links for 2008-02-03
Matthew Yglesias Really Shouldn't Have Said That!

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Do New York Times Film Critics Watch Movies? Edition)

Does A.O. Scott even go to the movies?

You read something that begins like:

Fine Romance, My Friend, This Is: IT might be Kate Hudson, or maybe Mandy Moore, or possibly Rachel Weisz, Lindsay Lohan or a Jennifer. (Lopez? Aniston? Garner?) But if it’s February, you can be pretty sure that some pretty, plucky actress will be traipsing around some glamorous and photogenic American city (or its Canadian double) in search of the dimple-chinned fellow who embodies her one true love. Katherine Heigl, the star of “27 Dresses,” has already rushed to the altar — or rather the beach, which is where so many movie weddings take place these days — ahead of a crew that will include Ms. Hudson, Uma Thurman and Paul Rudd. (Not all of them are getting married; some are avoiding divorce.) A few specimens of the genre, usually the better ones, can be counted on to sneak in during the summer or fall, as “In Her Shoes” or “The Devil Wears Prada” did...

You finish reading the lead knowing three things:

  • A.O. Scott does not like "27 Dresses."
  • A.O. Scott does not remember a single frame of "The Devil Wears Prada."
  • No editor or typesetter (does it still have typesetters?) or proofreader at the New York Times remembers a single frame of "The Devil Wears Prada."

Yes, "The Devil Wears Prada" is a comedy. Yes, Anne Hathaway is lovely. But the first editor who read A.O. Scott's characterization of it as a movie of "some pretty, plucky actress... in search of the dimple-chinned fellow who embodies her one true love" should have told A.O. Scott to raise his hands immediately and step back from the keyboard: if Scott thinks that "The Devil Wears Prada" is a romance, he has no business writing about romances: "Devil" is not a romance, it is a bildungsroman that happens to have a female lead.

The rest of the article after the lead? It doesn't get better. A.O. Scott unfavorably contrasts the moderns in romance films--“How to Lose a Guy in 10,” “Fool’s Gold,” “27 Dresses,” “Because I Said So,” "Dan in Real Life," "Good Luck Chuck," and "any of the dozens like them disgorged by the studios in the past decade or so"--with the ancients--“Bringing Up Baby,” “His Girl Friday,” “State of the Union,” “The Lady Eve,” “It Happened One Night,” and “The Philadelphia Story”; he concludes that it is "something of a scandal" that in contrast with the past today's romantic comedies are "movies whose notion of love is insipid, shallow and frequently ludicrous" and that today's actors and actresses are "programmatically less interesting... lacking in the vinegar that made [the ancients]... so definitively sexy... the romantic comedy leading men of today are the kind of nice guy... whom these earlier heroines would have triumphed by rejecting."

A.O. Scott does not seem to acknowledge--indeed, does not seem to have ever learned--what every five year old about to be promoted from kindergarten does: orange-to-apple comparisons that pit the best of one class against the average of a second are worthless.

Let's try to give him a clue. Let's see what happens if we try to do a real apples-to-apples comparison. Looking at the American Film Institute's list of best comedies up through 2000, my eye spots "There's Something About Mary," "Groundhog Day," "When Harry Met Sally," "A Fish Called Wanda," and "Moonstruck" among the moderns; "Adam's Rib," "Woman of the Year," "Sullivan's Travels," "The Lady Eve," "His Girl Friday," and "The Philadelphia Story" are the ancients from the 1940s.

For the years since 2000 we can look at Amazon's best-selling romances, which yields us "Love Actually," "The Dreamers," "The Notebook," "Love Comes Softly," "Amelie," and "Garden State"--and which tells us that for the 1990s the films that Amazon customers want to own are "Pride and Prejudice" (1996), "The Princess Bride" (1987), "Sense and Sensibility" (1995), "Persuasion" (1995), "You've Got Mail" (1998), "Groundhog Day" (1993), "Emma" (1996), and "Sleepless in Seattle" (1993) (plus "When Harry Met Sally" (1989), "Somewhere in Time" (1980), "Harold and Maude" (1971), "Romeo and Juliet" (1968), "Doctor Zhivago" (1965), and "Casablanca" (1943)). All of these are fine movies (with the exception of that real stinker "Love Comes Softly").

The three best romances, IMHO, are all moderns: "Moonstruck," "Four Weddings and a Funeral,"* and the Jennifer Ehle-Colin Firth "Pride and Prejudice" from 1995. I think the moderns clearly have it over the ancients when one does the apples-to-apples comparison.

But A.O. Scott doesn't seem to understand that he should do an apples-to-apples comparison. Indeed, he appears to be so uninterested in the genre he is writing about to have slept through all of "The Devil Wears Prada."

I can't help but thinking that there has to be somebody out there--some bathrobe-wearing basement-dwelling weblogger--who could do a much better job of filling the space in the New York Times: someone who loves films, knows films, cares about films, stayed awake through "The Devil Wears Prada," and knows enough about things like "apple-to-apple comparisons are good to write intelligently about films...

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