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American Film Criticism's Long Legacy


Good criticism strives to engage with and challenge an art form, to raise the seventh art to the level of literature and painting through salient analysis of the subject. It is far beyond what is objectively "good" or "bad", but seeks to comprehensively understand the cinematic mechanisms that orient a film one way or another; socially, politically, formally. As an American, I have tried to be conscientious about ethnocentrism and cultural exceptionalism in cinema, but my undying passion for Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet and Billy Wilder first inspired me to write about the movies; I might be an Auteurist and a Paulette all at once. That's the remarkable thing about American film criticism – you must walk on the shoulders of giants, which is both a wonderful and a terrifying prospect. From Kael and Sarris to J. Hoberman and Kent Jones, there are few spaces where paragons of the craft do not loom. Today's American journals; Film Comment, Cineaste, Film Quarterly, and The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Village Voice, all prove that American critics are still a deeply talented group.

In terms of American national cinema, it has been a particularly spectacular year, as several previous have been. Most critics are more likely to be writing think-pieces on Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street than to be discussing the long-heralded 'death of cinema', thank goodness. With new movies from Terrence Malick, the Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze , Jim Jarmusch, and others – alongside brilliant indie films, like Jeff Nichols' MUD, Harmony Korine's SPRING BREAKERS, Noah Baumbach's FRANCES HA – the death of American movies has long been oversold.

Ultimately, the goal I look to achieve when writing criticism is to tease out the meanings, contradictions, and nuances of a movie; to inform and entertain, and to take cinema analytically as well as romantically. I feel it is important to avoid moral and political dogma and to take each film on its own merit, but that political and moral ideology is still central to understanding cinema. I believe in the capacity of film, not only as pure entertainment, but as an art form which is capable of elevating the human spirit and capturing the political, social, and philosophical condition of an age or a nation. I am motivated to write about films because an art form as glorious and varied as cinema deserves a level of criticism to equal it.



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