Ben Affleck’s Argo emerged from the Toronto Film Festival as virtually every pundit’s Best Picture frontrunner, its grand reception topping off a heap of baity ingredients. This particular bit of groupthink is particularly disheartening, as those ingredients are, collectively, something Argo itself is never able to soar above. You know the mouthwatering pitch: Based on the impossible true story, this white-knuckle political thriller recounts the daring escape of six American diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis. Produced by Academy Award winner George Clooney and Oscar nominee Grant Heslov, and directed by Academy Award winner Ben Affleck, who also stars, Argo is both a topical drama and a rousing crowd-pleaser. Which, of course, says nothing of the movie’s juicy Hollywood ties, doubling as an offbeat slice of film-biz history wherein a C.I.A. specialist uses a faux sci-fi production as his rescue ruse. On paper, Argo reads like a dream project, and it certainly helps that Affleck stocks his cast with a fine mix of Oscar favorites and of-the-moment faces (alongside Alan Arkin are Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler, and Chris Messina). This is a movie that drums up sight-unseen support, specifically for Affleck, who’s been soldiering forth as a filmmaker and has finally made a film about something. It’s a shame that what he’s made also plays like a thin and shameless Oscar box-checker, and if it were to take the big prize, it’d only amplify the bemused awards-watcher’s cynicism.
Flim critics are a dying breed, since they’re either stuck online, being laid off from print publications or going off to Grad School. Dave Hudson himself gathers the tales of woe—this is clearly not the time to be a Journalist, but a perfect time to start digging ditches and hoping for New Deals.
But before all that comes to pass, have a listen to this impromptu podcast we recorded in early December featuring Variety associate editor Peter Debruge, who wrote up the whole “OMG NYC HAS BLOG WRITER” trend last week and quotes most of the people he met with. Of course, it’s also important to mention Peter’s invite was forwarded to a good number of us—I got mine through a third party. Don’t fret, I’m still not a real critic dear listeners.
In addition to Peter, we’ve got a decent crowd for this canned chat: Lauren Wissot (Infamous for Various Reasons), Michael Joshua Rowin (The L Magazine, Stop Smiling); House contributor and Cine File Andrew Schenker, S.T. VanAirsdale (The Reeler, Defamer). There’s a myriad of topics covered in this episode, ranging from the soul of a critic to why the hell someone would turn down work based on their soul. We cover it all—and it basically boils down to the following: some people subscribe to that nasty “Journalism” concept; others believe being a critic means keeping chaste, pure, and being able to lift their nose up to work that others would gladly take from them.
This has been Episode 12, “Film Critics in Peril on a Cliffhanger!” Join us next time and find out the following:
1. Did Vadim make rent for the month? (I think so. But he still needs a roommate.)
2. Did I find work at The Onion? (No, they only hire editorial positions internally and I don’t feel like working for free again.)
3. Really, why are the New York Onion staffers such utter cocks? (We blame their swanky SoHo digs.)
4. Are critics fucked? (Sure.)
5. What’s the difference between a critic and a Journalist? (Who knows! Both are out of work!)
6. Will we focus on The Onion as much as we focus on Armond White? (No. Armond is at least a nice guy on occasion. The Onion’s New York office staff never answer their e-mail.)
And if you see Vadim or myself at the bar, buy us a drink! We’re broke and Dave Patterson’s whole “let’s tax soda and booze” nonsense hurts us! John Lichman