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January 12, 2010

2009: Preface

An Obsessive-Compulsive Labor of Love

Each year I like to play the Academy Awards nomination game along with other film buffs. There are inherent problems in the process, one of which is walking the line between what will be legitimate contenders, knowing the Academy's biases, and selecting what I truly believe to be the top best ten. My approach is to try to straddle the line without compromising my aesthetic integrity.

The next challenge is that the professional reviewer has several advantages over those of us in the hinterlands. Before video and DVD, impressions had to be jotted down in the dark of the theater. In the early 1970s I trained myself to do this, scrawling a note, then moving my hand down an inch to scrawl the next one. The best compensation for this blind process was to sit down immediately upon exiting the screening and go through the almost illegible jottings, reconstructing what one could, and adding any additional impressions that came on the heels of that virgin viewing.

Today professional critics have the advantage of a preview DVD, which they can watch at their leisure. Professionals also attend festival and theater premieres, where they have the added input of audience response, albeit sympathetic with director and cast in attendance, but nonetheless audiences not yet influenced by reviews. They further have the luxury of a circle of fellow critics with whom to analyse, dissect and compare any given film within a context of recent releases as well as film history as a whole. Finally, they can go back to that review copy to double check first impressions and to verify dialog, set dressing, cinematographic techniques, etc. against their fallible human memories.

I do not have these luxuries. I see even mainstream movies months after release, and I do not have a review copy available (for up to two years for a foreign or indie film) long after I must cast my votes. I also, in the meantime, have been compromised by exposure to mainstream critical responses, though I strive to be enough of an iconoclast to maintain my own opinions in their shadow.

The ensuing entries are my responses to the films of 2009, taking a personal and sometimes circuitous route along the way.

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