The end of August is always a case of high and low for critics. On one hand, you’re seeing the first flurry of fall prestige pics, some of which might actually aspire to more than eliciting nodding approvals from middlebrow Oscar voters; on the other, you’re sucking down the dregs of summer, movies that aspired to a little or a lot and failed at every conceivable level. This means dealing with a ton of embargoes – both day-and-date and indefinite. It’s an interesting mix. At present, I’m sitting on reviews for two of the year’s very best movies, and one for what I hope and pray will be the absolute worst.
Generally, this isn’t a big deal: with the good stuff, it isn’t about being the first trumpet to blare, but, rather, writing truthfully and passionately in praise of a film that moved you. These reviews usually flow right out of you after the screening, and, every now and then, you’re diligent enough to capture that flow before it gets polluted by loves and hatreds for subsequent movies. Then it’s done, and you hopefully feel sated enough to leave it at that until the obligatory backlash forces you to reiterate why this was a good film in the first place (or you watch it again, shriek "What the fuck was I thinking?", and keep it to yourself until, at the earliest, the DVD release).
But sometimes you can’t wait. Sometimes, the movies bore deep enough to strike a gusher of sedulously suppressed emotion that will not wait for publicist approval. You’re desperate to broadcast this shit because it’s epiphanic; this film has forever altered the way you view the world, and everything you write henceforth will bear the imprint of this revelation. So, all things, you’d prefer to go Howard Beale now rather than retroactively; getting shaken like this is the reason we go to the movies.
I’ve had two such experiences over the last month, and I can’t write about either. Oh, well, right? Well, not really. I’m worried about these movies. They’re both tough sells for their respective studios, which means they will both get back-burnered in favor of easier-to-position films the minute the first "I didn’t get it" review is published – and, trust me, those reviews could be plentiful for both titles. Though I’m not comparing them in terms of content, these movies will galvanize viewers as Fight Club did in 1999, and, if they’re lucky, they might make as much money theatrically. (In case you forgot, Fight Club bombed*.)
So what to do? Go tell it on the front page and bring down the wrath of the studio, or button up and watch in anguish as your beloveds get passed over in favor of the prestige pap populating the Venice and Toronto lineups? Or pull the ol’ non-review review, which is the same thing as a review and intellectually fraudulent as a result?
I’ve chosen silence. For now. But I’ll be watching the front page of Variety very closely. And the moment I see Todd McCarthy shrugging off either, I shall leap into action like Carmine Ragusa in that Happy Days episode where Richie, Potsie and Ralph are about to get their asses thrashed by a gang of greasers. Because the Barry Lyndon of westerns and the On the Road of the twenty-first century will need their Carmine Ragusas.
As for that "absolute worst" of 2007, you’ll be reading about it next Friday.
*Though not in New York City, where, opening weekend, it was sold out all over town until the Sunday matinees. I’ve never been more shocked at a movie’s poor commercial performance in my life.