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New York Times - Film Critics

     Where there were three, now there are only two. The New York Times recently ended it's five-year experiment of offering a trio of revolving film critics-A.O. Scott, Elvis Mitchell, Stephen Holden- by appointing Scott officially as the Times's chief critic. That was probably OK with Holden, a Times veteran who had served loyally below Janet Maslin, first-string film reviewer through the 1990s. But Mitchell, insulted at being passed over, bolted the Times.

     The shift came clear at Cannes this May, when Mitchell, a regular tuxedo'd figure there, was suddenly in absentia. Some of my fellow American film critics gloated that he'd disappeared from the Times pages: his reviews were dismissed by them as erratic, pop and fizzy. With his rastafarian locks and big cigar, Mitchell was viewed, I think, as perhaps too public and extroverted a personality for our inward-looking, nervous profession. Wasn't he too comfortable appearing on TV; and how did he have time for those other gigs: panels at film festivals, commuting this year to teach at Harvard?

     My feeling: Mitchell is more talented, imaginative writer than others would concede. Even a Times critic can be underrated. With him gone, the list of African-American film reviewers shrinks even more: Wesley Morris at the Globe, Armond White at the New York Press, Lisa Kennedy at the Denver Post.

     On the other hand: the Times was totally correct in raising Scott to chief critic. He's a wry, wonderful stylist, an uncompromising thinker who is smartly skeptical of both Hollywood super-products and middle-brow, sentimental art movies. "Tony" Scott could be, over time, the greatest New York Times critic of them all. Moreover, he's a very nice guy, modest and soft-spoken. Congratulations!

(Boston Phoenix - June, 2004)


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