Remember the old days, when movies were glorious, magical and mute? Neither do I. But the passing of the silent era from memory into myth is what The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius’s dazzling cinematic objet d’art, is all about. This is not a work of film history but rather a generous, touching and slightly daffy expression of unbridled movie love. Though its protagonist mourns the arrival of sound, “The Artist” itself is more interested in celebrating the range and power of a medium that can sparkle, swoon and suffer so beautifully that it doesn’t really need to have anything to say.

– A.O. Scott, NY TIMES (x)

The Golden Age of Middlebrow, whose end we may be mourning whether we realize it or not. That may sound odd, since “middlebrow” is the kind of word rarely said without a sneer. How can pretension and mediocrity enjoy a golden age? Like the later, sociologically related terms “yuppie” and “hipster,” middlebrow is a name you would never call yourself, but rather a semantic shoe that belongs on someone else’s foot. It is also, however, a workable synonym, in the sphere of art and culture, for democracy.

On the New York Times opinion pages, A.O. Scott considres how the death of Middlebrow wrought a resurgence of inequality

Pair with Susan Sontag on how the false divide between “high” and “low” culture limits us.

…imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, and each one of them presses on our attention with a claim of uniqueness, a demand to be recognized as special. The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.
—  A.O. Scott
Watch on moma.tumblr.com

We mourn the passing of David Carr, an insightful & passionate voice. In this memorable video, he walks through our galleries with colleagues Randy Kennedy and A.O. Scott.


It’s dark and warm and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz– WAIT! Do film critics fall asleep at the movies?

  • Amy Gustine’s advice for writing what you don’t know. | Literary Hub
  • Francisco Goldman in conversation with Idra Novey about violence, humor, and North American naiveté. | Literary Hub
  • “I was a world removed from the beautiful, spangled, over-rewarded life I’d been mired in, and almost immediately, to my utter astonishment, I started to get productive writing done.” John Wray recalls moving to New York. | BuzzFeed Books
  • Nikkita Oliver and Danez Smith performed on the Late Show; Macklemore was there too. | Rolling Stone
  • Italy’s leading TV production company has announced they are making a series out of the Neapolitan novels, so sign up for your Italian classes now. | Hollywood Reporter
  • “By translating something you’re implicitly recommending it.” An interview with the translator of Roberto Bolaño and Álvaro Enrigue, Natasha Wimmer. | Broadly
  • “Why do we like what we like? What’s the relation between beauty and truth?” A.O. Scott on tackling big questions. | Electric Literature
  • “It’s a bit surprising—given the trend to read exclusively women or non-white authors—more attention isn’t given to indigenous populations.” Become familiar with some indigenous writers through a new blog series. | Ploughshares
  • Multiple acts of form and function, threaded together with theme: Four essay collections worth reading. | The Millions
  • “By two in the morning, I was becoming familiar with the physicality of the all-nighter.” Carmen Maria Machado on staying up all night. | Catapult

Also on Literary Hub: A Phone Call from Paul: Jhumpa Lahiri on family, banality, and the art of conversation · Librarian Confidential: Polli Kenn on why you really need a library card · Two new poems by Fred Moten · The Hunger: from Greg Baxter’s Munich Airport, now out in paperback

The Big Picture Strikes Back

A.O. Scott on the state of cinema:

Equally hard to refute is the idea that we are approaching a horizon of video convergence, in which all those screens will be equal and interchangeable and the distinctions between the stuff that’s shown on each one won’t seem as consequential as it does now. We still tend to take for granted that a cable drama, a network sitcom, a feature film, a web video and a first-person combat game are fundamentally different creatures, but they might really be diverse species within a single genus, their variations ultimately less important than what they have in common. They are all moving pictures, after all, and as our means of access to them proliferate and recombine, those old categories are likely to feel increasingly arbitrary and obsolete. The infrastructure of a multiplatform future is before us, and resistance to it can look like an especially tiresome kind of sentimentality. Cinephilia is nostalgia. We might keep going to the movies out of habit, or because it’s sometimes nice to leave the house, but we are losing the old, sustaining belief that this is a special and exalted cultural activity, the supreme mode of participation in the popular arts.

But even as the studios, in the midst of a panic, trip over themselves to look dumb and greedy:

But within this landscape of bloat and desolation, there is quite a lot worth caring about. More important, there are filmmakers determined to refine and reinvigorate the medium, to recapture its newness and uniqueness and to figure out, in a post-film, platform-agnostic, digital-everything era, what the art of cinema might be. Like every previous period of decline — which is to say like just about every other moment in the past century — this is an age of wild and restless experimentation. Maybe even a golden age.


You might end up watching these at a theater, on a tablet or in your den, courtesy of Netflix or BitTorrent or your local cable provider. But you will not be able to mistake them for anything but movies. What is cinema? You know it when you see it.

The entire article is well constructed. In the post-Ebert world, Scott has become the go-to writer not just for reviews of film, but about film.


Dir. Clint Eastwood

Starring Matt Damon, Cecile de France, Jay Mohr, Bryce Howard

External image

External image

Clint Eastwood directs this supernatural thriller about three very different people and their responses to death, including a hesitant American psychic named George (Matt Damon) who may be able to help the others find answers and peace. Marie (Cécile De France) is a French journalist caught up in the aftereffects of the devastating 2004 tsunami, while in London, young Marcus (Frankie and George McLaren) seeks to contact his deceased twin brother.


-A.O. Scott, The New York Times 


In my capacity as a critic, I will weigh in on the artistic merits of Mr. Kechiche’s film in Friday’s paper. But I am also the parent of two mature, inquiring teenagers, one of whom, my 14-year-old daughter, has seen it twice, at the Telluride Film Festival. My permissiveness has raised some eyebrows among friends and colleagues, and I am not necessarily holding myself up as a role model. You have your own rules, and your own reasons for enforcing them, and naked bodies writhing in ecstasy may not be something you want your kids to see. But in some ways, because of its tone and subject matter, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a movie that may be best appreciated by viewers under the NC-17 age cutoff.
It’s a movie about a high school student, after all, confronting issues — peer pressure, first love, homework, postgraduate plans — that will be familiar to adolescents and perhaps more exotic to the middle-aged. In spite of linguistic and cultural differences, the main character, moody, self-absorbed and curious, will remind many American girls of themselves, their friends and the heroines of the young adult novels they devour.
—  New York Times Film Critic A.O. Scott and his decision to let his teenagers see “Blue Is the Warmest Color" 
In crafting a transhistorical argument about criticism, one founded on the — he admits — outdated Enlightenment notion of “subjective universalism,” Scott constantly swats away any fruitful discussions on issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality that may distract from this higher purpose… Leaving out female critics — not to mention queers, working-class critics, and African-American critics — means leaving out an entire history of criticism that pushes back against this autonomy and embraces art’s potential to speak to the power imbalances of cultural production.
[Drive] is a prisoner of its own emptiness, substituting moods for emotions and borrowed style for real audacity…it is, for all its bravado, timid and conventional.
—  A.O. Scott, still correct, though this only halfway explains my distaste.
‘One Day’ - Review - NYTimes.com

A.O. Scott’s review of One Day is positive and blah blah blah, but can we just focus on this sentence for a second?

One Day turns an episodic story into an anthology of feelings and associations, many familiar, a few surprising, some embarrassing and one or two worth holding onto.

Oh hello, an anthology of feelings. You're my new favorite phrase.

I have to say that the idea of critical authority has always struck me as slippery, even chimerical. Authority over whom? Power to do what? The importance of particular critics can’t be quantified in lumens of fame, circulation numbers or box office returns, though by all of these measures Kael, in her heyday, certainly enjoyed unusual prominence. But like every other critic, she was above all a writer, and a writer only really ever has — or cares about — one kind of power, which is the power to engage readers.
—  Film critic A.O. Scott, in conversation with fellow critic Manohla Dargis, on Pauline Kael and criticism in the New York Times.
One thing about big studios you have to realize is they’re not working for us, they’re working for the global marketplace, and this has had a big effect on storytelling and on content.

David Denby, The New Yorker

Joshua Topolsky of The Verge moderated this Future of Film conversation with film critics David Denby (The New Yorker) and A.O. Scott (The New York Times) at 92YTribeca on 4/24/13 at TFF2013. 

Watch the clip here