When he was Variety‘s lead film critic Justin Chang would deliver his opinions with as much tact and finesse as possible. He would sometimes pan films, of course, but in a way that might prompt a reader to say, “Well, I guess this film has certain merits as well.” “Blunt” and “direct” may have been in Chang’s toolbox, but they were rarely used. But they are now that he’s a big-dog critic at the L.A. Times.
In a sharply phrased piece about Sunday’s Cannes Film Festival awards and particularly about the shortcomings of Ken Loach‘s I, Daniel Blake and, more odiously, Xavier Dolan‘s It’s Only The End of the World, which won the festival’s Grand Prix (or second place) award, Chang has let go Sam Peckinpah-style.
“In handing Ken Loach his second Palme d’Or for I, Daniel Blake (he won the first Palme in 2006 for The Wind That Shakes the Barley), Miller’s jury, deliberately or not, wound up favoring an angry, relevant message rather than a great work of cinema. Loach inadvertently seemed to confirm as much when he noted in his acceptance speech that film is ‘exciting, it’s fun, and as you’ve seen tonight, it’s also very important.’
“Still, better for the Palme to have gone to Loach than to Quebec’s Xavier Dolan, the 27-year-old world-cinema enfant terrible who pretty much horrified the press audience by inexplicably winning the runner-up Grand Prix for It’s Only the End of the World.
“In my 11 years of attending Cannes I cannot recall a worse jury decision than this one. A badly shot, shrilly performed and all-around excruciatingly misjudged dysfunctional-family torture session that felt far longer than its 97-minute running time, World was by far the least endurable film in competition (and that includes Sean Penn’s dreadful but dreadfully entertaining The Last Face).
“Far inferior to Mommmy, the director’s 2014 jury-prize winner, World failed to win over even Dolan’s many fans, and I have counted myself among them on more than one occasion.”
In his final paragraph, Chang lamented the 2016 Cannes jury’s inclination to favor important cinema — films that portray and lament social wrongs — over more subtle achievers.
“Is there no room, in the recognition of cinematic excellence, for movies that don’t wear their politics or morality on their sleeve — that touch less obvious, more nuanced chords? (Like, for example, the movies of jury chairman George Miller?) That say a lot without raising a megaphone? That show that comedy is worth taking seriously?
“As Joel Coen noted [last year], no, this is not a jury of film critics. But it should be a jury of artists with a less rigid, more sophisticated idea of what award-worthy cinema can and should be. And who can recognize a terrible Xavier Dolan movie when it’s staring them in the face.”