Successes in film criticism

7 Jan

I recently wrote a post about one of The New Yorker’s film critics, David Denby. I think he’s terrible. I mentioned in that post that his colleague Anthony Lane is terrific. I usually agree with his opinions, and even if I don’t, I can at least appreciate his perspective, which he’s very good at articulating. His reviews of good movies are worthwhile, but what makes him a true star of criticism are his pans. I think they might be legendary in some circles. I don’t know enough about the world of film criticism to state that definitively. Sorry.

The first exposure I had to Mr. Lane was a link from a blogger somewhere many years ago. She mentioned that his negative reviews were very enjoyable, and linked to one of a film adaptation of Phantom of the Opera. It’s a tour de force. Here’s the opening paragraph:

What does it take to shake a movie fan? Whether we are critics or bug-eyed buffs, so many of our evenings are spent in the company of crimes and misdemeanors that we can hardly be blamed for developing the hide of a pachyderm. Just occasionally, something slips through—a thin shudder of monstrosity, enough to remind us of what it means to be afraid. And so it came about, this week, that I gazed at a black screen and saw words so calamitous that they might have been written in my own blood: “Screenplay by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher.”

Go read the whole thing. It will brighten your day. This week Mr. Lane reviewed Les Misérables. I haven’t seen the movie. I don’t think I would like it, but I am kind of curious about it. Mr. Lane did see the movie. He did not like it. Considering it alongside his Phantom review, it’s pretty clear that Mr. Lane doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for self-important pop musicals. Here’s his description of the interplay between Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe in Les Mis:

Would it be too fanciful to suggest that they have a thing for each other, to which they never confess? That would explain why Crowe and Jackman, both tough Australians, are made to sing at so agonized a pitch. Crowe launches into his lusty anthems as if a platoon of infantry, stationed in his immediate rear, had just fixed bayonets without giving sufficient warning.

I think I enjoyed this review more than I will enjoy the movie. One more example. Mr. Lane doesn’t just aim his pen at bloated emotionally manipulative musical spectacle. He’s also an astute student of film technology! Here’s his verdict on the technical innovations of The Hobbit:

Mind you, what a shine. “An Unexpected Journey” was shot in 3-D and filmed at forty-eight frames per second, as opposed to the standard twenty-four. This sounds miraculous, and you will indeed notice and marvel at the difference, but only if you happen to be a snowy owl who likes watching voles from a hundred and fifty yards.

Godspeed, Anthony Lane. You are truly doing the Lord’s work.

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