Variety critic Robert Koehler has fired back about my having characterized the L.A. Film Critics Association as being “contrarian and damn-the-torpedos in giving their Best Picture award to Paul Thomas Anderson‘s There Will Be Blood — a brilliant, lacerating, suffer-no-softies art film that you need to see twice to get the full benefit of.”
“I’ve cited to both Anne Thompson and David Poland the various fictions they’ve written about re. LAFCA’s awards,” Koehler begins, “namely that our pick for TWBB had to do with going against National Board of Review (Anne) or the Academy (David). And now you say we were generally flying the contrarian flag.
“Again, this fiction that LAFCA is going against something. To be ‘contrarian’ means that there is some accepted norm or standard or position, and that the contrarian operates counter to that position or line. But at the very start of the awards season, when our group convenes at 10 am Sunday with no clue as to who else has voted on what, and with utterly no memory (or care in the world) as to whatever NBR went for (the only title sticking in the mind being possibly The Bucket List), there is simply no contrarian stance at play, because there’s nothing to stand against — because we’re at the start of the awards season.”
Wells mid-point reply to Koehler: You and your LAFCA brethren knew very well at the start of voting that There Will be Blood is not an easy sit. It’s brilliant and piercing, but it leaves you with a kind of beat-up or staggered feeling. A woman friend I saw it with was groaning in her seat — she hated it. I know at least one movie guy who came out of a screening feeling a little stunned and saying “what was that?” I presume you know about this. You’re too sharp not to. It’s not a deep dark secret.
To me, the greatness of Paul Thomas Anderson‘s film, which I’ve described as “diseased,” was not immediately apparent. It’s about as far as you can get from a comfort-blanket movie. Especially with that full-throttle bowling-alley scene at the end. Surely you realize that Academy soft-bellies are going to contort themselves into pretzel shapes when it comes to nominating it for Best Picture, if they do. So you guys knew darn well you were going against the grain of that comfort-seeking mindset.
Back to Koehler’s lettter, which he concluded by saying that “you folks need to step back and take a breath, and reconsider these fictions you’re creating out of thin air. By a wide margin, LAFCA felt by a wide margin that There Will Be Blood was the best American film of the year. That’s all. No chess work, no calculations, no triangulation — nothing but a matter of taste based on seeing more movies over the year than anybody else.
“And Jeff, the group judgement was based — with perhaps no exceptions, since there was simply no time for most or all of us to view it more than once — on a single viewing of TWBB. It’s a great movie on the first viewing. I have no idea what you’re talking about [when you say it needs to be seen twice].”