You know summer has arrived when the annual flame wars between critics and fanboys flare up. As you’ll have heard, Samuel L. Jackson, Nick Fury in Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, fired the first shot of the season a couple of days ago when he sent out a call via Twitter to “#Avengers fans” to help New York Times film critic A.O. Scott find a new job. “One he can ACTUALLY do!” But as many have pointed out, among them, Jim Emerson, “Actually, Scott’s review was far from dismissive or uniformly negative.” Matt Singer: “He favorably compares [The Avengers] to Rio Bravo which, in my book, is one of the best compliments a manly action movie can get. Granted, he also unfavorably compares the film to Transformers which, in my book, is one of the worst compliments a manly action movie can get. My point is, Scott didn’t unload a cheap shot or even a savage and merciless takedown. It was a thumbs-down review, but it was a fair, honest, and intelligent one. It was, in other words, an A.O. Scott review.”
At the top of his own Avengers review, Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir perfectly captures the grindingly dull predictability of this ritual: “If you’re new around here, this is how the script goes: I damn The Avengers with faint praise, observing that the (supposed) culmination of the long, laborious Marvel Comics movie franchise is a competent but pointless popcorn entertainment that’s being wildly overpraised simply for existing without being incoherent and terrible. Some readers sniff from behind their digital copies of the Atlantic: Why did you even bother? Others lament that, once again, a non-fan of comic-book movies was sent to review something whose true significance, as with a sacred scroll written in Tocharian B, is yielded only to a coterie of gnostics and believers. (An enormous coterie, in this case.) Someone will invoke the ghost of Pauline Kael to instruct us that movies are meant to entertain, and someone else will suggest that the editors send me back to covering films about lesbian sheepherders made in Azerbaijan.”
Another staple of the season is, of course, the summer movies preview package. The Los Angeles Times ran theirs last week; this weekend, the New York Times steps up with, first, Melena Ryzik‘s profile of Greta Gerwig, currently appearing in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress, featured in Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love (out on June 22) and taking on the lead in Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones’s Lola Versus (June 8). Margy Rochlin talks with Lynn Shelton about Your Sister’s Sister, Dennis Overbye profiles Ridley Scott in the run-up to the June 8 premiere of Prometheus and Charles Taylor and Stephanie Zacharek preview a batch of releases on DVD and Blu-ray. Also: Dennis Lim previews The Dictator—directed by Larry Charles, though of course it’s a Sacha Baron Cohen movie through and through—and highlights some of the noteworthy performances of the season (with video, 3’41”).
In the most fun feature of the NYT package, five directors look back on their favorite summer movies: David Frankel on Daniel Petrie’s Lifeguard (1976), Lorene Scafaria on Amy Heckerling’s Clueless (1995), Adam Shankman on Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), Barry Sonnenfeld on Lawrence Kasdan’s Body Heat (1981) and Leslye Headland on Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También (2001).
In other news. Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Caesar Must Die, the surprise winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale, has won five David di Donatello awards, including Best Film, Best Director, and Best Producer. Eric Lyman has more in the Hollywood Reporter.
In the works. Ioncinema‘s Eric Lavallee reports that Xavier Dolan, whose Laurence Anyways will premiere in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in a couple of weeks, is planning an adaptation of Michel Marc Bouchard’s play Tom à la ferme. The project is “at the early, financing stages and won’t necessarily be his next film.”
Debra Granik (Down to the Bone, Winter’s Bone) is attached to direct the pilot episode of HBO’s forthcoming series This American Highlife, reports Anne Thompson. “And still in active development is her film version of Russell Banks’s novel Rule of the Bone, which he’ll executive produce, marking the ‘the third part of my unofficial osteo-trilogy,’ Granik has joked.”
Variety reports that Tommy Lee Jones will write, produce, direct and star in The Homesman, a period piece about “a pioneer woman and a claim-jumping rascal of a man (Jones) who usher three insane women on an odyssey from Nebraska to Iowa.”
Viewing and more. Catherine Grant‘s posted her latest video, “Uncanny Arrival at a Railway Station,” and accompanied it with another amazing roundup, “On Railways and the Movies.” As it happens, “Trains and Romance, in Black and White,” have been on Farran Nehme‘s mind as well. Related: Christine Baumgarthuber has lovely little piece on the Bosnian railway in the New Inquiry.
More viewing. Film Studies in Motion is a web series in seven episodes created for the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen by Kevin B Lee and Volker Pantenburg. These analytical essays, which Catherine Grant has called “videographic film studies,” are “expressions of a cinephilia 2.0, fueled by weblogs, internet-journals and streaming platforms, produced from DVDs and digital media, laptops and DIY editing software.”
Obit. Beastie Boy Adam Yauch, who’d been fighting cancer for three years, died yesterday at the age of 47. He was, argues Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, “one of the best things to happen to American independent cinema in years. In February 2008, when Mr. Yauch announced the arrival of his distribution company, Oscilloscope Pictures, which he founded with David Fenkel, it sent a jolt through the indie world…. Its slate felt less bought and more curated and very quickly, the company became synonymous with smart, interesting cinema. When you saw its name, you knew that you wanted to see the film, too.” More from Nick Dawson (Filmmaker), Sasha Frere-Jones (New Yorker), Eugene Hernandez (Film Society of Lincoln Center), Scott Macaulay (Filmmaker) and Glenn Kenny.