I’ve been railing a lot on Twitter about how so many popular, mainstream film critics sound just like marketers. The most egregious and ubiquitous examples of these sorts of adverb-dominated ad-copy can be discovered just by randomly picking a “review” of The Force Awakens, a teenage-boy movie that’s being received with such sated gratitude that you’d think all 50 states had just ratified the ERA, or that the Supreme Court had overturned Citizen’s United. But no, I kid. Nobody cares about that shit. But the politics of Star Wars is on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s hearts.
It’s in grand cultural moments like these that I feel most like an alien.
I don’t know what Richard Brody thinks about The Force Awakens, or about Citizen’s United for that matter, and I don’t care, but he has some telling things to say about the economics and politics of filmmaking that warrant pointing out. In a year-end review, he casually drops a couple gobsmacking declarations. Here’s the first one:
There’s no aesthetic value built into a film’s provenance or budget, but as Hollywood increased its dependence on overmanaged [sic] franchise films, independent filmmaking on low and ultra-low budgets became one of the two main engines of artistic advancement in the world of movies during the past decade.
So the fact that independent filmmaking and filmmakers have advanced cinema, presumably aesthetically, has nothing to do with provenance or budgets, except that they do? If there’s some other reason why this is the case, Brody doesn’t explain it.
But the really weird proclamation is this one:
There are things that Hollywood movies can do that independents usually can’t—especially to address power at its own level, from the top.
That’s a not-so-sneaky way of saying that only rich people know what’s really going on in the world. He doesn’t cite any examples of films that prove this, and I doubt that he could. But it does reek of the same smug self-satisfaction that Hollywood and its annual circle jerk , the Oscars, don’t even pretend not to indulge in. What he’s really trying to do is justify his choices in the list he makes, without having to admit his own biases. So what he says here is one of the dumbest and disingenuous things I’ve ever read from a smart critic.
Read some risky writing.
He goes on:
It doesn’t mean that Hollywood alone can or should make political films, but that to work in Hollywood is (to borrow a classic formula) to make films politically.
Well, yes, of course, but the discussion of Godard in the link he provided goes on to imply exactly what sort of politics a Hollywood filmmaker would be expressing. In fact, it argues against Brody’s point. Brody seems to be talking about content, at least at first, and Godard was talking about process.
I don’t know, these introductory paragraphs were so full of contradictions and confusion that I didn’t bother to find out what he had to say about the year’s best movies. What could he have possibly said that was more revelatory?
Finally, here’s the best way to absorb Brody’s list — without the commentary.