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by Indiewire
December 23, 2007 8:18 AM
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CRITICS' POLL 2007: The Critics Speak: State of Distribution, Politics, 'Shmabortion', Year of the A

Included within their ballots in the 2007 indieWIRE Critics Poll are comments on the year in film from many of the 106 participants. Today, we offer the third in a three part series of edited comments from the critics. In Part 1, a look at some of the orphan #1 picks from the critics, while in Part 2, feedback on the best and worst of the year. Finally, in this edition, thoughts on the business side of things, as well as insights on films about the war in Iraq, considering Apatow, and talk about some of the year's stand-out performances.

The complete results from the 2007 indieWIRE Critics Poll, which surveyed more than 100 film critics, are available now online, including comments and perspectives from the voters.


DEATH OF THE ART-HOUSE: Audiences, Critics and Distribution

"Reports of the demise of the U.S. arthouse audience seem to have been exaggerated, as usual. But it's increasingly obvious that that audience prefers to stay home. Home video/VOD is on the verge of becoming the primary mode of distribution for genuinely adventurous films, if it hasn't already. In light of that, critics' bias toward the big screen -- and toward the kinds of films that have evolved to thrive in today's big-screen environment -- has become an epistemological problem." - Andrew O'Hehir

"For all the annual carping about the irrelevance of film critics, there seems to be general consensus that a movie about an elderly Romanian dying in real time--incidentally, Ion Fiscuteanu, you'll be missed--is not an easy sell for anyone. But the low grosses for 'Zodiac' may be the most depressing box office statistic of the year. You can't help a movie that has the director of 'Fight Club' *and* a serial killer *and* and Robert Downey Jr. sampling an aquavelva?" - Ben Kenigsberg

"Though it's a shopworn critical trope, it's one worth repeating again, especially this year: the state of film distribution sucks. If you weren't shelling out money for festivals, you were bound to miss two movies that would have probably made my top 10 if they were properly exhibited, especially 'In The City of Sylvia.' Had I had a chance to see it a second time, it might well have topped 'Zodiac' on my list (and would have easily taken my cinematography vote). One screening was all New York got though." - Vadim Rizov

"It may be getting harder for most movies to have a meaningful theatrical run, but it seems to be getting easier to have a meaningless one. And one-off screenings at regional festivals are proliferating as well. For those of us located somewhere near New York City public transit and willing to move quickly, exposure to international cinema may well be at an all-time high." - Dan Sallitt

"Pictures as diverse as 'Red Road,' 'Bamako' and 'This Is England' get great treatment (from critics) at festivals, where the playing field is relatively level. But when they turn out to be small-scale releases aimed at the DVD or VOD markets, the love they feel is more marginal." - Andrew O'Hehir

"For all the talk of collapsing windows, days and dates, video on demand, digital projection, bouncing movies off satellites and all the rest, theatrical distribution is still far from globalized. I wouldn't argue that it should be; I'm just saying: my 2007 was probably different from yours." -- David Hudson (from Berlin)

"Why the hell did it take six years for Pedro Costa's relatively accessible documentary 'Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?' to get a single screening here? Despite Costa's talent, his sole New York Film Festival exposure was a short in the 'Views From The Avant-Garde' sidebar. 'Colossal Youth' may be difficult going for some, but it suggests what Andy Warhol's 'Chelsea Girls' might have been were it shot in a Lisbon slum." - Steve Erickson

"The classic arthouse has been romanticized beyond reason, but even without rose-colored glasses, it seems clear that for reasonably hip, well-educated young people from the '50s through the '70s, going to see foreign films was part of their common experience. That's no longer the case for contemporary college students; 'Little Miss Sunshine' and 'An Inconvenient Truth' -- or even TV shows like 'The Sopranos' and 'The Wire' - may occupy the place in our culture once held by Bergman." - Steve Erickson


GRINDHOUSE: The War on Terror, Politics and Movies about Terror and Politics

"One of the most-discussed questions of the year was, 'Why didn't audiences turn out for all the Iraq war movies?' The two most popular answers: 'Viewers want escapism' and 'Most of them sucked.' Those theories hold up if you assume that 'Iraq war movie = movie that's explicitly about the Iraq war,' and 'Success = eight figure box-office take,' neither of which are valid yardsticks for making such judgments. Just as 'Night of the Living Dead' and 'The Wild Bunch' and 'Bonnie and Clyde' engaged boldly yet obliquely with the implications of Vietnam, 'Black Book,' 'Grindhouse,' 'Bug,' 'Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,' '28 Weeks Later,' 'The Bourne Ultimatum,' 'There Will Be Blood' and 'No Country for Old Men' were all infected by the unease of the post 9/11 period. They all made an impression -- and to greater or lesser degrees, I suspect they'll be watched and argued about long after the likes of 'In the Valley of Elah' and 'Rendition' are thought of mainly as fodder for term papers, if they're thought of at all." -- Matt Zoller Seitz

"A belated slew of Iraq movies tried to make sense of the still-deteriorating situation, but the facts are too outrageous to be contained by fiction. 'In the Valley of Elah' and 'Redacted' hinted at unreconstructable wholes of which only splinters remain, but their hectoring -- 'Elah''s upside-down flag; 'Redacted''s shrill performances -- grated on the converted ears, and no one else turned up to watch." - Sam Adams

"Eli Roth's 'Hostel Part 2' is the quintessential end-of-the-Bush-era movie, in which privileged Americans travel to a foreign land to act out their aggressions on a captive audience--only to discover (oops!) they might wind up strapped to the chair themselves. Lauren German's means of escaping a certain death forms a more chilling, and apropos, conclusion than any of 2007's "dark" Oscar-movie fadeouts." -- Matthew Wilder

"Staring clear-eyed at the moving goalposts and the endless indeterminacy of the 'War On Terror,' two of the most striking movies of the year were all about quietly thwarted expectations. 'Zodiac' announced the theme this summer. What looked and felt exactly like a serial killer procedural turned out to be an indictment of the genre's addiction to neat answers and a Manichean universe. Then 'No Country for Old Men' took up the banner as the year closed. Would-be protagonists and heroes arrive on the scene, then are dismissed into irrelevance without fanfare. And yet the future -- in the form of single-minded maniac Anton Chigurh -- just keeps coming, a force that cannot be dissuaded by the everyday kindnesses of rural Texans nor by the social pressures that keep us good citizens in line. In neither movie was the lack of closure or the deconstruction of the expected framework announced explicitly; instead, the epiphany happens in the viewer's memory, as we try to shoehorn the pieces into the picture promised on the box." - Donna Bowman

"In an age when so many films now feel like a/v attachments to political position papers, what a relief it was to see cinema giving us nuanced portraits of the immigrant experience. 'The Namesake' and 'The Kite Runner' were the high-profile US releases that tackled it, but for my money, the sublime 'I for India' and Shane Meadows's 'This Is England' (a masterpiece, from one of the finest working directors today) would make a powerful double bill some day." - Bilge Ebiri

"More frightening by far than 'Rendition''s chest-beating was 'The Bourne Ultimatum''s casual depiction of innocents being snatched off the street: a hypo in the neck, a hood over the head, and into the unmarked Suburban you go. The government-authorized assassination of a newspaper reporter in a busy train station might be a tad far-fetched, but the operative word is 'might.'" - Sam Adams

"I was relieved to see films from other countries tackle issues of faith with a minimum of condescension. Some saw Ozer Kiziltan's 'Takva: A Man's Fear of God' as being another stacked-deck diatribe against fundamentalist Muslims; I saw a film that took its lead character's beliefs at face value and refused to judge him. 'The Kite Runner' dared - dared! -- to show us a scene of a man praying in a mosque that was not immediately followed by, or intercut with, a ticking bomb on a crowded bus somewhere." - Bilge Ebiri

"Neil Jordan's 'The Brave One' conjured a cesspit of slavering thugs who fell before the righteous blaze of Jodie Foster's 9mm, and villainous Arabs toppled like ninepins in 'The Kingdom.' But Peter Berg's apparently opportunistic actioner closed with a startling last-minute reversal, as our FBI heroes and the son of a slaughtered Saudi terrorist are revealed to be united in their desire to kill 'em all. Quoth Mr. Todd: 'They all deserve to die.'" - Sam Adams


SCREWING AND SCREWBALL: Schmabortion, Apatow and Teen Comedy

"Nice that, with 'Waitress' and 'Knocked Up,' movies finally decided to acknowledge 'the horror of an unwanted pregnancy,' per the former. Less nice that both movies arrived at the conclusion that the horror ends at the exact moment that that pesky little fetus becomes a bundle of joy. Enter 'Joshua,' to avow that the arrival of a new baby -- no matter how happy your relationship, settled your circumstances, comfortable your surroundings, or painless your transition to mediocre domesticity -- WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE." - Mark Asch

"Pro-choicers went apeshit over 'Knocked Up''s refusal to utter the a-word. But why hasn't anyone pointed out how insidious Judd Apatow's view of contemporary masculinity is? Screwball romances were predicated on the idea that for a marriage to work both the guy and the gal had to change. Instead, 'Knocked Up' suggests that men must repress their identities, while all women need to do is remain steadfastly blonde and boring." - Benjamin Strong

"I don't mind that 'Knocked Up''s Katherine Heigl and 'Juno''s Ellen Page made up their minds, and kept their babies: there's a million reasons why even the most liberal woman might not feel comfortable terminating even the most derailing pregnancy, and it's not necessarily a politicized decision. But at least 'Knocked Up' didn't insult our intelligence by pretending that there's no such thing as birth control. Why didn't Juno and Paulie use a condom? Or, more to the point, why doesn't anybody ask them why they didn't, despite the fact that the introduction of every single new character seems to offer an opening." - Mark Asch

"'Knocked Up' and 'Juno' might not grapple fully with the issues involving their protagonists' decision to go full-term, but their simplifications were nothing compared to those who attacked the movies for being Trojan horses for the family-values brigade. When did it become regressive for (fictional) women to give birth? Is that not a choice we're supposed to be pro? Tone-deaf intolerance: It's not just for conservatives any more." - Sam Adams

"I was happy to see pro-choice politics get an update from comedies this year. Both 'Knocked Up' and 'Juno' reminded a post-Roe v. Wade generation that you don't have to be antiabortion to be pro- creation." - Susan Gerhard

"In Cristian Mungiu's '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,' the camera is paralyzed, resting immobile as a black-market abortionist plays hardball with a pair of desperate young women. Even if the outcome of their battle of wills is never in doubt, it's nonetheless thrilling to see three such finely conceived characters interact with each other, their natural empathy warped by the repression of a totalitarian state." - Sam Adams

"Please, God, people, start the "Judd Apatow is so last year" backlash. And please remind audiences that a fat guy delivering a line that ends in the word vagina is not necessarily funny." -- Matthew Wilder

"Judd Apatow's 'Knocked Up' may not be the year's most overrated film, but for me, it was the most irritating. It's a male fantasy not just in the obvious, geek-scores-with-beauty way, but in its belief that respecting women equals putting them on a pedestal (but not before shaving off their pubic hair). The film's view of single men as pot-and-porn-addled losers may be as insulting as its view of women. With Apatow, one gets the feeling that, at best, he's trying to appeal to a stereotypical view of what both male and female audiences want and, at worst, the poo jokes are supposed to cover up his worldview's conservatism." -- Steve Erickson

"'Superbad' showed what happens when a scabrously funny script in the Judd Apatow mode meets with a real director. Back from a decade in exile, Greg Mottola imposed the editorial discipline that 'Knocked Up' and 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' so painfully lacked. Marrying profane dialogue to sentiment may seem like an obvious trick, but find someone else who can make seem so effortless. And, to paraphrase Pauline Kael, if you do find that someone, kill him." - Sam Adams

"'Superbad' was even worse - a below-average '80s teen comedy that looks particularly cheap and ugly." - Steve Erickson

"'Superbad' is the funniest American comedy in years, and the only one that's a start-to-finish movie -- rather than an assemblage of set pieces -- since 'Shanghai Noon.' It's not quite the 'Dazed and Confused 2' it wants to be, but it's close enough to deflect all snobbery. Michael Cera is the new John Cusack." - Vadim Rizov


THE ACTOR'S STUDIO: Bardem, Affleck, Hoffman, Day-Lewis, et. al.

"It's Javier Bardem's moment, and surely, he deserves every accolade he's gotten. But one has to admire the improbable mix of inadequacy, pathology, and pure glee Kurt Russell brings to 'Death Proof' - just try imagining the movie without him." -- Chris Wisniewski

"Ryan Gosling almost singlehandedly made 'Fracture' worth watching; his new Brando status is richly deserved. If only Gregory Hoblit wasn't under the mistaken impression that he was making a serious film and had let him play with Anthony Hopkins more, it might've been a minor classic." - Vadim Rizov

"The two most original lead female performances on screens this year were Fiona Gordon in 'L'Iceberg' and Amy Adams in 'Enchanted.' Gordon's eerie inventiveness won't be recognized because it occurred in a barely-released foreign language film with barely any dialogue. Adams' Mary Poppins-on-magic-mushrooms innocence was mostly ignored in year-end critics' polls; if it earns an Oscar nomination anyway, it'll be on the basis of the movie's box office take alone, but I'll accept that as a sideways kind of justice." - Matt Zoller Seitz

"There aren't many auteurs in the DGA these days; the real auteurs belong to SAG. Actors are building auteur-ly bodies of work. Philip Seymour Hoffman is an auteur. I need only point out what he brings to the apartment-trashing climax of 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead'--a coolness, an analytic two-steps-back that lends as much meaning to the moment as anything Sidney Lumet or Kelly Masterson is doing. Not to mention his postmodern updating of Hawksian banter in 'Charlie Wilson's War'--half parody and half straight homage, the performance comes at Aaron Sorkin's blitzkrieg repartee with more layers of irony than Mike Nichols cares to muster." - Matthew Wilder

"It's been an amazing year for double -- even triple -- achievements. Casey Affleck emerged as his generation's most gifted character actor in 'Gone Baby Gone' and 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,' and Tommy Lee Jones gave two of the most deeply etched performances of his career in 'No Country for Old Men' and 'In the Valley of Elah.' Denzel Washington was at the top of his game in 'American Gangster' and his own 'The Great Debaters,' and Russell Crowe rode high in both 'American Gangster' and '3:10 to Yuma.'" - David Sterritt

"Outdoing everyone, the great Philip Seymour Hoffman continued to refine his usual lumpenbourgeois persona in the excellent 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead' and 'The Savages,' and then made a brilliant detour into pitch-dark sardonicism in 'Charlie Wilson's War.' Christian Bale almost equalled him by excelling in 'Rescue Dawn' and '3:10 to Yuma,' but his showing in the largely disappointing 'I'm Not There' didn't quite make it." - David Sterritt

"Chris Cooper's performance in the sometimes plodding 'Breach' marvelously redeems what could've been another stereotypical portrayal of repressed Christian hypocrisy in high places. Ditto Catherine Keener's ability to make hippies tolerable in 'Into The Wild.'" - Vadim Rizov

"How does an actor as famous as Brad Pitt reinvent himself as utterly as he does in 'The Assassination of Jesse James'? If I ever met him, I'd be afraid to shake his hand. When Jesse enters a room, the molecules of air reorder themselves nervously; by just holding eye contact a beat too long, Pitt brings whole scenes to a terrifying halt. Nearly every moment is an object lesson in calculated intimidation. Big movie stars aren't supposed to do this any more--act, I mean." - Matthew Wilder

The complete results from the 2007 indieWIRE Critics Poll, which surveyed more than 100 film critics, are available now online, including comments and perspectives from the voters.

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