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2010’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups

2010’s Most Memorable Critical Dust-Ups (photo)

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Unlike 2009, there were no punches thrown between critics, at least that we know of, though it didn’t make it any less strange a year for film writers. While there was no assault, that didn’t rule out blackmail – as when‘s Alex Billington was accused by rival movie website writers of threatening to ruin Universal’s secret screening of “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” at Comic-Con by revealing the time and location in advance – or the far more serious allegations of sexual abuse against founder Robert Sanchez, who fled the country only to turn up at the first press screening of “Tron: Legacy” in November.

In substantially better developments, “At the Movies” sadly came to an end with Michael Phillips and A.O. Scott at the helm, but will be born anew under original co-host Roger Ebert’s watchful eye with Associated Press critic Christy Lemire in one of the new balcony chairs that will be unveiled on public television shortly after the new year. Salt Lake Tribune‘s Sean Means put an end to his Departed Critic list in May, concluding that “movie criticism isn’t dead,” but as a profession, it needs to adapt – months later, veterans Glenn Kenny and Todd McCarthy got new gigs as the chief film critics at MSN Movies and The Hollywood Reporter, respectively. Then, at the end of the year, something truly unheard of happened: Sunset Gun writer Kim Morgan wed filmmaker Guy Maddin.

Although filmmakers and film writers aren’t always that cozy (see Kevin Smith below), 2010 was a year in which many film writers were compelled to reevaluate their relationships to their peers, to their readers and to the changing digital landscape. Some dealt with it better than others, as this year’s five best critical dust-ups attest.

12292010_RichardSchickel.jpgRichard Schickel Vs. Film Criticism

In March, I went to a screening of Gerald Peary’s “For the Love of Movies” with limited expectations. I had seen the Boston Phoenix critic’s history of film criticism nearly a year earlier at SXSW, but I was lured in by the collection of critics assembled for a post-screening discussion moderated by IndieWire‘s Anne Thompson that included Peary, Vogue‘s John Powers, L.A. Weekly’s Ella Taylor, David Sterritt, the Christian Science Monitor‘s Peter Rainer and yes, Richard Schickel, the recently retired critic from Time. And that was only onstage. In the crowd, there was an equally impressive array of writers that included the L.A. Times’ Mark Olsen, David Ehrenstein and Sergio Leone and the Fly Rule Double‘s Dennis Cozzalio. If this all seems a little inside baseball, you might understand why I thought about not even writing about the event. But I did. And the fallout was quick after Schickel’s grousing about the state of film criticism reached outside the walls of UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theatre.

“Watching all these kind of earnest people discussing the art or whatever the hell it is of criticism, all that, it just made me so sad. You mean they have nothing else to do?” Schickel said after the screening before dropping the bomb, “I don’t know honestly the function of reviewing anything.” It was quite a statement coming from someone who has written film criticism since 1965 and undoubtedly has and will continue to have a role in shaping film history with his many books and documentaries on filmmakers such as Clint Eastwood and Woody Allen. And while no one on the panel agreed with his comments about much of anything that night, as Peary wrote in the comments of my article about the event, “I’m surprised how many people are taking literally his declaration of hating film criticism. What has the gentleman been doing for forty years except writing it? He might hate doing it now, but is he really saying he wasted four decades of his life?”

To which I would agree to a point – Schickel is notoriously curmudgeonly and looked very much the image of a burnt out writer. Also, the convened panel had a general air of depression around it after the film’s celebration of the importance of film criticism gave way to the sobering reality that more than a few participants in the film are now out of the profession. But at the risk of sounding as cruel as Schickel did towards online critics during the panel, I felt he looked lost and far more frustrated by a future for film criticism he knows little about than the past on which he had a firm hold.

In a piece for Cinematical, Todd Gilchrist did well to explain “What it means to be a film critic in 2010,” which follows all the same tenets that Schickel worked under for years with the major exception that Gilchrist has to defend what he does whereas Schickel never did. If anything good came of Schickel’s often ugly comments, other than the Twitter account of @FakeSchickel, it was the passionate response that emerged that made criticism feel more relevant than ever, whether it Cozzalio’s account of the evening, New York Times critic A.O. Scott’s summation that “The future of criticism is the same as it ever was. Miserable, and full of possibility” or‘s Andrew O’Hehir’s admonition for film critics to “shut up” and do their job. As for Schickel, I saw him a few weeks ago at a press screening for Peter Weir’s “The Way Back,” and although I couldn’t tell if he liked the film or not, the fact that he had no professional obligation to be there was reason enough to believe his remarks about never loving movies should be taken with a grain of salt.

12292010_TomPerkins.jpgDavid Eng, Tom Perkins and Paul Fischer Vs. Writing Their Own Material

While the battle over piracy rages on for all of film, film critics have experienced their own share of theft in the past year. In July, Cinematical’s William Goss went through 44 “reviews” by David Eng, a PR guy in New York who started his own amateur blog David’s Movie Notebook, and discovered that they had been lifted nearly wholesale from the trades, Roger Ebert, Cinematical and the New York Times, among other outlets. Working in the publicity department of Lower East Side Tenement Museum apparently didn’t prepare Eng for the barrage of phone calls left by Goss and he promptly took his Twitter account private and took down the blog.

Although troubling, it was actually just a drop in the bucket compared to the actions of Tom Perkins, a British blogger who was employed to do video reviews by Hey U Guys! in the UK up until it was discovered in May by that he had been passing off reviews from that site and countless others as his own after Perkins posted an early review of “Iron Man 2.” Like Eng, Perkins was subsequently badgered on comments sections and his Twitter account and took a long weekend to respond, ultimately coming clean but with an apology that was akin to the “Twinkie defense.” Not surprisingly, he started out with the usual “there’s no excuse for what I have done” before claiming that his plagiarism was due in large part because “YouTube has become so easily corruptible these days I kind of wanted to see how corruptible it can be.” If anything, Perkins proved that video reviews are only slightly less discoverable than text-based ones on a Google search, yet after swearing off taking other people’s work, he continues to review films on a personal blog.

However, the charges of plagiarism weren’t limited to those young impressionable youths. Paul Fischer had been a senior member of the junket circuit for sites like Dark Horizons and Moviehole for years before he was caught this year pilfering descriptions of films from the Sundance Film Festival in his reviews. Fischer’s frequent presence on TV movie ads in teeny-weeny font for movies not typically given to critical praise had made him a target of those who take the profession seriously, and ultimately his undoing came at the hands of Chris Parry, a Vancouver Sun writer who had been penning negative pieces about him for years on (Movie City News’ Ray Pride did a roundup at the time of the bad blood between Fischer and Parry, which is considerably more interesting than the plagiarism case.)

Fischer retired rather than endure further scrutiny and has posted the occasional review on a personal blog. Some came to Fischer’s defense, including, rather surprisingly, Vadim Rizov, who wasn’t sad to see Fischer go, but argued it was endemic of a larger problem with giving audiences of low expectations exactly what they wanted, concluding “That he prospered for so long (and he’s far from the only one of his kind) is the real scandal.”

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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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