Posted by: wolferiver | July 11, 2009

Informed Opinion

I have a friend who several times a year will refer to a recently released movie as “the best movie ever”.  I hear that phrase from this friend something like three or four times a year, and almost always about a recently released Hollywood tentpole movie.  You know the kind; massively advertised, heavily hyped, based on Marvel or DC comic book heroes, and squarely aimed at 13 year-old boys of all ages.  Each time I want to say, “Really?  That’s The Best Movie Ever?  Is it better than the last one you said that about?”

It’s difficult for me to respect the opinion of someone who seems to indiscriminately award the title of “Best Movie Ever”.  Something like 15 or 20 in the past five years have enthusiastically received this title from this friend.  I know that this person sincerely likes these movies, and likes them far better than all those boring Oscar nominated ones, but my experience indicates that my friend is simply wrong.

Here’s Roger Ebert explaining this.

So let’s focus on those who seriously believe “Transformers” is one of the year’s best films. Are these people wrong? Yes. They are wrong. I am fond of the story I tell about Gene Siskel. When a so-called film critic defended a questionable review by saying, “after all, it’s opinion,” Gene told him: “There is a point when a personal opinion shades off into an error of fact. When you say ‘The Valachi Papers’ is a better film than ‘The Godfather,’ you are wrong.” Quite true. We should respect differing opinions up to certain point, and then it’s time for the wise to blow the whistle. Sir, not only do I differ with what you say, but I would certainly not fight to the death for your right to say it. Not me. You have to pick your fights.

What I believe is that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: Curious and teachable. If someone I respect tells me I must take a closer look at the films of Abbas Kiarostami, I will take that seriously. If someone says the kung-fu movies of the 1970s, which I used for our old Dog of the Week segments, deserve serious consideration, I will listen. I will try to do what Pauline Kael said she did: Take everything you are, and all the films you’ve seen, into the theater. See the film, and decide if anything has changed. The older you are and the more films you’ve seen, the more you take into the theater. When I had been a film critic for ten minutes, I treated Doris Day as a target for cheap shots. I have learned enough to say today that the woman was remarkably gifted.

Those who think “Transformers” is a great or even a good film are, may I tactfully suggest, not sufficiently evolved. Film by film, I hope they climb a personal ladder into the realm of better films, until their standards improve. Those people contain multitudes. They deserve films that refresh the parts others do not reach. They don’t need to spend a lifetime with the water only up to their toes.

Shorter Roger Ebert:

Shorter Craig Ferguson.

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