Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ebert should get an Oscar

The Chicago-Sun Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert is recovering from post-cancer emergency surgery - long may he reign yet. His ill-health re-ignites a preoccupation of mine - why doesn't the Academy Awards introduce a Film Critic of the Year category? It's odd that reviewers - on whom the entire movie industry depends for free publicity and creative interpretation - are not lauded by the Oscars, or even by the Baftas, or by any film festival that I know of.
I propose that The Pauline Kael Award (For Film Reviewing) be created by some awards or festival committee - named after the legendary, tough old trout who, as movie critic of the droopy but literary The New Yorker magazine, venerated the taboo-breakers over the crowd-pleasers in masterclasses of pith. She noticed telling things that passed others by and was ruthlessly independent: like any great critic she could dramatically shape or re-shape audience perpective and in the process become part of the making of a movie ex post facto. Ebert is a great critic though of a different order from Kael.
A win for any British or British-based film reviewer would be most improbable. Jonathan Ross may as well be a celebrity chef for all his movie insight, broiling his tired adjectives for the movie ad credits. But pub movie quizzes - Jonathan would be a winner.
The late and sometimes fabulous Alexander Walker wrote like an angel yet read like a man who talks to himself in the bath - his trashing of The Lord Of The Rings in the London Evening Standard was froth-mouthed lunacy, and readers rightly skewered him. Even so, he'd make a credible posthumous nomination from outside the US. He, like Ebert and Kael, was a great movie noticer: he saw things that others missed.
Peter Bradshaw on The Guardian writes elegantly but tends to yawnsomeness: I mean, who cares what he thinks? Best if he returns to parody. The Times' former film critic Barbara Ellen affected an almost autobiographical approach to her task, giving movies a walk-on part in the fascinating drama that was and is her busy life.
The Mail's Christopher Tookey simply appliques his paper's moral line on whatever he sees and he even supports censorship: a professionally useful stance with moral vigilance hovering over you. Certainly the antithesis of Kael. Ryan Gilbey - who gets about but presently can be read in the revamped New Statesman - is plainly knowledgeable but a prose-droner: perhaps exposure to Ken Tynan's journalism might introduce him to sizzle. I can't think of anyone else right now. Empire mag is a slave to movie PR: Sight & Sound, despite a relaunch of sorts, still grouts its nouns and adjectives into a wall of largely impenetrable prose.
Roger Ebert would probably be favourite to win the first "Kael": his lucid, insightful copy contrasts violently with the picky, neurotic, dull and often inaccurate musings of our UK critics.
This proposed award has at least one thing going for it: Dame Judi Dench couldn't possibly win it.


Anonymous said...

From the dear departed, let us not forget the wonderful Dilys Powell, who also noticed the subtleties that others missed, and mercifully still with us, the Observer's Philip French, whose knowledge and expertise go far beyond just commenting on endless updated boring blockbusters. Very lucky they are to have him.

Arcati said...

Dilys could win the second Kael Film Award after Ebert.