You may think of film criticism as a rather sedate pursuit, involving a lot of sitting around in the dark and scratching one’s beard. But in truth, the trenches of cinemania are treacherous ground. Never mind the blogger infighting and hordes of rabid fanboys waiting for you after you post — I’m talking about the real dangers that lurk in the space between the screen and your eyes, where auteur loyalty means nothing, empty buzz can finish you off before the opening credits, and the blood of the gullible is spilled by the bucket. Or at least, their patience.

What am I on about? Last week’s two major disappointments, the Flaming Lips’ bizarrely sluggish Christmas on Mars and the Coen Brothers’ vile Burn After Reading, which left me quaking with anger. Both reviews are now up on

It took two confirmed classics — and multiple viewings — to restore my faith: Antonioni’s endlessly baffling and beautiful The Passenger and the magical The Thief of Baghdad, one of the first movies I remember seeing. Not a bad way to lick your wounds and shore up resolve for the New York Film Festival, which begins screening for critics on Monday.

Christmas on Mars. Wayne Coyne, 2008. * (Review)
Burn After Reading. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2008. * (Review)
The Passenger. Michaelangelo Antonioni, 1975. *****
The Thief of Baghdad. Michael Powell, 1940. *****