Wow, that was way more praise than I could have hoped for regarding my scatter-brained opening salvo. Thanks, guys.
I'm pretty bad at looking at the big picture but everyone's posts have given me ample food for thought. I sympathize both with Steve's frustration and his Utopian cinematic dream, too. But after a certain point, I find my perspective is pretty limited when it comes to this kind of speculation. This is not to discount anyone's opinion, within the Tree House or without. But I usually find myself lost when it comes to speculating what magical combination of factors will first convince distributors to release and then trick audiences into watching what I recognize are some fairly obscure but very good movies, many of which I dearly love (ex: I caught the very last screening of Margaret's extremely limited original NYC run with a number of fellow critics and a smattering of regular folks, too!).
But that's why I'm glad that we have the Tree House and other similar pulpits from which intelligent zealots, ordained and unrecognized both, can testify as much as they want. Many of the professional outlets that I write for are absorbed in the useless struggle to cover everything and just produce content, which turns perfectly good pulpits into strip mall booths. Everything must be covered by everyone now but more often than not, "everything" is code for "everything but what outlets consider to be truly marginal stuff."
I spent a lot of last year cranking out content and trying to make my interests fit into various different outlets in order to both further my career and to express myself. Selling out a little bit here and a little bit there is inevitable but only if you look at it as selling out (more on this in a moment; first, some despair and pessimism).
Still: where is there a good spot to speak honestly and prominently about the limited but considerable pleasures of 3D Sex and Zen: Extreme Ecstasy? Blogging is a great way to share your love and ideas with like-minded individuals. But right now, I have to look at moviegoing/writing from my uniquely myopic perspective: A) The rent won't pay itself; B) I'm a professional writer and feel I deserve to be paid for my unique opinion, ideas, etc.; and C) I also want my work to be recognized and read by more than a select group of partisan friends and colleagues. So I write about movies I don't care about and, as a result, become part of the Content-Producing Mass Media Machine (patent pending).
But this year's going to be different, by golly--no, really, stop laughing. Again, I can only comfortably speak for myself. But over the course of last year, my work has reached a new level of visibility, without even my realizing it. New eyes and new voices are finding my stuff and while many don't comment on it except to say, "Hey, that film was produced in 1962, not 1974," I now know that some people DO actually read it and even enjoy it. And that's really heartening. Because, while I don't mean to disparage the impact of AMAZING bloggers like Dennis, Sheila and others, I feel I need to participate in larger media entities in order to flesh out my interests. Because it's too easy to talk about studio releases as corporate products and not recognize some genuinely exciting work happening within those systems. To build off of Sheila's piece, I found some of my favorite bits of acting from last year were in mediocre films. I think Jonah Hill is very good in Moneyball, for instance. But I thought he was also pretty good in The Sitter, a film that even apologists of David Gordon Green's current phase as a slacker comedian are reluctant to embrace.
So is a "Better Than" list necessary? I recently worked with Armond at the New York Press for 2 1/2 years. And I've never felt I needed to concern myself with his work. He did his thing and I did mine. Sometimes our respective things (minds out of the gutter, please) were the same thing, like when we both reviewed Hellboy 2 or when we saw Ken Russell's The Devils when "Russellmania!" was at the Film Society at Lincoln Center. But for the most part, I'm in my own world when I write.
When I write, I like to think (when I do think about this stuff, that is) that I'm sharing my interests, curiosities and shortcomings as a critical viewer. "Critical" does not necessarily mean "negative," though for some reason, people assume being critical means I have an axe to grind with whatever film or TV program I'm not automatically all upons to review. But the bottom line in this profession/hobby/art/whatever-the-fuck is that I'm addressing the work as I see it. Bias is irrelevant: if I respond to something in a film, that's what I'm writing about, ideally. Conveying why I responded to what I feel is important in a work of art is my goal.
So I try to juggle writing about stuff that I'm automatically interested in with writing about stuff that I'm trying to be interested in. Because ultimately, I'm trying to find things that resonate with me, regardless of where my peers/distribution confreres & foes alike/fellow members of the moviegoing public find that film-like object at.
And with that insanely reductive ideal in mind, I think it's easy to say that 2011 was a great year for films. Because there was so much to see if you were willing and able to do the work and look for stuff. Criticism is based on the assumption that we as writers are authority figures. But I'm not any more savvy than the average Joe. If Yan can cook, you can cook too, right?
Simon Abrams is a freelance writer for Slant and many other publications who also blogs at Extended Cut: Simon Abrams's Film Journal
TREE HOUSE 8: RARIFIED REACHES
TREE HOUSE #7: BOMBAST, BIG BUDGETS, BREAKFAST BURRITOS
TREE HOUSE POST #6: DISCOVERY THROUGH A SECOND LOOK
TREE HOUSE POST #5: PEDIGREE "BETTER THAN" HYPE?
TREE HOUSE POST #4: CHURCH OF THE MULTIPLEX
TREE HOUSE POST #3: FESTIVAL FAVORITES AND NETFLIX NUGGETS
TREE HOUSE POST #2: AGONY, ECSTASY AND THESPIAN PRIDE
TREE HOUSE POST #1: INTRODUCTIONS AND AN OPENING SALVO