15 February 2008

Go Our Own Way

For those who just can't get enough Skandie madness, the complete results, including individual ballots, are now available. (Top ten lists aren't quite ready yet, apparently, but everything else is there.) Now you know who to blame. My thanks once again to Mark Pittillo for doing the gruntwork.

When I created the Skandies back in 1995, there was no comparable survey being conducted anywhere. In fact, I felt comfortable stealing the Pazz & Jop template precisely because I saw no sign that the Voice ever intended to do anything similar in their Film section. Since then, of course, we've seen a proliferation of such year-end activity, to the point where there are now three major polls—indieWire, Voice/L.A. Weekly, and Film Comment—that use more or less the same pool of voters. (I take part in all three, and so do many others.) So it's worth examining the ways in which the Skandies, with its mix of professional critics and "amateur" but hardcore cinephiles, departs from whatever we might call conventional wisdom.

Here are the films that appeared in the top 20 of one or more of the above polls but failed to crack the Skandie list. The number to the left is the film's rank on our list; the parenthetical number to the right is points/# of votes.

24. The Host (50/6) [iW, VV/LAW]
27. Private Fears in Public Places (46/4) [FC]
33. Southland Tales (36/2) [iW]
34. Colossal Youth (35/3) [iW, VV/LAW, FC]
35. Michael Clayton (33/4) [VV/LAW, FC]
36. Lady Chatterley (33/2) [FC]
41. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (28/2) [iW, VV/LAW, FC]
51. Eastern Promises (17/3) [iW, VV/LAW, FC]
54. Away From Her (15/2) [VV/LAW, FC]
62. No End in Sight (12/1) [FC]
72. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (8/1) [FC]
No votes at all: I Don't Want to Sleep Alone [iW, FC]
Skandie-ineligible: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2008 NYC release); Killer of Sheep (too old)

Last year's two Tsai Ming-liang releases inspired the most blatant anomaly. Not only did Skandie voters completely ignore pro-critic fave I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, but we also declared The Wayward Cloud—widely regarded as a failure even by Tsai's biggest fans—to be one of the year's ten best. Granted, the fact that Wayward Cloud was never really commercially released may be a factor to some degree. (It had a week-long run at Anthology Film Archives in NYC, thus making it eligible for the surveys.) But I suspect this disparity speaks more to the difference in sensibility between the average Skandie voter and the average alt-weekly critic. I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, despite numerous bleak moments, is ultimately hopeful and lyrical; The Wayward Cloud, by severe contrast, skirts forbiddingly close to nihilism. I'd like to think that my gang is more willing than most to see both of the above tones as value-neutral. (I'd also like to think we noticed that Tsai's mise-en-scène is far more robust and assured in Wayward Cloud, but there's dissension on that point even in our ranks.)

As for some of the other acclaimed movies above, who knows? We've liked us some Cronenberg of late—History of Violence finished 7th two years ago—but had no interest in Eastern Promises, apart from admiring Viggo. Schnabel's Cannes prize-winner got zero traction. Colossal Youth found only half a handful of ardent supporters among a group that's hardly averse to challenging, plotless foreign films. (See #5.) And I don't know what the hell happened with The Host, a movie everybody claimed to love but to which few allotted any significant points. I'm glad nobody suggested a wager about whether or not it would make the cut, 'cause I would have lost multiple shirts.

Then there's the fabled D'Angelo Effect, in which certain personal favorites of mine fare much better in the Skandies than they do pretty much anywhere else on the planet. I don't deny that this Effect exists—for one thing, I selected every one of the survey's voters, so the results are unquestionably skewed toward my taste (though this concordance seems to diminish with each passing year). But I think my influence ultimately has more to do with what voters see than it does with their opinions. The inclusion of Joshua (#15) and My Kid Could Paint That (#12) on my running top ten list ensured that a large percentage of Skandie participants would seek those films out, since they tend to trust that movies I flip for will at the very least be fairly interesting. Whereas I suspect that relatively few indieWire voters, for example, even saw them. The buzz just wasn't there out in the larger world—critics didn't feel like missing them constituted dereliction of duty. And my seal of approval is certainly no guarantee: 23 voters saw Kim Ki-duk's Time, which received a stellar 3.00 average rating, ranking it 20th for the year (on a list of 256 films), ahead of stuff like Jesse James/Robert Ford (2.95) and I'm Not There (2.92). But it only received three Best Picture votes, mine included. I can lead them to the Kool-Aid but I cannot make them drink in my opinion.


Unknown said...

Dunkirk got shut out, yay!

Nictate said...

The absence of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" makes me question if I should really be wearing my black satin Skandies logo jacket around town anymore.

Anonymous said...

On the D'Angelo Effect ... yeah, it affects what I go out of my way to see, but not how I vote.

The two titles Mike mentions ... JOSHUA and MY KID COULD PAINT THAT, I went out of way to see both. In all likelihood I would have not seen the former (unless I noticed the director's name) and maybe seen the latter (depending on TIFF scheduling; it never played in DC).

I gave points to both JOSHUA and Sam Rockwell (and should have to Vera Farmiga, but I just forgot about here at ballot-writing time). But none to PAINT.

Anonymous said...

I know you don't often get comments like this, but I really enjoyed this wrap-up. Well-considered. How important is it to you to "grow" the Skandie membership? Do you consider those selections carefully?

eugene said...

How important is it to you to "grow" the Skandie membership?

This is a good question. Since the Cinemarati boards closed down, it's been awfully hard to find an online forum where every other thread is not titled "Rate my Top 10!!!!@!" Some of the outsiders hereabouts -- especially ones who've been reading the D'Angelo circle of buds for years (hi!) -- would jump at the chance to join a group of smart folks talking movies.

Adam Villani said...

Actually, I believe the cultists in Jamestown used Flavor-Aid, not Kool-Aid. Poor Kool-Aid got tarnished by association just because they're the bigger name.


Lee Hendricks said...

yeah, I've been reading d'A without fail since 1996 -- back in the rec.arts.something.or.other days... I still think 'look out, those toy trains are gonna crash' whenever I see ANY spike lee movie. Somehow I managed to see 18/20 of the Skandie noms living here in the benighted outpost of Gainesville, Florida. compulsive keeper of lists as well, so me (heart) Skandies. Never Surrender!

Anonymous said...

100% off-subject, but...Mike, are you planning to write anything more about CONTAINER? Given that the film sounds, in synopsis, like the worst kind of self-indulgent crap imaginable, your reaction has me (and other folks, I'm sure) all kinds of intrigued.