Film critics visit AMMI

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Many of the city's top film critics will be on hand at the American Museum of the Moving Image, Jan. 29 through Feb. 20, to introduce their favorite films of the 1990s, as participants in a new museum series, "The New York Film Critics Circle Looks at the 1990s."

"I thought this was a great idea for a series. On the one hand, it lets the filmgoing public see the faces behind the critics' bylines," said Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman, the Critics Circle Chair and co-organizer of the series along with David Schwartz, AMMI's chief curator. "It also lets us showcase neglected films of the 1990s, which was a truly exciting decade for film."

According to Gleiberman, the medium re-invented itself after suffering a decades-long identity crisis following the 1970s, the decade of the blockbuster and epic.

"I think we suffered from a long hangover following the 1970s with directors like (George) Lucas (the 1976 smash hit 'Star Wars') and (Steven) Spielberg (1977's 'Jaws' and 1979 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind')," Gleiberman reflected. "People didn't know what to do next. It's as if we needed a new era. We needed to get past 70s and 60s and past the cliches of the 1980s. The films of the 90s called for a new look as to how the world is put together."

In retrospect, the 1990s will be viewed in part as the decade of The Independent Film - an era of edgy films thematically and financially distanced from the mega-blockbusters of decades past. Ideally driven more by their stories and character development, the decade of the Independent Film opened the door a touch wider for newer talent with disparate cinematic visions.

"Undoubtedly, the very existence of the independent film movement reinvigorated film on a lot of levels," said Gleiberman. "And so, I think the series represents a films which by definition all belong on a 'Best Of' list... each film featured is new, fresh, innovative and underseen."

Therefore, the series, which occurs on three consecutive weekends, features Circle film critics introducing their own favorites of the important decade in moviemaking.

"Film critics don't exisit to bash movies. On the contrary, film critics are really just a bunch of people who love movies and this series gives us a great chance to champion personal favorites," said Gleiberman. "A passion for expressing admiration of films is our primary draw to this profession."

Gleiberman, in addition to helping organize the series, will also be on hand to introduce his own favorite film of the 1990s, 1997's "Waiting for Guffman" directed by and starring Christoper Guest, who is best known as one of the stars of the cult classic comedy, "This is Spinal Tap."

"There are so many reasons to love, "Guffman." It's a brilliant movie," explained Gleiberman about this satire of a community theater being brought to life by Corky St. Clair, the director whose emotional pyrotechnics are as grand, if not grander, than the sum total of his theatrical visions.

"Community theater represents so many things about small town life, about Middle America's pretensions about art. It's a virtual crossroads of society and "Guffman" depicts small town life brilliantly," he continued, adding extra praise for Guest's nuanced performance as St. Clair.

"I have to say that, as wonderful as the film itself is, Guest's performance is the key reason for its inclusion in the series. He is a singular comic actor. Guest, as the town's closeted gay theater buff, transcends stereotype. There is the note of utter comic truth in his performance that sets this portrayal apart," Gleiberman continued, comparing "Guffman" to another 1990s classic cult comedy, Tim Burton's "Ed Wood," the affectionate fictional salute to real-life director, Wood, the man behind some of the worst films made of the 1950s.

"In many ways, 'Guffman' reminds me of 'Ed Wood,' another satire of show business," said Gleiberman who compares both protagonists as comic figures and unlikely heroes. "Similar to Corky St. Clair, Burton's portrayal of Wood is that of an untalented showman whose passion is so pure, whose belief in his own creativity is so tremendous, it invites you to both laugh at him and celebrate him at the same time."

And, as with all the films of this special, first-time series, 'Guffman,' in Gleiberman's view, was an overlooked and underappreciated classic of the decade.

"I think it made only two top ten lists to my knowledge, actually. Mine and Michael Medved," said Gleiberman, demonstrating every critic's penchant for the proverbial parting shot, "it was one of the only times Michael Medved ever demonstrated any sort of taste."

The schedule is as follows:

Sat., Jan. 29:

1:30 - New York Premiere: A Portrait of Manny Farber

"Negative Space" (1999) A documentary by Chris Petit's about film critic Manny Farber, who was renowned for his celebration of B movies.

2:30 p.m. - Panel discussion, "The Future of Film Criticism," moderated by AMMI Chief Curator David Schwartz with guests John Anderson, John Simon, and Stuart Klawans. This panel of New York film critics survey film criticism and its future.

4:30 p.m. - "Swoon" (1991) Directed by Tom Kalin. Introduced by John Anderson, critic at Newsday and author of "Sundancing: Hanging Out and Listening In at America's Most Important Film Festival."

This 1991 Sundance Film Festival knockout features a stylish and unique spin on the turn-of-the-century Leopold and Loeb kidnapping/murder case, a sensational crime of its day and ours. The crisp, black and white cinematography steals the show.

Sun., Jan. 30:

2 p.m. - "A Brighter Summer Day" (Taiwan, 1991) Directed by Edward Yang. Introduced by Godfrey Cheshire, critic at the New York Press.

The epic "Summer Day" (taking its title from an Elvis Presley tune) tells the story of a 1960s Taiwan when it was torn between Old World ways and Western pop culture.

Sat., Feb. 5:

2 p.m. - "The End of Violence" (1997). Directed by Wim Wenders and starring Bill Pullman, Gabriel Byrne and Andie MacDowell. Introduced by Stephen Holden, New York Times films critic. A producer of mega violent movies (Bill Pullman) survives a car-jacking in which his life is threatened. He emerges a changed man in this meditation on surveillance, paranoia and Hollywood. Features a Ry Cooder score.

Sat., Feb. 5:

4:30 p.m. - "Waiting for Guffman" (1997) Directed by the talented comedian Christopher Guest, best known for his starring role as a lead rocker in the cult classic comedy "This is Spinal Tap." The film stars Guest, Catherine O'Hara (of SCTV), Eugene Levy (also an SCTV veteran), and Fred Willard (comic actor from the cult TV show, "Fernwood Tonight," also played the straightlaced U.S. Air Force emcee in "This is Spinal Tap").Introduced by Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly.

Gleiberman describes this as "the most inspired comedy of the 1990s," and its easy to see why. Guest's "Guffman" focuses on a community theater in Blaine, Missouri, led by Corky St. Clair (Guest, in a hilarious performance) the town's "token gay theater-bug," as described by Gleiberman who sums things up beautifully by terming the film a "savage yet affectionate celebration of American bad taste."

Sun., Feb. 6:

2 p.m. - "Fallen Angels" (Hong Kong, 1997) Directed by Wong Kar-wai. Introduced by J. Hoberman, Village Voice. A Hong Kong reinvented as a neo-New Wave capital of the world, described by Hoberman as "the most visually voluptuous flick of the fin de siecle."

Sun., Feb. 6:

4 p.m. - "The Indian Runner" (1991) Written and directed by actor Sean Penn. Introduced by Andrew Johnston, Time Out New York. A stunning debut by Penn as a filmmaker behind the camera, it stars David Morse as a patrolman, Viggo Mortensen as his bad-news brother, along with Patricia Arquette and Dennis Hopper. Great performance by Mortensen. Effective cameo by veteran celluloid tough guy Charles Bronson as the father of the two brothers.

Sat., Feb. 12:

2 p.m. -

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