Sunday 11 April 2010

Film Critics Suck.

Film critics suck. I think the least qualified person to review a film is a film critic. Some grumpy, middle aged man who sits probably somewhere around two thirds back in the cinema and close to the isle. When I pick up the newspapers I see devastation, depression and the feeling that life is no longer worth living - and this is from the film reviews section alone. At that point, I normally go to the front page for some lighter disasters.

Films are an art, a source of entertainment. They either make you feel fulfilled, or they don't. I think it's great that people have opinions, and share them - but the authoritative tone of most 'professional' reviews is ridiculous. There has been a lot of talk recently about the future of film criticism, for example this New York Times article and this article in the UK's Guardian, the latter article being full of intellectual pretension, which is exactly the problem. Maybe it's time for a revolution. My idea for the revolution is this: no more film critics.

An interesting fact: When you are making a film; say you're making a two minute short film about bacon; and you're filming it in your house. As soon as you finish it - there'll be some friend, or a neighbour, or some guy called bill_horny86 from Toronto, who will tell you it sucks. And they'll do it in such an expertly authoritative way, you'll believe them. You'll feel crap about your work. All because somebody who can't do what you do shit all over it. Well, this begins in grassroots, zero-budget filmmaking and it carries on up. A bunch of people put $200million together to make a movie, and one guy who writes for The Daily Mail is deemed suitable to tell a lot of readers (or not, with The Daily Mail) that it is terrible and not worth seeing.

A lot of my favorite films are the obvious ones, like Shawshank Redemption. But there are also films I love that have been trashed by the press - The Moguls, Duets, Meet Dave, Hollywood Ending, etc. Sure, you may think they suck - but that's the whole point, who is to say? Films are an art form - different people respond to different things. I think 'Beautiful Girls' is a work of art, true genius, my Brother thinks it's awful. Who is right? Who knows. Certainly, it'd be wrong for my Brother to write a review for a big publication saying "This is awful - avoid!"

It's different with blogs. With blogs - you know the writer's agenda. For example, if I was to write "Clash Of The Titans is terrible, don't watch it!" you will know it's coming from the point of view of a Billy Wilder obsessive; someone who values Chaplin smiling awkwardly at a girl more than a military plane smashing into a robot, or whatever. But with the big film critics - they talk in this God-like tone to the masses, and I think it's ridiculous.

The moment a film really gets you is when a character reacts in a way you didn't expect, and you relate in the moment to it, or it's about when a perfectly written line comes out of the mouth of a perfectly cast actor who by sheer luck was able to nail it perfectly; it's about that feeling you get when the musical score elevates you to the point where you feel you may actually be hovering. No critic can ever know when you or I are going to get those moments. And if we miss one of them because a critic said, "the film is average, give it a miss," then something is very wrong. And that's the whole point - whether a film is technically proficient or "cohesive" or whatever a writer says -- nobody can ever know when or how or where you'll respond personally to a film. Film reviews have very little use.

IDEA: I am going to start a new magazine called REVIEW REVIEW. We will review film reviews. See how they like it. We'll let you know whether a review is worth reading, or whether you should wait for the tweet.

Care to share?


  1. I don't trust professional film critics either. It seems to me that they go into films already disliking what they are about to see, because if they write anything that's too positive or gushing they might lose their credibility as intellectual and discerning or something like that. It's awful.

    If I have to read reviews I read it off movie blogs. It's good fun to just find out someone else's view, but at the end of the day it doesn't actually influence my decision of whether I want to watch the film or not.

    And I would read REVIEW REVIEW!

  2. bill_horny86 is the finest critic I know. He wrote up an analysis of Dovzhenko's Earth that literally made me weep.

  3. I've responded to this very interesting post on my own blog and copied the post below. One of the most interesting posts the Kid has ever put out! Please check out my response.

    "The grievances in this post are at the heart of a problem that interests me more than almost any other. “Film Critics suck” is a big statement coming from a such a respectable and important blogger like the Kid. I think there’s a lot of truth and power behind his statement. Film criticism, for many, is seen as elitist and out of touch with the public. The democratization of the Internet and criticism has brought a new platform to ideas that make the critics in the print community less prestigious.

    First, it’s important to get this image of the grumpy old white male critic out of our mind. There’s no doubt, they exist but there are many more voices out there now. We should be focusing on finding many different voices in the critical community so that all the anger and dissatisfaction has some truth and perspective to it.

    Films are an art, a source of entertainment, but so is film criticism (at least non-authoritative film criticism). I also don’t think professional film critics should die and go away. I don’t think that complete critical anarchy is the solution. I think they should change and adapt to the culture around them. I think the voice should change from an authoritative one to a moderator instead. The film critic of tomorrow should be a professional film appreciator who can manipulate social media and today’s technology to bring the most interesting criticism to the public’s eye. Film criticism is a beautiful thing and if we can get people to see it, maybe they’ll change their preconceived judgments of the snobby film critic who hates things before he walks in the theater.

    Critiquing art is essential. It’s an art of its own and deserves the respect to exist and thrive. People will pay and respect the most interesting voices. Its finding and utilizing these voices that is key to film criticism’s success.

    Your idea of reviewing the review (and I suggest the reviewer as well) is an excellent idea. Perhaps a Rotten Tomatoes where we can judge film critics? A community to support the voices we love, and criticize the reviewers that need a little criticism of their own."

  4. Kid, I respect what you are saying here and to a certain extent agree but I almost must agree with Mike in that getting rid of film critics is no solution because, like filmmaking their craft, when done right, is a valuable art unto itself. I recently wrote a post semi-related to this topic and wanted to share it here:

    "To me good film criticism has, is and will always be about someone who writes about film sharing their experiences with those who like to read about film. As I've said elsewhere on this site, I read a review not to know if the movie is good or not (I can decide that on my own) but to see what reviewer X had to say about it. When I read Andrew's blog I care much more about who his personal favourite actors and actresses of the decade are and why he thinks so rather than what films he thinks I should be seeing because, knowing me, I'll probably see them regardless.

    With that said, in most cases, to reference Jean Renior once again, the reviewer is often more important than the film he or she is reviewing, which simply acts as a springboard or starting point from which that person can begin to share their personal thoughts, fears, anxieties, philosophies, emotional responses, etc."

    If anyone is interested the full text can be read here:

    As always Kid, another stimulating post.

  5. Thanks for the responses!

    I wasn't seriously suggesting we absolutely stop all film critics! I was kind of joking. What I realy think is maybe we should just unlock their cells once a year and let them write one big Annual Review Book or something, ha!

  6. I try not to pay attention to film critics, but when I like a film that has been greatly panned (nine, a good year, national treasure) I always feel slightly awkward, as if I'm a bad judge of film and have no taste. I think it's ridiculous though, because as you say, films are entirely personal things, and no one can tell you how to think. I don't think film reviewers should be scrapped, but I think less emphasis should be put on what they say, esp. in papers like the daily mail (what a pile of bs...) where they're not professionals, unlike journalists in empire or sight and sound. Maybe bloggers could do featured reviews in papers? Or general members of the public? Anything to make it less narrow xx

  7. I wouldn't go so far as to say no more critics, I find it's finding a critic that has a similar taste to yourself.
    I'll read the reviews in the Metro, Evening Standard, hell even the Daily Mail if the racist in denial sitting next to me leaves her copy on the train, but none of them effect my judgement.
    I enjoy reading people thoughts and opinions, I especially like it when you read a review and wonder whether the critic actually watched the film at all. Sure, some people are going to be put off by what a person says, even if you find a critic that you agree they'll be times when you won't agree, but it's still a good read.

    Perhaps it's growing up with the type of films that I love so much, where I like things that the average person doesn't, being a fan of corny b-movies and horror films I've grown accustom to people's slating reviews only to find that the film is pure genius. Only one opinion counts and that's your own, but at the same time I do value Jonathan Ross's views XD

  8. When I worked in a video shop, I eventually became jaded to the point where I refused to recommend films to people. I would just say "You're as likely to pick a film at random that you'll enjoy as I am to recommend one".

    I think it's important, when reviewing a film, to stay away from statements like "avoid this film"! The reader doesn't want orders to follow; they want to feel like they are being advised, and then it's up to them if they listen or not.

    As you mentioned, blogs are good for this purpose because there is no editorial, so a blogger can give their writing as personal a slant as they like. If you can relate to the writer, then there is a greater chance of you agreeing with their point of view.

    I won't be shouting "Death to the Critics!" any time soon, but I recommend finding someone you tend to agree with - or at least someone you find entertaining and interesting - to take your recommendations from. Alternatively, heaven forbid, just read synopses, watch trailers and roll the dice.

  9. is a good source of reviews written by film critics that aren't professionals. You can get opinions about movies from people who enjoy movies and like to write about them, just like us.

  10. I generally dislike Rotten Tomatoes, but at least they give a few films some good reviews.

    If there's a critic thing I hate, it's the Golden Raspberry, or Razzie Awards. If I was nominated the "Worst Director/Actor." I would be offended. Also, if they heavily criticized a film I made that took millions of dollars to make, along with a ton of hard work, I would be mad at them.

    Good review by the way.

  11. Film critics should stay around. They do a service for regular people with a brain.

    If critics hate it, I'll probably like it; this methodology has worked for the last 30 years, and no reason to give it up now.

    BTW if you started reviewing film reviews you'd have a friend for life.

  12. I got a degree in film, PA'd my ass off, edited a couple of indie flicks, toured the business. I noticed that I became a "film snob". Someone who was obsessed with the "art" of it all. Eventually I grew to hate that type of person because they would bash anything that wasn't without a deep meaning or artistic value.

    "It's different with blogs. With blogs - you know the writer's agenda. For example, if I was to write "Clash Of The Titans is terrible, don't watch it!" you will know it's coming from the point of view of a Billy Wilder obsessive; someone who values Chaplin smiling awkwardly at a girl more than a military plane smashing into a robot, or whatever. But with the big film critics - they talk in this God-like tone to the masses, and I think it's ridiculous."

    Sorry but you are the kid in the third row; looking forward at me while I watch "Clash of the Titans" wide eyed, engrossed, and having an absolute blast. You are wondering how I could enjoy such a diluted mess of a big budget film. You WISH you could enjoy a mindless romp through Greek mythology with only the simple hopes of seeing Medusa, Hades, or the Kracken realized on the big screen once more.

    I feel like you made the leap from "film snob" to "half-a-film-snob-that-thinks-he's-not"

    I don't walk into the theater to watch "Limitless" expecting an academy award winning performance. I just expect to be entertained for a couple hours, nothing more.

    I'm also a gamer and I enjoy both "Shadow of the Colossus" and "Super Meat Boy". I know the difference before the experience begins.

    I enjoy both Chaplin smiling awkwardly at a girl and a military plane smashing into a robot. Why? Because I absolutely LOVE movies. You just think you do.

  13. Anonymous -- I was totally with you, and you totally took me down a peg and gave me a new perspective on what I wrote; until your last line, "I absolutely LOVE movies. You just think you do." - you joined the snobby-I'm-better-than-you-club. You were so close to perfection!

  14. Hell Yeah, I've been thinking this all along. I agree 100%. I'd but that magazine in a heartbeat.

  15. Thanks dear sir.
    Going to Rotten Tomatoes and seeing the movie you just watched an hour ago and considered great has a 20% rating makes you want to punch someone.

    If I wanted to be a fag, I could take any movie and look for every bad detail in every corner and give it a bad score.

    Heh, and Avatar got 80%+. Shows how much these old geezers now about films. Bet the jerks still get impressed when they turn on a light bulb.

  16. Interesting article. It does represent the general disconnect between film critics and general audiences, though. One particular line you write, I think, undermines film criticism a bit: "whether a film is technically proficient or "cohesive" or whatever a writer says -- nobody can ever know when or how or where you'll respond personally to a film. Film reviews have very little use." I don't really think this is true. There is such a thing as a technically proficient and cohesive film. There is also such a thing as a good film. Although you can sit a teenager in front of Citizen Kane, and they may not like it or get it, it says more about them than the film. Similarly, you can sit a person in front of Gigli, and they may like the movie and call it "good," but their opinion can't really be taken seriously. They are confusing enjoyment and entertainment with quality filmmaking.

  17. I think that this article is ignoring the good that film critics do. It mentions them offering god-like commentary on films (although I'd say that good critics avoid this), but not that it can help smaller films get discovered.

    The Artist would not have gotten where it did last year without film critics extolling its virtues. Kevin Smith's career wouldn't have taken off without the critic support at Sundance. There are plenty examples of great, small-budget films that require somebody to stand on a soapbox and tell people about them.

    On a personal level, I've never not seen a film I wanted to see because somebody gave it a bad review. I have, however, gone to see Atonement because of a glowing review in Empire. Mark Kermode recently made me hunt down Liberal Arts.

    I believe that critics are only offering a personal opinion (albeit, a more educated one) and that it's possible to disagree with someone about their like or dislike of a film, but understand the other point of view. I have no issue going to Rotten Tomatoes (or Metacritic) and seeing negative reviews of films I love. It makes me interested to know why someone might not like it.

    However, it's been mentioned above that it's worth choosing your critics carefully. You wouldn't listen to every movie blogger, so why listen to every critic. It's about choosing one that is working on the same frequency as you (for me, this is Mark Kermode) and listening to them.

  18. On a separate note: I think it's possible to like a bad film or dislike a good one. I don't think the two are connected at all.

  19. Bottom line is...critics write for other critics, not for the potential audience.

  20. "Quality filmmaking"
    - all subjective by nature.

    I can't possibly comprehend how the argumentative comments, left by seemingly intelligent people, cannot be discerned as subjective.

    "To each his own."

    The real objective matter is, opinions are free. Not everyone shares one, and among them, quality is not defined by budget or any notable quality, by any standard.

    Enjoy the art.

    Good day.

  21. Yes! I want to see film critics inspire people to do better and BUILD on the film, not tear it down - Let's GIVE something to the audience instead of letting them feel miserable for enjoying something beautiful. :)