#FF @winter_reading

02 December 2011

Christmas rush: The French Connection, 1971
MP here

If I may begin with a cliché, it seems only five minutes ago when I saw The Tree of Life; it doesn't seem much longer than that when I saw The King's Speech. Early July and early January were the corresponding dates respectively - and now December is upon us!

That means I'm preparing an end-of-year editorial for Front Row Reviews to accompany its writing staff's Top Ten. As idFilm has developed over the year, I've had less means and reason to keep up with do-it-all websites such as FRR, whose coverage is in proportion to staff size and also geographical base - as critic Nigel Floyd advised me and others in 2009, securing regular access to London's many preview screenings is a must for any budding film critic. And as I've argued on Twitter this week, there seems no chance of making our film culture less London-centric so long as capitalism continues to suck the world of its resources and concentrate its forces.

I stopped writing news snippets like this back in March; though they help the blog's search engines performance, they were always going to be sporadic and in catch-up. Instead, I plan to keep reviewing every film I see that's released theatrically next year, and there'll probably be more ruminations on things, related or not. And, for what it's worth, for all the news and reviews posted this year, this piece is still the most clicked-on item by some distance - a result of making the IMDb hit list when it was first published and being linked to by Danny Leigh at The Guardian.

Not wanting to double-post too much - though doing so has allowed me to redraft thoughts on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Deep Blue Sea - I've written several pieces for Front Row Reviews this year for films not covered on this blog: they have been The Interrupters, You've Been Trumped and We Are Poets, which toured selected national cinemas as part of Sheffield Doc/Fest earlier this year; The Salt of Life; newly restored re-releases of Kes and West Side Story; DVD reviews of Cine Asia's Detective Dee and Shaolin, and Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, and I had the privilege of reviewing The Conversation, which ranked #46 on my Top 100 in September.

But enough of me. With the end of the year beckoning, it's a good idea to say a few things on what or who I've been reading in 2011. The sheer amount of online material can be overwhelming, and even if we're consuming it more disposably (a point open to debate), I'd posit  that we all read more than we think.

Two weeks ago I read a chapter by Martin Shingler, on the changing interpretations of All About Eve, in Hollywood Spectatorship: Changing Perceptions of Cinema Audiences (edited by Melvyn Stokes and Richard Maltby). In it, Shingler traces the development of critical writing on the film since its 1950 release, and notes the curious tendency of critics at the time to shy away from its more serious questions; the one anomaly that was willing to probe deeper than the popular presses into Eve's sexual politics was what Shingler calls a "relatively minor - and certainly marginal" journal (49), Film Sense. It wasn't until decades later that wider opinion on Eve was revised.

By coincidence, I read the piece not along after purging my Twitter feed of most professional film critics. In recent months, I've been made increasingly nauseous by the critical establishment's paradox - that they get to see films before anyone else but a lot of the time don't say much of anything on them; as I noted on Twitter, popular film journalism is less about what you have to say than what you can see.

As a result, I'm drawn more and more these days away from the popular press and to the periphery, to those smaller blogs, whose authors quietly chisel away a niche for themselves. In no particular order, then, think of the following as my version of an #FF.

Landon Palmer's "Culture Warrior" column at Film School Rejects is updated weekly, and delivers commentary and "analysis of film as an art form and an examination of its role within larger trends in culture and society".

Nobody Knows Anybody is a blog dedicated to Spanish and Spanish-language cinema - still a large pool unexplored by me, which makes the site something of a go-to place for all things that way inclined. Follow it on Twitter.

Reverse Shot is a quarterly film journal whose writers put forth reliably considered film analyses; reading Michael Koresky's review of Shame offers a good indication of the writing on display as well as the refreshing willingness to lambast a film otherwise universally lauded. Going further back in Reverse Shot's archives, consider this comparison between Hotel Rwanda and The Killing Fields; its author, Julien Allen, is for my money one of the finest writers on film I've come across - you can follow him on Twitter here.

The Fourth Wall, meanwhile, is an agreeable and accessible blog maintained by freelance critic Neil Mitchell, who began an interesting feature recently that sees more famous names writing on their favourite film; Mark Cousins wrote the maiden piece and Hardeep Singh Kholi and Samira Ahmed followed. Unlike many other freelancers on the web, Neil finds time to interact with us unpaid mortals, which makes his own enthusiasm for film all the more compelling.

Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second doesn't just boast a clever title. It's a well-maintained, easy-to-browse film site growing in coverage and staff by the week; watch this space for my long overdue piece on Hitchcock.

Three more bloggers take up my bookmarks bar: Jonathan Bygraves's Serene Velocity, Craig Bloomfield's Dark Eye Socket, and William Thomas's Flickerdrome; all three are lucid, personal and personable.

There are, of course, more obvious choices too. David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson's Observations on film art is a relentlessly illuminating read, even when they compensate for more infrequent blogging with intimidatingly long posts like this latest one.

Like Bordwell and Thompson, Jim Emerson writes in a refreshingly commonsensical manner that shows again and again that serious film analysis doesn't have to be lofty in jargon or made inaccessible by self-enabling obscurantism. In September, at his blog Scanners, he posted a brilliant short video essay that illuminates the ways in which Christopher Nolan's direction of action in The Dark Knight is spatially problematic; analyses of similar action sequences in Salt and Bullitt followed.

Emerson is one of those infectious commentators whose every word I find enthralling; Matt Zoller Seitz, founder of Press Play and The House Next Door, is another.

Moving further afield, I recommend the World Socialist Web Site, whose political concerns can often override a film's formal merits, but whose contextual understanding of film as both a complex artistic process and a commercial industry is often unmatched. Reading any of their individual film reviews or festivals coverage reminds us that art should never be reduced solely to aesthetic appreciation.

There are more, too, though time constraints mean I read them less regularly. If you look at the blog rolls of any of these sites, the same respected names feature again and again. Look them up.

Finally, two sites continue to prove themselves as fantastic, admirable resources dedicated to making audio-visual and academic content available where possible: UbuWeb has a ton of interesting stuff to browse, while Film Studies For Free brings together a whole host of archived academic discussion.

Happy reading, you filthy animals.