BWP Oscar Series: We Need To Think More When Discussing Art



Here’s an unfortunate truth that is 100% true: the language we use to discuss film (and music, writing, and pretty much everything else) is bad. Not only is it bad, it’s the worst ever, to the point that why do people talk, even? Right? I’ll explain.

Consider, for the sake of argument, the conversation around the film Gone Girl, released earlier this year. Many critics were quick to say it was an early Oscar contender, thanks to strong acting, an exciting, twisty script, and the always-good direction of David Fincher. Keeping in mind that it was indeed a fine film, the idea that it is in league with the likes of Birdman or Boyhood verges on the absurd. In my opinion, it does not have the same depth of emotion as some of the films that did get nominated, does not have as unique of an artistic style employed by others. It’s fairly standard, but good, thriller fare. And that’s okay! A film can be good, entertaining, and exciting without being a contender for Best Picture.

Worse, though, than the strange rush to declare good movies great, is this bizarre need to declare movies terrible on the basis of a single element. In the months following the release of Boyhood, a strange backlash built against the film. From day one, there has been justifiable criticism that the film’s script is simple. And it’s true that allotting just a few minutes to 12 segments meant to represent the life and growth of a young man restricts the story possibilities in a way that a typical film won’t experience.

Look to places like Reddit, though, or comments sections for Indiewire, Slashfilm, or any other number of film sites, and a strange refrain can be found. Boyhood is terrible. It’s boring. It’s the worst movie of the year.

It’s seemingly the opposite problem to what is found with the aforementioned Gone Girl, but in truth it’s more like a different manifestation of the same thing: too many people don't know how to properly criticize a piece of art. Here are two areas I find particularly problematic.

On the professional side, you have that endless need to write think pieces, and quickly, in order to compete with all the other think pieces out there from all the other film sites talking about the exact same film. When you’re all scrambling to get as many hits as you can off the latest Marvel casting news, it becomes hard to set your outlet apart. Rewriting a press release only affords so much opportunity for creativity. And so the endless pieces on 'X' reason that 'Y' is so special, or so terrible.

An analytical piece that can be found nowhere else could end up talked about on competitors’ sites – not a bad way to drive traffic. Throw in today’s lightning-quick media landscape and the lack of editorial oversight at most publications, though, and suddenly just about any thought that can be slammed out in a couple of hours (this one included) can get published for the world to see. Good critical analysis opens new realms of discussion around a work. Bad critical analysis just magnifies snap judgements and further poisons the conversational pool. It’s tough to spot the dividing line, but with proper editorial discussion, it should be possible.

In more general terms, there’s a lack of nuance employed by people who consume and criticize art (which is pretty much everybody). How many people truly love Game of Thrones? How many people truly hate rap music? Not to say that there aren’t people in either of those camps, but neither of those statements on their own is a particularly nuanced position to hold, and for people to love and hate things with the frequency that they say they do would be suggestive of mass suffering of an emotional disorder. Not impossible, but (hopefully) unlikely.

The idea of selecting a single film as the best of the year is strange enough, but to my mind, there’s little doubt that there should be calmer, more reflective criticism of art, by professionals and laypeople alike. Better conversation means better understanding, better appreciation of good and great art, and a better opportunity to reward great work for its achievement. Besides, as movie-goers know, only a Sith deals in absolutes.