Best of the Decade Derby resumes, hopefully with more frequency now that I’m settled in Brooklyn – and surrounded as I now am with dozens of cinephile friends and colleagues, I hope to have many of them over to watch and discuss more of the best films of the past 10 years.
Unfortunately, one of my favorite cinephiles and critics is moving out of New York today. Although I’ve only known Mike D’Angelo personally for about a year, he’s meant a lot to me for many years, as he has for many online cinephiles. When I first explored the internet for helpful writings on film, his voice stood out on his website The Man Who Viewed Too Much, long before the blogosphere cluttered the landscape with voices. Once you read him, it’s hard to forget his hard-edged style, his knack for an incisive turn of phrase that can raise both a chuckle and an eyebrow, and his more-than-occasional ruthless ass-ripping of a movie, including not a few golden calves cherished by myself or others (I’ll never forget how he invoked the “cry of the fishmongers” line in Barton Fink to leave John Sayles’ Limbo all but discredited.) Mike became more or less the first to leverage his online writing into a career as a professional critic, with gigs at Entertainment Weekly, Time Out New York and Esquire, which made him the envy of not a few young, aspiring critics, myself included. I remember going to a screening of Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep at Film Forum after reading Mike’s glowing review, and being annoyed by several young guys in the row behind me talking loudly. They were discussing Mike’s review.
Perhaps it was because his voice held so much sway that I eventually felt the need to rail against it, which I did in this post on the Rotten Tomatoes forum (I’m still rather proud of my opening line: “New York City, where models swing their hips and critics sling their quips” – and I find Mike to be the fastest quipslinger in the Western Hemisphere). In this post I accused Mike of being unwilling to meet a movie halfway, which I feel has blinkered him against certain treasures in world or experimental cinema (cf. his review of Jia Zhangke’s Unknown Pleasures: ” Those who get off on movies that serve primarily as sociological legends will have a field day with it. You hardcore Jia fans know what to do.”) I also called him “notoriously impatient,” an accusation that finds support in his well-known penchant for walking out on films with great frequency (though in fairness, he sees a lot more films than just about anyone – including titles I couldn’t be bothered to watch – so for him there are bound to be more worth walking out on). This blog, in fact, was in some ways conceived by an un-D’Angelo philosophy: that with the films in Shooting Down Pictures I’d try to go as deeply and as generously as possible into articulating what’s interesting about each film, even at the sake of challenging my initial snap judgments.
A few online cinephiles stopped corresponding with me because of what I said about Mike on Rotten Tomatoes, I guess due to a feeling of loyalty to Mike along with resentment that I had vandalized their own sacred cow. Apparently Mike didn’t seem to mind, since he links to this critique on his own website, where he labels me “one of my most discerning critics.” I find it somewhat ironic, perhaps even sobering, that I’ve started writing for Time Out New York, D’Angelo’s old platform. Just yesterday I told a filmmaker friend visiting from Japan that I was now writing for Time Out, to which he responded, “Wow, you’re going to be like Mike D’Angelo! He’s a great writer, even though he wrote a hateful review of my movie!”
I’m only a few reviews into my stint and I’ve already come to realize how much my writing for this publication invokes that old D’Angelo snappiness. I feel that my writing runs a risk, the same risk that I’d complain about with Mike from time to time: to cut a movie down for an easy punchline rather than get to its center. But ultimately I do love writing in this voice, especially when it reflects a passionate, energetic and infectious concern for these films and for film in general – in other words, Mike’s writing at its best.
I made sure to make Mike the first of hopefully many invitees to the Brooklyn Best of the Decade Derby, just days before his departure. We settled on Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, a fitting choice in all too many ways. Not only is it one of Mike’s very favorite films of the decade, and possibly one of mine as well, but it’s about a man who’s spending what may be his final hours in New York City. And it’s about the bonds between guys who have a longstanding regard for each other, a bit of contentiousness mixed with concern. My screening with Mike had little contentious to it whatsoever, just a lot of great insights from one of the best critics around, which I’d now like to share.
Here’s the play by play, with Mike’s comments in blue:
0:00 – MD’A: This always struck me as an odd way to start a film – you hear beating sounds and the whimpering of a dog.
KBL: In hindsight it could represent how the studio treated this movie.
MD’A: Yeah the studio all but buried this picture. Even this DVD package is pretty bare bones; it doesn’t have much to it. They just didn’t know what to do with a movie like this.
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