Reel time with David Edelstein, Part 2

By Aaron Aradillas

Aaron:   You said you feel people talk about television the way they use to talk about movies in the '70s. What shows do you watch? Are you an HBO junkie?

David:   Not a junkie. Bad word. I like Deadwood, because for all its clutter, it really shows you a frontier ruled less by black-hat villains versus white-hat heroes than by unchecked capitalism and moral compromise. I'm not a Marxist or a socialist--I agree with the guy (who was it?) who said that capitalism is the worst system except for all the others. But right now it's a blind, heartless, and ultimately self-destructive capitalism. I agreed with Pope John Paul II about that--funny that his right-wing eulogists didn't mention that particular critique. The Sopranos is a fascinating character study. They're genuinely horrible killers yet they have enough stature and complexity that you want to see what happens to them. Again, it's not about evil. It's about the unchecked self-interest. I thought Sex and the City was unwatchable, but hey, women having casual sex and not getting punished: Hallelujah. Mainstream movies are still behind on that score. What cable TV has in common with the films of the late '60s and '70s is that it allows writers to explore subjects that had previously been taboo. And they can treat those subjects over time and do variations on them, which movies have never been able to do.

What else? The Daily Show. Stewart at his best is as fast as anyone, even Carson. Bill Maher has redeemed himself. I love South Park. It's so hilariously tasteless. It's in the great offensive, scatological tradition of Ubu Roi and Aristophanes. Sorry, I always feel compelled to shore up my taste for poop jokes with classical references. My only problem is that Trey Parker--and his buddy, Penn Jillette, who has a too-smug series on Showtime--are Cato Institute libertarians, and they mock any argument that invokes "the social good." Oh well, artists don't have any obligation to further the social good.

My problem with network shows, even the ones I enjoy, like House, is the A-B plot formula. They can't pick a story and stay with it. They skip back and forth between a serious main plot and a lighter secondary plot in a way that's tin-eared and in some cases offensive. I'm also tired of forensics, especially with those whooshy plunges into peoples' anatomy. It was great when David O. Russell did it in Three Kings, but when it becomes routine it's borderline offensive.

Like everyone else, I rewatch Seinfeld. It's great insane farce, and for all the selfishness of those characters, there was an authentic social bond that was inspiring. If only I could drop in on my friends and be nuts in the same way. Also Roseanne in its best three years or so--that was amazing. Not only was it beautifully written and acted, it was about money and the lack of it in a way you never see on sitcoms.

I wish I didn't find the medium itself so depressing. I had some problems with my friend Bill McKibben's anti-TV book The Age of Missing Information: I wanted him to acknowledge that in countries like Ireland that were tyrannized by a church that sent unwed mothers to laundries for life, television was a genuinely liberating force. Television showed us Bull Connor turning loose his thugs on peaceful Civil Rights marchers, and it gave us "the living room war"--in Michael Arlen's phrase--that helped turn the tide against the Vietnam debacle. But Bill did capture that disgust I feel when all I've done is sit for a few hours in front of a TV, passively soaking in it.

I watch it very, very selectively. Which is possible now thanks to TiVo and movies on demand. With that and podcasting on radio, we're moving into an era when we can all be much more selective. Advertisers should be worried. The trend is going to be to do more product placement within movies and TV shows. Yuck.

We need good TV critics now much more than we need good movie critics. We need people who can sift through this massive amount of material and alert us to interesting stuff, especially in the margins. I like my colleague Dana Stevens and my former colleague Virginia Heffernan especially. I wish Wolcott did it weekly again.

Aaron:   Being an Internet movie critic adds an extra layer of intimacy between you and your readers. What is your e-mail like? It would seem you would have a base of loyal readers who would write you with some regularity.

David:   Yes. I e-mail back and forth with some people, and just had dinner the other night with a guy who wrote me maybe five years ago--a very talented TV writer. From the beginning I posted my e-mail address because it seemed wrong to keep the wall up between writer and reader in this medium. At first, my mail was mostly nasty, especially when a piece would get bannered on the MSN homepage and lots of non-Slate readers would respond. It's not that they were idiots (well, some were idiots), it's that they weren't expecting a pointy-headed 1200-word analysis. They'd write things like, "Blah blah blah. Why don't you critics understand that people go to movies to escape?" Some guy wrote, "I only wish harm to you and your family" because I hadn't liked The Mummy Returns. I got called a "faggot" and a "queer" for panning Gladiator. One guy wrote, "You obviously didn't see the movie because you had your dick up your gay lover's ass the whole time." But now the e-mails are mostly kind or at least more respectfully critical. Back in the '90s, people were testing their power and probably doing a lot more impulsive flaming. On the other hand, I don't read Slate's the Fray. Too much viciousness and anti-Semitism hidden behind cowardly pseudonyms.

I'm often surprised by what people will post on the Web. I remember reading a review at EW once and someone had written in the comments section below it, "I have never heard of this movie and I don't care to read about it." So, um, OK. They post whether or not they have anything to say. Or what they want to say is, "I exist!" They write before they even finish reading something. I had a joke at the beginning of my Day After Tomorrow review. It was something like, "The Day After Tomorrow has a wildly implausible plot turn. Greenhouse gasses and emissions have heated up the atmosphere, the polar ice caps are melting, blah blah blah," and then the punchline: "Now here's the implausible part: The Dick Cheney character goes on TV and says, 'I was wrong." I got more than a dozen e-mails from people attacking me for calling global warming implausible. Rants, abuse, links to articles and scientific studies. They were lecturing me--in some cases writing hundreds of words--and they hadn't even read to the end of the first paragraph! It's like they have their finger on the button: BOOM!

Aaron:   Ever have any screenwriters or directors confront you about one of your reviews?

David:   No. I have gotten a few thank yous. I'm not sure it's a good idea for artists to respond to critics--even to say thanks. An old theater teacher of mine used to say that the only time it's good to respond to critics is if they get something egregiously wrong--and then you write to the paper--or they pick up on some small detail that you liked and didn't think other people would notice.

I got a complimentary e-mail from Neil LaBute, whose movies I've panned. I think it was meant to psych me out, but who knows? Maybe he's a masochist as well as a sadist.

Aaron:   Having written a couple of plays yourself are you more or less patient with an artist's intentions?

David:   Both. I'm less patient with shortcuts and cheap shots at characters. I probably need to be more patient with artists who try something difficult and don't pull it off. I bent over backwards to say how great David O. Russell is even though I thought I [Heart] Huckabees was a disaster, but I was too harsh in my tone on the movie itself. That was true about Alexander, too. Stone refused to pander, and if the structure had been cleaner and someone other than Colin Farrell had played the lead, maybe it would have worked. I might have been too hard on Adaptation. Charlie Kaufman is brilliant, but that movie really seemed to me like a guy doing a big meta-song and dance because he couldn't find a way into the material. Possibly there wasn't a way into that particular material.

It's always useful to have experience on the other side as long as it doesn't make you too soft. I wrote a book with Christine Vachon about producing independent movies and got to hang out in her office for six months and see the deals being made and the movies budgeted and cast and shot and test-screened. I saw films go from sprawling, unfocused cuts to release prints--what was lost and what was gained. Christine taught me that sometimes if an audience doesn't like a key scene, it might not be because the scene is bad but because it hasn't been set up right.

It was also useful to watch real actors up close, which I did when I apprenticed at the American Repertory Theatre at Harvard. Believe it or not, I used to enjoy reading John Simon on theater in the '70s, right up until the time I started seeing the same productions he did. There was an actress he described over and over as masturbating in public, and I had a chance to work with her at the A.R.T. She was a total sweetheart, and I did see that expression on stage that enraged Simon. It appeared when she was momentarily unsure of what she was doing and became self-conscious. So Simon had called it exactly wrong and had used his misperception to bludgeon her. To write about actors well you have to have some empathy. You can't sit there measuring their features with imaginary calipers.

Aaron:   How do you feel about "director's cuts"? While you disliked Apocalypse Now Redux you qualified your placing Gangs of New York on your 10 Best List of 2002, stating you wouldn't pass final judgment until the 3 ˝ cut of the movie was made available.

David:   There's no general rule about director's cuts. Gangs was misshapen--it wanted to be longer. Yes, that final battle sequence was intended to be disjunctive, because you were watching a classical revenge play literally blown away by the forces of modernity. It was a great idea--and when was the last time you saw an American movie on that scale? It's what you expect from Leone or Bertolucci. But I thought about what Christine had said--about things that don't work because they haven't been set up. The various social forces in play hadn't been dramatized. They were in there, but the scenes just didn't breathe. Maybe the film wouldn't have worked at any length, but I was hoping for a three-and-a-half-hour masterpiece in there in which everything had the right weight. Who knows?

Ninety percent of the time, if a studio has run roughshod over a director's work, it's a bad thing, and it's fascinating to see what the filmmaker will put back. And it's not like the old movie goes away. It doesn't hurt anyone. But some directors will fiddle until they die and the movies won't get better. Apocalypse Now Redux was a terrible mistake, I don't care how many rave reviews it got. It certainly had more scope, but it also had everything that Coppola had sensibly cut. That French plantation scene was such an embarrassment. The director's cut of Donnie Darko was another mistake. I had watched all those cut scenes in the DVD and was relieved that they'd been snipped for length. They made the movie sappier and more simpleminded. When they were left out, you had some drama. Donnie was a visionary and a martyr, but he was also a really disturbed kid.

Aaron:   Let's talk vigilantism. (One of my favorite topics.) You've stated repeatedly you're not a big fan of vigilante movies. You've made exceptions by praising movies like In the Bedroom and Mystic River--movies that serve up vigilante justice with a moral lesson. (The lesson being vigilantism is bad.) Don't you find the moralizing of vigilantism a little on the hypocritical side? To put it another way: Is Death Wish or Dirty Harry more offensive? The former being a fast-paced, well-executed audience rouser while the latter is a fast-paced, well-executed audience rouser that tacks on a "thoughtful" final gesture by the vigilante killer. Dirty Harry throws away his badge after he's achieved instant gratification. Makes me yearn for the straight-faced nihilism of Alex and his droogs.

David:   That's not why Harry throws his badge away. He's pissed off at the liberals who've held him back--he's not ashamed of his own actions. Harry has no shame whatsoever.

But it's a good question. The droog in me loved Sin City. It's funny that I was denounced in the right wing blogosphere--this guy Brent Bozell said no one should ever take Slate seriously again as a moral arbiter--for a review in which I said that the movie was vicious and sadistic but I still loved it.. The critics who merely praised it without making the case for the other side weren't attacked in the same way.

Anyway, I write obsessively about vigilantism precisely because it makes me go "Yes!" and "No!" at the same time--precisely because I feel like a hypocrite. If you live in a place like New York--I've had my car broken into many times, and just last week someone stole the wheels and seat off my bike, and like everyone else I live in fear of something happening to my kids. Some of us carry around a lot of anger and anxiety. And most of these movies exploit those feelings without making you grapple with or try to move beyond them. Vigilantism is the principal motif in modern action movies. And it has awful ramifications--in the way people fetishize guns, and in how they think about the death penalty. I don't mean to suggest it's new in American culture. When you read Richard Slotkin's trilogy, you see the strains almost from the beginning. But in cinema it has a special power. Look at Birth of a Nation--one of the most important American films and a textbook racist vigilante movie. The South is being destroyed by northern politicians empowering unruly Negroes. A man's got to protect his women! The Ku Klux Klan to the rescue! Batman Begins is lacking in some ways, but I liked the way it hinged on the vigilante question. It's too bad that Katie Holmes was so unbelievable as the assistant D.A., because when she tells the vengeful young Bruce that vigilantism is self-serving whereas "justice is about harmony," it's a wonderful line. Vigilante justice is satisfying in the short-term but is profoundly disharmonious--if that's a word.

It was interesting when Mel Gibson claimed that The Passion of the Christ was about forgiveness, because if you look at almost all his movies, they build to orgasmic acts of righteous vengeance. I didn't buy his contention that he didn't want to make audiences furious watching that endless beating and scourging. Eastwood has done a lot better at mixing in ambivalence, especially in Mystic River--which was completely faithful to Dennis Lehane, but still...He also did that unbelievably brilliant scene in Unforgiven--the best sequence in any Eastwood movie--in which he shoots the young cowboy, who wasn't particularly guilty of anything, and he has to sit there and listen to him dying and calling out for water. The movie is still rigged to make killing a bunch of people the only thing a real man can do. Eastwood's character is supposed to be broken at the end, but he'd have been much more broken if he'd walked away and left his friend unavenged. Of course, audiences would have torn down the theater--and maybe I would have, too.

Aaron:   I read one of your favorite movies is Jaws. You were not a fan of its spiritual sequel Open Water. Why? You described Open Water as a "pure exploitation move." And? While Jaws tapped into the then unacknowledged fear of not being able to see beneath the ocean's surface, Open Water used the audience's 30-year knowledge of Jaws (combined with the collective knowledge gained form "Shark Week"), and added the child-like fears of isolation and abandonment. The movie "exploited" fears that the audience thought they had already "worked out." Isn't that the key to a good horror movie?

David:   I couldn't disagree more that Open Water is Jaws' spiritual sequel. Apart from sharks that eat people, there's no relation. Jaws is manipulative as hell, but it doesn't maroon you with two uninteresting people getting nibbled at by sharks for 90 minutes. That's a kind of sensory deprivation. I didn't pan Open Water--I thought it was very effective. I just found it extremely unpleasant. If it's the spiritual sequel to anything, it's The Blair Witch Project. That movie scared the crap out of me--the subjective camera, the lack of peripheral vision, the fact that you never saw anything. I still get the willies thinking about it. But I wouldn't call it a work of art. It's a brilliantly effective scare machine.

Aaron:   In a post in a "Movie Club" chat a few years ago you compared Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge to Sylvester Stallone's Staying Alive, which you nominated as the worst movie ever made. C'mon, Staying Alive has too many bad laughs not to be entertaining. Luhrmann's movie displays a sense of the theatrical (not to mention a respect for choreography) that the Stallone movie doesn't begin to hint at. How about a more out-there candidate for Worst Movie Ever Made? Like, say, Fellini's Satyricon?

David:   Well, I couldn't get on the wavelength of late Fellini at all. But laughing at bad movies isn't my thing--maybe with the exception of The Life of David Gale or parts of Ed Wood's films. They're claustrophobia-inducing. They shrink your sense of what's possible. Staying Alive was a bludgeoning. I couldn't bear what Stallone did to Travolta--not to mention Tony Manero. But I couldn't bear Moulin Rouge, either. You say a "respect for choreography????" You couldn't see the choreography. It's that whole miracles-are-cheap style of filmmaking, where you never hold a shot for more than three seconds and throw in every show-off effect you can think of. Most of the time it's just slam-dancing over a void. You have to be Guy Maddin to get away with it, and Guy Maddin doesn't get away with it all the time. And don't get me started on Stephen Sommers and his nonstop zillion-dollar effects. He's the worst director in Hollywood.

But my least favorite movie is Natural Born Killers. I read the original Tarantino script, which was a shallow but amusing media satire. Oliver Stone turned it into a celebration of serial killers as existential heroes. Maybe anti-heroes--he does bring in some shaman mumbo-jumbo to undermine their holiness, but he's still turned on by their murders of innocent people. You're supposed to rock out to the carnage. I couldn't stand his methamphetamine style-switching film stocks every three seconds. I had to get up and walk around. That's the worst side of Stone. U-Turn, Nixon--stupid, horrible movies. I thought JFK was really exciting, though. I didn't buy the Stone/Jim Garrison thesis, but that loony technique was a perfect match for the whole dizzying paranoid conspiracy element that surrounds the JFK assassination. JFK worked because it plugged right into our collective unconscious about the CIA and Vietnam and the real beginnings of the '60s. So, sometimes in-your-face is good.

My other least favorite movie is Mississippi Burning. Imagine doing the first Hollywood feature about the civil-rights movement--maybe the greatest application of Gandhi's non-violent resistance principles--and turning it into a vigilante movie. And making the FBI the heroes! Alan Parker is an extraordinary combination of pretentiousness and cluelessness. I'm really proud that I was one of only two critics out of, like, thirty to pan that movie--in the New York Post--the day it opened. Hoberman was the other. Canby raved it to the skies and then had to watch as Brent Staples denounced it on the Times' editorial page. I had a good chuckle over that, because no one at the Times was ever allowed to undermine Canby. Tony and Manohla--in addition to being smart and funny--are 180 degrees from the imperial Times style of old. I hope they stay that way!

Aaron:   It is hard to imagine a world without online publications. When you joined Slate were you nervous about attaching yourself to a relatively uncharted form of journalism?

David:   I didn't have a job or even the prospect of one, so it wasn't a factor. I'd been in a bit of a funk for a couple of years, and Judith Shulevitz gave me a chance to write for Slate about TV and books. I got the film critic job nine months later, by default. But from the start I loved the place--Judith, Mike Kinsley, Jacob Weisberg. The people are unbelievably nice, even if they won't give me a desk. The main problem was that my writing wasn't--isn't--"webby," whatever that means. There was a lot of talk about weaving movie clips into reviews. I resisted. Maybe it's a good idea, especially with broadband, but I think the fun of being a critic is trying to evoke something and not being like Warner Wolf and saying, "Let's go to the videotape!"

Aaron:   Since you're a writer for Slate, I couldn't conduct an interview without bringing up politics. The two things casual readers--usually conservative--don't want in movie reviews are opinions and politics. They seem only interested in plot summaries and opinions that match their own. How do you feel about expressing your political beliefs in reviews, especially when movies like The Life of David Gale and Fahrenheit 9/11 all but demand you reveal where you stand?

David:   Um, The Life of David Gale is so bonkers that it's hard to know what its politics are supposed to be.

As for politics in movie reviews--I do get some nasty letters from Republicans. I won't dignify them with the label "conservative," because an honest conservative would want nothing to do with the current administration. Anyway: How can you keep politics out of reviews, especially when writing about The Hunting of the President, Outfoxed, or Fahrenheit 9/11? Art isn't divorced from the real world. Or if it is, then that's a political statement. Every day the deficit balloons. There are scores more deaths in Iraq, more evidence of the mendaciousness and incompetence of this administration--and more people who are finally unable to deny the evidence of their eyes and ears. At the very least, this is gangsterism on a scale that would have shocked Al Capone, along with lies and doublespeak that would have shocked Orwell. And it's going to lead to catastrophe, while we all scribble about Brad and Jen and Angelina. I can't piss on something like Fahrenheit 9/11 or The Girl in the Café just because they don't measure up to my highest ideals of documentary and drama. I'm not going to remove part of my brain to endorse them, but there are some imperfect things worth getting behind right here, right now.

When I started out reviewing theater, I was enthusiastic about more stridently political stuff. I'd spent a few summers in England and Scotland and had seen a few good neo-Brechtian companies and even some pub theater. I didn't want all plays to be like that, but why couldn't there be a healthy segment of the American theater working in an unapologetically political vein? Especially in the populist vein--the cabaret/music-hall stuff that gave you "a good night out?" Now it could be built around more current forms, like rap. There was a brief surge, around the time of the disarmament rallies in '83 and '84. But it was preaching to the choir. And I guess I lost my appetite for all that at the Voice, probably in reaction to cultural commissars like Richard Goldstein. One of the few bright spots in the last five years has been the emergence of an angry and funny left wing that isn't in that Stalinist tradition. The Air America folks like Franken and Randi Rhodes. Harry Shearer, who's reaching more people than ever with his podcasts. The bloggers. I don't have a fraction of their impact, but every little bit helps.

I'm still upset about the time in 2001 I did a Crossfire opposite Michael Medved. Even though my politics lean leftward, obviously, I went in there without an agenda and Medved had--has--nothing but an agenda. He even got in a dig at Erin Brockovich--he made the charge that she was responsible for the rolling blackouts in California! The blackouts that we later found were orchestrated by Bush's pal Kenny Boy Lay. But Medved was mainly there to trot out his line that Hollywood is liberal and anti-religious and the enemy of "traditional" values. The Oscar nominations had just been announced, and he argued that critics were taking Gladiator to task because it embodied manly values, camaraderie, spirituality, the conflict between good and evil, blah blah--and Gladiator had just been nominated for everything! Chocolat had also been nominated, and that's the one he homed in on. Another Hollywood effort to undermine religion and to impose an agenda of secular humanism! The problem was that I thought both movies were crap. What they shared more than ideology was a belief in jerking the audience around and in caricaturing everyone on the opposite side. So I said that, and that didn't exactly make for a good debate. Today, I'd stand up for secular humanism, if not for that particular movie. I didn't dream at the time that secular humanism was in any danger. For Medved, we need more films like Signs, which carry the message that if you don't believe in God you kill your kids. That's not the subtext of Signs, that's the text. How can you review it without engaging with that--a blood libel? Well, many critics didn't. They simply judged the film on whether or not it was a successful thriller.

On NPR and CBS, I'm not really allowed to address political issues. Not in the same way. You try reviewing Fahrenheit 9/11 without taking a stand on Moore's politics! With Slate, I have a rare opportunity. The Judith Miller Slammer Film Festival I thought up, wrote, and posted in less than half an hour. I was sitting there getting furious that Miller had become a First Amendment martyr when she might have played a role in spreading information about Valerie Plame. At the very least, she labored to prop up the contention of her neocon pals that Iraq posed an imminent danger. So within minutes of my posting, I had a dozen e-mails with nominations for movies to educate Judy Miller in prison. Amazing: 45 minutes from conception to cause. Only on the Internet, baby.

By the way, one of the most fun things I've written in the last three months was a reply to the people who wrote angrily that I reviewed Jane Fonda's comeback without mentioning that she had betrayed her country. I got to write what they always write to me: "Politics have no place in a movie review."

Aaron:   What new trend or trends do you see happening in movies in the next few years? Are movies getting better?

David:   I started writing about movies in the early and mid-'80s, which was the worst period ever. It was right after the big corporations had taken over the studios and brought in the marketing guys at the earliest stages. They used to do that with exploitation films--you know, you do the poster before you hire a scriptwriter or director. But those films cost nothing to make-not a hundred million dollars, that's for sure. Since I wasn't a lead critic until 1988, I wrote about a lot of teen comedies. And I used to dread the summers. All those movies like Vision Quest and Krull and The Last Starfighter and Rambo.

Then everything changed when the indie film thing happened. It's sad to say, but prizes made a huge difference, and just having the Sundance festival and the Independent Spirit awards was a big step in whipping up public excitement. We Americans do love our awards. In the mid-'80s I had an idea at the Voice of doing a movie equivalent of the Obies--awards for Off-Hollywood pictures. There wasn't enough of a real movement at the time, but now there is, and every mid-sized city seems to have its own film festival that gives prizes and shows stuff that isn't multiplex-friendly-which is most of the stuff out there. The one-time indie directors are bringing a lot to the mainstream: Payne, Russell, Soderbergh, Christopher Nolan. Many are not just directing but executive producing and acting as good godfathers to younger or less successful filmmakers.

On the other hand, directors I know say the level of studio interference has never been higher, especially at the development stage. You have to go through a small army of junior executives, and for every smart one-and there are many, many smart ones-there are two or three arrogant boobs. And the amount of money that big movies have to make to show a profit are insane, even with DVD on the back end.

The longer-term issue is that our culture is getting more and more private. It used to be that theater was public and movies were private, even kind of masturbatory. But then TV and video came along, and now Walkmen and iPods. In the mind of many people, movies are public in a bad way. No one wants to stand in line or risk going to a theater where some asshole is going to answer a cellphone or yammer away. We're getting used to controlling what, when, and how we watch. A lot of the people who e-mail--especially people with kids--go on and on about Netflix. They say they're much happpier with wide-screen TVs and surround sound. They go to movies only for event pictures--Oscar winners or FX extravaganzas. Too bad. And too bad they don't go to the theater anymore. Maybe a more public culture would be a more politically engaged culture. But then, I'm still pissed off I missed the '60s.

Aaron:   Finally, what function do you see the role of movie criticism having in the pop culture landscape?

David:   As I said, TV criticism is more vital right now. I've had offers over the years to write it, but I'd rather watch a bad movie than a bad TV show. I don't love the medium enough to do what you have to do.

We have a lot of good movie critics now--critics who are synthesizing many different influences. They have to be better because they've lost their exclusivity. People listened to Bosley Crowther or Vincent Canby--or me--because no one else had a public platform. Canby was once asked what qualified him to be that powerful an arbiter, and he said the fact that the Times chose him. Period. No one could get away with that attitude today. Certainly it's not the attitude of Tony or Manohla--or Manohla's predecessor, Elvis Mitchell. They're still the most powerful critics because of the way people read the Times, but they thrive on being part of a dialogue.

We're always going to need good critics. Not so much as consumer reporters--now you can get that on the Internet. We need them to keep the discussion going. To help catalyze the reaction between the viewer and the work. To teach by example how to think about what we see--or in some cases how not to think about it. It probably sounds silly to evoke wine, but here it is: A movie doesn't just have an aroma and a taste. It has a finish, and if it's a great movie that finish lasts decades while you weigh all the nuances and components in your mind. Criticism is a living thing. At its best, it's revitalizing. And as we sink further and further into a stupor, we need it more than ever.

Back to Part 1 of David Edelstein

Listen to David Edelstein discuss his favourite movies of 2004 on NPR.