I cannot stop reading my opponent’s musings on why film critics take themselves too seriously. It caught me off guard, and I have been reading it over and over again at length trying to comprehend his disdain for this breed of writer. While I will not disagree with the idea that some do take themselves way too seriously (especially that clever punster and thesaurus enthusiast Armond White), there are quite a few that do not.
The film critic is a necessary — “evil” if you will — to the film going enterprise. They help us make conscious decisions in the films we watch (at least, most of the time), and wade through the crap and typical Hollywood filth so we do not have to. While some people may not need to be told that a movie like Zookeeper is not on par with Schindler’s List, there are others who really do need to hear that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is just as great as everyone else said it is (I saw it specifically because the critics and audience had nothing but amazing things to say about it). And it’s not just big budget films — critics also help shed light on must-see indies and those random obscure films that go on to become some of the most beloved films of all time. Would anyone have given Smith, Wright, Nolan or Tarantino a chance if they had not heard the buzz coming from film critics? Would the general public know who Leone, Truffaut or Kurosawa were, without the mentions from critics?
And the beautiful thing about film criticism is that it is two-fold. If your friend asks you about a steaming pile of putrid junk you absolutely loathed, are you really going to hold back on ripping it apart or are you going to encourage them to see it anyway, form their own opinion, and waste their hard-earned cash in the process? If you are talking about films, and engaging in a discussion on reasons why you love or hate movies, then you are essentially acting the same way as a critic does. Now you may not be paid for it, but you are doing the exact same job telling the audience what you thought worked and did not. And as I have never met someone who has watched a movie and then was physically unable to tell me their opinion on it afterwards, I would register a guess that everyone who has ever watched a film has acted like a critic at some point in their lives.
I remember when I started writing film reviews. I wanted to meld my love for creative writing with my enthusiasm for film. I was an authority in my circle of friends, and God knows I watched enough of them — so why not? I never really put a thought to what people would think of my reviews, or if they would disagree horribly with them. I just saw them as a fun exercise to get my feelings and opinions out there. I not-so-secretly hoped people would read them and actually take my opinion into account before they went to the multiplex, but it was never a crucial thing to me. And I am pretty certain there are a lot of critics who feel the same way — they just want to gush about their favorite topic, and hope it helps influence someone to watch or not watch based on what they say. We need to remember that despite their hate and disdain for certain films over others, film critics are fans of film above anything else. Otherwise, what right do they have to be writing about it?
But I could go around and around in circles talking about why you should listen to film critics, and why they are crucial to the film-going process. What it comes down to is this: it is the job of the reviewer to be able to decipher plots, spot great acting, and know what is entertaining and what is not. I know I have made special concessions in the past, knowing full well a movie is not for me, but knowing it will specifically appeal to others (most of the Fast and the Furious films come to mind). It really is not fair to discount their opinions just because they may not know a lot about the source material for a film, or be a fan of the genre. A great film, one that is truly entertaining, should be able to take its viewer on a journey that explains everything they need to know to understand the film, and to make them not care about the genre, but instead care about what is happening and why. The best films I have seen in the past few years have been examples of genres I used to hate and still do.
This may turn some people off, and make them immediately agree that critics take themselves too seriously as elitists, and that it really should not matter what they think of a movie we think may actually be good. And to that, I say kudos, but wade with caution. I am all for ignoring critical opinion and going into films willing to give them a chance to prove themselves. It happens from time to time, but a lot of the time, the critics are usually right. They see countless more films than you do on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis. They will always have a good idea of what works and what does not. And while their opinions may not necessarily reflect those of the public, it is still really unfair to discount what they have to say. It is just as important as what we think of a movie.
In the age of the internet, everyone is a critic.
In the age of the internet, everyone is a critic. We now have the ability to easily get our thoughts published in some manner, whether it is by blogging, writing on message boards, writing for awesome online magazines founded in countries that are half a world away from us — the possibilities are endless. The question at the heart of this debate should not be whether film critics are too serious, but if they are slowly becoming obsolete in favor of user-generated content that is saying the exact same thing, minus some of the eloquence. I go to Rotten Tomatoes on a weekly basis to check out what the critics are saying about new films, but just as frequently, if not more so, I go to IMDb to check out what the users are saying. Because if someone there is telling me that a goofy movie the critics are panning is actually enjoyable, I may just decide to take the plunge and watch it.
Oh, and for the record: fuck Green Lantern. Fuck it in its stupid ass.