Thursday, June 16, 2016

X Marks the Filmspot

I've recently found my way to the podcast Filmspotting -- though it's actually been around for more than a decade, and is approaching its 600th episode. Two Chicago area critics, Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen, host a weekly discussion of movies... and I've found them to be quite thought provoking.

Episodes regularly clock in around two hours, and I'll be honest and say I don't generally listen to them all the way through. Each installment usually begins with a lengthy discussion of a recent release, and I typically skip this section of the podcast. There are plenty of places to get movie reviews (thanks to those of you who at least pretend to care when I post them), and I rarely find this super-long form, sometimes spoilery format to be what I'm looking for. Perhaps as I listen more, if I come to feel like one of these two critics' tastes really aligns with my own, I'll put more stock in these reviews.

No, the thing that keeps me coming back to Filmspotting is what they do with the rest of an episode. Each week brings an interesting Top 5 List that definitely gets you thinking, because they're not always about expected topics. Sure, you'll get the Top 5 Movies of a given year, or the Top 5 Scenes of a given director. But the podcast also comes at movies from different angles: Top 5 Non-Kids Movies You Should Show Your Kids, Top 5 "Single Location" Films, Top 5 Ensemble Movies.... categories you can't necessarily toggle settings on your Flickchart (if you have an account there) to spit out an automatic list.

Another check on the "automatic list" is the hosts' creation of a Filmspotting "Pantheon" -- a collection of movies that were so often used in making past lists than they've been enshrined in the Pantheon and are banned from inclusion on future lists. No debating Citizen Kane's greatness or flaws; it's ineligible. Sometimes, this leads to one of the critics stumping for a pretentiously obscure foreign film you've never heard of.... but then, this is how you might find out about some awesome but obscure movie you've never heard of.

So most episodes of Filmspotting end with me mentally rifling through movies, thinking about which ones might have had been one of the Top 5 Movies About Writers, or who might be in the Top 5 Actor-Director Pairings, or where might be among the Top 5 Movie Locations You Wish You Could Visit. Getting people to think twice about art they've experienced, rather than just categorizing "good" and "bad," is the more noble aim of effective criticism. And so I often find myself looking forward to a new episode of Filmspotting. I'd say it rates maybe a B overall, but any fan of movies ought to give it a try.

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