Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Scott Mendelson vs. Brandon L. Sichling

I was sharing my thoughts on this Huffington Post article with my roommate, Pete. To summarize, it's the "10 Most Overrated Films of 2010." When I finished, Pete asked me, "So what it boils down to is... what movie did you like that was on the list?"

I damned Pete's astuteness. "What kind of world do we live in where no one sees Scott Pilgrim and it's still 'overrated'?" I think this is a fair question, but not the pressing one.

The important thing to wonder is why we live in a world in which people put together "overrated" lists at all, since it's not the job of a critic, does the audience no good and wastes space for conversations worth having.

I really respect Roger Ebert. Sure, he gave Space Jam a glowing review, but he has a philosophy on critique and audience and it makes sense even if I disagree. In the aforelinked article, he talks about what is a reviewer's job, and that is, largely, to foster appreciation, to defend the new and bolster people's ability to engage with it.

A list of what films you think people liked too much doesn't do that. It tears down the work of people who have labored to, in this case, put something meaningful for themselves and others on the silver screen. They risked a lot to do so: people have talked mightily about how Edgar Wright and Michael Cera's careers will suffer because they made an offbeat film in Scott Pilgrim.

To paraphrase Ebert, Scott Mendelson doesn't risk anything to say people were too fond of that movie.

Fostering fondness is what the critic can do for an audience. I took a cinematography class this semester and now I not only appreciate movies more, but also photography and paintings, storybooks and comic books, a host of visual arts opened to me thanks to the critical eye.

When the audience is told by a critic that they are wrong to be beguiled by something, the critic insults the audience and discourages them from meeting with more art. "Engage better" becomes "don't engage."

Engaging with an interesting conversation is harder when so much space is devoted to negativity. When Catherine Hardwick released Twilight, Ebert did point out the film's problems, but he put a silver lining on it: see Let the Right One In instead.

I did, and it is the most interesting vampire movie I have ever seen.

When a critic spends time telling you what you were wrong to enjoy, he denies you his privileged knowledge, knowledge that could help you find something new to love.

Love is what makes art go 'round. I'm pretty sure of that. An "overrated" list says there was too much love for whatever it names, but it also implies an "underrated" list. I wish Scott Mendelson had let me know his 10 movies from 2010 which needed my affection. As it stands, I'll just watch Scott Pilgrim again.

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