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Variety Scorns Critics, Loves Popcorn

Just a couple summers ago, as box office intake was alarmingly down and moviegoing audiences were being treated to (but staying away from) braindead films like "The Island" and "Stealth," Hollywood pundits were wringing their hands at the lack of quality and vision and wit in new releases from the major studios. Naturally enough, film critics were leading the charge.

Thankfully, it didn't take long for things to change. Within just a few months we were getting independent films released under major studio banners, and the Academy for the last couple seasons has brought smaller films ("Brokeback Mountain," "The Queen," "Good Night and Good Luck.") that might otherwise have fallen under the radar some much needed recognition--and audiences have responded, not only at the box office but also with upped DVD rentals.

So now it's Spring 2007--spring typically being the time when Hollywood takes a deep breath in preparation for the summer season. You get a serious film here and there, a tentpole now and then, but mostly this is the time when studios drop their stepchild projects--those films that have been on the shelf for a while, and no one feels quite enough excitement about to give them a release date around, say, a holiday.

Look at it this way: your cable gets turned off every February and March. So instead of watching "The Sopranos" or "Deadwood" or "Weeds" you tune in to "American Idol" instead. Because that's what's on. Not that there's anything wrong with "American Idol," mind you (especially early on, when they showcase the talent trainwrecks), but I think most people will agree that, while diverting, it isn't the most rewarding viewing experience out there.

Peter Bart over at Variety seems to have forgotten this. Taking a stab at "disconnected" movie critics for missing the boat on apparent audience favorites such as "Norbit" and "Ghost Rider," he suggests that box office receipts might as well equal quality.

Okay, so Shakespeare wrote for the masses, it's true. And for the life of me, I can't figure out why "Zodiac" is, at best, a 'sleeper hit' rather than the champion I think it ought to be. But just because folks flocked to "300" last weekend doesn't make it a great movie, or render the critics wrong in their evaluations. (It is, actually, something like Kurosawa scraps--fun to watch, easily digested, but ultimately not very filling.) Even Shakespeare popped a dud every now and then.

Yes, we all like to be entertained. We're all tired of the weather forecasters telling us to expect another six weeks of "wintry mix" blowing out of the skies. We want the sun to come out. We have to do our taxes in the next couple weeks. So, for some distraction, we want some trash at the box office. Is that so wrong?

Nah. But you won't hear me making fun of the non-ripped bellies of movie critics while I'm at it.

Posted by on March 17, 2007 10:15 AM
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