When I was picking up my screeners from the HitFix office yesterday, I started to sort them to try to decide what I would watch first, and I put "Locke," Steven Knight's film starring Tom Hardy, near the top of the stack.
"Don't bother," one of the guys at the office told me. "That movie's terrible." Now, this is the same film that I've been reading surprised rave reviews for all year long, so I was surprised by his reaction. He didn't just dislike "Locke," he told me emphatically that it was a "piece of shit." Meanwhile, another critic saw me mention that I hadn't seen the film yet and DMd me his short reaction to the film. "OMG fave this year WATCH IT FIRST".
My reaction to the film landed somewhere in the middle of those two. I think it's a formal experiment first, not much different in purpose than something like "Phone Booth," but because it's not a thriller, it doesn't really stand out as a gimmick. If you haven't seen the film, it's Tom Hardy in a car talking on the phone as he drives. That's it. What he's talking about is, of course, the crux of the film, and what I responded to most was the way his character is struggling to live up to his own definition of manhood, and how self-lacerating the character is. It's almost impossible to go through something as life-defining as a divorce this year and not watch every film through that filter. I think that's true of every era in our lives. We watch movies through filters, whether we want to or not, and right now, I am in the midst of redefining everything about myself, whether I want to or not.
That's why I'm always surprised when someone gets upset about what movies are or aren't on my list at the end of each year. There should be nothing more personal, nothing more revelatory, than when a critic tells you "These are the things that mattered to me this year. This is who I am right now." If you're writing your list to try to be some sort of definitive thing or to try to predict what whens awards, I don't see the value in that. There are both critics and readers who I've debated this with, but I am of the firm opinion that criticism is a very personal form of writing. When I watched "Locke" last night, part of me was watching how it was shot, listening to the way the film unfolds almost like a radio play, while the other part of me was reacting to the ideas. Manhood and masculinity are liquid concepts, and raising sons, I am acutely aware of how I want to convey to them what it means to be a good man.
That's why I don't get the binary thing, the POS/OMG divide. I run through thousands of small reactions during any movie, and I spend hundreds of thousands of words every year trying to describe and quantify these things. If it all broke down to one extreme or the other, there wouldn't be any conversation to have at all, would there?