I wince almost every time I read a Tim Gray Variety report about the latest award-season screening or event. The only fall release he hadn’t done ecstatic cartwheels over is All Is Lost. (A week or two ago Gray suggested that the title sounds too downish and despairing for the make-us-feel-good crowd.) Otherwise he’s been thumbs-uppy about nearly everything. At the same time I understand all too well why Gray and other glad-handers play it this way. If you want those advertising bucks you have to keep things groovy and backrubby. You don’t have to love everything you see but you’d be wise to write your reviews and riffs in a way that emphasizes the fluttery alpha.

Even the auteur-level directors you’ve admired for years will keep you at arm’s length and maybe pass along a complaint or two to the marketing guys if you don’t pleasure them. Even an interest in wanting to talk to an actor you really like and admire, like Nebraska‘s Bruce Dern, won’t pan out if you’re not 100% loving the movie or if you say that Dern should have gone for Best Supporting Actor because if he did he’d (a) definitely get nominated and (b) would most likely win. (Every time I’ve said this I’ve added that it’ll be terrific if he defies the odds and gets nominated for Best Actor — go, Bruce!) But that’s not good enough. Right now I have a better chance of interviewing Vladimir Putin than Dern.

The HE brand would be worth zilch if I tried to be Tim Gray, but I know what it’s like out there. I have to swim in the same waters that Gray does. The pressure is always there to fall in line and, if at all possible, applaud heartily. I try to play along, believe me. If I can find it in my head and heart to blow a movie or its director with some degree of honesty and conviction, I will drop to my knees and open wide. The problem is that I can’t make blowjob reviews read “right” (i.e., make them flow and touch bottom in a convincing way) unless I really believe what I’m saying. So what I do at times is modify, parse and softball my opinions as much as possible. But when you do that (or try to do that), the piece takes three to four times longer to write and 80% of the time it reads like equivocating shit. And before you know it the day is shot.