Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Best Criticism I Read in 2016

I read a great deal of criticism this past year, some of it bad, much of it very good.  I read books, magazines, online articles, and bog posts, listened to podcasts and radio interviews, and watched video essays and DVD extras.  And since internet criticism and opinion journalism has exploded to such an extent over the past few years, it seems to me worthwhile to single out a few of the best pieces of criticism I encountered in 2016 for others to check out as well.  So here's a small, by no means exhaustive list.

Among the books I read, none of which are really available online (and most of which are already well-known cinephile circles), I would like to single out:

  • When Movies Mattered: Reviews from a Transformative Decade by Dave Kehr (2011)
  • Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Adrian Martin (2003)
  • An Invention Without a Future: Essays on Cinema by James Naremore (2014)
  • Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969 by Andrew Sarris (1970)
  • Cahiers du Cinema: The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave edited by Jim Hillier (1985)
And two major works of criticism that are not about cinema: Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century by Greil Marcus (1989), which starts with the Sex Pistols and ends up linking punk rock to the Situationist International, Dadaism, and the Paris Commune of 1871, and The Last War in Albion by Phil Sandifer, an ongoing blogging and self-publishing project that starts with the comic books of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison and ends up linking them to William Blake, William S. Burroughs, and almost every corner of the sci-fi/fantasy genres.

(As a side note: Modesty compels me to admit that I did not read every one of these books cover to cover--they are after all mainly composed of individual reviews and essays.  But what I did read was challenging, mind-expanding stuff that I heartily recommend to all.)

On the individual essay front, here are several notable articles available online that I encountered for the first time this year:

  • Greil Marcus on John Wayne from February 1979, soon after Wayne's death
  • Andre Bazin's analysis and attempt to partially curtail the "Politique des Auteurs" in Cahiers du Cinema, 1957
  • Jacques Rivette on "The Genius of Howard Hawks" in 1953
  • A fascinating Jacques Rivette interview from Les Inrockuptables in 1998, where he gives off the cuff opinions on a few dozen films and directors from the '40s to the '90s
  • An extraordinary long profile of the great Yuri Norstein on MTV.com (I know! where did this come from?)
  • Dave Kehr on Jackie Chan in Film Comment 1988
  • Alan Jacobs compares Lena Dunham with Jane Austen (from 2013)
  • Tag Gallagher on auteurism and the problem with "reading" a film in 2001
  • Lionel Shriver's notorious and necessary speech on "Fiction and Identity Politics" from the 2016 Brisbane Writers Festival
  • Ignatiy Vishnevetsky consistently writes some of the best obituaries on the net at The A.V. Club, and, alas, he got to write many of them in 2016.  Here's his take on Alexandre Astruc.

And finally, two heroic and necessary essays on the current problems in critical discourse that aren't afraid to call out political puritanism for what it is, even when the authors agree with the overall progressive political project: Richard Brody on "Why Movies Still Matter" and Nick Pinkerton on "Talking in Circles".