Critic's eventful quarter-century comes to a close

Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Posted: October 16, 2011

I have the best job in the world. I work with the smartest, most supportive colleagues you can imagine. So it is hard, very hard, to leave a place that pays me to see movies such as Jerry Maguire; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and The Social Network. Harder still to leave coworkers who are the most intellectually and emotionally engaged individuals I've ever met - and human thesauruses to boot.

With mixed emotions, I am leaving fulltime film criticism in order to pursue longer-form writing. Although I will continue to contribute reviews to The Inquirer on a freelance basis, the demands of the job no longer conform to the commands of the heart.

In 1986, when I came to The Inquirer, 176 films were released commercially in Philadelphia. There was time to see a movie, digest it, and write about it. By 2010, the number had nearly tripled: 510 films were released. Even seeing 300 annually, I couldn't begin to keep up.

For the last few years, I've felt like Lucille Ball in front of the candy conveyor belt: The chocolates were whizzing by so fast that I couldn't wrap 'em or chew 'em quickly enough - and I sure couldn't digest 'em. It's time to step back to fully assimilate the 7,500 or so movies I saw on my watch here.

In my first 12 months on the job, I reviewed John Huston's last feature and Spike Lee's first.

I doubted that David Fincher had a future when I saw Aliens 3, and I was thrilled to be proven wrong with Fight Club, Zodiac, and The Social Network.

I doubted that Drew Barrymore would survive her teens and was delighted she proved me wrong with Ever After, Fever Pitch, and Whip It.

I saw the number of women filmmakers rise from less than 1 percent to more than 7 percent. (And I saw Kathryn Bigelow become the first woman to win an Oscar for direction.)

I was perplexed that as culture became increasingly globalized, foreign films distributed in America fell from 7 percent to 0.75 percent of the total.

I was amazed to witness a boom in American independent filmmaking, particularly in documentary.

I saw many movie theaters mothballed, others rescued, multiplexes proliferate, and the home-video generation replaced by the on-demand generation.

My Inquirer tenure coincided with a transformational period in moviemaking and exhibition globally and a golden age for filmmaking and film culture in the region.

The Philadelphia Film Festival, founded as the Festival of World Cinema in 1991 by Linda Blackaby, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year under the leadership of J. Andrew Greenblatt.

The Philadelphia Film Office, founded in 1985 and near-moribund in 1992 when Sharon Pinkenson took over as executive director, has figuratively and literally gone from The Age of Innocence to Limitless in bringing production here.

Filmmaking begat filmmakers. Over the last 25 years, local artists such as Garrett Brown, Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, Nathaniel Kahn, Eugene Martin, Louis Massiah, and M. Night Shyamalan earned kudos internationally for their work.

During my time here, it was exciting to see the Ritz Five grow from a stand-alone arthouse to the central link in a chainlet that extends from Center City to Voorhees. This expansion coincided with the closing of many of the region's single-screen theaters.

Howard Haas has led a valiant fight to save the historic Boyd in Center City. May he prevail like Juliet Goodfriend, executive director of the Bryn Mawr, John Toner, executive director of Renew Theaters, which operates both the Ambler and the County in Doylestown, and the Jenkintownians who support the Hiway.

These individuals and institutions have contributed to making Philadelphia one of the country's three best movie towns, home to filmgoers who like talking about movies almost as much as they like going to them. Just ask Harlan Jacobson, whose Talk Cinema previews movies in the area. As one who shows films in cities from Boston to Washington, he can attest that New York audiences ask questions about technique, D.C. audiences about money, and Philadelphia audiences about a movie's psychological and ethical ramifications.

If I could be granted one wish, it would be to see a big-screen theater in the city's core where Philadelphians could watch classic movies larger than life, the way they were meant to be seen.

Thanks for reading. You can reach me at carriedrickey@gmail.com. See you at the movies.


The best of a very big lot

I've always had trouble making best-of lists. But if I could make a list of the films I've seen during my years here where I couldn't leave my seat at the end credits because (a) I was crying too hard or (b) laughing too hard or (c) otherwise too moved to move, the titles that come to mind are:

The Age of Innocence; Almost Famous; Antwone Fisher; Babe; Big; Broadcast News; Crimes and Misdemeanors; Bull Durham; Cabeza de Vaca; Catch Me if You Can; Clueless; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Dead; Empire of the Sun; Europa, Europa; Fargo; The Fog of War; Frida; Grizzly Man; A History of Violence; In America; Jerry Maguire; Julie & Julia; The King's Speech; Little Women; The Lives of Others; Lost in Translation; Million Dollar Baby; Malcolm X; Man on Wire; Master and Commander; Munich; Mississippi Masala; My Architect; My Left Foot; Neil Young: Heart of Gold; The New World; The Piano; Quiz Show; Raise the Red Lantern; Raising Arizona; Reversal of Fortune; Sense and Sensibility; Shadowlands; Shakespeare in Love; The Sixth Sense; The Social Network; Something New; Something's Gotta Give; 3-Iron; Toy Story 2; Up; Vagabond; Whip It; Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; Working Girl; and Yi Yi.

- Carrie Rickey

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