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Marshall Fine

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Steamed About 'Cultural Vegetables'

Posted: 07/ 5/11 08:45 AM ET

I was bemused when Dan Kois wrote his "aw shucks" piece in the New York Times in April about how, sometimes, he just can't get with the program when it comes to boring movies that get a tidal wave of critical acclaim.

And I was amused when, a month or so later, the Times' critics, A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, responded with their own fervent defense of their duty to champion movies like Tree of Life and its ilk -- that, while Kois found movies like Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff boring, they found movies like Hangover 2 equally uninteresting. (Talk about straw men.) This led to a discussion about "eating your cultural vegetables" that still seems to be ping-ponging around the Internet.

I refer to that kind of movie as oat-bran cinema: dull movies that are supposed to be good for you. I think of them -- movies like Goodbye Solo and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Wendy and Lucy -- as the kind of movies that make people hate film critics (who praise these snore-fests so lavishly that people are suckered into paying money to see them).

Amid all this high-minded discussion of the role and duty of the critic, one key piece of information seemed to get lost in the shuffle. It's something that seems self-evident and yet people act surprised when I actually say it out loud. And it's this:

Every critic believes that his or her opinion is the right one. And that everybody else is wrong. Except the critics who share his opinion.

Even then, critics don't believe that other critics who share their opinion are their equals. Rather, they just happen to have the good taste to agree.

It's not just that critics believe they're right. They also believe that theirs is the only opinion that truly matters.

Click here: This commentary continues on my website.

 
 
 

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