The Glaring Importance of Critics in Filmmaking
Old Ebert is as dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood or nothing wonderful can come of the article I am going to relate. While not as much of a miser as Ebenezer Scrooge, Roger Ebert, the famed film critic who wrote for the Chicago Tribune since 1967, was noted for his absolute hatred when it came to the movies.
Your Movie Sucks! screams at filmmakers from the shelves of bookstores, and his tirade of annoyance at films like North (“I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”) would send the most confident director into much-needed rehab.
But don’t let me send the wrong message, Ebert LOVED films. Loved them with a passion nobody except fellow critics can understand. His arguable spiritual successor when it comes to online reviews, the Nostalgia Critic, made the perfect summation video of him, located in the “Works Cited” section below. Ebert spent decades pouring himself into watching and summing up the positives and negatives of countless films, writing books, articles and doing shows all revolving around his immense focus on making good films for audiences and why films are so important. His influence has inspired film critics around the world and even filmmaking itself, so then begs the question: How important are critics when it comes to filmmaking?
Rated “A” for Effort
The role of a film critic is rather voluntary, spending their days and nights relentlessly watching and perhaps re-watching films to determine their value, often based on a scale (Ebert used 4 stars for his, 4 being the best and half a star the worst, with only a few notable exceptions receiving no stars), and more importantly letting curious audiences know if they too should partake in the viewing of the flick. In the realm of popular culture the idea of a group of diligent observers with skills university-grade or higher presenting a guide of what to watch is interesting in comparison to the other alternative: advertising.
Every trailer for every film shouts the positives at the viewer – it’s funny; it’s intense; it’s family-oriented; it’s guaranteed to make you pee your pants – but unless one is a die-hard know-it-all of what they like to watch, and able to tell exactly from thirty seconds of film footage if a production falls into those standards, the decision whether to view the film or not is left up in the air.
“Did it get good reviews?”
A question many ask in the lead-up to their personal premiere of this unseen work, old or new. That’s where the critic comes in.
Critics, unlike advertisers, are not out to promote a film, but rather to dive in before anyone else watches and scan it for the aspects it presents. It’s true that the other definition of a critic, apart from someone who analyses a work, is someone who expresses an unfavourable opinion, thus they are connected to a negative connotation, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, which we’ll come to later.
On the neutral side of things, the critic will examine what the film has that’s new, or how it handles old techniques in different ways. Then they take all this information and ask 3 simple questions: Do the techniques used work for the film? What audiences will it attract, if any? Compared to similar films, does it do a better job presenting what both creators and audience want?
These questions are hard to answer. Some films don’t work and nobody can tell you why. Defining just exactly what the word “work” means can even be a struggle. But the search to see if the film is presentable in the medium (i.e. does it follow the rules that separates a film from other works of art?) is an ongoing task all film critics participate in.
Then there comes genre, the category a film fits into based on its subject matter (and sometimes, though less often, techniques it uses in presentation, such as an “Art film” or “avant-garde”). Critics use the genre of a film to determine which audiences, based on what they’ve liked before, will enjoy the film. This entails building up a repertoire of seeing many films to compare it to, a life-long task of every critic.
Finally, having seen so many films, a critic learns about filmmaking techniques to judge a film based on the new things it does or similar things done differently. They determine if the filmmakers have been able to not only use proven methods to illustrate their message or idea clearly (remembering that audiences desire catharsis brought on by the work’s overall message/idea), but also if they can create or innovate so that their movie stands out as a step forward in the artistic realm. i.e. is the film entertaining and does it stimulate thought? Then they make their case, giving a rating overall with usually detailed reasoning.
However, with no defined rating system in place between critics, it can be confusing as to whom to trust in one’s own judgement of what they want to watch. Often criticised for misunderstood ratings given to films, critics often try to place more importance on what they say rather than the numbers they use to rate, which many viewers want to simply know if they should or shouldn’t watch a movie, without the long reading. In Ebert’s view ratings were merely guidance, and discretion is left to the reader to know what it is they want when checking ratings from a critic, and which critics to read. If you’re looking for movies on videogames, then a reviewer who focuses on westerns probably isn’t your best fit.
“When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you’re not asking if it’s any good compared to Mystic River, you’re asking if it’s any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two.” – Ebert
Reviewers vs. Critics
Now many people get confused when discussing critics and their counterparts – reviewers. A reviewer’s role is much more commonly understood by the average Joe or Joette: “How was I personally affected by this movie?” They have a viewership that often agrees with their ideas of what to enjoy in films and focus on revealing their feelings to similarly-minded audiences. A current example is the aforementioned and misleadingly-named Nostalgia Critic who focuses mostly on films from the 80’s and youth of his generation and their current remakes or films dealing with nostalgic culture, thus his generation (which currently dominates film-watching audiences) finds his reviews enjoyable, especially with it being online, where the current biggest focus of said generation is.
But a critic, unlike a reviewer, does not watch only films of a certain genre or type and reflect on how it impacted their feelings, but rather they explore ALL films (normally new releases) and examine each one based on its own merits, focusing on the film techniques used and their effectiveness in the film presenting its message or desired effect on an audience. Hence why Ebert could speak on both Pokémon and Titanic and in fact did so.
So then a critic becomes a general go-to for curious audiences to choose which films to give money to in order to be entertained. They even have grown important enough to be shown screenings before a general release, not only to send out reviews beforehand to advertise but also to give filmmakers opinions and advise. Thus the film can be “fixed” or changed before released to audiences in hopes they will come en-masse to pay in expectation of hopefully a good film.
It would be quite a different world if movie-goers paid for films only AFTER they’d seen them, being fully informed of where their money was going to, but such is the way of our mercantile world. Every film instead expects money upfront (somehow also indicating how good it is in terms of box office results, though the audience reviews have yet to begin) based on the audience’s dumb luck. Thus we place our trust in the critic for any forewarning. But why is it so important compared to advertising? If advertisers are honest (though that’s a big “if”), can’t we trust them to see the good points of a upcoming film and base our judgements solely on their word and our predisposition of what we like? Well, that’s where the cynic comes in.
Voice of the People
Ebert was the textbook example of the polar opposite of an advertiser. Rather than praising all the good qualities of a film he nitpicked every awful detail and horrendous decision made by the filmmakers until all was brought to light. He ensured audiences, even if they didn’t agree with his personal views, could be informed of the decisions made that would affect their own viewing. In such circumstances it is easy to see why people thought he might hate movies. But with his passion for good movies he used his anger at the negative aspects to help promote better and better films, and his influence, it can be argued, was successful.
Even before Ebert, films were watched firstly by critics, people who know techniques and purposes of the art like any other critic of any other art. They, like test audiences brought in to preview a film, often force the filmmakers to go back and change films, whether endings (Mad Max: Fury Road) or even whole movies (Blade Runner). The pressure of critics symbolises the desire of filmmakers to make something people will actually pay to watch, especially now in an age where the internet has made reviews and opinions all the more important.
So if critics are so important then the impact of a cynical critic, as demonstrated by Roger Ebert, is all the more prominent in good filmmaking.
If a person judged to be an indispensable factor in the creation of films is not a cheerleader, but a picky payer of attention to detail and attacker of all things negative they see (which in a cynic’s case is far more than a regular person sees), then the pressure to make good films is all the more intense. Having the extreme of the absolute hardest audience member to pleases gives filmmakers a high bar that the closer to the better their movie is guaranteed to be.
Critics, and especially cynics, understand an audience wants things to be “good” based on their interests and so drive filmmakers to create and push themselves to make these and new films devoid of as many problems and known negativities possible, ensuring filmmakers keep in mind the purpose of making film: for an audience.
So in short a critic is the audience’s representative in judging a film before they have to pay to see it, and a cynical critic is all the more important because they are focused and intent on driving out the bad to help foster the good.
The Ghost Of Cynics Past
In the current day and age the most popular films are tragically (in this writer’s humble opinion, being an unabashed cynical critic himself) mostly remakes or sequels. In this environment the need for someone to hammer in attention to detail for these extremely similar films (where looking at past proven technique and innovation is crucial more than ever) is of the utmost importance. Coincidentally this period has come during the loss of the greatest of cynical critics, Roger Ebert.
While I don’t mean to dive into the possible correlation of worsening films after the loss of a major critic, the point is clear that producers are influenced by popularity when making films. In fact they are so influenced that filmmakers have left productions that have focused more on popularity than good filmmaking. For example both the remake of Stephen King’s It and the biopic on Freddie Mercury lost their director and leading actor respectively over differences of creativity when the producers weren’t going in a good direction.
Thus films need a cynical, critical voice as it is the only major factor apart from audience money in influencing producers, being an indication of where that audience money might go before it is spent. Audiences have less control over how a film is made than why it is made and so it remains the critic’s staunchest role to uphold their desires where a producer can cut them short in favour of lesser expensive and faster methods of production, in order to make money and not bother with audience enjoyment.
People go to the movies for many reasons. A critic goes to the movies to ensure all those reasons can continue to be respected. For someone like Roger Ebert, who himself loved the movies, a loud and angry but concentrated voice was the best surgical tool for weeding out the unwanted cancerous flesh of bad movies so that the ones with importance (i.e. heart) could come to light. In view of his passing it then must be remembered that films will only be as good as we demand, and so we need those cynical critics to demand only the best. Because who really wants another Sharknado? (*Dodges shoes.*)
Author’s note: While this article has focused on Roger Ebert alone for simplicity many comparisons can be drawn to Gene Siskel, Leonard Maltin and many other critics who are also cynics. But then again as they say, everyone’s a critic.
Ebert, Roger. “Shaolin Soccer Movie Review and Film Summary (2004)”, “Pokémon: The First Movie Review (1999)”, “Titanic Movie Review and Film Summary (1997)”, “North Movie Review and Film Summary (1994)”. www.rogerebert.com. Web.
McKnight, Brent. “Tom Hardy Talks Mad Max: Fury Road Reshoots”, November 1, 2013. Giant Freakin Robot. Web.
Robinson, Will. “Cary Fukunaga Leaves Stephen King Adaptation It, Which Has Been Indefinitely Delayed”, May 25, 2015. Entertainment Weekly. Web.
Vain, Madison. “It Looks Like Sacha Baron Cohen Won’t be Writing, Directing, Producing, and Starring in Freddie Mercury Biopic”, March 28, 2015. Entertainment Weekly. Web.
“Versions of Blade Runner“, Wikipedia. Web.
Walker, Doug. “Nostalgia Critic Editorial: Farewell to Roger Ebert”, April 5, 2013. www.channelawesome.com/nostalgia-critic-editorial-farewell-to-roger-ebert/. Web.
What do you think? Leave a comment.
An interesting point about driving out the bad to make room for the good. The only problem with the idea of critics and the improving of films: people will see a movie no matter how terrible it is (see Transformers, Transformers 2, etc. (here’s looking at you, Bay)). In the long run, it seems like critics are merely a slap on the wrist in the grand scheme of things.
Critics need to stick around. Who else is going to give us a well thought out opinion on whether or not a movie is worth spending your time and money on? Anyone with a computer can give you some bullet points and a “liked it” or “hated it” comment. I’d prefer to get an understanding of a films excellence or blunder from somebody with a higher level of education in a field dealing with film and cinematography.
I agree. There is no point in reading a criticism if someone writes, “I hate it” but won’t explain why.
I don’t really bother with what the critics say, I find user reviews much more insightful. The best reviews to read are the low ratings because it’s normally very easy to tell if the bad review is warranted (more often than not the person hasn’t understood the concept). I’ve also realised that I don’t really care about bad or wooden acting (or at least don’t tend to notice it) – I tend to watch a film for the story. Same goes for effects.
Constant threat to discussions about movies is the language of critical cliches – for example, the banal observation, often made, that the plot was, or wasn’t, believable
I think most critics have a somewhat greater understanding of how a movie works in a more profound level and are able to express their opinions in a more eloquent way because they have the knowledge to back up their opinion.
Are you one of them?
I do agree that a critic – someone who can completely and utterly show all the bad in a movie along with the good. However, what has to be kept in mind is that our modern culture is a very affirmative, PR-focused community. People see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear, so the idea that the critic can have a real impact on their own isn’t exactly stable. As my friend Wordsmith123 has said above, audiences always flock to see Transformers, no matter how insultingly bad it gets (I am guilty of this fact).
In my opinion, there appears to be a massive disconnect between critics and audiences. Critics can blast a film all they want, but it can very easily rake in the big bucks at the box office. How else can something awful, trashy, and hyper-commercialized like Transformers 2+, Fifty Shades of Grey, and numerous others be the big winners at the box office?
As a guy who does his fair share of criticizing, I prefer to see the practice not as something that influences opinions but as something that makes the reader think about what they like or don’t like. It’s very easy to go for the cheap shots, but the problems that plague entertainment usually go beyond that and on the whole, I think most people just misunderstand cinema.
Critics are a curse to creative to the process.
Critics help viewers separate the art from the crap. And there is 100 times more crap than art. People don’t seem to want to expend the effort, therefore we need critics. Creatives need critics above all — it gets them outside their self-absorbtion.
A good critic is able to expand upon and interpret a film in a way which contributes to an overall understanding of how the film can be read and how it fits into a context.
You can watch a movie and form an opinion on it, referencing other movies you’ve watched and the views of other critics. How is your opinion in any way important?
The important views are those of the audience who are paying to see the movie – they think it’s good? You make your money back, they think it’s crap, you don’t make your money back. And even then, that’s only important if you’re thinking in a capitalist way.
One could say that there are almost as many tastes as there are individuals. The creation of Art and one’s opinions regarding an artistic creation are all equally valid when coming from a place of earnestness. Anyone can paste some random stuff on a canvas (or do a multitude of other “artistic” things) and call it Art. It’s up to an individual to decide whether or not they feel it is art. Many commenters above spoke to a desire for expert (or at least educated, informed) opinion in helping them to determine the value of a given film. Is my “opinion in any way important?” I feel that my opinion is at least important to myself and that any other individual’s opinion can be equally important. Of course I would also say that one’s opinion should not just be cynical derision without citing evidence and that is what I would hope for from a critic that takes their vocation seriously. Without opinion and discussion of opinions, very little actual critical thought is involved and I feel that Art stagnates. I myself am tired of the derivative films, endless sequels, and remakes that grace our theaters. Based on the comments I’ve read here and elsewhere I’m not alone. If we blindly consume Art without consideration or intelligent, reasoned discussion we may continue to find ourselves watching the same films hacked apart and put back together again.
Whatever Happens to Musicians, Happens to Everybody. Critics are not immune to the digital age.
Bloggers should be paid like legitimate film critics to sit through the shit that Hollywood turns out nowadays.
It’s all publicity after all, good or bad.
The (post)modern film criticism lack both teeth and balls as hardly ever is crap pointed out as crap.
Roger Ebert’s reviews are good because he was a little bit dumb, so he missed a lot of intellectual subtlety in those films that had any. Thus his head seldom got up his ass. But he knew what a good flick was. So he was very even handed and extremely wide ranging in his thematic preferences, in a way that very few “professional critics” are.
Fascinating article! Ebert was one of my heroes.
I find many critics change their tones when they finally try working on them for themselves. Patton Oswalt was a good example of this.
This was an interesting article on that:
The difference between a critic and a reviewer can land in a grey area. However, most critics inform while also playing the devil’s advocate. They offer something controversial to the discussion of that work’s merits. A good reviewer of a book, film, play, concert — whatever — usually brings insights about the contributions and newness that the work brings to the genre, its differences and/or alterations to tradition, and how the work meets and eve surprises expectations of the audience, including critics.
I consider critics and reviewers to be the same. Both express their opinions upon a subject with honestly, whether to inform or be insightful.
A while back I got myself an 8 week cinema pass so I saw quite a few movies that I wouldn’t have otherwise watched. There were a lot of misses and some very good hits. What I took away from it was that I enjoy movies panned by critics.
Over the years i have commented what’s good and enlightening about a film,and what’s down right garbage,i don’t have a problem hearing other peoples opinions,it’s keeps it all fresh and topical.I am not a journalist,i have just watched movies for the best part of 42 years,that’s a fair bit of investment in discussing the merits of a certain genre.
I have my own favourite critics, Kermode being one, and I listen to their review, take it with a pinch of salt and make my own opinion as to whether I should see the film. For a while I also payed attention to a few less legitimate critics but found their opinions to be superficial at best.
Everyone one is a critic.
Do critics have a place in 21st century media? With so many opportunities for the average person to use social media to comment on film, is it possible for critics to function as they did within the 20th century?
I was glad to see the difference between a “critic” and a “reviewer” being highlighted. That being said, I think your analysis of what a critic does falls a little short. Critics offer critiques. Often in their writing on any particular film, a critic will almost “workshop” the film, offering suggestions for improvements and placing it within a larger context of the art. Just because someone is a “critic” does not mean they are necessarily a cynic, they usually prepossess some sort of credential(s) that allow them to voice their opinion on why things are the way they are. Think how sports analysts are often former players.
I never have been fond of reading what critics and reviewers have to say about films, preferring to make my own judgments about them.
However, I must say that you have definitely highlighted the importance of the critic’s role in improving the movie industry as a whole, and I can see your point that they are necessary to make filmmakers aware of flaws in their productions.
I would love to be a movie critic, as I want to explore many different films outside of the mainstream. I love films from other counties, I love independent films, and I still love the blockbuster… when their good. As a film critic, it is good to have a border knowledge that just films released by Hollywood, and you pointed that out perfectly.
I am not sure you can make a living out of that – its the mainstream movies that drives the revenue and successes.
This is a fine article which convinces me absolutely that I will never be a good film critic. I’m just nod discerning enough. I can find something to love in even the worst cinematic experiences available. This makes me appreciate the attention to detail and keen sense of observation all film critics must employ.
The reason I began to believe in critics was out of spite. Seeing reviews as to why not to see a particular film I was excited for made me want to go all the more. However, these films began to get worse and worse, even for me. Alas, the critics made me see their ways. Well, it seems as if they were right all along
Thought provoking piece! As an undergraduate studying literature and critical theory, I have always believed that film and literary criticism share a space in cultural production. It is important to understand that a film – like a novel or any other narrative-based work – is a complex system made up of dynamic and interactive parts. Successful critical analysis then ought to investigate film on multiple levels. A critic should approach a movie with the intent to deconstruct the engineered story and examine the parts, and the whole, within the film medium. I think the ultimate challenge of journalistic film criticism is to conduct such an analysis in a review that the general population will be able to access and appreciate. The internet age has raised complicated questions, however. As you addressed in this piece, how can one differentiate between legitimate film criticism and the myriad online reviews/movie blogs dispersed throughout the web? What separates the two, and who decides why one is awarded more worth than the other? What does the value of criticism say about art itself? These are big questions with no answers. I personally support all forms of academic and intellectual critique. What’s the point of life if you’re not being critical?
I also wanted to comment on the examination of the relationship between film advertisement and reviews. I feel a little bit confused about your argument connecting critics and ads. Maybe for a follow up article, you can utilize the New York Magazine’s “Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations” device to further explore the interaction between promotion, reviews, and audience satisfaction.
Film criticism is something that needs certain knowledge and skill. To write proper critique you one needs to thoroughly understand the the language of of film, its history, and its technical aspects. Film is a very specialized cultural field and writing about it properly requires a lot of effort.
Quality isn’t always dependent on ambition, placement, or title.
To me the greater question is what is the role of the critic now in a world where saleability is of greater importance than artistic or creative merit. Is the professional critic there to offer a serious academic critique of a work or to be just another person directing the reader towards a product worth purchasing? If movie studios put greater importance on what a film makes in ticket sales and disc sales, then are not critics being pushed by PR moguls to tone down criticism and give marked up scores and usable soundbites for marketing copy? It isn’t going to help a director get their next project funded if the critics state it is a masterpiece but it bombs at the box office and is slated by the public. Equally films that are hated by critics (e.g. Michael Bay’s Transformer series) if bringing home the bacon are loved by the money men. In this case, the opinion of the professional critic is little valued.
Yes, I agree with that, but acknowledging that saleability is becoming the prime motivating factor of the film industry doesn’t make me happy.
I loved people like Roger Ebert and appreciated his review
It becomes like trip adviser though – legions of amateurs, without the journalistic or critical skills putting up misleadingly subjective posts because they didn’t like the popcorn in the cinema, or they disapproved of the lead character’s choice of car.
That’s why you should always read the lowest reviews (the top reviews tell you nothing) – it’s very easy to tell if the low review is warranted, or if the reviewer is just being a muppet.
Same goes for Amazon. If I see a plethora of “DOA” reviews, then I’ll avoid the product – it may be a bad batch or just a bad product, but either way it’s not worth the risk. If however all the 1-star reviews are complaining about different things (generally explained by the reviewer expecting the world or not reading the description) then I can see that they’re being overly critical.
I think critics are very important for the film industry as a whole. As you pointed out, the two major sources from which people get to know if a film is worthwhile or not are critics and advertisements. I personally find the second one of these very problematic, since what that really boils down to is how the most popular film is the one with the biggest poster, which in itself is determined by how much money the film studio has to spend on said poster. Ultimately, this becomes like an evil cycle, where the money for this year’s most popular film, i.e. most profitable one, goes to promoting next year’s project, which then in turn also becomes super popular, and so on and so forth.
The only way (as I see it) of breaking this cycle is for the film critic to work as this other source of information, giving his or her honest advice on what movies are worth watching from a perspective outside of the film industry’s realm of profit. This is not only a way of telling the audience if some mid-summer blockbuster is complete shit, but also a great way of paying recognition to films that are lesser heard of. I mean, some guy in Finland could’ve made the objectively greatest film ever made, but if nobody is promoting it then it’ll be left unnoticed.
One of the most important reasons that critics remain so intrinsically important to the world of film for the viewers is glossed over by this article. That importance is that of education, specifically regarding films and how to read them/analyze them. It is easy for anybody, and truly accessible by anybody, to critique a film with a positive or negative review. But not everybody is able to illustrate why the film did not work for them; it is in this case simply a matter of taste and opinion than of analytical knowledge. Roger Ebert was educated on how to analyze films and could show why a film worked or did not work. Does this mean that a film would immediately be liked or disliked simply because Ebert displayed the deficiencies and errors or successes? No. It then ultimately boils back down to opinion. But his advantage to Bob living in his mother’s basement is that Roger Ebert could show you what to look for as he spoke his own opinion. It then becomes the reader/viewer’s responsibility to see what the critic’s informed analysis and opinions illuminated and decide for themselves. In essence, the critic is there to guide us to understand what to look for, much as the teacher is for a student – though at a bit more of a distance.
Differentiating between a critic and reviewer is far simpler that the article chooses to elaborate upon. This difference boils down to a critic analyzing the filmic techniques while expressing their opinion while the reviewer simply expresses how the film affected them without touching on the deeper analysis the critic will explore. Next topic.
Well-played author in bringing in the relationship between critic and director! It is certainly one of the most important relationships when a film is made as the cynical critic does indeed raise the bar for any filmmaker. Where most of the people that go to see a film as simply passengers (not all, but most), the cynical critic is an active participant that can serve as a sobering filter for any filmmaker.
Agreed. I didn’t like the way in which he explained the differences between critic and reviewer but your explanation hit the ball right out of the ballpark.
Just to keep it short, to people that think that critics don’t matter, remind yourself of that next time when you want to see a movie, ask someone if they “think it’s any good,” and look it up on Rotten Tomatoes. You’re welcome.
A great essay, points were wonderfully put. I especially liked your comments about the Nostalgia Critic and his similarities to Ebert.
On the one hand I like your observation of importance to criticism on the other hand I don’t agree with the value you put on the critic, reviewer or cynic.
First off, as a German citizen being a Professor in the US I am living in a country where “criticism” isn’t well received. During my schooling all negatives were pointed out so they could be fixed, here I would make kids cry if I didn’t “sandwich” it between positive input. It is very frustrating but shows that this is a generation that would probably have issues handling a cynic reviewer.(There is reason they want Facbeook to label satirical articles). But even though I get shunned every semester, I keep doing it because I believe this is important.
On the other hand, none of my students are going to the movies based on reviews. I go to the movies once a week and barely look at reviews myself for I have lost most of my faith in these “quacks”. I have developed a personal formula based on the type of movie and the ratings of “critic” and “user” on rotten tomatoes / flixster. For example, if an “art film” receives good reviews from critics and bad reviews from users, I know this film is probably very intellectual and worth seing. The other way around it’s most likely the filmic equivalent of a picture made by an elephant.
Long story short, “this” generation has to pay ~$10 or more per movie which makes them become quite selective, but since no one really “cares” or “trusts” reviewers, the kids I hear talking in class go to movies they “know should be good” due to previous experience. Therefore my assumption of why we get to see so many re-makes or Pre/Se-quels. After all, who is going to the new Star Wars regardless of what Reviewers / Critics or Cynics are going to say? I know I won’t!
A very good point about criticism’s acceptance in society. This speaks to why there are so few cynical critics. Yet by saying how people don’t accept criticism well in the US, doesn’t that then support how there should be more criticism so that like in Germany both the negatives can be dealt with in a mature manner and the youth can be introduced to the positives of critical thinking? Comparing how criticism impacts people, positively or negatively, in various situations and locations would be an interesting study to do, and see if, in a active environment, the application of criticism to popular culture could help educate youths the importance at looking at the world around them with a discerning eye. Thanks for the comment, it seems the perfect cynical criticism of my own piece!
Everyone is entitled to their opinions but I really only pay attention to ‘ qualified opinions ‘ such as those from established critics.
ehh agree to disagree
I like the way you framed the critic as part of the creation of a film, even though most people assume that the critic’s role comes after the film is made. Movies are often discussed in terms of their director/leads, and the many hands who assisted in a film are usually forgotten.
Most often I view critics as contextualization; at least, that’s often how I use them. Their discussion is beyond emotional reaction and delves into artistic significance. Beyond a basic reaction, they discuss how the films fits into the larger trend of its genre, and whether the film succeeded in whatever it was trying do.
Critics are like quality-checks, ensuring that what’s made was made with purpose and vision. I enjoy your praise for the film critic, but I do have to disagree with your distaste for Sharknado. They can make those films until I die.
This is a very convincing survey of the role and dilemma of the critic. Some critics become stars in their own right and this complicates matters…years ago when Pauline Kael was reviewing for THE NEW YORKER, if she said “jump” I jumped. But I don’t think directors today are as influenced by specific critics while producers are obsessed about the buzz a film can generate (and sell tickets) regardless of source. I do think that often there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Your definition of a critic leaves much to desired. But to cast Ebert as a cynic, even if you cast yourself as a cynic also, is to leave me in the dark as a reader. How was Ebert a cynic? Was he a cynic because he had standards and believed that movies should live up to those standards? Because he passionately disliked some films, even some blockbusters and passionately liked some films, even blockbusters?
I don’t get it.
Your distinction between critic and reviewer was likewise confusing. Ebert wrote reviews for the Chicago Sun Times. Doesn’t that make him a reviewer? Or is a reviewer merely a super-subjective critic who may have standards but can’t articulate them?
Again, I don’t get it.
I like how you specify that there is a difference between a reviewer and a critic. Most people don’t realize the difference between these people’s jobs.
Critic reviews have become such a biased process that I have more times than not, ignored their review. Ebert was a critic whom I believed in and trusted. I used to watch his show on Saturday afternoons, reviewing current films, and introducing new features. His voice was of a man who truly loved the art of cinema, and for the most part, looked at each work individually, before engaging in the matter of matching it up to genre. Speaking of genre…the rigidity of genre is changing, especially when we have films described as “dramedy,” “black-comedy,” to describe the juxtaposition of aspects from different genres.
Personally, I now rely more on fan reviews. Though some are obviously biased in loving every work down by a particular actor, you can weave out the fan reviews that feel similar to your own tastes. I have spoken with other filmgoers who have also admitted to relying more on fan reviews, as opposed to critic reviews. Dare I ask, is the age of the critic coming to an end?
I really love that you discussed the differences between a critic and a reviewer. A great read!
I’d thoroughly recommend James Agee’s early film criticisms, particularly his defense of Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux (1947). He addresses multiple elements of the film which other critics found lacking or ineffective in such an engaging way. It has been said that Agee put the “I” into film criticism, and his impassioned reinvigoration of the medium is really worth checking out.
I think nowadays there really is a disconnect between a critic and people. More often than not being a critic carries with it an elitist view of “I know better”. I feel like because of this some people may not care about what is necessarily good but rather a scathing review of a piece of media. Too often does something negative get more attention that something positive. I think that applies especially to films. Look at Terminator Genisys. That movie got its name ran through the mud and no one went to see it. I saw it and actually thought it was pretty good. However finding good criticism is just as difficult. When someone is being negative in a review or criticism it becomes more about insults than anything constructive. So as a person I just go see what interests me and make my own opinion.
Are there any other critics we could turn to as a possible “voice of the people?” when it comes to mainstream criticism? As great and socially aware as Mr. Ebert was, he still comes at certain films from a male perspective: for example, he might not have had as much of an issue with the gender politics in classic Disney films such as Snow White unlike feminist critics of the 1990s who called such princesses “pallid.” I know there are more and more informal critics from the non-white and female side on YouTube and the like voicing their opinions on how certain storytelling conventions such as the cult of beauty and narcissism provided by a princess’s central positioning in the love narrative influenced the way they perceive themselves and their own writing, but I wonder if there were any big critics like Ebert but for anyone not necessarily a straight white man?
When I see a preview, I decide if it’s good enough to spend the money. Usually, I rent and lean toward the bit older movies. We are all critics and I’ve read a lot of reviews too. If a person goes often enough you can catch why the director wanted a close-up instead of a frame shot. A lot of people read reviews, because they don’t analyze the movie, they just go to have fun. When it comes to critics, you have to take it with a grain of salt. After all, they may hate, but you may love it.
Ebert was an absolutely pivotal player in the film industry, no doubt. I like that he used 4 stars instead of 5, as it was sort of built-in hedging of expectations. What I mean is this: think about how many low-brow yet still occasionally mildly entertaining popcorn flicks rife with CGI and corny one-liners that have “5 STARS!!!!!!!!!!” emblazoned in bright lights throughout their trailers. Are any of those the next Citizen Cane? No, absolutely not, never. Furthermore, Ebert was not afraid to swim against the current. I recently read his review of Fellini’s 8 1/2, which began with a disclaimer describing how most other critics had pretty much universally panned the film. Yet he drew his own analysis and critiques. There’s a reason why he is the only critic to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
You are voicing an opinion that I have held close to my heart for many years. I fully, and truly, believe critics are necessary in every form of art, not just filmmaking. Critics drive filmmakers to be better, from producers all the way down to gaffers. Without critics there is no one to push the line. We are constantly advancing technologies and techniques. Hollywood may push back against the critic, but in the end they know the importance of good reviews. How many more Terminators will they make before they realize advancing story and plot is essential?
I really appreciated a critique I heard of the Film Les Miserables. While every one was shouting and crying about how wonderful it was, this reviewer ( I can find the article and post if any one is interested) said honestly and without hostility that the film was lacking in so many important ways. It was refreshing to hear an honest, well thought out critique. Les Mis holds a special place in my heart, as it does for many, many people. It is a powerful piece of social commentary as a book and as a musical. But the film was awefle, and for me, hearing some one who agreed with me (very few of my friends did) helped me feel better about hating the film while still loving the musical.
Critics help us look at ugly babies and say, yes, they are ugly. We are still allowed to love them, but with the self knowledge that they are lacking in one way or another. Also, an educated critic, one who is aware of the history of their field, can help us spot gems that we might miss in the miasma of mediocrity.
Great article, thanks.
What people tend to forget or overlook is that lots of filmmakers started out as critics, like François Truffaut or Miguel Gomes, directors who have produced films of great quality. Criticism is key, because Cinema, just like any work of art is here to spark off a debate and a dialogue, and critics allow this dialogue to be made. They give us the tools, for a better understanding of films and to find some deeper resonance.
I agree with your overall argument here but I would have liked to have seen some more research to prove your point. Possibly a compare and contrast of a review from Ebert and an opposing critic, or box office numbers from some of the financially successful movies after his death. Good points, but a little vague and need more backing.
Interesting read. I found your distinction between critic and reviewer rather fresh. Personally, I’ve never thought there was much a distinction – reviewer, critic, synonyms, right? But I do think your point is fair; however, perhaps there is something to be said on the moral relativism of criticism as whole.
It might be that, indeed, a reviewer describes how a film “impacted their feelings,” but this implies the feelings of the critic are, what, at distance, shall we say? And that’s not entirely accurate. Ebert himself, when he would judge a film, would quantify his own feelings informed by his experience watching many a film and engaging with them intellectually.
Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but when you take such pains to differentiate between the critic and the reviewer, it’s a fair point to make. Both critics and reviewers explore whatever piece of media they’re tasked to evaluate with feeling, and both try to qualify and justify their responses (their feelings!) to film with that very evaluative judgement of merit: a review.
Whether we, as critics, can truly make a difference in this age of the internet remains to be seen, but I feel like people still recognize that critics have a greater understanding of how films work. For that reason they’ll stay relevant – peaking and troughing in that relevance dependent on the person you’re asking. However, I think the bigger compliment is that critics remain the final bastion against the financial super-machines plaguing film. The uninformed – and I don’t mean that insultingly as anyone who doesn’t spend time analyzing something is inherently uninformed – don’t have any collective consciousness near enough to making decisions against the malpractices of Hollywood (for example).
If a film is unambiguously terrible then critics will always try their best to recognize that for the betterment of film in society. People are free to not pay attention, but it’s equivalent in my mind to a fitness instructor warning a budding athlete not to try too much too early. Ultimately, they’re and we’re in a position where we have a professional eye and as such our role is to tell people the ‘truth’. Maybe that’s an incredibly naive position to take but it’s something that we need to believe. This isn’t about validating our position but about believing that what we’re doing serves a greater purpose to society.