2009’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups

2009’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups (photo)

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Just as the Tiger Woods scandal snuck up on sports writers in this tail end of ’09, New York Times critic Manohla Dargis’ f-bomb filled interview on the state of women in Hollywood has become the gift that has just kept giving this holiday season for those who still enjoy a good old fashioned critical beatdown.

It’s a worthy capper for a year that began with Variety critic John Anderson literally punching producer’s rep Jeff Dowd at Sundance over his negative opinion of “Dirt! The Movie.” (He never wrote the review after the incident or the parody videos that followed.)

Overall, it’s been an interesting year for criticism and film writing in general, as massive media layoffs have led to established names making their mark online. With fewer positions, more writers are having to become a jack-of-all-trades and then compete with those who understood this as a fact of life long ago.

With that in mind, some of the most thought-provoking film writing of the year hasn’t been done on film at all, but on how film writing is changing, where film journalists begin to consider themselves as film activists and critics engage in discussions that don’t end with the final period of their reviews. These are a few of those ongoing conversations that became must-reads this year.

12172009_KennySwanberg.jpgGlenn Kenny vs. Joe Swanberg (February 5)

The former Premiere critic’s site has been a haven for cinephiles, so it was no surprise to see the heated exchanges that followed a post in February that questioned the cinematic validity of Joe Swanberg’s work and Mumblecore at large. In the midst of posts revisiting Manny Farber’s favorite films of 1951, his supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s “The Girlfriend Experience” and his enduring love of The Feelies, Kenny would take the occasional shot at Swanberg, who for better or worse has become poster child for Mumblecore (a term that is still being debated endlessly).

A David Denby rave for Swanberg’s “Alexander the Last” didn’t go unnoticed, nor did a reference to Swanberg’s shooting methods in an article about “Humpday” star Justin Leonard’s directorial debut, and even Kenny’s giveaway of a “My Dinner With Andre” DVD revolved around a photo caption contest based on an image of Swanberg setting up a camera for one of the disc’s special features that led so many to send in entries about the young filmmaker’s penchant for nudity that Kenny had to cut off them off at the pass.

Still, Kenny laid down the real gauntlet with a Film Comment-worthy post entitled “The Cinema of Contingency: Notes on Swanberg,” where he mentioned the caveat of sharing 51 Facebook friends with Swanberg before tearing into the director’s filmography and criticizing the banality of the conversations, the laziness of the imagery and the overall “slackness” of the acting and direction. What followed in the comments section was a vibrant discussion of yes, who was really responsible for the “Mumblecore” label, but also the “reality” of Swanberg’s films, whether Swanberg is a model of a low-budget filmmaker and what constitutes a film these days.

12172009_WellsOxford.jpgJeffrey Wells at the Oxford Film Festival (February 9)

Hollywood Elsewhere‘s Jeffrey Wells is known for both his boundless enthusiasm for the films he loves (see any of his posts related to “An Education”) and his sometimes curmudgeonly attitude (see his post on attempting to eat a piece of cake from a restaurant that refused to give him a dessert fork since it wasn’t from the restaurant) that make his site a compulsive read. When Wells was invited to the Oxford Film Festival, he was given a hotel room with crummy wi-fi, fell into a “mood pocket” and bailed out on a panel on film criticism he was supposed to attend as a result, alienating some of his would-be fellow panelists, including Cinematical‘s Eric D. Snider, who called him out on a series of posts on his personal site for taking advantage of the small-sized festival who paid for his stay. (Wells later said he reimbursed the festival.) [Update: After the publication of this article, a representative of the Oxford Film Festival contacted us to say they have in fact not been reimbursed for Wells’ airfare.]

Writing for the dearly departed SpoutBlog, Karina Longworth expanded the conversation to ask what obligation a journalist has when their trip is fully financed and whether Wells had a point when he defended himself by arguing that he brought more attention to Oxford with his temper tantrum than if he had actually written about the festival’s films. The comments section of her post brought out not only those who witnessed the event like new Movies.com critic Jen Yamato and Scott Weinberg, but brought together old rivals Wells and Movie City NewsDavid Poland for an intriguing discussion about the line where film writing can become a paid advertisement and the ethical minefield of being a film writer today.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.