Picking up on a podcast series launched back in Cannes, Film Comment editor Gavin Smith and Film Society's Scott Foundas sat down for a half hour conversation about the year in cinema and the results of Film Comment's twelfth annual survey of critics and writers. The poll included more than 120 participants naming their best of 2011. [See Film Comment's Best Released Films of 2011 and Film Comment's Best Unreleased Films of 2011]
"This as close to a definitive look at the year as anyone is going to get," Smith proclaimed at the start of the sharp, opinionated conversation with Foundas.
During the extended dialogue, the two discussed and debated Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life, Jafar Panahi's This Is Not a Film, Martin Scorsese's Hugo, Michel Hazanavicius's The Artist, Lars Von Trier's Melancholia, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret, Raoul Ruiz' Mysteries of Lisbon, Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day, David Fincher's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and more.
Evaluating the cinema of 2011, Smith and Foundas reflected on a pronounced crop of movies that look at the end of the world or, in Gavin Smith's words, "take a route into the past."
"We live in a very pessimistic, almost unbearable time," Gavin Smith reiterated, "On the one had, there seem to be a whole raft of films that try to escape into the past and into a kind of nostalgia, and by the same token, a ton of films that are either apocalyptic or envision the spectacle of humanity being annihilated."
As the conversation continued, Smith and Foundas mulled over the disconnect that exists between the movies that resonate with critics and those that are part of the end of the year awards season discussion.
"At the end of then year the discussion of movies becomes so much more about all of the hype around a movie rather than the movie itself, so that you have these movies that nobody's actually even seen that are sort of pre-designated as front-runners for this or that award just based on the cast or the material or the filmmaker," Scott Foundas elaborated, "In no way is it any kind of critical analysis, this is all done before people have even seen these movies."
Smith concurred, agreeing that in November and December, critics dutifully go to see the annual round of prestige pictures hoping to find the best movies of a year. Inevitably, it is movies from earlier in the year that tend to be more acclaimed.
"I think that there's two different years," explained Gavin Smith. "There's the year as it's seen by people who are discerning and are constantly engaged on a day-to-day basis with movies and then there's the rest of Academy voters, and so on, who—maybe they are casually watching movies throughout the year—but then towards the end of the year there's this tremendous pressure and this tremendous deluge of stuff that they have to think about and start seeing."
The complete conversation between Gavin Smith and Scott Foundas follows: