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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Who deserves to be called a ‘film critic’… and does it matter?

Sasha Stone at Awards Daily wants to know whom we should legitimately consider a film critic, and whom we shouldn’t:

What makes a film critic, one has to wonder. Nowadays, anyone with a blog who sees movies is called a “critic.” I really think that should be amended to use the term “blogger” or “industry columnist.” Not everyone is an actual film critic. I feel like I’m the only person in the known universe who cares about the difference but that’s because I come from a time when there was a difference; not just anyone could write about movies and be called a “critic.” Indiewire has a rundown of grades from the Toronto Film Fest and calls it a “Critics Poll”. In truth, it is a columnist/critic/blogger poll. I’m not dissing these guys at all. I’m just making the point that the line is invisible if no one notices it’s there. At any rate, you’ll find the grades of people like Anne Thompson (not a film critic), Jeff Wells (not a film critic), Peter Sciretta (not a film critic), etc. These opinions made by them are made as industry columnists and bloggers. I think it’s important to remember that (thus, the main difference between Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes).

Brad Brevet at Rope of Silicon responds to Stone’s musings:

The best critics are those that have seen movies you and I have never even heard of. They have an understanding of film history and look at movies on a whole and aren’t particularly dedicated to a single genre. They can see a film and guide you in other directions and have you exploring new avenues based on your likes and dislikes.

But Jeffrey Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere has a more disparaging notion of what an “official” critic is:

[It] can be otherwise defined as seeing every last film that comes along and sitting down like a rank-and-file machinist in Detroit and reviewing every last one (including and especially the awful-awfuls) and always with a five-or-six-paragraph plot synopsis. Which can otherwise be defined as being a good soldier who does the hard and once-necessary task of grappling with all of it, good or bad…

We all know what proper film criticism is and no, I don’t follow the form. But a fully considered response to a film doesn’t always have to be expressed in ten to twelve graphs with five or six devoted to some droning boilerplate synopsis.

Is it really that important to make such a semantic distinction when it seems that even those who think about these things a lot aren’t even sure what we mean by “critic”? Isn’t it already obvious to people who are really passionate about talking about film which people-who-write-about-their-reactions-to-films-on-a-regular-basis are worth reading, and which aren’t?

Who deserves to be called a ‘film critic’… and does it matter?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • Kevin

    I’d much rather read a film “blogger” or “columnist” who writes from the gut than a “critic” who devotes half his reviews to summarizing the plot.

  • RyanT

    I don’t know who exactly deserves to be called a film critic, but basically for me it doesn’t really matter. Not that I don’t value critics’ opinions. I do. But I also know when to go to them vs. when to go to “bloggers” or my friends, etc.

  • i think the terminology does matter. i think that a critic is *not* someone who “summarizes” the plot, but gives an analysis of the film in the context of the time it is made, the things it says, consciously or unconsciously, about the society it was made in, and can recognize the influence of other films or literary genres or devices. a reviewer summarizes the plot, and does a quick thumbs up/down sort of thing. so, gene shallit and his ilk are reviewers; siskel and ebert were critics and there is plenty of room for overlap in the middle.

  • TMS

    I don’t think it matters anymore whether you call yourself a critic, a reviewer or industry columnist. There are so many passionate and talented people out there giving great opinions on movies that a self proclaimed title means little, it’s what you write that matters.

    Though funnily I often find opinions written by those calling themselves “critics” to be full of waffle and often in opposition to how I feel about a movie.

  • Paul

    I’m going with Brad Brevet on this one. If someone wants to call themselves a critic, then they’d better be able to tell me more about a movie than what my friends could, even if I do respect my friends’ opinions concerning if they are good or bad movies. I realize that disqualifies a lot of people who show up on Rotten Tomato, but I’ll just call them reviewers or industry columnists, I guess. Of course, MaryAnn’s friends will have to come up with their own definition.

  • Chuck

    Good question, I am not sure if the term “deserves to be called a film critic” indicates an honor or a punishment, as in, “I think Joe deserves a raise” or “I think Manson deserves the death penalty”.

    Seeing every movie ever made seems like it would be a good qualification, or does it?

    Does the act of being a well traveled critic distance a person of the average public, and if it does what good are they?

    Can a serious reviewer become jaded, causing them to pan a movie that a less traveled audience would enjoy?

    I don’t know the answers, so I pick and choose carefully armed with information from a number of sources, both amateur and professional.

    I won’t go see Final Destination or Transformers, I have gone and seen Moon, and Basterds, and both left me grinning like a madman.

  • JosephFM

    It only matters as long as thyere are still such things as critics screenings. Who is a critic matters, because if you aren’t you don’t get in, right?

    Of course, industry columnists get invited to these things too. The main way you tell the difference is whether or not they focus on hype, business decsisions, and gossip.

    MaryAnn is actually all three of these things though. She has a blog, in which she writes criticism AND industry analysis (though more of the latter goes into the Week in Women column).

  • Seth Strauss

    A film critic is one who watches the movie, and takes it for what it is…A MOVIE…not a political statement, not an introspective of ones self etc. If it makes you laugh, cry, etc. the movie has done its job. If its boring tell everyone.

  • JosephFM

    Actually, Seth, I’d say that’s one thing that a movie critic is not.

  • I like a good piece of film criticism as much as anyone but lately it seems like the reviews I get from non-critics (for example, the former would-be rape victim who liked both versions of Last House on the Left, the former homeless woman who hated Drag Me to Hell, etc.) are more interesting than the reviews I read from most critics who are not MaryAnn if for no other reason than it has become too easy for any movie buff over a certain age to predict what movies critics are going to support and what movies they are going to diss.

    Then again I could be suffering from a bad case of movie critic burnout…

  • That said, it would be nice if people stop defining “film critic” as “a person who is supposed to say nice things about the movie I just saw and tell me what a good person I am for seeing it.”

  • hdj

    everyone can be a critic since we all have assholes. ; )
    I can trust anyones criticism, what i look for is the good criticism, if the good sounds good to me then I go see it, but if the good sounds like some sorta hive minded trick then I become skeptical of its goodness. Thats when I listen for the bads, and if the bads sound nit picky or just weak ass excuses to hate a movie then I know If I can trust the reviewer or not.

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