Oh my goodness. The Los Angeles Times’ theater critic, Charles McNulty, is calling out film critics for what he perceives as our lack of critical rigor. Because he’s seen a few of the year’s Oscar-bait flicks, and he doesn’t think they’re all that great:
By overwhelming critical consensus, 2013 was a banner year for movies. End-of-the-year lists, that dependable fruitcake of entertainment journalism, arrived with festive unanimity. It was a “tremendous” (the Atlantic’s Christopher Orr), “amazing” (the New Yorker’s Richard Brody), “flat-out, stone-cold, hands-down spectacular year in movies” (the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday).
As a theater critic who loves spending his free nights plunged in cinematic darkness, I couldn’t haven’t been more excited to get these reports amplifying the raves that came fast and furious all fall. There’s nothing I like better than bingeing on Oscar bait in late December when I play Scrooge and take my holiday from the theater and its myriad revivals of “A Christmas Carol.”
But as I caught up with most of the likely trophy contenders, I found that I was arriving at a different estimate from my reviewing brethren: What others proclaimed great, I would have begrudgingly called good — leaving me to wonder whether this might have been a more uplifting year for critics, relieved that the studios were remembering that adults buy tickets too, than for regular moviegoers, who judge a film solely on its merits.
There’s a lot more, and it’s all infuriating. Not because McNulty has an opinion on the year in film, but because he thinks his — formed by “bingeing on Oscar bait in late December” — can stand next to opinions formed by critics who see hundreds of films each year.
I wonder how he’d feel if I, who saw maybe half a dozen stage productions in 2013, decided to publicly reject and trash his opinion on the state of the stage in 2013 because I just saw the latest hot show that everyone is talking about, and I hated it? Would that be reasonable? I think not.
You’d think that the sorry state of arts criticism — particularly at corporate publications such as the L.A. Times — would create a sort of camaraderie, or at least professional courtesy, among those still lucky enough to be well-employed to discuss the arts from a mature perspective. Pity that doesn’t seem to be the case.