I remember being irritated the first time I read Christopher Kelly’s film criticism. I had just recently taken over the equivalent job at the Weekly when he was brought in to be the Star-Telegram‘s leading film critic in 2000, and I wanted to see how this new arrival expressed himself. I found some bumptious dismissals of some of that year’s best movies like Almost Famous and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I thought, “Who the hell is this guy?”
Since then, I and other serious moviegoers in North Texas have come to know who the hell he is. His aesthetic judgments frequently didn’t line up with mine; he had a distinct preference for movies that engaged social issues and tended to distrust movies that indulged in pictorial beauty for its own sake. I still think Almost Famous and Crouching Tiger were among the best movies of 2000. But Chris Kelly took his job seriously, well beyond the dictates of merely writing up the movies that came before him. He used his platform to promote documentaries and low-budget independent films that might otherwise have been drowned out by the Hollywood hype machine. The mini-festival that he founded, Modern Cinema: Great Movies You Haven’t Heard Of … Yet, became an annual fixture in the calendar of serious moviegoers in North Texas, giving Fort Worth an advance look at films that are always stimulating, and occasionally transcendent. He also found time to publish a novel and acted as a high-profile voice on behalf of the LGBT community.
As you’ve been informed elsewhere on this site, yesterday Kelly became a casualty of the Star-Telegram‘s latest round of layoffs. There’s no word yet on who, if anyone, will replace him at the Star-Telegram. Besides Kelly, the daily has its movie reviews written by pop culture critic Cary Darling and pop music writer Preston Jones locally, with wire-service reviews from Orlando-based Roger Moore and San Francisco-based Mick LaSalle augmenting their efforts.
(Side note: Additional sad news comes to me in an e-mail from Chris Kelly. “I’m going to have to cancel this year’s [Modern Cinema] festival,” he writes. “I’m sad about that, but … I don’t plan to end it for good. … Tina [Gorski at the Modern Art Museum] will put our heads together and try to find a way forward for it.”)
All of which makes me wonder: Am I the only full-fledged professional film critic left in Fort Worth? I’m checking with the DFW Film Critics Association, but all the other members seem to be based in Dallas, Denton, or places other than Fort Worth. I don’t mind admitting that this makes part of me feels like jumping up and down and screaming, “I’m the king!” Still, I hope this state of affairs doesn’t persist. You, the readers, aren’t best served by having one critic reign as a tastemaker, even if that one critic happens to be me. After all, no one has perfect taste, and mine can be a bit idiosyncratic, shall we say. So I hope someone with a platform as large as the Weekly rises up to provide a different critical voice. Maybe that’ll be Mr. Darling or Mr. Jones. Maybe the Star-Telegram will find someone else. Maybe someone will come from an unexpected corner. While we’re waiting, I’ll just enjoy my time on top and try to rule as a benevolent and wise king. I wish my former adversary and colleague the best.