Critical Distortions

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The original idea for this blog was there was no idea – I had no grand unified vision, only wanted some place to dump out the various non-fiction thoughts rolling around in my head.  Primarily those thoughts would be about movies, but they might very well be about anything.  I did not envision having columns, or features, or even having readers.  I just wrote what I felt like, when I felt like writing it, and chose this place to deposit it whether or not somebody was there to get it.

In a way, this blog was meant as a peek into my id.

Of course, following your id all the time eventually gets tiresome and a body cries out for structure – even anarchists eventually come to realize how tiresome an unstructured life truly is.  That’s when I hit on The Best Picture Project.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, that project involved watching – or, in many cases, re-watching – every Best Picture winner since they started giving out Oscars, then writing down my thoughts on it.  It wasn’t an original idea – I cribbed it from Julie and Julia – but it gave me a regular thing to do while occasionally dumping other pieces into the pipeline.  Like this one.

The Best Picture Project took years to complete, mostly because I have a real life, and because sometimes the requirements of the project turned it into a slog.  At a certain point I started to feel like quitting it altogether, and I definitely peeked into the rabbit hole of ending the site forever once or twice.  But, because I’d committed to the project, I got it done.  Even if I’m the only one who noticed.

Yay me for finishing!

As that project wound down I realized if I wanted to keep this blog going in the same way I had kept it going, I needed something else to sustain it.  I needed a new project.  I considered doing one based on the Oscars’ acting categories – particularly Actress and Supporting Actress, because they don’t really get the same attention the men do.  I thought about doing the Best Documentary winners, because who couldn’t use more education on the Holocaust?  I thought about doing the Best Foreign Film Winners, because I like to think I’m a man of the world.  And while I might do one, or all, of those in the future, the one I ultimately moved onto was The Also-Rans Project.

The Also-Rans Project was conceived as a looser version of The Best Picture Project.  Where with one I watched the winner from every year, with the other I’d review a Best Picture loser from every year, preferably one I hadn’t seen before.  Of course, there would be times I’d watch one I’d seen before, simply because I wanted to re-watch it –so far The Exorcist is the only re-watch, for reasons well stated in that entry – or because there were going to be years where I’d seen the losers already and couldn’t avoid seeing one again.  Either way, the beauty of the project is that because I have some choice over what films to watch from the small groups of losers in a given year, it feels less like a slog.  Yes, it’s still an obligation, but at least it doesn’t feel like the forced march the other one turned into.

Over the course of the 125 or so entries, spread between the two projects, the entries themselves have evolved in an organic way.  Specifically, the format evolved and a ‘house style’ emerged.  Whereas in the beginning they were more like blurts of words, now they start with some sort of short essay about the film, coming at them all in some unique way, then move on to plot descriptions and finally the good and bad of it all.  At the end I compare the loser to the winner for the year, and maybe give some trivia.  It’s all very by the book.

One thing that hasn’t evolved at all is what the projects themselves do to me in terms of how I watch the films.  Where most people sit down to a movie they haven’t seen before hoping it will just be enjoyable, I sit down with a pen and take notes.  They experience it, I intellectualize it.  I write down the plot, follow the beats, make notes on various aspects, and don’t even consider if I like what I see.  The only time I remember I might enjoy the film is when I make a point of remining myself I enjoy it, which is often.  In the end, I think my reviews probably shade towards harshness, simply because I was reacting to ‘homework’.

This negativity first occurred to me during The Best Picture Project and I wondered if it was the way I worked through the films, and the parameters I imposed on myself, which turned the project into a slog and made me a bit bitter about the films themselves.  Though I suspected it might, I could not tell for certain.[1]

Moving into The Also-Rans Project, I hoped this bitterness would not carry over from one project to another and was simply something unique to The Best Picture Project.  Alas, it was not.  Try as I might, I’m still slightly negative to the films overall and when positivity does poke through, it almost seems accidental.[2]

Really, though, the larger question I wonder about is if this struggle with negativity is unique to me, or is this common to critics as a whole.  One way to suss this out would be to talk to other critics and get their take, but without a control group for comparison, any findings there would be scientifically suspect.  So perhaps when I finish The Also-Rans Project in a year or two, I’ll do one based around the Golden Globe Winner for Best Musical or Comedy, where I watch and review all the Golden Globe winners for Best Musical or Comedy.  Since that project should be steering pretty sharply away from the serious films the Oscars like to fete, and more towards lighter, disposable entertainment, I’ll definitely get some kind of answer to my question, even if it’s not the answer to the question.  Which may ultimately be unanswerable.


[1] After all, compare my Letterboxd ratings for The Best Picture Project and The Also-Rans Project entries with just my average run-of-the-mill non-project entries and you’ll see I’m much more generous to films I didn’t actually have to review for this site than I am to ones I did.

[2] It’s entirely possible my harshness towards the films just has to do with an expectation that Best Picture winners and losers are serious films that deserve serious, i.e. harsh, treatment.

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Filed under The Also Ran's Project, The Best Picture Project

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