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It’s the season of endless “best of” lists. Newspapers, magazines, and social media sites flooded with their cultural critics’ opinions on their top ten books, plays, restaurants, “hate preachers” and, of course, movies.
A quick look at these lists, particularly the “Ten Best,” indicates just how disconnected some of the nation’s most prominent film critics are from what Americans want to see.
See my former employer’s recommendations, The New York Times. Although critics Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott wrote some solid and consistent reviews this year, their “Ten Best” recommendations were baffling. But perhaps the omission was more than their recommendations. While quality should not be confused with popularity, critics at The Times and other magazines must have decided they could ignore films that Americans actually paid to see.
The most important moment in ‘TOP Gun: MAVERICK’ is missed by almost every movie
One of the most obvious omissions is the old-fashioned feel-good movie – “Top Gun: Maverick”. Why would snooty cinema applaud a film that not only put Americans back in theaters after a devastating pandemic, but also grossed more than $1.4 billion globally?
Why would they want to include a film that has received two Golden Globe nominations, as well as being named “Best Picture” by the National Board of Review, a nonprofit group of New York City-area movie buffs whose awards are often a harbinger of which films will be Oscars?
While quality should not be confused with popularity, critics at The Times and other magazines must have decided they could ignore films that Americans actually paid to see.
Why are they mentioning a movie that box office superstar Tom Cruise insisted should open in theaters, saying that a streaming-only premiere would “never happen”? Cruise prevailed, although the movie’s debut was delayed four times before it finally hit theaters this past May.
The Times wasn’t the only major newspaper to dismiss the highest-grossing film of the year. TG:M didn’t make the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and New Yorker critics’ top ten lists. (The Atlantic magazine awarded him an “honorable mention”). But among the nation’s leading newspapers, The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday named it the best movie of the year. Calling it “a great movie in the best sense of the word”, Hornaday wrote that it is “a big, old-fashioned blockbuster that surpasses the first in its clever writing, intelligent acting, authentic emotion (Still Crying, The Snowman) and bold, beautiful production values.”
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Oddly enough, the film also garnered more respect from foreign critics than from their American counterparts. BBC cultural critic Nicholas Barber called it “a thrilling showcase for some great aerobatic performances” as well as a “touching, bittersweet drama about growing old”.
The Economist wrote that TG:M is “delightful but somber, almost unique among sequels in that it pays homage to its predecessor while improving on it in every way.” Barry Hertz of Canada’s Globe and Mail called the film “a powerful blend of star power and sky-high cinematic craftsmanship”, and praised its director, Joseph Kosinski.
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Top Gun: Maverick wasn’t the only critically underrated box office delight. Few film critics have ever put one of my favorites, “Elvis” on their top ten lists, though the movie appears on more of those lists than “Top Gun.”
Directed by Baz Luhrmann, “Elvis” follows the life and early death of Elvis Presley and the financial abuse of his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. Starring the fantastic Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Parker, “Elvis” was a commercial success, grossing $286 million worldwide, and is the second-highest-grossing musical biopic of all time, second only to 2018’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” .
People magazine hailed another favorite of mine that sharply divided critics, the gritty, but extraordinarily long “TAR.” Critic Tom Gliatto wrote: “Cate Blanchett gives a stunning performance that will have Beethoven rolling.”
David Sims of The Atlantic agreed, saying, “Knowing Lydia Tarr isn’t exactly like loving her, but it’s impossible to stop thinking about the mercurial train conductor.”
Todd Field’s film, his first in 16 years, focuses on a fictional classical conductor’s downfall at the top of the classical music world. This “retro” film, Richard Brody wrote in The New Yorker, takes “bitter aim” at “cancel culture” and “identity politics.”
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It presents Lydia as an artist who fails to separate her private life from her professional life, allowing her sexual desires and personal relationships to influence her artistic judgment, “mostly for the sake of an aesthetic best of all.”
Her fall was poignant and powerful, especially in these awakening times.
Brody, unfortunately, has little time for box office favorites. The list of his 30 favorite movies does not mention “Top Gun: Maverick”.
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