Sight & Sound’s annual survey shows many reviewers’ sensibilities are divorced from mainstream cinemagoers. 
6 Dec 2011 - 10:48 AM  UPDATED 5 Nov 2012 - 11:30 PM

It's no secret that, as a breed, film reviewers generally abhor Hollywood blockbusters and 'popcorn' fare – but why are many critics so elitist and far removed from the tastes of their dwindling band of readers?

That glaring disconnect was displayed yet again by Sight & Sound magazine's annual survey which entailed asking 100 international critics to nominate their five "best, favourite or most important" films of the year.

Not one of the top 11 films (there were two ties) is what I would term a broadly appealing, mainstream title.

The victor was Terrence Malick's The Tree of Life (pictured), which polarised audiences and earned just $US13.3 million in the US and $41 million in the rest of the world.

Most of the others are foreign language fare including A Separation, The Kid with a Bike, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Le quattro volte. Also honoured were Lars Von Trier's Melancholia (which was largely ignored by audiences worldwide), Lynne Ramsey's bleak, confronting We Need to Talk About Kevin and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the first English language film from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson (which opens here on January 19).

Conspicuously missing is any film which actually resonated with audiences in a major way, or anything from a major US director. So no kudos for Steven Spielberg's terrific The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Universe or his emotional epic War Horse, or for Martin Scorsese's Hugo.

No recognition for Midnight in Paris, arguably Woody Allen's best, most imaginative and beguiling movie in yonks, George Clooney's superior political thriller The Ides of March, Tate Taylor's The Help or Bennett Miller's Moneyball.

Last year Sight & Sound's poll saluted The Social Network as best film, which at least acknowledged a superbly crafted movie that the wider public embraced. But its top 10 also included Apichatpong Weerasethakul's little-seen Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Olivier Assayas' Carlos and Luca Guadagnino's turgid Italian melodrama I Am Love.

Aside from all that, it's always amusing to see film commentators squabbling over US critics' awards. There was a kerfuffle last week when the New York Film Critics Circle handed out its awards less than 24 hours after its members had watched David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and without seeing Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which Warner Bros. refused to screen in time for the NYFCC's early deadline.

“I don't put much stock in these awards as it's clearly evident the intent was to be first, gain attention as a result and hope their picks would be influential throughout the duration of the 2011 awards season,” sniffed Rope of Silicon's Brad Brevet.

The New York critics declared Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist, a pastiche on silent movies, as best film (it also figured in Sight & Sound's poll). That verdict was challenged by Hollywood Elsewhere's often contrary Jeff Wells, among others. “Have The Artist supporters within the NYFCC given any thought to what it actually meant to choose this film as the best of the year? It presumably meant that they feel it amounts to more than just a sum of delightful silver-screen parts,” Wells opined.

“Terrific, guys. It must have taken a lot of character and conviction to hand out your prestigious Best Picture award to the shiniest bauble. The Artist is basically a 2011 version of That's Entertainment! in a silent, black-and-white mode with a narrative assist from A Star Is Born and Sunset Boulevard.”

No doubt we can expect more such sniping as the US awards season rolls on.