After seeing Michael Haneke’s Caché (Hidden) at the Toronto Film Festival, I offered my email address to those of you who saw the film and missed the crucial piece of information that Haneke buried in the final shot. Because I'm incapable of imagining many beyond my wife and friends reading anything I write—and sporadically at that—I didn’t expect more than a smattering of queries to the blog entry. To my immense surprise and gratification, the trickle of early responses quickly turned into a deluge as cinephiles from Calgary to Istanbul were pelting me with emails. I’ve responded to them individually and in small groups, but for the past few weeks, I just haven’t had the time to write everyone back. To those who haven’t heard from me, I apologize. However, I have created this nifty webpage to answer your questions, and have included some telling stills as visual evidence. You can find it here.

Two other rants while I’m here:

1. Why didn’t anyone tell me how bad Melinda And Melinda was? Granted, the reviews were middling and our own Nathan Rabin dismissed it pretty strongly, but many big names—including Chicago twin towers Roger Ebert and Michael Wilmington, and to a milder extent, The New York Times’ A.O. Scott and The New Yorker’s David Denby—declared it an unusually strong late-period work from Woody Allen, even (*gulp*) a comeback. I missed the reportedly awful Anything Else, something that would have been inconceivable in the past, when Allen’s annual fall film was like an early Christmas present. But I’ve seen every other film Allen has made, and I’d rank Melinda at the absolute bottom.

The film cross-pollinates two superior Allens of old: The framing device of characters chatting about the story at a deli comes from Broadway Danny Rose and the severe, McDLT separation of the comedy and drama smacks of Crimes And Misdemeanors. But here’s the problem: I don’t believe a story this trite would ever cause two dramatists to imagine its comedic and tragic possibilities, so the framing device feel completely hackneyed. And the tonal extremes were much sharper in Crimes And Misdemeanors, which stung hard on both fronts. With Melinda, you know you’re in trouble when you’re having a hard time figuring out which half is supposed to be funny. Will Ferrell is a clue, I suppose, but his gifts are sublimated in yet another example of an actor playing an Allen surrogate by doing an awkward Allen impersonation (Kenneth Branagh in Celebrity is the worst offender). But more than anything, I just couldn’t figure out why I should give a damn about these neurotic, self-obsessed, wine-slurping bastards; it feels like all the vigorous defenses I’ve made of Allen over the years were just evaporating in front of my eyes. The haters are right on this one, though I guess we can look to Allen’s new film Match Point as a silver lining: The response from Cannes was uniformly glowing and the trailer looks like someone other than Allen wrote and directed, which may be a healthy step for now.

2. I should probably save this gripe for another blog post, because I’m pretty certain it will draw the ire of many dyed-in-the-wool independent filmmakers, distributors, and exhibitors. But someone needs to say it: Week after week, there are far more films released theatrically, specifically in New York theaters, than warrant distribution of any kind. I hint at this problem a little bit in the first paragraph of my Blackmail Boy review—which Noel interpreted as a thinly veiled complaint for having to review it in the first place—and it’s something I’ve come to acknowledge more openly as we continue reviewing these tiny New York-only releases. When you consider the plethora of available screens in the city and the frugality of making DV indies or picking up the rights to inexpensive foreign fare, it makes sense that gobs of cheap films are rolled out every week. What doesn’t make sense is our obligation to review them.

Since all the film critics work out of the Chicago office—save for Noel, who works out of our Conway, Arkansas office, and who gets abused the most on this front—we rely on screener tapes and DVDs to cover the New York scene as best we can. We don’t have the staff or resources to be completists like The New York Times or The Village Voice. In the past, however, we’ve had a policy that if we’re given access to a film and that film is scheduled for a theatrical run of a week or more, we will review it no matter what. As of this week, we’ve introduced a “gong” policy on NYC micro-indies: We’ll consider everything that comes in, but if the critic assigned to the task believes that a film is beneath consideration, then it won’t get reviewed. In other words, we’re treating cinema just like we do all the piles of other unsolicited CDs, DVDs, and books that arrive in our office: If it’s compelling in some way to us (or relevant in some way to our readership), we’ll review it. If not, we won’t.

I understand this reasoning sounds churlish, like we’re unsupportive of independent movies, distributors, and exhibitors. But what we’re really not supporting are the half-assed and frankly lousy releases that are a drain on our time and a drain on the independent scene in general. This raises an obvious question: Why would we refuse to review a no-budget independent film while making certain to cover, say, a Hollywood romantic comedy featuring Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit? My answer is that the Ryan Reynolds comedy will at leaset have some sort of cultural impact: It will unspool in thousands of theaters to hundreds of thousands of unhappy viewers, and those seismic tremors are worth recording. A bad movie that plays for one week to an audience of dozens just doesn’t warrant our attention.

That said, there are plenty of examples of marginal or self-distributed indie and foreign fare that has captured our enthusiasm. Noel, for one, really responded to Sheriff, a Wiseman-esque documentary that played at Two Boots for a week earlier this year. And I’ll never forget the revelation of discovering Andrew Bujalski’s debut feature Funny Ha Ha, which stopped by Facets in Chicago for a week during its long, long journey to critical discovery and a legitimate distribution deal. These films are underdogs that deserve to be championed and we’ll continue to do so. It’s just the crap that will go in the slushpile, where it belongs.