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It’s Alive!: The Top Film Criticism Sites: An Annotated Blog Roll, Part Two

We hope this list helps direct readers to sites of note.

It’s Alive!: The Top Film Criticism Sites: An Annotated Blog Roll, Part Two

This is the second of two posts cross-published at The House with the kind permission of Film Comment editor Gavin Smith and writer Paul Brunick. The blog roll appends Paul’s FC article “The Living and the Dead: Online versus Old School”, which deals with the evolution of film criticism in the digital age. We hope this list helps direct readers to sites of note. Full disclosure that The House is included among the selections. Click here to read Part One.

Observations on Film Art

Film scholar David Bordwell is a one-man institution—not only a font of productivity (staple volumes Film Art and Film History, co-written with wife Kristin Thompson, are now in their ninth and third editions, respectively) but a kind of eager, plainspoken ambassador for the field. Moreover, this pillar of the establishment has a blog. And since its launch in September 2006, Observations on Film Art certainly stands as the most robust and active online home of any film-studies academic. Posting individual entries in roughly equal measure, Bordwell and Thompson have taken to the online world’s characteristically more relaxed and informal mode of address. What makes their site an essential stop is that both are fine aesthetic observers as well as scholars, and they write the equivalent of full-fledged publishable essays, usually with plentiful and carefully placed frame enlargements. And the writing is anything but ephemeral: Bordwell’s post on “new media and old storytelling’’ was selected for the paperback edition of the Library of America’s American Movie Critics, edited by Phillip Lopate. More recent highlights include a thoughtful appreciation of critic Gilbert Seldes and an analysis of the forgotten possibilities of “the cross” in film blocking. —Paul Fileri

Unexplained Cinema

If the blogosphere is a realm that’s predisposed to linguistic profusion, Unexplained Cinema stands out for its beguiling reticence. A companion to his more text-centric Cinema Styles, Greg Ferrara’s blog consists entirely of film stills: moments snatched from their 24 frames-per-second rush and held up to the digital light for closer inspection. Sometimes the images impressionistically sketch out a scene’s mini-arc in a series of telling shots, an act enhanced by the blog’s vertical placement of frames within two centered black lines, transforming your screen into a makeshift strip of celluloid and your scroll bar an impromptu projector. Elsewhere, he’ll trace the emotional trajectory of a performance, with particularly loving attention bestowed upon dignified British actresses in silent turmoil, from Celia Johnson in Brief Encounter to Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. And Ferrara has a real eye for juxtaposition. A post noting the death of actress Carol Marsh features an image of a pigtailed, bedridden Carol calmly gazing off-screen left, followed by a wild-haired, quite vampiric Carol perched in a tree and leering off-screen right; as a micro-meditation on the dualities of a screen persona, it’s genuinely haunting. As for what it all means, Ferrara enigmatically cedes the floor to his readers/viewers. —Matthew Connolly

Masters of Cinema

The passion of the collector knows no bounds. So it’s no surprise to find that websites catering to avid DVD collectors constitute some of the most spirited precincts of online film culture. Launched in 2001, Masters of Cinema is run by an eclectic group hailing from the U.S., Canada, and England: Jan Bielawski, Doug Cummings, R. Dixon Smith, Trond S. Trondsen, and Nick Wrigley. So which masters tie this collective together? Many celebrated auteurs, but from the beginning it seems there was one sanctified quartet: Ozu, Bresson, Tarkovsky, and Dreyer. Check out the eminently useful worldwide DVD release calendar posted on the sharply designed home page and explore five years’ worth of DVD of the Year readers’ polls. Since 2004, the site’s team has collaborated with the British DVD company Eureka to produce a Masters of Cinema curated collection, notable for the sterling care taken with each disc and the inclusion of top-notch book-length liner notes. Communities of dedicated amateurs link and sustain Masters of Cinema as a valuable resource for anyone with access to a multi-region DVD player. It’s an increasingly familiar figure who enters these virtual gathering places: the domestic cinephile, constantly struggling with the ever-present pitfalls and temptations of technophilia, consumer fetishism, and the withdrawal from public space. —Paul Fileri

Dave Kehr

The best blogs thrive as online meeting places for discerning enthusiasts—a modest-sounding accomplishment that actually means a great deal. Launched in 2005, Dave Kehr’s website is a sideline to his gig reviewing DVDs at The New York Times. Yet as its tagline, “Reports from the Lost Continent of Cinephilia,” suggests, it also serves as a venue for Kehr to bring his critical intelligence and knowledge to bear far beyond the home-video landscape. The blog’s backbone is formed by entries linking to his weekly column, but the real action occurs in the comments section, where discussions are sparked by Kehr’s remarks on everything from the state of film criticism to the careers of Nagisa Oshima and Sydney Pollack. His reflections on the site tend to circle back to the changing experience of filmgoing today. Kehr observes that the culture of cinephilia “used to be about, for instance, hanging out in the lobby of the Museum of Modern Art and starting a discussion or argument.” But now, he adds, these encounters largely take place “home alone”—usually spurred by a DVD, TCM, or something online. This site, which began as a lark, has become a prime Web destination. —Paul Fileri

Thanks for the Use of the Hall

Thanks for the Use of the Hall is the personal blog of Dan Sallitt, a critic and filmmaker whose work includes the independent features Honeymoon (98) and All the Ships at Sea (04). Sallitt has written for print publications across the country (from the L.A. Reader to the Chicago Reader), contributed pieces to Senses of Cinema, and provided several essays for the British DVD imprint “Masters of Cinema”—but his blog doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to its geographic specificity. TFUH proudly offers “a general discussion…and specific recommendations of films playing in the New York City area.” Since its inauguration in May 2007, Sallitt has maintained a slow-but-steady posting schedule. Some months there may be as few as two or three entries, but the thoroughness of Sallitt’s historically informed criticism gives his blog a distinctive lasting value. More importantly, Sallitt provides a personal record of the diverse movies (from repertory screenings to new releases) and venues (from prominent venues like BAMcinématek and the Walter Reade to relative newbies like Maysles Cinema and assorted mini-festivals) that collectively constitute NYC’s film scene. —Cullen Gallagher

Jonathan Rosenbaum

In the late Nineties and early Aughts, the Chicago Reader film section was a major hub of cinephilia’s online landscape. Not only did the archive include all of the sharp, highly opinionated capsule reviews that Jonathan Rosenbaum and Dave Kehr had written for the alternative weekly, but it also provided access to one of the most vital bodies of work in film criticism: Rosenbaum’s brilliantly sustained run of essays on contemporary cinema. Now that the long-form pieces have been removed from the site and Rosenbaum has retired from regular reviewing, it is a huge relief to find his writings republished on his personal website. For the most part, showcases the most productive period of his career—his two decades at the Reader—as each month J.R. dredges up a piece from the vaults and generously pads it with a selection of stills. Sifting through the several thousand articles on the site, a reader can’t help but feel nostalgic for the days when Rosenbaum was producing his lucid, erudite prose on a regular basis. But the Internet can be credited with extending his name’s reach among a wider movie-loving readership, and this exhaustive online anthology ensures that we can all continue to learn from his work. —Andrew Chan


After wandering through the new-media forest of so many hyperactive, cluttered web pages, the spare layout of the Australia-based online film journal Rouge feels like a clearing in a forest—a clean, well-lighted place for an ardently cinephilic readership interested in some of today’s finest long-form critical writing. Since its birth in late 2003, co-editors Helen Bandis, Adrian Martin, and Grant McDonald, along with webmaster Bill Mousoulis, have guided this labor of love (enigmatically named after a 1968 Gérard Fromanger flag painting and Godard collaboration) through 13 issues so far. Free of commercial and institutional strictures, Rouge boasts an enviable international stable of contributors—Jonathan Rosenbaum, Nicole Brenez, Shigehiko Hasumi, Thomas Elsaesser, and William D. Routt, to name a few—and a remarkable commitment to the eclectic and intellectual at its most lively, relevant, and generative. This means publishing the words of filmmakers (Mark Rappaport, Víctor Erice, Pedro Costa), lengthy translations (of Raymond Bellour and Serge Daney), and terrific image-by-image analyses of film sequences. In an information environment more and more beholden to the speed of the daily news cycle, there’s something to be said for the value of long-range insight that a little magazine such as Rouge brings to film culture. —Paul Fileri

Supposed Aura

Mubarak Ali’s Supposed Aura is screen-grab epistemology, a philosophically inflected attempt to get to the bottom of images, their internal logic and their ability to instruct us about the external world. Tracing subterranean trajectories between non-mainstream narrative and documentary filmmakers (e.g. Hartmut Bitomsky, Marcel Hanoun, Jean-Claude Rousseau), Ali recuperates films that make politics and pedagogy integral to their aesthetics. In montages of textual quotations and screen grabs, Supposed Aura excavates moments in film that reach for truth, exploring the image in its capacity to reveal. A chronicle of lost true things resurrected through poetry and image, Ali helms a project of Dorskian devotion (as in Nathaniel Dorsky, filmmaker and author of Devotional Cinema). A recent post quoted Jean-Claude Rousseau’s “La beauté n’est jamais fictive”: perhaps the beauty of cinema is in its truth, and vice versa. In its acts of resurrection and commitment, Mubarak Ali’s blog embeds itself in the truths and beauties of the cinema it chronicles. The history of movies is also a movie; Supposed Aura is not just of the cinema but is cinema. —Dave McDougall

World Picture

Aimed at the happy few and imbued with sensibilities neither wholly amateur nor professional, World Picture was launched in 2008 by Brian Price, John David Rhodes, and Meghan Sutherland, media scholars and longtime friends split between university towns in Oklahoma and East Sussex, England. Sutherland says that she and her fellow editors began the journal in response to a frustration with the “technological specialization of film and television studies scholarship and with the professionalized styles of writing…it tended to produce.” They hope to “cultivate a space [for] more speculative and porous ways of thinking that can cut across the typical genres, styles, and media of thought.” The first issue was entitled “Jargon” and approached, in a manner both critically acute and slyly ruminative, the ways that epithet gets bandied about. Issue two broached the hardly obvious theme of the “Obvious,” while the third considered the slippery issue of “Happiness.” Between the three, you’ll find long interviews with Olivier Assayas and Emmanuel Bourdieu, trenchant essays on Bamako and Adorno, and a charming piece of fiction by Sam Lipsyte called “A Pimple on the Ass of Drew Barrymore Speaks.” Their current issue boasts a bevy of interesting articles wrapped in yet another intriguing title: “Arousal.”— Paul Fileri

Ain’t It Cool News

The rise of Harry Knowles’s Ain’t It Cool News parallels the film industry’s increased involvement with San Diego Comic-Con and the rise of Austin’s film scene, from its alternative exhibition circuit (highlighted by SXSW and Knowles’s own Fantastic Fest) to its thriving independent productions. While the former provides Hollywood with focus-group insights into the valuable fanboy demographic and the latter fresh discoveries of up and coming (and thus inexpensive) creative talent, it’s eerie to think that awareness of Knowles alerted Hollywood to the existence of both youthful markets. AICN’s “agents” track down pre-production gossip, aggressively solicit first-look access to promotional materials, sneak in (though by now they’re usually invited) to test screenings—all the while engaging in feverish “What-if…?” speculations. Though the completed movies rarely live up to the pre-release buzz, cinephilia often indulges such pie-in-the-sky speculation. (What if Orson Welles’s later projects had proper backing? etc.) Since AICN operates on the principle that creators of cultural products are beholden on principle to their most rabid fans, it’s unclear how many of the site’s 300,000-plus monthly audience is there for the coverage and reviews themselves and how many are merely gawking at the reader-forums sideshow. —Violet Lucca

The Man Who Viewed Too Much

Those bemoaning the death of print criticism might just have Mike D’Angelo to blame. Before all the think pieces and panel discussions—before Web-based criticism was even a thing, really—there was D’Angelo, who, while writing capsules for Entertainment Weekly, was also running a film-nerd discussion group and maintaining his own personal website, The Man Who Viewed Too Much. D’Angelo was one of the first critics to make his name almost exclusively through the Internet, and though many since have traveled down this new-media path, few have come quite so far. For connoisseurs of criticism, D’Angelo’s voice is immediately recognizable for its unique cadence: a blistering mix of erudition and wit that’s at once stimulating and pleasurable, thorny and inviting. As a writer D’Angelo is a true debate-team champion, fiercely intelligent and argumentative, and he’s never less than a blast to read—even (or especially, perhaps) when you disagree with him. D’Angelo went on from Entertainment Weekly to write for Time Out New York and Esquire, and though the economy would eventually deprive him of those gigs, The Man Who Viewed Too Much is still around and he continues to write for print venues—the Las Vegas Weekly, Nashville Scene, and The Onion’s A.V. Club are all the better for it. —Matt Noller

Mubi (the website formerly known as The Auteurs)

The driving force behind The Criterion Collection’s November 2008 website overhaul, The Auteurs combines a film library with a social networking platform and an online journal called The Notebook. The company is the brainchild of founder and CEO Efe Cakarel, a Turkish-born entrepreneur who drew on his experience in business and technology to launch The Auteurs, despite no previous film track record or industry connections. For Cakarel, the value of their growing online catalogue (roughly 1,000 on offer globally) rests on the diversity and quality of its holdings and the thoughtfulness of the programming. The Notebook, meanwhile, provides a top-notch example of the indispensable work that a dedicated news-aggregator can perform in the age of the RSS feed. Run by former GreenCine Daily guru David Hudson (who also blogged briefly for, it offers an extensive daily clearing-house of film-related news, criticism, and commentary generated from online and print publications, as well as from personal blogs and lively interactive amateur enclaves on the Web. As a whole, The Auteurs proves a worthy reminder that commerce and culture can be deeply intertwined when film devotees try to figure out how to get their hands on the movies they love. —Paul Fileri

Order of the Exile

Jacques Rivette’s cinema has never been easy to track down. Access to his interviews, and the many extraordinary polemics he penned for Cahiers du cinéma in the Fifties and Sixties, has also been limited. Order of the Exile, a website named after a line from Rivette’s 1961 film Paris Belongs to Us, has been trying to rectify this matter. Its intrepid founders, Daniel Stuyck and Ross Wilbanks, say they’ve designed the outpost, hosted by DVD Beaver’s Gary Tooze, with the aim of making more Rivette available in English than ever before. Readers have become contributors, happily driven to transcribe, compile, or translate material, thereby adding to the site’s stripped-down yet well-organized database. Stuyck, meanwhile, takes the time to handle any rights issues that may arise in reprinting previously published material. The holdings of this online collection cut a wide swath, including what is apparently still the only published English translation of Rivette’s key 1961 essay “On Abjection,” concerning the morality of film style; two essential extended interviews with Rivette from 1963 and 1981 (the latter previously untranslated); and even a listing (compiled by a dogged Joseph Coppola) of all of Rivette’s star ratings given to films in Cahiers du cinéma from 1955 to 1966. —Paul Fileri


Cinebeats chronicles “one woman’s love affair with ‘60s and ‘70s-era cinema.” As this informal mission statement suggests, those looking for hard historical data or deep academic readings should keep moving. Photographer and designer Kimberly Lindbergs’s blog is a charming little fan site that reflects the ethos of the small ‘zines where she began her career. That’s not to imply that her project is a slapdash affair; as of March 2010, her sharp postings will be included in Turner Classic Movies’ official blog, Movie Morlocks. Cinebeats, however, is best utilized for its fascinating photographs of Hollywood royalty. Lindbergs has a terrific eye for both composition and charisma, and she’ll snatch up any topical hook to assemble impressive mini-galleries of beloved stars and directors as memorialized in press photos and candids. The fawning may wear thin for readers who feel that one can extol the physical virtues of Steve McQueen or Michael Fassbender too much, but it’s through the sheer exuberance of her personality that the site achieves its success. It’s rare to find such unaffected delight and genuine passion laid as bare as they are on Lindbergs’s blog, an enthusiasm made all the more digestible through her straightforwardly elegant Web design. — Benjamin Shapiro

The Seventh Art

Print publications these days can barely muster a capsule review for most non-Western films released in the States, and that’s on a good week. Over at The Seventh Art, however, movies elsewhere given the 150-word write-off become the subject of lengthy reflection—the kind that newspapers normally reserve for important stuff like Sex and the City 2. Even better, the impressively prolific Srikanth Srinivasan matches quantity with quality. Alternating between directorial profiles, reviews of new releases, and reconsiderations of older works, Srinivasan’s posts are erudite yet accessible, displaying astute formal analysis and a deep knowledge of film history (a recent post on Lisandro Alonso persuasively connected his oeuvre to those of Tsai Ming-liang, Robert Bresson, and the Italian Neorealists). Srinivasan’s expansive view doesn’t ignore U.S. cinema; the blog’s coverage of Inglourious Basterds remains among the most densely packed and satisfying on the Web. But this is a place where “American movies” tend to mean Bush Mama and Los Angeles Plays Itself rather than Avatar and its ilk. That a stinging pan of Cameron’s blockbuster gets roughly half the space of an appreciative look back at Lav Diaz’s filmography is enough to give the most despairing cinephile reason to hope. —Matthew Connolly

The House Next Door

Salon writer Matt Zoller Seitz has been in the game a long time. A journalist in Dallas before emigrating to New York, he wrote for the New York Press for a number of years and has made both narrative features and a batch of incisive, illuminating video essays. In 2006, he embarked on a project to exalt what he thought was a misunderstood and unappreciated film, Terrence Malick’s The New World. That project became The House Next Door. Its first entries were extended exegeses and analyses of The New World’s formal, narrative, and thematic qualities. The website quickly expanded into much more. Now under the stewardship of Time Out New York critic Keith Uhlich (and housed as the official blog of the outstanding online arts mag Slant), THND publishes articles on art cinema, Hollywood blockbusters, television shows, critical dialogues about bona fide classics, in-depth festival coverage, and just about anything else that interests the always perspicacious, ever evolving writing staff of Seitz and Uhlich’s venture. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find an online film magazine as inclusive or expansive as this one. Seitz may have started small, but like the film he championed back then, his opus could not be contained. —Evan Davis

Reverse Shot

Despite being based on an open-source content management system instead of smudgy newsprint, the audacity of Reverse Shot lies in its “spirit of ’68” adherence to principles of print journalism. Inheriting a semi-academic critical approach, each quarterly edition has championed a single director or explored an aspect of filmmaking (a single shot, sound, etc.). The retro lack of a comments field (except for on the blog) allows the opinions expressed to endure with authority. But a tone of reasoned partisanship prevails, even if the site’s “Shot/Reverse Shot” dueling reviews have faded away. A “Talkies” series of video interviews with filmmakers continues a string of ambitious digital and real-world experiments: a stint providing indieWIRE with reviews, guest-programming movie series, and even arranging for distribution of the documentary A Lion in the House in 10 cities in 2006. —Violet Lucca

Senses of Cinema

A veritable institution in the world of online film journals, the 10-and-a-half-year-old Senses of Cinema continues to be one of the most vigorously diverse sources of scholarly research and commentary on the Web. Just a gander at their latest issue (their 55th!) speaks to the breadth of topics and range of methodologies at work: the complex construction of Louise Brooks’s on and off-screen personae; notions of sexuality and homeland in Michael Lucas’s Middle Eastern porno Men of Israel; the intersections of cinema and cartography as expressed in Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (the Melbourne-based journal has always been a particularly valuable source for writing on Aussie cinema). Factor in their invaluable “Great Directors” series—over 200 lengthy entries currently available, and more to come—and Senses of Cinema deservedly earns its reputation as a mainstay of the digital film-criticism universe. —Matthew Connolly


In the realm of Internet criticism, there’s been a lot of commentary on the gulf dividing fanboys and academics, but when it comes to unfortunately polarizing tendencies, there’s still another Great Schism: the altar boys and the assholes: humorlessly earnest, mind-numbingly reverent hagiographers and caustically negative, bitchy would-be satirists. Jim Emerson is here to show us a better way. The founding editor-in-chief of maintains an addictively enjoyable side project in Scanners, a blog that should appeal to all four of the above demographics and everyone in between. Weighing in on topical debates—from 3-D and hyper-fast editing to the culture of the Academy Awards and (yes) the future of film criticism—Emerson isn’t afraid to call bullshit when he sees it, but he reliably turns every takedown into a constructive “learning moment.” A proud member of Colbert Nation, Emerson’s incisive responses to legacy-media “trend pieces” are an almost weekly reminder that the MSM is not as meaningfully quality-controlled as they pretend. (Jim’s response to Newsweek’s infamous can-gay-actors-play-straight? essay by Ramin Setoodeh was the wittiest media critique I’ve read all year.) A formalist at heart, Emerson will spend weeks at a time analyzing isolated aspects of cinematic style: opening shots, close-ups, long-take staging. And he isn’t afraid to revisit his past favorites again and again, obsessively attempting to pin down what it is about certain films (Chinatown, Fight Club, No Country for Old Men) that he finds so compulsively watchable. Smart but accessible, cutting but never cruel, and a true believer in critical debate (“I want to try as hard as I can to understand and be understood”), Emerson makes most critics look like self-involved narcissists impotently talking past one another. —Paul Brunick

Landscape Suicide

Landscape Suicide’s preference is for films in the Lumière-Benning-Straub mode—films that leave their subjects ontologically untouched, surveying the materiality of the world under the direction of nature and cultural precepts. The artist’s job becomes that of a kind of evidence collector, describing an autonomous landscape through framing and juxtaposition, much as a poet puts things into words. Seen in these terms, the filmmaker is effectively a critic of the actual. By extension, Landscape Suicide’s method is to let things speak for themselves with short clusters of high-theory quotes and abstract insert shots from Hollywood B movies and structuralist films—though these are in the necessarily circumscriptive terms of quotes and screen grabs, representative frames extracted from their original contexts and left to make sense in a new one. LS creator Matthew Flanagan presents an image critique in which shots and scenes from films unknowingly echo and reflect each other but remain themselves, so that the reader must play critic to make connections; the result at its best is something like the excavation and articulation of a hidden language—a language the movies have been speaking all along, beyond common subject or authorial intent. —David Phelps

Click here to read Part One.

This article was originally published on The House Next Door.

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