The Best and Worst Films of 2013
Before explaining my somewhat heterodox approach to best and worst lists, I want to follow up on my reporting on the witch hunt against Armond White, who was facing discipline over his alleged heckling of Steve McQueen at the New York Film Critics Circle awards ceremony. Since then White has been expelled from NYFCC. Rather than giving you my take on this, I would refer you to an excellent article by Henry Stewart in L Magazine titled “Armond White is just a red herring”. Stewart spoke for me when he wrote:
Armond’s ejection from the organization seems reasonable (if regrettably messy); but does the practice of bestowing honors to films and filmmakers and then hobnobbing with them at ceremonies and industry parties? “Critics should not be in the business of giving out awards,” Times critic AO Scott (who’s professionally forbidden to belong to any awards-bestowing critics groups) wrote on Twitter, continuing, “Criticism rests on the independence and integrity of the singular voice, and group voting+partying with the winners undermines that.”
I haven’t yet seen a critics-group this year recognize a film that truly needed recognition: every one praised a piece of prominently lobbied-for Oscarbait: 12 Years, American Hustle, etc., the same movies that won Golden Globes and which will likely go on to win Academy Awards. I’m a member of the Online Film Critics Society (because belonging to any group has its useful perks, like year-end screeners), which named 12 Years a Slave the year’s best movie. But it was a movie I strongly disliked, so what does the group’s award and my membership in the organization have to do with each other? This is what Scott means, I think, by voting being meaningless: consensus is by definition middlebrow, unenthusiastic, dispassionate—nothing we should want our film criticism to be.
In line with Stewart’s reference to recognizing films that truly need recognition, my picks for best films of the year will by and large never get full-page ads in the N.Y. Times and relentless public relations blitzkriegs from the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world. (I say by and large because The Weinstein Company produced “Philomena”, one of my picks.) But mostly my choices are either fiction films not made in Hollywood or documentaries, for which this was a banner year. I also tend to shy away from American “indie” movies that come out of Sundance since I find them formulaic. My critical faculties were honed by my exposure to cinema’s greatest artists who I was fortunate enough to be exposed to when I was a student at Bard College in the early 1960s. Each week a new film by Buñuel, Kurosawa, Godard, and Kubrick et al would open. Just as we will never see another Mozart; so we will never see the likes of that generation again.