Circling the movies: The critic as friend of film

As the New York Film Critics Circle celebrated its 75th anniversary leading up to this week’s awards presentation gala, I had a private name for each of the film series, screenings and panel discussions: “Addison DeWitt Is Dead.”

Contrary to “All About Eve’s” legendary caricature of the critic as an envious venomous sniper, these events were intended to recollect the Critics Circle’s history and promote the fact that critics love and support movies. But as critics, our bravest choices are not always popular. We are foremost committed to discernment. That’s why the New York Film Critics Circle, from its first best picture choice of John Ford’s “The Informer” in 1935 to this year’s choice of “The Hurt Locker,” has often — sometimes inevitably — differed from the Oscar winner.

Indeed, the critics’ choices often indicate an East Coast political and intellectual slant (because that’s who we are). But ideally we vote for movies that are not box office or technology leaders. If the winners we announce take the limelight from the other subsequent awards, that shadow we cast is called Merit.

I’d like to challenge award season to be a period that brings critical thinking back to movie watching whether one is a bona fide film critic or not. Addison DeWitt is dead, but the idiotic frenzy of prize-giving for its own sake revives his pettiness. Awards get handed out before some movies ever begin to matter — but then are quickly forgotten once the curtain falls on the Kodak Theater.

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