MONDAY, JANUARY 23, 2023
With respect to the feature film, Tár: Tomorrow morning, it's going to happen!
A critically praised feature film—Todd Field's Tár—will receive an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Picture. The film stars Cate Blanchett, playing the role of (fictional) composer and conductor Lydia Tár.
To what extent has Tár been critically praised? We'll let the leading authority on the topic do our talking for us:
Tár premiered at the 79th Venice International Film Festival in September 2022, where Blanchett won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. The film had a limited theatrical release in the United States on October 7, 2022, before a wide release on October 28, by Focus Features.
For Field's work on Tár, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named him Best Director of the Year, and his script Best Original Screenplay, as did the National Society of Film Critics, with Blanchett winning Best Actress from the same groups. Tár was selected Best Film of the Year by the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and the National Society of Film Critics, becoming only the seventh film in history named as such from the nation's top critics' groups, the so-called "trifecta." Tár was named "Best Picture of the Year" by more critics than any other film released in 2022...
At the 80th Golden Globe Awards in 2023, Blanchett won Best Actress in a Motion Picture–Drama, while the film was nominated for Best Motion Picture–Drama and Best Screenplay.
Tár didn't win Best Motion Picture at the Golden Globes. That honor, such as it is, went to Steven Spielberg's autobiopic, The Fabelmans.
It's also true that Tár wasn't a favorite of every high-end critic:
At the New York Times, for example, co-chief critic A. O. Scott included Tár in his list of the year's ten best films, placing it at #6. But co-chief critic Manohla Dargis didn't include it in her own list of the year's ten best. Indeed, Dargis didn't include Tár among the 24 other films from the past year she said you should "make sure to watch."
Tár wasn't loved by every high-end critic; presumably, no film ever is. That said, it was showered with critical praise at the time of its release and during its theatrical run. That same leading authority offers this additional overview concerning the critical consensus:
On Rotten Tomatoes, 90% of 283 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.3/10. The website's consensus reads, "Led by the soaring melody of Cate Blanchett's note-perfect performance, Tár riffs brilliantly on the discordant side of fame-fueled power." Metacritic...assigned the film a score of 92 out of 100, based on 59 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."
Based on reviews by 59 critics, Metacritic judged that Tár had received "universal acclaim." But in one other arena, the widely-praised film seems to have done less well. The leading authority tells us this about gate receipts from Tár's theatrical run:
The film, in general release and about to be released internationally, has to date made 6.3 million dollars...
The New York Times estimated the total budget of the film at $35 million and argued that Tár and similar highbrow films "failed to find an audience big enough to justify their costs." Some commentators attributed the poor box office performance to the film's subject matter alienating a general audience, while others noted a larger trend in art house releases faring poorly during their cinematic runs following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jut to be clear: according to Box Office Mojo, Tár's current take in domestic theaters stands at $5.9 million. The figure cited by the authority includes some early overseas receipts.
At this point, let's be fair. It's certainly true that the covid pandemic has altered moviegoing habits in a way which may never be undone.
It's also true that you can't measure the quality of a feature film by the amount of money it generates at the box office. If moviegoers didn't show up in large numbers for Tár, that doesn't necessarily mean that the highly favorable critical assessments were somehow "wrong."
That said, did Tár "fail to find a [substantial] audience" during its theatrical run? That too is plainly true. In our view, it's interesting to see a film die such a death at the box office even as it's receiving such overwhelming critical acclaim.
We've had occasion to watch (and watch; and watch) Tár over the past two weekends. In part, it seemed to us that we were observing an allegory for our (failing) political times.
Tár is indeed a "highbrow film," as it's called by the leading authority and in this New York Times headline. In fact, we'd say the film transports the viewer to the kingdom of the highbrow and continues way on from there.
We'd also guess that, in the matter at hand, we're looking at two fundamentally different reactions to that rather unusual journey beyond the valley of the highbrow:
With whatever degree of sincerity, elite critics swooned about their trip through that distant land. By way of contrast, we'll guess that very few moviegoers who saw the film in movie theaters ever got on the phone and told their friends that they should go see Tár too.
For ourselves, we aren't giant fans of Tár. But we think the situation we have described may teach us several lessons.
No, Virginia! Our nation's high-end political discourse, such as it is, isn't especially "highbrow."
Policy matters aren't discussed in any type of detail. All in all, policy matter are barely discussed at all.
Our political discourse over the past thirty years has largely emerged from lowbrow forms of Storyline built around personality issues. That said, there is a major disconnect between the values and interests of the nation's high-end political journalists and the values and interests of very large segments of us the people, including the people who vote.
We aren't big fans of Tár ourselves, but that isn't the point.
A certain ghost is said to lurk all through the (considerable) running time of this widely praised feature film. As we tried to puzzle our way through the length of this highbrow film, we kept thinking that we were visiting a sister city of our failed political discourse.
Tomorrow: Why we rented Tár