Can a film be great if you only want to see it once?

Film critic Mick LaSalle thinks “12 Years A Slave” is one of the films of the year. But he has a caveat:

One question nags at me — and would nag me even more if I were a member of the Academy…  Is it possible for a movie to be the best picture of 2013 and yet be something that few who see it actually enjoy or ever want to see again?

..[T]here are few movies that have inspired such a widespread reaction of yes, it’s an important movie, and I’m glad I saw it, but I’m also glad it’s over with.  “Amour”, the 2012 Michael Haneke film about old age, was another in this rare category. On the one hand, I think, well, this is an honest movie about slavery and slavery itself was unrelenting and awful, so perhaps the best movie you can make about slavery is one that doesn’t give the audience a break…

On the other hand, I also think, well, Schindler’s List” dealt with the Holocaust and was hardly an easy film to sit through; it evoked profound emotion, had many horribly disturbing moments . . . and yet one can watch it over and over.  Ingmar Bergman’s “Cries and Whispers” contains one of the most harrowing and protracted death scenes ever filmed, and yet it’s a movie that can be watched every year, with deepening satisfaction.

I don’t believe “12 Years A Slave”  is in that category of the endlessly repeatable.  So the question for me is whether director Steve McQueen is so honest and such a visionary that he has dared to dispense with the invisible spoon full of sugar that somehow allowed the medicine go down in those other movies?  Or does he lack some grandeur of spirit that would elevate him from a good artist to a great artist?

Well, it has to be the latter, I think. I’ve already given my reasons why I think the film is over-rated – as a piece of story-telling, it’s relentlessly one-dimensional. In the last couple of days I’ve begun reading Solomon Northup’s book which, so far, strikes me as far more interesting and nuanced. Then again, I probably would never have heard of it if it hadn’t been for the film.

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