Are critics still worth reading?
The world of critics has come a long way from where it started: in the olden days, moviegoing used to be an event. It was a special outing that you only did every once in a while. It was expensive, for one, and there weren’t that many movies to go see in the first place. This made critics really important – if they spoke highly of one film over another, you might be more inclined to spend your money on the former.
Nowadays we make films a dime a dozen – anyone who has a smartphone can be a ‘filmmaker,’ and Hollywood dumps more funding into technically impressive movies every year. Cinema has evolved from a very exclusive club into a large community of people, and new technology has given them platforms on which to express themselves. The advent of social media has also presented an opportunity for everyone to be critics of each other’s work, loudly and boldly.
I know a lot of people don’t like critics. They don’t like being told what to think about their favorite films. They don’t like someone explaining to them why it was good or bad, or this and that about the cinematography, the performances, the writing, etc.
But there’s a stark difference between being told what to think and analyzing a film so that the industry can decide what work is worthy of recognition. You can in fact form your own opinion about films, and ignore what the critics have to say completely. Maybe you despise critics, and that’s your prerogative, but you can’t get mad at someone for 1) doing their job, and 2) having an opinion that’s different from yours.
Yes, I think critics are still worth reading. Maybe they’re not as paramount as they were a long time ago, seeing as we now have access to thousands of films at our fingertips through different streaming services. But without the opinions of these individuals who have studied filmmaking, how would we decide which filmmakers and creatives reached a certain level of mastery over their craft? Or which films stood out among the hundreds produced every year?
I also feel strongly that it is because of a love of films and appreciation for the craft that people become critics in the first place. Why would they sit around all day watching and writing about films if they didn’t like them?
I now look to the Disney animated film ‘Ratatouille’ to illustrate this point. Disney did initially present food critic Anton Ego as a villain, that was plain to see: the character was tall and slender, wore all black, and had dark purple circles around his eyes. During Linguine’s press conference, the chef boldly remarks that Ego is thin for someone who likes food, to which the critic fires back, ‘I don’t like food, I love it.’ Granted, he said it in a scary and menacing way, but it was Anton Ego’s love of food and the art of cooking that allowed him to overlook the fact that the chef who melted his cold, hard heart was a rat.
In fact, the ending scenes of the film reveal that Ego lost his job as a critic after supporting chef Remy, the rat, in his restaurant endeavors. But the man is completely joyous, having been brought back to life by Remy’s ratatouille, and couldn’t care less about the job as long as he can enjoy good food.
I think this is much the same with critics in all fields, even though at times it feels like they are only there to criticize and not to praise. We also mustn’t forget that just because a critical review is poor, doesn’t mean the film isn’t enjoyable. We can’t watch Academy Award-winning dramas all the time, or limit ourselves to only 100% Certified Fresh films on Rotten Tomatoes. I happen to be a big fan of Rotten Tomatoes critics, and take their reviews under careful consideration, because I think they recognize the fact that not all films were made to please critics. They have whole lists of movies titled ‘Rotten movies we love,’ because they exist in spades!
Not all films were made in hopes of winning awards for best score, sound, cinematography, or screenplay. Some films were produced simply for the viewer’s pleasure, because they’re silly, exciting, fun to look at, or merely an escape from the everyday. Take literally any environmental disaster movie: ‘The Edge of Tomorrow,’ ‘2012,’ or ‘San Andreas.’ Are these groundbreaking masterpieces of filmmaking? Not really. Are they still fun to watch? Yes!
So, are critics still worth reading? Well, it depends on who’s asking. As a film student and avid cinephile who appreciates film as both an art form and for enjoyment, I say yes. If you’re someone who could care less about the technical aspects of filmmaking and are just looking for a good laugh or lots of expensive-looking explosions, then perhaps not.
Either way, I think film critics are vital to recognizing the filmmakers who have pushed the envelope – who put forth a bold idea and executed it with passion and purpose and did what they set out to do. Or maybe, a filmmaker took a risk and it didn’t work out so well. I think critics can help writers and directors improve. When you’re in film school making short films for a grade, you’re going to get feedback that may be pretty harsh. But without the comments of someone who probably has years of experience in moviemaking how will you get better?
I realize that I am playing devil’s advocate here in a lot of ways, siding with the critics who sometimes make an up and coming filmmaker’s life miserable with their poor reviews, but if they didn’t take the time to tell them, who else would? The box office is gloriously unreliable in that department. There are great films that make very little money, and bad films that make millions!
So, I want to thank film critics for their work. I am confident that the vast majority of them don’t wake up every day hoping to crush the hopes and dreams of a new filmmaker on the scene, or looking to ruin a veteran’s run of critically-acclaimed movies. To the critics that do: I would say a pox on your houses, but we’re in a pandemic, so I won’t.