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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

why does the IMDB hate critics?

Was it really necessary to frame the situation like this?

In the latest demonstration of how little influence film critics are able to exert on the box office these days, the Will Smith starrer Hancock collected an estimated $66 million over the three-day weekend despite an avalanche of negative reviews.

I don’t see how this is the fault of film critics. Does anyone have any numbers on what percentage of casual moviegoers even read critics? Perhaps moviegoers are at fault, for being so fucking stupid that they cannot be trusted to tie their shoelaces on their own.

Now, to be clear, I don’t actually think that casual moviegoers are too stupid to tie their own shoes (though I do wonder, sometimes). I didn’t hate Hancock, for all its many problems (my review is here), though of course I’m not a critic anyone counts when talking about “the critics.” And I do think that casual moviegoers — the kind likely to turn out over a holiday weekend for whatever new is on offer — tend to look for very different things in a movie than critics and serious cinephiles to.

But still: How is it the fault of critics if not enough people listen to us to make a difference? And is the IMDB suggesting that critics just stop what they’re doing? Does the IMDB even recognize that the purpose of film criticism is not the same as, say, a Consumer Reports report on window air-conditioners?

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  • misterb

    OK, I’ll bite. What is the purpose of film criticism? Is the purpose post-modern, applying theory to deconstruct the filmic work so that you can reveal the underlying rot that is society? Or is it really just a narcissistic exercise to see how many people you can piss off by spitting on their sacred cows? How about a cynical way to make a buck, woofing the rubes that wouldn’t know a dolly-shot from a pan while you write your masterpiece? Or is it a way to display your superiority of trivial knowledge as if you were Comic Book Guy in the flesh?

    I don’t know why you in particular write reviews, Mary Ann, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because you are compelled by your love of movies. My favorite reviewers don’t presume to tell me what I should think; they tell me what their experience meant to them, and I can take what I want from our commonalities and our differences.

  • Aderack

    Good grief. The purpose of film criticism is to enhance film literacy. Nearly every Ebert review I read, however well I might or might not agree with his conclusions, furthers my ability to understand the way that film is used to communicate, thereby allowing me to get more out of the movies that I watch. And frankly, understanding of any communicative medium enhances understanding of all communication. So in a sense, becoming more literate in cinema, poetry, painting, or even videogames makes it easier for me to understand myself, other people, and the events that make up my life.

    Cinema is just one art, but any art can make you a better person.

  • Mark

    In all fairness, that’s piece isn’t produced by IMDB; it’s from Studio Briefing, which is syndicated on (among other places) IMDB. Your points are totally valid, but I don’t think it’s fair to lay blame at the feet of the IMDB here.

  • MaryAnn

    OK, I’ll bite. What is the purpose of film criticism? Is the purpose post-modern, applying theory to deconstruct the filmic work so that you can reveal the underlying rot that is society? Or is it really just a narcissistic exercise to see how many people you can piss off by spitting on their sacred cows? How about a cynical way to make a buck, woofing the rubes that wouldn’t know a dolly-shot from a pan while you write your masterpiece? Or is it a way to display your superiority of trivial knowledge as if you were Comic Book Guy in the flesh?

    And why do you read film criticism, misterb, if this is what you think of it?

    “A cynical way to make a buck”? Yeah, that’s us film critics, getting rich off all the dumb saps who throw money our way to read stuff they don’t understand. Damn you for stumbling upon our secret.

  • Mike Brady

    Did you even read his second paragraph? That’s not what he was saying about you at all. He was actually trying to be kind.

    It bothers me when you assume the worst about your commenters, even if that comment wasn’t particularly well-constructed.

  • JoshB

    For me film criticism is a form of entertainment and even art all its own. Roger Ebert’s review of Jaws: The Revenge is the single most compelling short essay I’ve ever read (I literally had trouble breathing the first time.) Closer to home, I’d say that MaryAnn’s reviews of The Last Samurai and Knocked Up had me saying “yes, that’s it exactly” while her Aliens vs. Predator review was nearly as funny as Ebert’s Jaws review.

    Misterb, I’ve read critics that do all of the things in your post, and enjoyed the review immensely. As with any art, the only sin a critic can be guilty of is being boring.

  • MaryAnn

    Did you even read his second paragraph? That’s not what he was saying about you at all. He was actually trying to be kind.

    Really? What about that post can be construed as “kindness”?

    I don’t even see the connection between the first graf and the second. Why I write reviews is not at all the same thing as what the purpose of film criticism is.

    It bothers me when you assume the worst about your commenters, even if that comment wasn’t particularly well-constructed.

    I’m sorry you think I do that, because I don’t. But all I have to go on is what people post. If you want me to assume that people are being kind even when there’s no evidence of that in a comment… well, I can’t do that. I do assume that people who enjoy reading my work are literate — indeed, why else would they be bothering? — and so I assume that they know what they’re saying.

    You’re suggesting that I should assume people are stupid and don’t know how to express themselves. And you know what: in general, I do assume that. But not with people who are regulars here, as misterb is. Perhaps I flatter myself by assuming that my readers must be smart to keep coming around, but I do.

  • Slate magazine recently published a very good rebuttal to the “film critics are meaningless” argument, with some cold hard figures to back it up. You can find it here:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2194532/

    Beyond that, the fundamental fallacy that arguments like IMDB fall into is that popularity equals quality. “Critics hated Film X, but Film X made 300 gazillion dollars, so therefore critics are wrong.” It’s a fallacious assumption, both in terms of the critics’ role in the equation and the perceived function of their work. A wise man once said that the only true barometer of a film’s quality is time. Critics (and by extension, anyone who loves films) don’t have any more insight about which movies are going to last than anyone else. However, they are the only ones–besides perhaps the filmmakers themselves–who are at least keeping that reality in mind. They’re the ones looking beyond the first weekends grosses or the need to just be entertained for a couple of hours and ask whether anything meaningful is taking place on screen. They may not always have the right answers, but at least they’re asking the question.

    I’d love to see a formal study on how many critically panned commercial blockbusters of the past are still being watched today. The Flintstones? Home Alone? Love Story? The Towering Inferno? They all made a ton of money. Or how about the Bowery Boys movies of the 1940s and 50s? They cranked out dozens of them in that time–they were box office gold. How many people today have seen even one of them, or even recognize the name? I’m speculating a bit here, but you can see my point. I’m betting that a lot of big money makers–the kinds of movies that show how “little influence critics have”–have since been consigned to the ash heap.

  • john

    film critics?
    “ooh look at me im a 30 year old virgin who never got laid in highschool and is very fat
    and the only way i cant compensate is by humiliating other people’s hardwork because i have no life,no friends and lives in my grandma’s basement
    people think im smart but the truth is that i have never done anything good in my life
    i dont have a job smells like dog shit and bat fucking
    ugly”

  • MaryAnn

    I was tempted to delete john’s comment, but I think it’s instructive for us to see what passes for intellectual conversation in some circles.

    I also find it fascinating that some people equate “criticism” with “humiliation.” I do wonder how people get by with such meager internal lives that they only thing they can “think” about anything is an insult.

    Oh, and BTW, john, a “30-year-old virgin” “who never got laid in high school” is redundant. You might want to look up the definition of “virgin.”

  • John

    Um… I don’t post here very often, being mostly content to just read the reviews and such, but I just wanted to point out… that ‘john’ guy? That isn’t me.

    I’d like to apologize on behalf of all the other people named John who aren’t internet trolls.

  • amanohyo

    For a moment lowercase j john, I thought you were suggesting that critics engage in bestiality with bats, which is actually kind of funny, but alas, it was just the last link in a chain of uninspired insults. The insults we choose (and whom we choose to insult) say a lot about what we dislike about ourselves and our deepest fears (for example, I choose to insult you because I fear that I might be turning into a hate-filled, shallow, unoriginal, slothful, semiliterate moron).

    Almost everyone feels as though they have never done anything worthwhile in their lives at some point, but trolling is not a constructive way to vent; it certainly doesn’t bring you any closer to doing something and/or meeting someone good. And how on Earth will you lose that icky virginity (at which point all of life’s problems will magically disappear, of course) without meeting anyone good? johns don’t stoop to paying for sex… I mean, well you wouldn’t stoop to that anyway.

    And you never know, your intended just might turn out to be a critic. At least, that’s what would happen if this was one of those nauseating romantic comedies. Try acting like the love interest instead of the villain for a few months. It’ll bring you more luck with the ladies than skulking under bridges and through websites, I guarantee it.

  • MaSch

    Well, while critics get money for just writing stuff about movies instead of *doing* something, it’s even worse with the directors. I mean, it’s not as if an actor would have no idea what to say in scene or what to do in a scene or where the camera should conveniently be and so on if there weren’t any control freaks lurking around on the set telling one guy to do this and another girl to do that and some third person of unspecified gender what s/he should do in another way than s/he intended to.
    But they get fame and fortune and what not like *they* did, like, everything about this movie. It’s insane! Directors should share critics’ mother’s basements with the critics, that’s what is.

  • MaryAnn

    Can we choose the director we have to bunk with? Or will it be assigned? Cuz I don’t want McG anywhere near my mother’s basement…

  • MaSch

    Since directors are even lower than critics, it is of course the directors who would have to look for a critic willing to let them live with them. So, yeah, you could choose.
    By the way, writer/directors deserve a tiny little bit better; they could have a one-room-apartment of their own, but without running water. That would be too much for ’em.

  • John

    You know, this could make for a great reality show. Critics and directors living together! Imagine the DRAMA that could ensue. What could we call it?

  • I can see it now:

    Narrator: On November 13, Roger Ebert was asked to leave his place of residence.

    That request came from his wife.

    Having nowhere else to go, he went to the home of his childhood friend Woody Allen. Earlier Allen’s wife had thrown him out, requesting that he never return.

    Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

    * Cue Odd Couple theme.

  • john

    FILM CRITICS DO!!! engage in bestiality wit aNIMals thats where they get there powers
    they feed on it

  • Roisred

    Look, this annoys me, so I’m going to quote it:

    “I don’t know why you in particular write reviews, Mary Ann, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s because you are compelled by your love of movies.”

    That was nice, it was kind. The first part of the post was made up of rhetorical (presumably Straw man) statements that he then refuted. You (at least, as far as he can tell) do not review movies for any of those reasons stated, but instead because of your love of them, and you provide insightful commentary on what you think of them, and we as audience members are invited to consider your ideas and our own and decide for ourselves whether or not to spend $10 or a trip to the video store to watch them.

    To address your good question, Maryann, I know that people do continue to walk (and enjoy) at least two of the movies on your list. My best friend loves “Home Alone”, and watches it often while my mother still cries every time she watches “Love Story”. Granted, I don’t enjoy either of those movies (though I did like “The Apartment” which I remember you panned, as well as “Bring it On” which I am sure was not well received critically) but clearly they do. People continue to watch movies, in my opinion, because of the emotional connection they have to them. And that may have as much to do with the circumstances under which the movie came into their lives or their own history as any objective measure of quality.

    One final note: I read many website with commentary sections, but this is the one where I feel the most like I am walking on eggshells whenever I post. I am not leaving any suggestions because I want it to be clear that I not asking you to change the way you run your website. I am merely commenting on my experience.

  • Roisred

    Pardon me, that was supposed to say “continue to watch” not “continue to walk”. Clearly, I was trying way to fast!

  • Glen

    No, that would be the audience, which explains there stupidity.

  • Glen

    Sounds like your average movie goer.

  • Guest

    “there stupidity”. Funny.

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