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The Reeler Blog

Film Comment Critics Poll: A User's Guide

The Host, arguably 1/10 the film it was before it was released in theaters (Photo: Magnolia Pictures)

By S.T. VanAirsdale

The results of Film Comment's annual critics poll are in, and they're not terribly shocking: New York Film Festival centerpiece No Country For Old Men outscored 2007 latecomer There Will Be Blood by a mere 11 points -- 754 to 743 -- as Zodiac coasted into third with 699 points. But you could have guessed as much. What's more engaging -- or at least noteworthy and not just a bit confusing -- are the rankings of some of this year's "best films" versus their rankings among last year's "best unreleased films."

The Host, for example -- the second best unreleased film of 2006 -- was only the 23rd best released film of 2007. Belle Toujours and In Between Days, which critics ranked eighth and 15th among unreleased films in '06, didn't even make the top 50 in 2007. (Make that the top 54 if you count the ties.) Then there are The Wind That Shakes the Barley (10th to a tie for 46th), Into Great Silence (16th to 44th), Brand Upon the Brain! (11th to 34th) and Bamako (12th to 29th), all unable to keep up with the likes of Michael Clayton (13th), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (15th) and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (16th).

So what does it all mean? "The discrepancy between placement in released and unreleased of films like The Host could be people changing their mind," Film Comment editor Gavin Smith wrote this morning in response to my inquiry about the rankings. "But more likely it's that the number of people able to vote for unreleased films is far lower. Only a minority of voters get to see a substantial number of unreleased films; they don't all go to film festivals. That said, Syndromes and a Century placed at the top of last year's unreleased list and number four on this year's releases, so go figure."

Weirder still, Jia Zhang-Ke's Still Life tied with Woman on the Beach for sixth among 2006's best unreleased films. This year it stands alone in seventh place on the same list. "It's the first time a film has placed two years running," Smith said. "An unreleased film is eligible for as long as it's unreleased, I guess." Smith also confirmed that Still Life, which opens theatrically Jan. 18, would be eligible for "best film" of 2008. (NB: Jia's Useless, which has yet to secure American distribution, claimed Still Life's old spot at No. 6.)

Compare this to last year, when neither Killer of Sheep (which was unreleased for 30 years) nor The Lives of Others (which scored acclaim in 2006 at festivals from Telluride to Toronto to London as well as from major-market press screenings) made the "best unreleased films" list. Among distributed films from 2007, Sheep and Lives ranked sixth and 11th respectively.

It obviously could be a hell of a lot worse, but nevertheless: You have a full year to rationalize the list before the next one emerges to blow your mind once more. On your mark, get set, go.

Posted at January 10, 2008 2:51 PM

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Are you starting a new, numerological religion?

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