Two Thumbs Up: Why Critics' Opinions Matter
A review of why reviewers need to be reviewed in a reviewed light.
On the DVD cover of Patty Jenkins' movie Monster starring Charlize Theron, the words, "This is one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema," ride across the surface in bold letters, followed by the author of the statement, Roger Ebert.
This statement holds weight for the primary reason that Roger Ebert is one of the premier film critics working in the United States today. He, among numerous others that work for newspapers, (official) websites, and magazines are among those that I'll refer to as the "audience elite," merely for the sake of this article. Because, as you might have guessed, critics are not the everyday patrons of the cinema, even though they are entering the cinema almost everyday to review the films studios release to the public.
Every week. Almost every film. For years.
As many of you would consider yourselves film buffs, I would do the same. And as vast as a knowledge I (think I) have, it's important that in comparison to the audience elite, my knowledge of cinema is more trivial than I'd ever like to admit in comparison. I've found myself, many a time, despising the opinions of critics merely because it seems they have found arbitrary flaws within my "perfect" movies and brought them to light with a condescending and pompous snicker. However, I soon realized that I was dehumanizing these men and women, overlooking the fact that their genuine responses to these films were taken in light and view of a history of film I know little about.
I'd like to dissect this article in to three points, or arguments, numerous people have against critics and run from there.
"Critics are pretentious. They hate everything that is good."
Normally the go-to response when critics are brought up in conversation, it seems critics have developed a pompous stereotype over their time in history (and this does not apply solely to film critics) for sharing their opinions on what they believed to be sub-par movies. With that, I bring the question: "Do critics really seek to destroy the movies that give them a job?"
Imagine a world where everyone respected their critics and took their reviews as gospel (admittedly, that's fairly scary). If critics really, truly were in the reviewing game so only films like Tree of Life, The Hurt Locker, The Bicycle Thief, etc., etc., received notoriety, then why would filmmakers continue making movies? Why issue yourself into an industry where your product will be reviewed by men and women who don't accept anything but an artistically poignant, revealing work of cinema that only allows for reflection and completely forbids entertainment? Remember, critics are people just like you and I, only with a plethora of movies rolling about in their memories. They want fun movies to be fun, thoughtful movies to be thoughtful, and cathartic movies to not play it cheap and easy with the emotions of the audience.
Because of the vast array of films a critic has seen in the past, obvious themes, plots, characters, and screenwriting can seem nothing more than cliche to the reviewer who's had to sit through every Scary Movie parody and every Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel that's been put out. As regular movie-goers, we pick and choose what we wish to see. But it's a critic's job to see and review everything that comes out within the year (theatrically). A popular argument is that you should only compare movies that you've seen, and it's an argument I agree with. That being said, you might be calling The Dark Knight Rises the "best film of the year" against all other ten movies you've seen this year; while that title might go to a different film from a critic who's sat through almost three hundred.
"Critics aren't real journalists. How do you have a 'professional opinion'?"
By understanding the industry, that's how. Real reviewers have a working knowledge of what goes into making a film; they understand things like distribution, copyright laws, etc. etc. These are not people who blindly walk into a movie, take it at complete face value (though it could be argued that they should) and then publish their opinion as some sort of Biblical canon. If need be, they'll take into account a bad movie if it's been rushed to be released, had actors or directors drop off the project, or faced lawsuit problems in finding distribution; they just won't often accept those as valid reasons to produce an awful film (and they shouldn't).
Critics know full well that a problematic movie that takes north of a hundred million dollars to make is an absolute shame. They often know the back story of how the film has been doing in production before release. They may or may not voice if they think that those problems were the reason behind the movie's less-than-perfect release in their opinions. Sometimes, those things are irrelevant (while Ledger's death in The Dark Knight was a tragic loss, the movie did not suffer major reshoots or a complete change in direction or plot), and sometimes, they affect the entire film for the worst (see The Tourist. Actually, don't.).
"Critics like crap all the time. Sometimes, they all collectively love movies that audiences just can't stand."
Of course, "crap" is subjective, but this has known to have happened before. There are movies like Haywire that are hailed by numerous critics that leave audiences with a blank, bored stare by the time the credits roll. Often times, the reasoning for this is that movies try to mix genres or elements sometimes unseen by the general public. We'll use Soderbergh's Haywire as our working example for this. The action movie seems to, in a lot of the general public's eyes, lull and meander. But there is a stylistic nature and energy that flows under the action that critics are aware of because of Soderbergh's previous work.
Do you remember that story about the woman who tried suing a movie theater because she thought Drive would be more like The Fast and the Furious? The general public picks and chooses their genre films in bulk, and when they see an advertisement for an "action" movie that they can wrap in congruence with the other films they've seen, they face disappointment when there is more (or less) in the movie than meets the eye.
Now, those three points all said and done, let's get into abusing the critical system.
Critics are professional reviewers; however, that does not mean they have any right to make you feel obligated to like a film. If you're only reasoning for liking a film is because it ranks at the top of a critic's list at the end of the year, then you don't deserve to have your opinion taken seriously. Develop your own opinions about what you liked or disliked in the movie; then you can analyze the opinions of others. Latching on to the bandwagon is as senseless as dismissing the critical opinion merely because it differs from your own.
This article is not to say that critics are "right." It's merely to acknowledge the fact that, for them, a lot more goes into viewing a film than it might for the average movie-goer. At the end of the day, everything is subjective, but dismissing those whose job it is to analyze films as both art and entertainment are about as silly as Bat Nipples.
And speaking of reviews, you can check out my personal reviews of all four CBMs this year here!
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