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Tuesday, 2 March 2010

PMA FIilm Critic

Gives Voice
to Picture Palace

By Richard Carreno
Junto Staff Writer Bio
If you want to know what actor or which picture will win an Academy Award this Sunday (7 March), look elsewhere. Film critic Michael McGonigle readily admits that his guesses are about 85 percent always wrong.

What? You never heard of McGonigle, who just might be Philadelphia's most erudite, scholarly, and passionate movie reviewer -- and historian.

In a one-horse newspaper town like Philadelphia, seasoned film reviewers are few. Citizen reviewers (check out local blogs) abound, of course. Smarts? Well, not always.

Few local critics have the savvy, education, and the overall breath of film knowledge as the 51-year-old McGonigle, who -- lets see? -- has probably seen every film ever made when years ago he was the check-out guy at your local video shop. Well, almost.

Moreover, unlike remote-control critics at The Inquirer and at blogs, McGonigle gets up close and personal. All you have to do, is drop in sometime when he's elucidating the latest nuance in filmdom.

I've been doing that -- dropping in, that is -- for years now, and even as a former MSM critic myself (at Cineaste and at several New England newspapers), I've found McGonigle an insightful and unpredictable advisor in my own love affair with Hollywood pictures.

McGonigle's unlikely pulpit is the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he has slowly but surely been turning the PMA, one of the world's greatest visual picture palaces, into a great talking picture palace, as well.

The result has been one of Philly's oldest film clubs -- and one of it's least known. 

'It's a passion.' the garrulous McGonigle gushed when we met over coffee recently. 'I'm absolutely in love with movies. Film doesn't exist in a vacuum. Make connections with things. That's what I try to do.'

And that's what he's been doing since 1992, meeting up with film-buff audiences of about 250 and more on about six Sundays each year in the PMA's Van Pelt Auditorium.

Welcome to McGonigle's PMA Film Club. Membership? Either join the museum, or just show up on the Saturdays or Sundays (some are free admission days) when McGonigle is on stage. (Contact: mmcongigle@philamuseum.org).

Officially, McGonigle works as a PMA audio-visual specialist. The Film Club, at least, originally, is a side-line gig. More recently, his PMA business card also carries the tirle 'Film Lecturer.'

'I like it. I enjoy it. It's fun,' says McGonigle.

About those McGonigle Oscar predictions: McGonigle breaks down his admittedly less-than-clairvoyent choices by his picks versus those he thinks actually will be the selections of the Academy of Motion Pictures. Remember, guaranteed 85 percent wrong.

Best Actress: Gabourey Sidibe in Precious.

Best Actor:  Colin Firth in A Single Man.

Best Direcrtoir: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker.

Best Picture, Inglourious Basterds.

Though he reckons he'll be wrong about that big one, as well. The Academy's choice? Avatar.

Wrong? Check out the Academy Award picks Sunday.