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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 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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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