July 18, 2006
The problem with movie critics

In today's New York Times, A. O. Scott writes about why critics often conflict with the public on whether a movie is good or not. After lamenting the success of Pirates and the Davinci Code, A.O. wonders why critics don't line up withe the public.

A.O. gets it fundamentally wrong here, "That, however, is the job of the Hollywood studios, in particular of their marketing and publicity departments, and it is the professional duty of critics to be out of touch with — to be independent of — their concerns."

Taking the 'objective approach' to reviewing films is exactly the problem. People go to a film because they want to like it. People do not randomly select films. People enjoy watching trailers because they help create expectations about what the film is about. To ignore the hype is to intentionally avoid being interested in the film's premise.

Critics should be fans of what they review or at least go into the movie viewing it from a fan's vantage. Not everyone likes horror films, in fact some people abhor them. If you don't like horror films, then they are all crap no matter how much a true horror fan loves them.

This is the place where most film critics fail. There are certain genres of films they love and others they hate. They won't tell you this, but you know it's true. No one you know likes all film genres. Critics that say they do are lying. Critics needs to stick to the genres they enjoy and review from a fan's point of view, not an objective point of view.

Action movies fans value aspects of a film that comedy fans hate. Critics try to rate a film on how both will like it. This is a fool's errand that can never succeed.

Posted by michael at July 18, 2006 10:18 PM


I think you've got this a bit wrong. I agree that film critics are out of touch with movie-goers. I have a friend from high school that is a reviewer for Variety, and we have talked about this subject quite a bit in the past. His view of his job is to look at a movie as a piece of art, not a piece of entertainment. In my view, this is what leads to the disconnect between reviewers and movie-goers.

However, I believe my friend also views his job correctly. Movies, at least some, are art as well as entertainment, and somebody needs to review them as such. I think Variety is the ideal publication for those types of reviews along with other trade-type publications for the movie industry.

Where we shouldn't see art critic reviews are in popular publications like newspapers and magazines. Those reviews should just say if the movie is entertaining and why.

If I were to do movie reviews, I would have a three tiered rating system. First would be the movies that changed my life. Not all of the movies would be good, but from where I was in my life at the time I saw the movie, it resonated greatly. Top Gun and Garden State would be two movies in this category. Second would be movies that are entertaining and that I wouldn't mind seeing again. Most movies would be in this category. Finally, in the third category are movies in which I want both my money and my two hours back. That's all I want to know about a movie and all a reviewer should tell me.

Posted by: Grant Henninger [http://grant.henninger.name/] on July 18, 2006 11:37 PM

Grant is correct that there is a fundamental difference between film criticism and film reviewing. As a one-time film student, I can attest to this. The main difference is that a good reviewer will always take the film's potential audience into consideration, because they are speaking to that potential audience, but they must also take their readership into account, since folks reading a review in the L.A. Weekly would likely have a different set of tastes from those reading USA Today.

A film critic is beholden to no one but their own subjective point of view, balanced against their own knowledge of film, literature, art, history, etc. Criticism is an analytic art form and it requires a secondary act of analysis on the part of the reader. When I read a review from someone like Manhola Dargis (NY Times) or John Powers, I am measuring their take against my understanding of the points that they make, my knowledge of their past likes and dislikes, and my own subjective assumptions about the work. I'm not looking for them to tell me whether I need to see this movie.

But when I read a Roger Ebert blurb on a popular film, I am expecting him to tell me whether he thinks his audience will like it.

Both approaches are valid, they're just opposed to one another.

Posted by: Ken [http://emmanate.org/wretch] on July 19, 2006 4:19 PM

Great Post!

Posted by: Mom [http://momonthealert.com] on July 21, 2006 10:49 PM
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