Dec 16, 2004

Expert Opinions

Critics, being critics, are often wont to disagree. They're hired for their positions not only due to the strength of their writing and the depth of their knowledge but also for the vehemence and diversity of their opinions. This difference leads to myriad distinct critical voices pronouncing on a given subject at any given time, a chaotic chorus of judgment that can at times provide more of a cacophony than a help to the consumer.

So writes my colleague Terry Morgan in this week’s Back Stage West. It’s the lead for his story handicapping the nominees in the upcoming awards race—with an eye on the Oscars, ultimately, but in the case of BSW, the Screen Actors Guild Actor Awards are the big kahuna. And who can disagree with him? But then he writes:
Separating the wheat from the chaff in determining award nominees ahead of time is an especially tricky business, and, to that end, Back Stage West spoke with four of the most cogent and well-informed critics in the field to handicap the upcoming SAG Awards race… (emphasis mine)

And who, pray tell, are these “critics”? “Leonard Maltin, film critic/historian for Entertainment Tonight; David Poland, author of and editor at; Dave Karger, senior writer at Entertainment Weekly; and Tom O'Neil, host of” Well, Maltin we know—but has anybody read any film reviews by any of these other experts? No, because they’re not critics per se—they’re self-styled awards-season pundits who track the races and the awards campaigns with a thoroughness that rivals coverage of politics, particularly on the Internet. As such, they’re excellent, tapped-in sources for a story like Morgan’s, which aims to find out what the buzz is about films that haven’t even had wide release, let alone the meager big-city releases they need to qualify for the Oscars.

I just can’t figure out why it’s touted as a story about what “film critics” have to say about the awards race. And if you’re wondering why a publication like Back Stage West is lavishing so much attention on the subject, you need look no further than the plentiful full-color ads throughout the issue—aimed, ostensibly, at the many Screen Actors Guild award voters who read the paper.

Meanwhile, the town is gearing up for another cutthroat pilot season (it’s actually already underway in earnest, with the one-hour dramas starting to fill their casts), and casting directors are openly talking about striking for union recognition. Oh, and AFTRA recently cut back on its health plan coverage. I think I saw something about these items somewhere in the actors’ trade paper I used to run…

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