one.”
“Akira Kurasawa’s ‘Ran,’ which turns theatrical fireworks into a cinematic spectacle.”
“He’d be a rising star executive at Paramount Pictures.”
“Kent Jones’ piece on ‘Hiroshima, mon amour‘ is pretty incredible, providing just right blend of historical context and criticism. I also love Roger Ebert on ‘Do the Right Thing,’ George Plimpton on ‘Tokyo Olympiad,’ and Michael Sragow on ‘A Night to Remember.'”
“There’s a lot of valuable advice in this week’s survey, so I would say first of all read this week’s answers and observe how many people say you need to write every day and read constantly. Then I would add a simple note of practical advice: emailing an editor you admire out of the blue and asking for a job doesn’t work. A much smarter and more effective tactic is to approach an editor or an outlet or a critic with a specific piece you want to write. Instead of screaming ‘Give me a job!’ say ‘Give me a chance to write this one thing’ — and be ready to share lots of clips to show why they should. So learn the art of the pitch. You will need it.”