Sunday, January 02, 2005

Consensus vs. Passion

Apparently every critic and his or her mother think that Alexander Payne's SIDEWAYS is the best thing since the invention of the wheel. The film and the creative team, those behind the camera and in front of it, have won the lion's share of awards announced to this point. It's not undeserving of being honored, but the sheer bulk of critics group prizes it's taking is staggering. The New York Times' A.O. Scott has noticed too and has something to say about "the most drastically overrated movie of 2004".

Overrated probably isn't the right word. Many people like the movie a lot--I'm one of them--but the degree to which it's being singled out as cinema's best is, to be blunt, absurd. I don't think that "overhonored" or "overrecognized" are words, but they more accurately describe the phenomenon that's happening in the critical evaluation of 2004's year in movies.

What's happening isn't necessarily unusual when determining a consensus winner. Even if it isn't ten critics' favorite film, it is placing in each top ten list more than any other. It brings to mind the limitation of a scale like Rotten Tomatoes. If I took part in the survey, my "fresh" reviews for DOGVILLE, my choice for the year's best film, and THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE, one of the films on the low end of what constitutes a positive review/recommendation, would be considered equal. Needless to say, there's a big difference in how I feel about these films, but the scale doesn't measure passion.

The Village Voice evaluates its poll results with a Passiondex. Here's J. Hoberman's useful definition in his poll essay:
"(The Passiondex™ divides a film's total points by the number of its voters and then multiplies this average by the percentage of those voters who ranked it first.) Measuring the intensity with which critics championed a particular film, the Passiondex™ distinguishes between those movies with real partisans and those that, typically filling out the lower slots in a critic's list, are consensus choices."
Neither a pure consensus nor a Passiondex can perfectly divine what a group thinks is best. I suppose I'm just sore because I think a lot of other films as good as or better than SIDEWAYS are getting lost in the process, and I'm frustrated in my expectations that the trend will continue in the next couple weeks.

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