I tweeted a few weeks ago about the New York Observer firing my favorite movie critic, Andrew Sarris, and a week ago, the NY Times ran an article calling him a “survivor of film criticism’s heroic age.”
But I hardly care about Sarris championing auteur theory or about his rivalry with Pauline Kael (even though I learned all about those things in perhaps the greatest course I’ve taken at any level of my education, “The Critic as Journalist and Essayist,” taught by Mike Janeway at Columbia Journalism). Sarris was more important to me because he somehow seemed to share my movie tastes exactly.
I always feel validated when I see that he likes a movie that I desperately want to like before it comes out (say, Kill Bill vol. 1, which made his top ten list in 2003), and I’m always intrigued when he likes a movie I thought looked like real clunkers (say, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, which Sarris and I might be alone in liking). And he picks out little-known ones that I wouldn’t have known whether to like or not (Croupier, for instance, which introduced us to Clive Owen).
It’s not foolproof. I find choices like A Beautiful Mind vaguely embarrassing, even if they are critically lauded. And I won’t stand by him for putting Dr. T & The Women on a top ten list. But on the whole, we agree. And he surveys the field, without snobbery, but with taste, helping me find movies that I’ll like, even if they’re not the big box office winners. And even sometimes in spite of being big box office winners.
And that’s all you can really ask of a critic.
By the way, see The Hurt Locker. If you’re curious about it. Deserves the hype.