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What Kills Good Movies (It’s Not Bad Reviews)

Two of my fellow-critics have gotten the ball rolling. Inspired by a tweet from Matt Zoller Seitz,
David Ehrlich asked me and other film critics a provocative question for
the latest of his weekly IndieWire surveys: my choice for a film maudit, a “widely despised and/or financially unsuccessful movie” from
the last two years that will turn out in the light of history to be
acclaimed as a classic. The prime examples from decades past are “Heaven’s Gate” and “Ishtar,” but I confess: in considering the question
I ignored the “financially unsuccessful” part, because it applies to
most movies in recent years that will turn out to be classics. More
interesting, to me, is the question of critical condemnation, and the
related question of film distribution.

In the past decade, film criticism has become better than ever, by which
I don’t mean that every critic writing is better than those of the past

but that criticism is better over all—more critics than ever have
actually seen many classic movies and a wide range of current ones,
because cinephilia, an ardor for wide-ranging moviegoing, is now a core
premise for even attempting criticism. (The gap between aesthetically
advanced young critics and op-ed think-piecers is even more conspicuous
than ever.) Above all, there’s a wider and stronger strain of curiosity,
a deeper variety of interests that goes together with a younger set of
critics who possess a wider variety of backgrounds and experiences,
which makes it altogether less likely that a great movie will meet a solid tsunami of critical dismissal—and the sharing of views far and
wide on social media, especially on Twitter, helps to get word around among
critics as well as viewers.

That’s why, I suggested in the survey, the last true film

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