The Indiana Film Journalists Association isn't what you would expect. It's not a group of scholarly gentlemen who wear tweed jackets and sip espresso while discussing cinema. This past weekend, you could find the members at Rusty Bucket, merrily munching on chili dogs and making jokes about this year's movies — and each other.
Between the wisecracks, these guys brought razor-sharp insights to the table. But they're far from stereotypical critics — the stuffy intellectuals who point their noses up at everything. They maintain a childlike exuberance for cinema. They still believe in movie magic.
This week, the members released a list of what they consider the year's finest cinematic achievements — movies that seemed to make them fall in love with film all over again.
"I don't remember a year with this many great movies since 1994. They've just been amazing," said Christopher Lloyd, one of the founding fathers of the IFJA.
Of course, 1994 was the year of Pulp Fiction, Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption, the list goes on. All of the men agreed that this year produced a similar slew of instant classics.
The group gave its Best Picture award to Spotlight, which Lloyd called "the best movie about journalism since, well, ever!" (No, he didn't forget All the President's Men.) Spotlight follows the Boston Globe's investigation of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests.
The runner-up for the year's best film is the abduction drama Room, which is a rather fitting companion to Spotlight. Both films send you out into the night shivering at the thought of the unspeakable things happening right down the street from all of us.
The group's awards didn't just go to heavy dramas though. The Best Director prize went to George Miller for the action extravaganza Mad Max: Fury Road.
"As clichéd as this sounds, it really is the rollercoaster ride of the year," said one of the veteran members, Matthew Socey, the host of WFYI's Film Soceyology.
Fellow member Nick Rogers gave Socey a fist-bump, thrilled that his enthusiasm for the film was infecting another critic. In the midst of the praise, Rogers took a celebratory sip of Blue Moon.
This was a banner year for our little group of movie-lovers — a year very much worth celebrating. The IFJA received more screeners from studios than ever before — an encouraging sign of the group's growth over the last seven years.
"I remember when the local movie theaters wouldn't let us buy a ticket!" NUVO's own Ed Johnson-Ott joked.
Shortly before the awards meeting, Lloyd posted a picture on Facebook of numerous screeners sprawling across his carpet like vines.
"When we first gave out our annual film awards, we could barely get anyone to pay attention," he wrote. "A lot of folks, including leaders in the mainstream media, think arts criticism is dying. But I cast my lot in with those determined to labor on out of respect for a craft they love. In our case, you can actually measure respect by how much response the studios give us today in terms of advanced press screenings and DVD screeners. Here's to the IFJA."
The Indiana Film Journalists Association is a group of writers dedicated to promoting quality film criticism in the Hoosier state. Members include: Christopher Lloyd (The Film Yap); Joe Shearer (The Film Yap); Lou Harry (Indianapolis Business Journal); Bob Bloom (Reel Bob); Matthew Socey (WFYI); Ed Johnson-Ott (NUVO); Richard Propes (The Independent Critic); Nick Rogers (The Film Yap); Caine Gardner (The Film Yap); Eric Harris (Perry County News); Sam Watermeier (NUVO, The Film Yap); Andy Ray (Arts Channel Indy, The Film Yap).