What Does a Movie Critic Do And How to Become One Featured

What Does a Movie Critic Do — And How to Become One

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C hances are, if you’ve shelled out money to go to the movies in the last year, you’ve done so because of a positive word-of-mouth for the movie you’re about to see, or that it’s simply deemed “critically acclaimed”. Movie critics are that “critic” that often shapes the public discourse, sometimes propelling a relatively unknown indie into a buzzworthy future Oscar winner. But what does a movie critic in this modern era actually do ? In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at these professional film reviewer’s day-to-day.


First, let’s define movie critic.

A film critic’s job isn’t just to watch non-stop movies. Movie reviewers must approach each review from an objective, journalistic standpoint that isn’t shaped by bias. Here's a quick definition of the job.


What is a movie critic.

A movie critic  is a writer who publishes their opinions on newly released movies (and occasionally, due to the new streaming model) straight-to-streaming films and special event programming. It’s important to note that many movie critics also review TV shows and other media. Movie critics typically review new releases with the angle of whether or not the film is worthy to see based on the genre, story, directing, acting, and more.  

Movie critic jobs in the modern age:

  • Writing for a print or online publication
  • Hosting or writing a movie-themed podcast
  • Self-publishing reviews to a blog or personal website


Film reviewing vs. film criticism.

You may be interested in becoming a movie critic and eyeing a “Film Studies” program at a local university. Though many professionals come from these programs, it’s important to note the style of writing required for a film critic job hinges on the review . 

A guide to a film critic job

A movie reviewer’s job is to deem whether or not the film is entertaining enough to be seen by a widespread audience, not whether or not the film itself was “artful.” 

Film analysis is different than what’s typically required of movie critic jobs

The day-to-day of a movie critic job, what’s a typical day for a movie critic.

Similar to many other writing-centric jobs, no two days often look the same. Movie critics are often invited to “Sneak Preview Screenings” where they’re able to watch a movie well before it premieres, or are sent an online link to stream the movie at home. 

Sometimes, they attend film festivals like Sundance and Cannes, where they’re able to review both future blockbusters and independent films. Sometimes, they can be called on as a go-to film critic “guest” on popular radio stations like NPR and KCRW.

In the modern tech age, a lot of movie critics supplement their work for major publishers with their own personal movie-centric podcasts or blogs. Amy Nicholson is a full-time critic but she also co-hosts a movie podcast with comedian Paul Scheer called Unspooled where they reexamine older films.

Paul Scheer and Amy Nicholson co-host a film-themed podcast called “Unspooled”

Movie critic salary, how do movie critics get paid.

Figuring out the typical income of a professional movie critic is reliant on a number of factors: level of experience, the publication that they work for, and their geographical location. 

For example, a movie critic living in New York City or Los Angeles where attending press events in person may be pertinent to their job success may net a higher income than a movie critic living in Columbus, OH.


So how much do movie critics make.

According to ZipRecruiter, the average hourly rate for a movie critic is $26/hour, with the lowest being $7.93/hour and the highest being $47.60. 

Top earners might expect $75,000/year while the average is around $53,000/year.


How to become a movie critic.

Becoming a movie critic does not focus on one specific path. As mentioned earlier, some movie critics start their career path by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies, Journalism, Communications, or a related field.

Regardless of where you start, learning about the history of cinema and studying the nuances between film reviewing and film analysis will strengthen your chances of being successful.

What does a movie critic do and how do they write a review?

Often, recruiters for this type of job consider an applicant’s portfolio of previously written work. Gain experience and establish your voice as a movie critic by writing film reviews for publications such as school newspapers, personal blogs, or recording your own podcast. 

If eligible, seek out internships at places like media outlets or film festivals to not only get a sense of the next wave of filmmaking, but to sharpen your skills in how you discuss these works.

The History of Film, Explained

From photographic techniques to the Pre-Code era to Film Noir. What does a movie critic do? Become an encyclopedia for film history, styles, and more. Brush up on our comprehensive history of film eras below.

Up Next: Film History 101 →

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The Greater Purpose of Film Criticism

The purposes of film criticism go beyond simple recommendations and are actually very important to the medium of cinema.

With so many movies and TV shows being released at a constant rate in theaters and on streaming services, we often turn to critics to help us to determine what we should spend our time on. Most use review aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic that give an idea of the general consensus critics feel toward a particular work, others have trusted critics they read whose tastes match their own, then there are those that go purely off the recommendations of their peers.

In almost all cases, the job of a critic is usually considered a monetary consideration that is meant to save the viewer money on experiences they won't enjoy, but this is only a small part of the service critics are meant to offer for both audiences and filmmakers. The purpose of film criticism is much deeper, and meant to maintain the value and improve the cinematic medium.

Kick-Starting Careers


Filmmaking being the highly competitive profession that it is makes it very difficult for bright new talents to be discovered. Young filmmakers release their work into an ocean of content with only a small hope that what they did will be seen and appreciated, leading to their being allowed to continue creating. This is where critics have a major role in helping those scrappy young artists become the major talents they are meant to be by drawing more attention to a particular work. Celebrated film critic Roger Ebert was excellent at this, launching career after career of now-important filmmakers by championing their work.

There are many examples of how he did this, but one of the most significant was all he did for Martin Scorsese . When Scorsese first graduated from film school and made his humble debut film Who's That Knocking at My Door , it had a brief festival run that led to a lukewarm reception from most critics in the country, a discouraging result for the ambitious young filmmaker. One of the festivals the film was later shown at was the Chicago Film Festival, where the celebrated film critic Roger Ebert was in attendance. Ebert wrote about the movie in the Chicago Sun-Times, claiming it was the arrival of an important new American director that was sure to create greater and more significant films in the future.

This moment was significant to Scorsese, inspiring him to continue onwards with the review, helping others to take notice of him as well. The results speak for themselves, with Scorsese now being one of the most celebrated filmmakers in contemporary cinema , a feat that may not have occurred without Ebert's support and a lesson other critics should take note of.

Related: Greatest '80s Movies According to Siskel and Ebert, Ranked

Encouraging Deeper Readings

Florence Pugh in Midsommar

When considering if they should purchase a ticket for a movie, most just look at numbered scores to determine if the movie is good or bad. This practice has the troubling consequence of devaluing films as products instead of the nuanced art form that warrants subjective opinions toward the work. This also causes viewers to neglect reading the opinions expressed in the reviews that are written, where criticism is truly shown. Writings in a review are meant to encourage their readers to look closer at a work of art and try to understand it on a deeper level. They end up becoming more of an analysis than a recommendation if they're truly doing their job while still giving a subjective opinion on the film.

A great example of how reviews can benefit audiences can be seen in the work of writer and director Ari Aster . The thematic style Aster applies to his work can best be described as a light touch, with the films being powerful, traumatic experiences. The audience feels a great deal watching his films that they won't soon forget, but they may not absorb what is being said, causing some to wrongly claim the films are pointless.

Critics can help highlight that Aster is actually communicating a great deal and can offer their theories on what that is and how they reached those points with examples from the film in their reviews. This isn't meant to tell audiences what to think, but help them reconsider the film and try drawing their own conclusions, endearing them to the film and helping them read more into the next film they watch. A wonderful process would be lost if a potential viewer simply saw a score and determined the value of a movie purely on that.

Related: Greatest Film Critics of All Time

Inspiration and Direction

Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money

A film critic's audience goes beyond the average movie-goer, with their reviews also being meant for the filmmakers they are criticizing. Any movie being created is a miracle that's the result of countless hours of work from many people in what might be the most complicated form of expression available to us. This is why when a film has a certain sincerity and passion, the criticism should be constructive and nuanced to highlight the strengths of the work that a filmmaker should continue doing and point out weaknesses that should learn from. Any artist is squeamish about their work being picked apart, but this can be a great benefit to them when conveyed properly to push them to greater heights on their next attempt.

We can see a great example once again in Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese in a review he wrote on his film The Color of Money . If the movie was made by almost any other filmmaker, it would be considered a wonderful film that's fun and engaging for just about any audience, and most considered the film a success when it was first released.

Ebert had a better insight as a lifelong fan of Scorsese's work and thought it better to write a review calling on the director to do better, seeing the film lacked the artistic, personal touch that was present in the rest of his work. Scorsese was initially taken aback by the note, but saw the truth in it and learned to always be true to himself in his work. The evidence of this note still stands today, with Scorsese's work continuing to be the most personal and effective in all of cinema today.

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Film: Movie Reviews and Film Criticism

  • Movie Reviews and Film Criticism
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Finding Movie Reviews and Film Criticism

Film criticism provides evidence for Film & Digital Arts criticism assignments. This research guide distinguishes movie reviews from film criticism and pr ovides resources that will help you find criticism and reviews. See the Articles & Databases and Web Resources sections of this research guide for a list of search tools.

Movie Reviews

The purpose of a movie review is consumer in nature. The reviewer is making a judgment about the quality of the movie with the intention of telling the reader whether or not it is worth the time, effort, and money to watch. The reviewer assumes that the reader has not seen the movie and therefore is careful to reveal no spoilers. Reviews tend to be written when the movie is released into theaters, on video or DVD, or in streaming. The quality of reviews varies greatly, ranging from a simple plot summary with a thumbs up or thumbs down to an in-depth examination informed by expertise from film schools and years of film analysis and reviews. Regardless, the purpose of a review is to make a viewing recom mendation.

Examples of movie reviews of Pulp Fiction include:

  • James Berardinelli
  • Roger Ebert
  • Andrew Wickliffe

Film Criticism

The purpose of film criticism is scholarly in nature. The film scholar is also making a judgment of the quality, but is doing so with the intention of making an argument about the meaning of the film or films by providing reasoned consideration and evidence. The scholar assumes that the reader has seen the film in order to better engage the argument – spoilers are irrelevant.

Film scholars have a distinct lens that they use in interpreting films. Their arguments might be based on filmmaker intent with an auteur lens, a formalist analysis of style and aesthetics or visual narrative, or an examination of the biographical or historical context. Their arguments might disconnect and dismantle the meaning of the film from its author’s intent by making a poststructuralist, semiotic, psychoanalytic, or literary analysis from the perspective of the viewer and of society. Their arguments might be a means to social justice intending to challenge the dominant power structures and the status quo by applying ideological Marxist, feminist, postcolonial, or queer approaches. Regardless, the purpose of criticism is to make a scholarly argument.

Examples of film criticism of Pulp Fiction include (you will need to be on campus or logged in to view):

  • Davis, Todd F., and Kenneth Womack. “Shepherding the Weak: The Ethics of Redemption in Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Pulp Fiction.’” Literature Film Quarterly , vol. 26, no. 1, Jan. 1998, p. 60-66. EBSCOhost permalink .
  • Jewers, Caroline. “Heroes and Heroin: From ‘True Romance’ to ‘Pulp Fiction.’” Journal of Popular Culture , vol. 33, 2000, pp. 39-61. Link
  • Kimball, A.Samuel. “‘Bad-Ass Dudes’ in Pulp Fiction: Homophobia and the Counterphobic Idealization of Women.” Quarterly Review of Film & Video , vol. 16, no. 2, Sept. 1997, pp. 171-192. Link

Criticism as Evidence

As in criticism, the purpose of film assignments tends to be making your own argument about a film or films using reasoned consideration and evidence. The nature of the evidence that will best serve your needs is criticism, not reviews. This research guide shows how to find both criticism and reviews, because the simple fact is that not all films receive critical treatment, but virtually all are reviewed. In those cases where there is no criticism available, you may use reviews as a starting point, especially if they are the more in-depth examinations informed by expertise. However, you will most likely end up making your own reasoned consideration a centerpiece of the study without providing the evidence a film criticism provides.

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Film Inquiry

Critiquing The Critic: The Evolution & Function Of Film Criticism

Film Inquiry

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film critics purpose

Matthew Roe is a director, writer, producer, film critic, theorist…

film critics purpose

What is the point of film criticism? Why do we even need film critics? Why should they play a part at all in filmmaking, exhibition, or distribution? No one tells me what to like, so why should I heed these people?

The aforementioned questions have been a constant conversation in film communities for decades, especially with the increased dependence (and intensifying backlash) of film aggregate websites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. So, as filmmaking has vastly changed over the past century, we must ask ourselves, has film criticism matched this evolution or has it remained in stagnation? If it has or hasn’t, do we require these individuals in today’s cinematic conversation? Well, the short and long answers are multi-faceted messes of conflicting perspectives – just like film.

At its surface, analytical criticism is the assessment of the overall production quality and effectiveness of a form of work, with final conclusions theoretically determining the lifespan of that work. When this definition is applied to fields other than the arts, critics normally utilize objectivity, and real-world efficacy and application as the major facets of their analysis. Basically, determining how the work functions and serves the greater society in which it’s created. However, this is where the distinction occurs: traditional art (painting, drawing, sculpting), visual art (film, video, new media), performance art (theater, music, dance), and literature are all in the realm of subjectivity, in which you cannot use the same criteria to qualify or quantify.

Critiquing the Critic: The Evolution and Functionality of Film Criticism

The Birth of Film Criticism

What I often hear echoing throughout contemporary film communities is that critics are propagating a destructive idea that a film can and should be viewed in a specific way in order to determine its quality and significance. To a degree, this attitude will always be unavoidable, as there will always be work that is primarily judged on craft, and with everyone having an opinion on everything, there’s going to be unions and splits in consensus. However, there are so many schools of artistic thought in determining what can be defined as quality, that the dissimilarity between good and bad art is almost always amorphous. It would be more accurate to state that the two determinations are congealed together, rather than opposing ends of a spectrum.

Though critics of subjective art have existed for quite a long while before the advent of film, this medium was so new that the general awe about the worlds it opened up was far more potent than any need to critically interpret the work. That isn’t to say that fledgling film critics did not voice their opinion on the dawning industry, but the first instance of professional film criticism is a far cry from what is typical in industry trades today. As a matter of fact, true film criticism began in 1904 with the publication of The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal .

This was the first trade publication of its type, making its way around the world. It provided, among many other details, interviews with industry leaders and crew, analysis on new innovations (technical and theoretical) which often included basic instruction manuals, debates on different equipment and film stock, and even letters to the editors which comprised inquiries from professional photographers and on-set electricians. It even featured satirical cartoons of the most classical stereotypes of filmmakers and filmgoers, which makes me believe that the earliest assumptions and romanticisations of the profession originated from this publication. But what also began in this paper was the very first critical responses to the actual films being released.

Critiquing the Critic: The Evolution and Functionality of Film Criticism

These reviews would inform the public on the number of new projects coming out from each major company, and would highlight standouts by describing a bare-bones plot – that was more or less it. When the journal ceased in 1905 after an eleven-month run, it became the biggest turning point in film criticism. In the subsequent vacuum, numerous publications would take up the motion picture mantle, though it only involved shoving mentions of titles or key individuals and news tidbits amongst the artistic critiques of vaudeville, theater, and music. While this may not initially seem important, the people now trumpeting film-related news were no longer industry professionals, but writers for the likes of Variety , The New York Clipper (which was later absorbed into Variety ), Billboard , and other more minor entertainment papers.

Not only did cinematically-illiterate people now take on the role of film journalists, but their positions as traditional and performance critics changed the primary function of their position from reporting and prioritizing industry news to editorializing that information. Though this wouldn’t take complete hold as the standard until the following decade, it highly directed the evolution of the most influential trade publication of the early 20th Century: The Moving Picture World .

Welcome to Picture World

The evolved nature of film trades dramatically depicted the lightning-fast shifts taking place not only in the industry, but in how the audience received the work that industry produced. The brief period of time where film conversations were only held in previously unrelated publications was already coming to an end with the syndication of The Moving Picture World . While there were other trades releasing at roughly the same time, most of them were simply “house organs,” company-specific zines which listed and detailed their new releases for distributors. With its unique approach to the industry, The Moving Picture World would quickly become the largest circulated trade in existence, eventually absorbing or merging with its largest competitors. It would run in some form until 1973, ending as the QP Herald .

It was the brainchild of J.P. Chalmers, Jr. , editor of the monthly amateur photography magazine Camera and Dark Room , and Alfred H. Saunders , editor of The Film Index (house organ for the Motion Picture Patents Company). They would describe their intentions in their first issue “to give the best, and only the best, news concerning the film industry, describing briefly each new film as it is produced, taking note of its quality, and giving an unbiased opinion of its merits or demerits.” Twelve thousand copies of their first issue were sold within a week. This resulted in the norm by which film would be discussed in the public discourse, a complex variation on The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal and Variety – it was the first publication that was equal parts trade and editorial. Also, to clarify “unbiased opinion,” it was less on their personal feelings on any movie, and more about their existence as an independent entity, completely separate from the studios. Though that didn’t stop them from filling their pages of movie previews and ads paid for by those studios…

Critiquing the Critic: The Evolution and Functionality of Film Criticism

Focused primarily at industry professionals, theater owners, and exhibitors, articles were designed to be simple and frank, often used verbatim in publicity materials. The Moving Picture World also broke new ground by including personal information on key figures (marriages, deaths, etc), innovations in both technology and in storytelling, film debut details, and awards and honors – it was a veritable cornucopia of information that was finally all together. No longer did you have to collect multiple self-indulgent company-specific releases in order to get their slates of upcoming films and who starred in what. You could get everything, including celebrity details and serious conversations on the state and evolution of filmmaking, all in one place. The combined convenience and comprehension quickly made the trade the golden standard for how industry information was disseminated to professionals and fans alike (though it did not become more friendly and open to the mass public until a few years later).

Now take a moment and realize what’s happened here: the promotion, exhibition, and success of filmmaking had now shifted. The life of a film no longer was determined by numerous self-promotional house organs being translated into print ads. Not only was there another (verifiable) option to get a more accurate idea about these films and who made them, which paying audiences were highly appreciative, but it also jumpstarted modern scholastic conversations on filmmaking and cinematic storytelling on an international scale. The budding film critic community managed to create the first centralized system by which distributors would determine whether or not to run specific films, whether or not an audience would gravitate towards a movie, and push the medium’s scientific and artistic innovations and subculture as wordly significant. Modern film criticism and journalism had arrived.

The Backslide

However, with every innovation, there’s some fossil-esque thinking that holds back progress, and the film industry is no different. As filmmaking and film criticism began to evolve in a semi-symbiotic state, two major developments changed the direction of their relationship and their separate natures irreparably: an outside desire to control the material being produced, and the early monopoly of the studio system.

The filmmaking culture exploded between 1910-1930, with many of the industry’s biggest stars becoming the modern gods which connected nations across the globe (which can be hilariously seen in A Kiss from Mary Pickford , 1927). Due to the deep cultural impact movies now had on international cultures, the powers-that-be saw the new medium for what it was: a powerful tool of communication. With movies representing the American way of life to the rest of the world, many voices in Washington DC cried out for more oversight. It wasn’t until a quick succession of several salacious and brutal scandals rocking Hollywood that motions were made en masse to curtail the unchecked imaginations and apparent hedonism of the industry. While initially resistant to the rumors, gossip, and hearsay flooding the newspapers, soon industry trades began editorializing industry news, and film and personnel spotlights, rather than simply just delivering details. This was arguably done in order to keep up relevance with the mass public to maintain their sales in an increasingly overcrowded newsprint and zine world, but also not appear to be in overt alignment to the stances now being demonized nationwide by politicians and “moral majority” leaders.

Critiquing the Critic: The Evolution and Functionality of Film Criticism

This struggle quickly compounded as the film industry grew massive and successful. The decade of battle between distributors and moviemakers was seemingly at an end, most major studios now owned their own theater chains, breaking the country into pre-agreed fiefdoms. This directly lead to the creation of the initial interstate censorship systems, where numerous state governments appointed their own boards of officials determining whether or not a film could be seen. With numerous complaints, protests, and outcries over several particularly controversial releases, and a growing movement in politics to suppress “undesirable” or “un-American” ideas in movies (ie communism, multiculturalism, homosexuality, resistance of authority, social disparity, ect.) the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code (aka The Hays Code), and eventually the Motion Picture Association of America, were created. This was the birth of critical toxicity – a stance asserting film criticism is not the promotion and discussion of movies and moviemaking for the betterment of the art, but the methodology by which authority figures restrict access to controversial material. Now movies are subjected to personal subjective bias before they even make it into the public discourse, judged not by its artistic nature, but by its societal value.

Because of the tight-knit conduct between the government, “moral majority,” censorship officials, and studio executives, their combined stranglehold on production and distribution lead to one of the most contentious and suppressive periods in artistic history. It is easy to see this as a time in which filmmakers were against the world, as so many works that would come out of this period were highly indictive of the current era. However, it is important not to forget the role of the established and upcoming critical communities in ensuring the legacy of crucially important films. Though many exist, one film in particular champions this phase, with its legacy changing dramatically with age: Alfred E. Green ’s 1933 feature Baby Face .

Though receiving heaps of scorn and ridicule for its depiction of overtly sexually-suggestive material (which prompted a significant re-edit on the final cut), Baby Face has become a beacon of pre-Code moviemaking in America. Its study of Nietzschean philosophy (though this was substituted for other morality play in the censored recut) is strong throughout the work, prompting vastly different and engaging points of view that were widely considered taboo for the time, including a (then) significant stance on interracial relations between black and white Americans. The film’s social and cultural implications are still vastly relevant and starkly unforgiving, which reflects the ever-present growing social attitude of communal race relations, sexual freedom, and ethical divides, while also embracing the “everything is up for grabs” mentality in early motion pictures. This heavy combination of social and artistic experimentation in Baby Face is often credited with being one of the projects which directly lead to the heavy enforcement of the Hays Code in movies – it would become one of the defining moments in motion picture history.

Over the course of seven decades, the recut variation of the film remained the only one in circulation, with the opinions and biases of filmmakers, critics, and censors continuing to define its existence, until an unedited copy surfaced in 2004 by Michael Mashon , the Head of the Moving Image Section at the Library of Congress. Untouched by censors or picked apart by antiquated social norms, the uncut Baby Face was entered into the National Film Registry the following year as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant,” and has consistently been referenced by contemporary critics, filmmakers, and historians galore as one of the greatest films of the 20th Century (and ironically has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes).

Critiquing the Critic: The Evolution and Functionality of Film Criticism

However, upon the release of the un-edited cut, a brand new discussion was brought to the forefront that hadn’t been present in the conversation surrounding the original release: the ambiguousness of the uncut ending, and the callous near-predatory nature of the protagonist Lily (played by Barbara Stanwyck ). Often this argument is split between two separate fields of thought: that the role was a groundbreaking instance of individually-minded women in film, and that this portrayal is a demonization of women on screen, due in major part to the ruthlessly opportunist means by which Lily accomplishes her goals. This debate has validity on both sides, considering the extremes in which the character’s arc shifts, to where her interpretation of Nietzschean social ideas regarding exploitation has her mercilessly using anyone standing in her way. There isn’t a clean-cut way to observe the character, because she is equally both sides and neither – it is completely dependent on the person watching the movie, and that’s kind of the point.

This film isn’t abjectly saying one thing or another, which is what led the censor boards to reject it in the first place – a censor-approved release was only possible when generally-accepted morality was injected into the story, adding a catharsis about the “right path” in life. However, even upon the release of the theatrical cut all those years back, there were numerous film critics around the country that awarded the film enough acclaim to which it was considered a moderate financial success after its theatrical run. Even with heavy censorship, the conversation being held in newspapers and in trades kept the film alive, pushing the producers to create more works like it, and pushing more curious audiences to the box office.

New Shores, New Masses, New Waves

As the established critical community held fast in the swirling conflict between artists, studios, and censors, there were rising movements that constantly altered the ways in which films were approached and consumed. While Americans had film noir as a response to the Hays code, things were a bit less restrictive and thoroughly more complicated in countries abroad. Not only for filmmakers and producers, but for the international critical community; three separate trade magazines of rebellious young critics were about to change the world forever.

In Italy, after the fall of Mussolini’s fascist government, the country’s filmic center was lost. Many of the Italian creatives were struggling for a new cultural symbol for their tarnished country, and soon found it in the neorealist style. These films were often set amongst the disenfranchised and working poor on city streets, many of whom were not actors. However, this style wasn’t created in a vacuum – it was dreamed up as a counter to popular fanciful comedies, and to take advantage of the sudden availability of portable 16mm film cameras. Its revolutionary ideas were fostered, not by a collection of film scholars or masters of the craft, but by the rowdy cohort of film critics behind Cinema magazine — Luchino Visconti, Giuseppe De Santis, Cesare Zavattini , and Gianni Puccini — all of whom would soon become some of Italy’s most exploratory and poetic filmmakers. Their heavy focus on such unique realist perspectives and socialist ideals directly contributed to some Italy’s most iconic movies of the 1940s, including Ossessione (1943), Rome, Open City (1945), and Bicycle Thieves (1948).

Critiquing the Critic: The Evolution and Functionality of Film Criticism

This movement swept across Europe like wildfire, yet died as quickly as a wet sparkler. By the time the 1950’s had rolled around, neorealism’s effects were shadowy ripples at best, but the boundaries stressed during the movement was enough to make some waves in France. Influenced also by the likes of Robert Bresson and Agnès Varda , two separate trades emerged in contrast to each other, both of whom remain in operation to this day: Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif . These two magazines have endlessly thrashed each other in their differences in theory and film appreciation, but the various theories in which both support and debate managed to alter the worldwide industry for decades, as the iconic Jacques Rivette, Bernard Chardère, Jean-Luc Godard, Gérard Gozlan, Claude Chabrol, Michel Mardore , and François Truffaut were writers between these papers, and began their assent into the New Wave pantheon as cinematic analysts, essayists, and critics.

These trades’ influence (if not direct responsibility) on neorealism, the French New Wave, the Left Bank, and several other minor movements, made their volatile discussions international. Not only were these trades far more individualistically editorialized, with greater focus on personal rhetoric rather than technical breakdowns and industry news, here marked the next significant shift in criticism’s relationship with filmmaking. No longer was criticism merely a tool for determining the theatrical life of a movie, for simply regurgitating information on the latest toys on the market, or for a celebration of key industry figures – now film criticism was an instrument for changing the art form itself. From inventing the auteur theory, to championing vast swaths of political radicalism in art and appreciation, these filmmakers and critics became heralds of new artistic perspectives that affected every market overseas, directly inspiring the New Hollywood and No Wave movements.

Criticism in the New Age

And though there are numerous instances which I can call upon for further evidence, we now we have the present day, where the advent of the internet and the democratization of the greater film discussion has arrived to muck up the established process. In a world where everyone’s opinion can be heard, what is even the point of published film criticism? Well, honestly, the same question has been asked about making film since the dawn of home videos – how in a world of such cheap democratized resources can anyone clearly determine who are the “legitimate” filmmakers? And like the tirade of words that I have subjected all of you till now, it is not an easy answer to reach, nor are there specifically any singular answers.

Film criticism has continued to play many roles over the course of the last century, even in a world where films can now almost be exclusively marketed to individual audiences. Its utility has gone from reporting on new developments to shaping the very understanding of the art form, while still managing to hold on to each of its incarnations along the way – it keeps what is useful and changes with the rest. While I cannot say every alteration to film criticism has necessarily been beneficial or detrimental, one major factor has remained steadfast with the medium till now: archiving. In efforts to research anything which requires me to dive into our history and discover the ins and outs of systems and works long antiquated or even lost, I often have to comb through copious amounts of documentative material. In order to fully understand the context in which cinema is released, how it ages, and is eventually understood, a full (as possible) history is absolutely essential – and the way I was able to do any of that is by reading the trade magazines and critical reviews of the day.

Critiquing the Critic: The Evolution and Functionality of Film Criticism

Resources written and published by famous filmmakers are absolutely important, but to understand the time, culture, social norms, and audience reaction of any film, we often look back to the critical response, and add to our appreciation or dismissal as the years trickle onward. So, as I wrap my long-winded answer to a close, I can confidently say that the functionality of film criticism is (and has always been) to springboard the public discourse surrounding a piece of work, and to archive that discourse for future generations. Critics are not the be-all-end-all words on a film, they are the debate-starters getting audiences involved in the discussion (like group mediators). In our attempts to do so, we manage to make a time capsule of not only our appreciation of film, but also our societal views and ethical intracisies, as personal biases always continue to play a part in editorialized opinions. As time progresses, not only do we often reevaluate our cinema, but also reevaluate our understanding of the time and place in which each film was made and shown – so we further understand where we’ve come, how we’ve gotten here, and where we might be going.

What role do you believe film criticism has in today’s cinematic world? Let us know in the comments!

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film critics purpose

Matthew Roe is a director, writer, producer, film critic, theorist and historian, with over 12 years experience producing film, video, television, and online content. He currently writes DVD/Blu-ray reviews for Under the Radar Magazine, movie reviews for Film Threat, and contributes features to the Anime News Network. He has won two Vollie Television Awards, an Honorable Mention at the LA Movie Awards, and is a Cult Critic Award Finalist. Matthew is a member of the Political Film Society and the Large Association of Movie Blogs.

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Film criticism

A form of writing that examines the achievement, distinctiveness, and quality of a film (or lack of it). The term is used to refer to a wide range of writing on film, ranging from reviews of the latest releases to certain types of scholarly/film-theoretical inquiry, such as genre criticism. Generally, however, film criticism is considered a separate activity from film reviewing. A film review will usually be produced after one viewing and is primarily designed to help potential viewers decide whether or not to watch the film; and a review will usually not contain spoilers —crucial information relating to the film’s plot, especially its ending. In contrast, film criticism will tend to discuss the film in its entirety and seek to deepen, reveal, expand, sharpen, and/or confront, a potential viewer’s understanding in a way that goes beyond simply deciding whether or not the film is worth seeing. Unlike academic writing, which usually adopts a neutral, objective style, film criticism may adopt freer, more rhetorical, language in an attempt to capture a sense of the film and to engage or entertain the reader. Whereas a scholarly, disciplined approach would be suspicious of personal involvement, subjective opinion, and serendipitous reflection, film criticism is at liberty to embrace these dimensions. However, this is not to say that film criticism is subjective and ill thought out: a key aspect of film criticism that makes it distinct from reviewing is the critic’s knowledge and erudition. Film criticism will usually also register, explicitly or implicitly, potential counterclaims about the film under description: as such, the work of film criticism embodies an element of judgement and advocacy.   ...

Kuhn, A., & Westwell, G. (2020).  Film criticism . In  A Dictionary of Film Studies . Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 Apr. 2023

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The real reason we need more diversity in film criticism

Representation matters in movie criticism. But not so critics can “support” films.

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What do film critics even do?

The cast of Ocean’s 8 seems to have some ideas about that question , blaming some of the more tepid reviews their film encountered on male critics who viewed the movie, as Cate Blanchett put it, through a “prism of misunderstanding.” During the film’s press tour, Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, and Mindy Kaling spoke out against gender disparity in not just their own industry — the Hollywood blockbuster business — but in the separate, adjacent field of film criticism, which yet another study showed this week is overwhelmingly white and male.

They’re not wrong about the makeup of the pool of critics. And this discussion about the demographic makeup of film critics is laudable and necessary.

‘Ocean’s 8’ World Premiere

But the way it’s being framed has less helpful implications: that the people whose opinions really count are those whom the movie is “for.” Not only does that ignore how most movies actually make their money, but it says a lot about Hollywood’s attitude toward criticism, best revealed in Blanchett’s statement. She compared studio’s “support” of a film — which means, essentially, a big marketing budget — with critics’ roles in a film’s success, which she says are a “really big part of the equation.”

In that view, critics are mainly useful in how they “support” movies the industry thinks they should like because of the demographic group and audience segment into which they fall.

But that’s not why diversity in criticism is important. If that’s the goal, then it will only succeed in gutting criticism of its richest, fullest potential — something that benefits not just critics but movies and moviegoers too.

To explain all that, it’s important to take a few steps back and understand what critics actually do.

Critics are art makers first

Critics are, themselves, creators of art. It’s an art that’s usually funneled through the medium of journalism, but criticism is still fundamentally an art form.

The art a critic makes is a review or an essay, something that is less about “supporting” a movie and more about drawing on an individual’s experience with a film to make an argument about that movie. It includes evaluation of the film, but it also, done well, is a passionate argument for the importance of art itself.

Often, a great movie review is one that doesn’t require the reader to have seen the movie in order to enjoy it. There’s a reason the legendary New Yorker critic Pauline Kael considered her movie reviews to be her memoir .

Criticism is about expanding a work of art, making it part of a cultural conversation and discourse. It gives it air. It opens it up for the reader to have an experience with it. Criticism is how I take a silly blockbuster like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and write about the implications it has for the idea of human extinction . It’s how I explore how a movie like American Animals or I, Tonya messes with the audience , and what that teaches audiences to expect. It’s how I spin out what a sparing art film like First Reformed is all about .

I’m less interested in telling you whether to go see it — I’m not you, I don’t know what you like — and more interested in working through what the very existence of the movie means. There’s a reason that most critics, if you asked them, would rather you read the review after you see the movie.

This is why criticism needs to be diverse. Critics try to read a film through the lens of their own unique experience, and that gives life to the work of art. Even when we all sit in the same movie theater, we all watch a different work of art . Adding those perspectives to the chorus can only enrich and expand the movie.

Usually, a good critic can tell the difference between their reaction to a film that is due to personal taste and history and a reaction of aesthetic judgment. Good critics are omnivorous, and rarely write off movies simply because of the genre or the intended audience.

In short, a good critic develops a large capacity for imagination. They can’t know what it would be like to see the movie as someone other than themselves. But the good critic tries very hard to put themselves in those shoes anyhow, especially when they detect that the movies’ target audience will be someone other than themselves. And good critics welcome the opinions other critics have about the film.

So in fact, there are some affinities between good critics and good actors, who are celebrated not just for playing versions of themselves but for playing wildly different people than themselves. There are elements of the actor’s craft in the critic’s work.

Diversity in criticism matters because criticism is about the art, not the business

Women In Film 2018 Crystal + Lucy Awards Presented By Max Mara, Lancôme And Lexus - Inside

Diversity matters immensely in criticism, for a lot of the same reasons that it matters in Hollywood. One of the biggest reasons that diversity among Hollywood storytellers is worth pursuing is that it expands the kind of stories that can be told and the ways in which they can be told. That leads to a richer art form.

Criticism is a lot like this: It gives us ways to receive a work of art and read it through a number of lenses, each informed by the critic’s own experience.

And criticism is a deeply monolithic industry. The Ocean’s 8 cast’s comments about criticism came around the same time that actress Brie Larson spoke out on the same subject , in connection with a study conducted by USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative. Titled “ Critic’s Choice? ” the study surveyed 19,559 reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes for the year’s top 100 films (by box office returns) and found that 77.8 percent of all reviewers were male, and 82 percent of all reviewers were white.

But diversifying that pool won’t automatically lead to the results the industry might like. Critics who belong to the same demographic group shouldn’t feel as if they need to move in lockstep with a movie simply because someone like them is represented in it, or because the film’s marketing is aimed at them. Women critics shouldn’t feel as if they need to “support” a film telling a woman’s story, any more than men who want to appear to be feminists should. Black and Latinx and Asian critics shouldn’t be expected to love movies about black and Latinx and Asian people as a matter of course.

As critic Justin Chang recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times , the question “who is this movie for?” is insufficient, especially if one of art’s great functions is to help us imagine and empathize with others’ experiences. “We negate the possibility of sympathetic imagination when we assume that someone’s particular affinity for a work of art will be dictated in advance by specifics of race, gender and age,” Chang writes. “It’s not that those specifics aren’t factors. It’s that some have a tendency to mistake factors for absolutes.”

Reviews and those who write them aren’t meant to “support” a film that hasn’t earned it — not just through its ideas and its characters, but through its writing, its aesthetic choices, and much more. The reason there should be more critics from underrepresented demographics isn’t that they have a higher chance of supporting a film like Ocean’s 8 . For one, there are plenty of white men who did like the movie and praised it, a large group you can find easily just by looking at the reviews listed on Rotten Tomatoes.

But more frustratingly, comments like Blanchett’s elide and ignore those women who reviewed Ocean’s 8 and didn’t think it was exactly a masterpiece. Those people included the New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino , Time’s Stephanie Zacharek , New York magazine’s Emily Yoshida , Tribune News Service’s Katie Walsh , and the New York Times’s Manohla Dargis , who notes in her review that “A lot of this is fun to watch but would have been more breezily enjoyable if the movie played as lightly (and seriously) with gender as much as it does with genre.”

All these women critics found that the movie was flawed as a film. It’s more than a representation of women, and it ought not to be praised just for who appears in it, especially if the critic thinks it fails in other ways.

Movie critics don’t work for movie studios

Criticism isn’t about “selling” a film to audiences. Movie critics are not another publicity arm to help the movie business sell its wares. In fact, movie critics don’t belong to the movie industry at all, though we have plenty of interactions with it.

That doesn’t always seem to be the opinion of the movie business, though, as comments from the Ocean’s 8 cast imply. They’re conflating two things: movies as art, and movies as commercial product.

For Hollywood and for the movie business, films are a product to be sold. But movies are not most fundamentally a commercial product. Movies are at core an art form.

That doesn’t mean that they’re not turned into commercial products by companies that are set up to sell tickets or copies of the film. Companies exist to take the work of art and market it, package it, find buyers for it. And filmmakers often make their living playing that commercial game.

But that doesn’t make movies less of an art, just like the culinary arts are still arts whether you’re practicing them at home or in a restaurant kitchen, and paintings are still works of art whether they’re hanging on a wall in a museum for anyone to see or in a Chelsea gallery for a buyer to purchase.

An image of Rotten Tomatoes’ logo

The marketing departments of film studios and distribution companies exist to deal with those commercial aspects of film. But critics have a different job. Critics are primarily interested in the art of the film. That means that critics are looking for things about the film that work or don’t work. They’re interested in the aesthetics and the content. And their main interest isn’t in serving as some kind of Consumer Reports for movies.

People use reviews to figure out whether to go see a movie, of course. But these days, film criticism is often boiled down to a number and fed to an aggregator like Rotten Tomatoes, and that’s what audiences are interested in — not an argument or a piece of writing. And since Rotten Tomatoes was acquired by the ticket-selling site Fandango, the Rotten Tomatoes score shows up directly on Fandango’s website. (Whether that score influences ticket sales is a complicated matter , but in some cases, it almost certainly has an effect.)

Critics generally tolerate Rotten Tomatoes because it can drive traffic toward a review, and in this economy, traffic is how most writers make a living. But the reason people go into film criticism is that they love movies, and they want to talk about them and write and think about them and explore them. They want to open up a work of art, to treat it respectfully and seriously when it allows them to do so, and to make space for the audience to have their own experience with the film.

The fact that a movie has content that the critic agrees with or characters that look like the critic doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. And just because a movie is marketed to a particular audience, there’s no guarantee it will be successful in speaking to that audience. Critics who belong to that audience segment are not automatically going to love it.

In fact, ideally, black women critics would be reviewing movies primarily aimed at white men, and vice versa. It’s as much of a tragedy that there were so few underrepresented critics reviewing The Post as it is there were so few reviewing Moonlight . Criticism isn’t an arm of the studio publicity machine that can convince people they should go see a movie because a bunch of people like them liked it. Instead, it should challenge and prod and celebrate an art form that has the potential to tell all kinds of stories about all kinds of people.

Further complicating the notion is the fact that big Hollywood movies depend on attracting many kinds of viewers. Unlike more niche genre films, prestige dramas, and offbeat independent films, which may aim themselves at narrower demographic segments, blockbusters like Ocean’s 8 traffic expressly in the idea that they’ll be able to sell tickets to a wide variety of people, recoup their big budgets, and then make a lot more money too.

So it doesn’t naturally follow, as Blanchett said, that a middle-aged white guy would see Ocean’s 8 through a “prism of misunderstanding.” He’s part of the intended audience. He has to be, just like Wonder Woman had to attract more than women to the theater to become a massive blockbuster success.

The biggest obstacles to diversifying the critical pool lie with those who make the decisions in media and at the movie studios

Recognizing that criticism doesn’t exist to prop up movie studios doesn’t fix the larger issue, though — something Larson clarified in her comments. “What I am saying is that if you make a movie that is a love letter to women of color,” she said, “there is an insanely low chance a woman of color will have the chance to see your movie and review your movie. We need to be conscious of our bias and make sure that everyone is in the room.”

That’s inarguably correct. There just aren’t that many women critics. There also aren’t many critics of color. And there are very few women critics of color — only 8.9 percent of the critics in Annenberg’s study were women of color, compared to 53.2 percent white men, 23 percent white women, and 14.8 percent men of color.

‘Ocean’s 8’ Worldwide Photo Call

That means that the slice is already very small, and it’s even more difficult given one big issue: the way studios grant access to press screenings and junkets to critics and journalists.

Nearly any critic in a major market (typically New York or Los Angeles) has stories of woe about gaining access to screenings of big studio releases. (Smaller and independent movie distributors often hire outside firms to publicize their movies that have a good sense of the landscape — and those are typically less of a problem since for many of them, any press helps boost their movie’s profile.) Divining what studios believe about press and movie audiences is a real challenge, but a couple of things are clear to anyone who’s spent time working in those markets.

First of all, even in 2018, studios still typically prioritize print outlets over digital ones, even though the potential for an actual printed review to reach a lot of people is relatively low. (Most print outlets have a website for this reason.) But an old-school perception persists that print means prestige, and that means that writers working for digital-only outlets are often shut out of early screenings, and sometimes out of all but one or two later screenings. That can make it tough for some critics to even see a movie in time to write about it — especially if studios happen to schedule their screenings on the same night, or if the screening is scheduled on the same night as, say, your child’s birthday party.

This especially affects freelance critics and those at the lower end of the pay scale — print publications typically pay more than their digital cousins, and most use fewer freelancers — and if you’re guessing that most underrepresented critics are not at print outlets, you’re right.

There’s also a second reason. I’ve written about how the perception still persists — even after much evidence to the contrary — that movies starring women and people of color are for “niche” audiences. At first blush, that might seem like a boon for critics who represent those groups. But what seems to be true is that the studios also perceive critics who belong to those groups as niche too.

While it’s anecdotal, some critics — especially women of color — report having particularly difficult times getting into screenings.

“Part of the reason why critics of color can’t review more movies is because they’re denied accreditation or access to screenings,” Latina critic Monica Castillo wrote following the release of the study . “Invitations to advance screenings don’t usually find their way to underrepresented journalists and critics’ inboxes as easily as they do others.”

And an editorial about Larson’s statements at the pop culture site Black Girl Nerds, which reports from festivals around the world and is listed on Rotten Tomatoes, noted that its publication has “had its fair share of pushback from publicists,” citing being “ghosted from studio publicists when it comes to set visit opportunities and press junkets.”

Importantly, the BGN site notes, this “sadly shuts out not only opportunities for more diverse voices to be heard within the pop-culture criticism industry” but also “shuts out the chance for Black women journalists to get the experience to report and to use those skills to work for larger publications.”

So when Bullock suggests that gender disparity in criticism can be overcome by “balancing out the pool of critics so it reflects the world we live in,” she’s right on the money. The onus for this doesn’t primarily lie, as Meryl Streep once claimed (and Kaling referenced ), on Rotten Tomatoes, which aggregates reviews. It lies on the (shrinking number of) companies that hire critics.

But companies aren’t going to hire more critics if aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes keep cutting the legs out from under the critics who craft reviews. Media companies, for better or worse, make their decisions based on traffic — and when audiences rely on a simple, flawed score instead of actual reviews, it cuts down on the number of critics who will likely be hired in the future.

Ask most critics about what they wish audiences would do when it comes to movies and they’ll give you a similar answer: They wish audiences would read more critics instead of relying on aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes, which serve up imperfect data that strips out the individuality of each critic’s experience with the art and tends to flatten the craft of criticism altogether.

Instead, critics wish that audiences would locate a few film writers to read consistently: a few whose taste seems to match their own, and a few who consistently run contrary to their instincts in order to help expand their palate.

And just as importantly, while diversity is absolutely something that will improve not just the craft of criticism but the overall dialogue around a film, the idea that diversifying criticism will help prop up mediocre studio fare is just another way of making critics de facto marketers. The best reason to diversify criticism is so that when Hollywood puts out movies for women, or movies for people of color, it doesn’t get lazy. The movie business can’t be allowed to commodify diversity for its own ends.

What’s needed, in the end, is more mixed reviews.

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The importance of film criticism

By Corey Fischer | Nov 17 2015

“The nature of film criticism is to enlighten and enrich one’s experience with the art of film, not to interpret film for them.”

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Tv/streaming, collections, great movies, chaz's journal, contributors, movie critics: pros and cons.


Nathan Lee.

Yesterday, Nathan Lee sent out an e-mail to colleagues in which he announced:

In great Village Voice tradition, I was abruptly laid off today for "economic reasons." My employment at the paper ends immediately: someone else, alas, will be tasked with specifying the precise shade of periwinkle frosting atop the cupcakes in " My Blueberry Nights ." And so I am, as they say, "looking for work," though presumably not as a staff film critic as such jobs no longer appear to exist.
On certain homophobic but ostensibly (and patronizingly) pro-gay reactions to " Brokeback Mountain ": "If I hear one more straight critic complain that 'Brokeback Mountain' isn't particularly gay, I'm gonna spit on my hand, lube up my c---, and f--- him in the b---." On " Transformers ": "Director Michael Bay never met a rhetorical apocalypse he didn't love. Dude could film a round of Jenga with greater shock and awe than the collapse of the World Trade Center. There are mini-robots hiding inside his mega-robots. His lens flares have lens flares. He evidently controls the magic hour at a flick of a switch, and flips it willy-nilly for 'poetic effect.' In what may constitute the zaniest authorial signature in contemporary cinema, he has a habit of arresting an action set piece in order to indulge outlandishly backlit, monumentally pointless romantic interludes." On " Zodiac : "... 'Zodiac' is the most information-packed procedural since 'JFK,' though far more restrained when it comes to theorizing.... The result is an orgy of empiricism, a monumental geek fest of fact-checking, speculation, deduction, code breaking, note taking, forensics, graphology, fingerprint analysis, warrant wrangling, witness testimony, phone calls, news reports. 'I felt like I was stuck in a filing cabinet for three hours,' complained one viewer. Exactly!" On " "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry ": "Tremendously savvy in its stupid way, 'I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry' is as eloquent as 'Brokeback Mountain,' and even more radical. 'The gay cowboy movie' liberated desires latent in the classic western, and made them palpable (and palatable) by channeling them into the strictures of another genre, romantic tragedy. Progressive values were advanced by a retreat to a traditional mode of storytelling, the love that dare not speak its name rendered intelligible through the universal language of the upscale weepy. [...]
"Gay themes won't deter the [Adam] Sandler cult, who can rely on their man not to be a fag. And that, precisely, is the canny maneuver here. Our p---y-loving men's men are New York City firefighters to boot, the very embodiment of all-American heroism (and object of gay fetishism). Sandler's womanizing bachelor Chuck Levine reluctantly agrees to play the homo husband of his buddy Larry Valentine to help secure pension benefits for Larry's kids—one of whom, a flaming little 'mo named Eric (Cole Morgan), likes to practice numbers from Pippin' in an outfit inspired by 'Flashdance.' Oh, snap! Chuck and Larry is the first movie to effectively hijack that all-purpose justification for right-wing bigotry, 'protecting the children,' and redeploy it as a weapon of the homosexual intifada." On " Chop Shop ": "You come away from 'Chop Shop' with a mood, the voluptuous sum of its fine-tuned parts: the way a rundown patch of Queens is always flooded with mud, no matter how recently it rained; the frightful gusto of a junkyard pit bull gnawing on his favorite toy, a giant steel car jack; flocks of pigeons, rice and beans, a plastic-wrapped sneaker sample and castaway flip-flop floating down a rain-slicked street; hot dogs marinated in lighter fluid, smoking from a sidewalk BBQ; the huge, muffled, incantatory chant of "LET'S GO, METS!" that spills out into the parking lot of Shea Stadium, where a 12-year-old boy, dodging the eye of security, pries off hubcaps with a screwdriver. [...] "All this is imagined by Ramin Bahrani , the acclaimed writer-director of " Man Push Cart " (2006), though 'Chop Shop' derives much of its value from the sense of being found, not made."

In a thread at girish 's a few weeks back, I commented that nearly all of the movie criticism I read these days is in books or on the web -- written by movie bloggers or by paid critics (I'm trying to avoid using the word "professional" in this context) writing for print publications. It wasn't long ago that you couldn't read what other critics were saying outside your own town, unless you subscribed to number of nationally available papers and magazine by mail, and that could be pretty expensive. Papers could always run syndicated reviews off the wires, but their editorship and/or readership preferred original writing, local perspectives, and in-house accountability.

Matt Zoller Seitz speaks for a lot of us when he writes at The House Next Door :

I find these days that I'm more likely to find lively writing and original viewpoints on blogs than in print outlets. At the same time, though, it's important to acknowledge that the idea of criticism-as-profession (as opposed to vocation or hobby) has a lot of merit. There's no way that a blogger who isn't independently wealthy can cover the full spectrum of current releases as diligently as somebody who's getting paid to do it, much less be able to get newsworthy film people on the phone for thinkpieces, features, obituaries and the like, or cover local, regional, national or international film festivals, as film critics for large and even medium-sized papers have traditionally been encouraged to do (depending on the outlet). What we're seeing here is the passing of a notable and vibrant phase of movie writing. It'll be replaced by something else, yes, but something very different. I think we're fast approaching the point where criticism will become, for the most part, a devotion rather than a job.

Not that one excuses the other, that's just the way it is and the way it has always been, though the average level of competence and watchability in movies seems to have declined noticeably since the mid-1990s or so. Or maybe it's my patience that has declined. But while the best movies seem as great as ever, and the horrible ones just as horrible, the mediocrity bar has fallen pretty low. It seems to me a movie used to have to be significantly better before it could be considered mediocre. (And I've always been somewhat hyper-averse to cinematic ineptitude , deriving little or no pleasure from badness for its own sake.)

In the twilight of what Matt calls "the era of newspapers and magazines" (and network television broadcasting, too), the relationship between art/entertainment and "the press" is changing. Arts criticism in general-circulation newspapers and magazines is a centuries-old tradition, because the arts were considered to be matters of cultural significance. Reviews were often a form of journalistic analysis, reporting on an event that had taken place because the event itself was considered worthy of coverage.


Lee: Eye wide open.

Mainstream movie (and television) reviewing grew out of that tradition. A metropolitan daily newspaper had a music critic (and, later, a pop music critic, maybe a jazz critic), a theater critic, a book critic, a dance critic, a visual arts critic (painting, sculpture)... They would review performances or exhibitions regardless of whether their readers would later have an opportunity to experience the works for themselves. Because film and television were pre-recorded (as they used to say), the custom eventually became to provide the critic with an opportunity to see the "show" before it became available to the general public, so that the review could appear on the day of its premiere. This, too, wasn't all that far removed from the showbiz ritual of reviewing the opening night of Broadway shows for the next morning's paper.

From the Vienna newspaper Der Freimütige , September 11, 1806: "Recently there was given the overture to Beethoven's opera 'Fidelio,' and all impartial musicians and music lovers were in perfect agreement that never was anything as incoherent, shrill, chaotic and ear-splitting produced in music. The most piercing dissonances clash in a really atrocious harmony, and a few puny ideas only increase the disagreeable and deafening effect." (Thanks to Nicholas Slonimsky's invaluable " Lexicon of Musical Invective .")

What has changed? The expectations of the audience, for one thing. The more people have become accustomed to approaching art and entertainment as consumers (trying to get the optimal return on their investment of leisure time and money), the more they've come to think of reviews as buying guides. (And DVDs have made paramount the idea of movies or TV shows as not only products, but possessions that take up shelf space in your life.)

At the same time (and probably as a consequence), criticism itself has been subjected to cost-benefit analysis. I assume that's why some reviewers have been up in arms about the studios realizing they had nothing to gain by screening certain films in advance. Then it's up to the publications to make the call: Is it worth sending someone to see a movie once it opens, so that the review can run over the weekend or early the next week? (In most cases, personally, I don't think so. Unless it proves to be something out of the ordinary, why give it undue attention? Why not just wait to review the DVD release, when there's less time pressure?) Reviews used to represent the first independent evaluations of a movie outside the studio's marketing apparatus. If that is still true, how much does it matter -- to readers, or to the publications who are trying to sell advertising? I don't know.

From my experience as an art-house exhibitor in the '80s, I can say that good reviews could sometimes help get ticket-buyers in the door on opening weekend -- but only if they made the movies sound like something enough people wanted to see. Films that don't have huge ad budgets rely on reviews to reach their potential audience. After Friday's entertainment section was in the recycling bin, though, only word-of-mouth (and more advertising, highlighting the good review quotes) can keep it going.


When people say that a big Hollywood release is "critic-proof," I think they're assuming the critics have a lot more power than they really do. " Transformers ," for example, isn't so much "critic-proof" as "critic-irrelevant." By opening day, when people read the reviews of "Transformers," most of them have already decided whether they're going to see it or not. They may read the review for its entertainment value, or to give them an idea of what to expect (hey, if you can talk about the movie before anybody's seen it, you may have even more cultural currency ), but they already know they're going to see it. That's about the only social aspect of moviegoing that's left -- being able to talk about a movie when the ads are still on TV and all over the web. (Even if you never set foot in a theater and simply watched a bittorrent download.)

I've always thought that the "influence" of reviews on box office returns was greatly overestimated. More significantly, I never really understood why people would expect there to be any correlation between the two. A movie succeeds or fails because of three things: 1) the expectations created by the marketing campaign; 2) whether those expectations are persuasive enough to get people to fork over their time and money, rather than spend it on something else; 3) whether people feel they got their time and money's worth. A movie's success in theaters used to depend on word-of-mouth, which might even have a chance of overcoming a bad marketing campaign. That's no longer the case because movies open on so many screens. If they don't hit right away, they're replaced by the next ad campaign. Word-of-mouth doesn't really figure into the equation until the DVD release.

So, why do people read movie reviews anymore (assuming, of course, that they do)? As the founding editor of RogerEbert.com I can tell you that a lot of people still read Roger for guidance and suggestions -- but a lot of them also read him because they enjoy reading HIM . Some of the most popular reviews are also some of the most negative ones, and I'm pretty sure it's not because there were so many people anticipating " Basic Instinct 2 " and dying to know whether Roger thought it was any good. (Would people have bought two Ebert anthologies, called "I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie" and "Your Movie Sucks," if they were only interested in recommendations?)

Nathan Lee says the Voice cut him loose "for economic reasons." We can only assume we know (or someone at Village Voice Media knows) what that means. Is the Voice , which already shares reviews and reviewers with some of its other publications such as the L.A.Weekly , going to scale back its film coverage? Or just rely more on in-house syndication and freelancers? Did they determine that advertising sales were not sufficient to cover the salaries of two staff movie critics (J. Hoberman remains)? Did they feel that having a critical voice identified with the Village Voice was no longer something of value -- to the readers or the bottom line?

I'm afraid that the demise of writing and reporting for newspapers and magazines may be attributable to nothing so much as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once readers start feeling that a publication offers no particular personality, that one review or reviewer is interchangeable with any other, then the next step is inevitable: They realize there's no reason to pick up that particular publication. The web has more than its share of ignorant, inarticulate movie bloggers -- but it also offers strong, distinctive personalities and points of view. I'm overwhelmed by how many smart, vigorous, thoughtful ones I find, simply by jumping from one blogroll to another (and I add new ones to my right column whenever I can).

In print, I still read the New York Times because A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis (and Matt Zoller Seitz) mean a lot to me. And because I can get it delivered to my doorstep (not inexpensively) and I like the smell of the newsprint while I'm drinking my coffee. The bottom-liners and quantifiers are never going to understand how to weigh any of those things, and it may be the death of them.

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The audience at the Los Angeles premiere of Barbie, that all-important opening weekend.

Who needs film critics when studios can be sure influencers will praise their films?

A shift from knowledgable writers to those simply in search of free tickets devalues cinema – and audience experience

“F eel free to share your positive feelings about the film on Twitter after the screening,” said the usher introducing the London press preview screening of Barbie , Greta Gerwig’s Mattel-produced film. The embargo for reviews, however, would not be lifted until two days later, closer to the film’s release. The audience generally didn’t bat an eyelid and it wasn’t the first time my colleagues and I had heard such directives, yet we were left feeling censored: if they won’t allow for our negative reactions, why should they get our positive ones?

The purpose of this strategy barely needs specifying: in addition to the film’s omnipresent marketing campaign, positive reactions on social media were to seal the deal and ensure that the most dubious potential spectators would be persuaded to turn up to the cinema on the opening weekend, the most crucial days for a film’s box office success. The fact that the audience at this preview screening consisted mostly of influencers was another blatant marketing strategy, which would not have been as insulting were it not for the fact that it meant many film critics were unable to see the film before its release. The phenomenon occurred in other cities as well. A few days before the film’s release, Parisian writers were dumbfounded to see some colleagues sharing glowing takes on the film on Twitter, after being told there would be no advance screenings for any of the press. Moreover, what were presented as exclusive interviews with the cast turned out to be prerecorded and pre-approved by the studio. Ahead of its release, the film was to be seen only through pink-tinted glasses.

The studio was keen to control the pre-release narrative for Barbie.

While it is customary for film studios to try to control the narrative by organising advance screenings if they believe in a film or avoiding them if they don’t, the methods employed for the release of Barbie were more extreme. They are symptomatic of a trend that has been evolving over the past few years and that concerns not only the film criticism profession, but culture at large. If all discussion of a film’s merits before release is left to influencers, whose driving ambition is to receive free merchandise by speaking well of the studio’s products, what can we expect the film landscape to look like? Where will engaging, challenging and, if not completely unbiased then at least impartial conversation about cinema take place, and how is the audience to think critically of what is being sold to it?

It isn’t news that many people perceive critics as pessimistic writers and frustrated artists who never like anything – thanks, Ratatouille . If critics can seem harsh, however, it is because they love cinema and want what is best for it. They want it to be as artful and life-changing as it can be, rather than a purely commercial enterprise meant to make us buy more things. But even that cliche has changed lately. As the writers and actors’ strike began – in an attempt to get streamers and studios to remunerate workers properly – and cast and crew found themselves unable to promote their work, many wondered whether film critics continuing to write reviews would be crossing the picket line, further evidence that the difference between critics and PRs is blurring in the public consciousness. Somehow, we have gone to the other end of the spectrum: a critic is now perceived as someone who loves every film, automatically and uncritically.

More worrying still, some critics see themselves that way, avoiding ruffling any feathers (internet backlash against unpopular opinions doesn’t help) and instead choosing to generate bloated excitement for any new release. The studios are partly responsible, inundating young, broke writers with extravagant film merchandise that they otherwise could never afford and taking off their mailing lists those who review their films negatively. But the problem runs deeper still: in a climate in which the film industry is already struggling and streamers (yes, them again) have worked hard to make films appear about as worthwhile as a YouTube or a TikTok video, letting you watch thousands of them for a small subscription fee rather than paying the price of a cinema ticket for each one, it is tempting for film lovers to want to promote cinema at all cost. Why discourage more people from going to the movie theatre with an unfavourable review?

Christopher Nolan’s three-hour biopic, Oppenheimer, seems the polar opposite of Barbie.

If the internet has paved the way for the devaluation of cinema via streaming platforms, it has also done the same for film criticism. The democratising effect is undeniable, but so is the cheapening one, literally and figuratively. With so many more people writing about cinema online, fees for reviews have fallen to shockingly low levels and the expertise supposedly required of film critics has been forgotten – knowledge of the film history and good writing skills are less and less valued. From typos and poor grammar to evident misunderstandings about what certain words mean (the Cambridge Dictionary defines “bombastic” as “forceful and confident in a way that is intended to be very powerful and impressive, but may not have much real meaning or effect”, which would mean that Barbie is pompous rather than remarkable) and superficial readings of complex films, the quality of film writing has dwindled. It is hard to recommend people read more criticism when it so often makes for a tedious or actively infuriating experience.

This low quality, mass availability and low interest has in turn hurt publications and encourages editors to pay their writers ever less – and the vicious cycle continues. Recently, a fellow critic tweeted their review of a film newly released in US theatres, but rather than letting their words speak for themselves, they also attached a clip from that film – a clip they had illegally recorded off the online screener with which the studio had provided them (the tweet has since been taken down). They did so to encourage people to see the film because, they said: “No one was going to read my review anyway, regardless of how well I think it’s written.” When I asked why bother writing a review at all, their answer was brutal and simple: for $50. If critics themselves perceive their work as worthless and pointless and fall into marketing strategies to draw people towards films they love, what place does film criticism hold in today’s culture?

Whether a fact or a myth, we used to believe that critics could make or break a film: Pauline Kael is said to have rescued the now-classic Bonnie and Clyde and thus encouraged Hollywood to reinvent itself. The support of critics meant a lot to young Quentin Tarantino, and the French critics (and film-makers) at the Cahiers du Cinéma contributed to Alfred Hitchcock being taken seriously in his homeland and in Hollywood. It is difficult to imagine such impactful film criticism today, which doesn’t mean that good writing doesn’t exist, coming from established and newer voices. Rather than hype machines, these writers are craftspeople, bringing together their personal experience, film knowledge, critical thinking and enthusiasm to write articles that challenge perspectives and reflect on today’s world.

In a recent interview with Sight and Sound, the film-maker Paul Schrader (himself a former film critic) said : “There was a period when film criticism blossomed, but that was because audiences wanted better films.” This article won’t open this other can of worms, but in the weeks after one of the biggest box office weekends in a long time , it is worth wondering what film audiences want today. Oppenheimer , a three-hour long biopic directed by the beloved and bankable Christopher Nolan, seems the polar opposite of Barbie, which despite its creativity remains fundamentally an ad for a toy. It is precisely in such complex and seemingly paradoxical circumstances that film critics can help us understand what the film industry is going through – leaving it to Twitter can make for baffling and absurd takes . This critic would say that at least one thing seems clear: spectators want films that their makers take seriously, rather than those that are unceremoniously dumped online and copied from a previous version. It doesn’t seem a coincidence that neither Barbie nor Oppenheimer is a franchise film or a sequel, and that they both feature countless actors whose talents are put front and centre (and in the case of Barbie, who were treated like children attending the best summer camp ever ) – and, finally, that both films have made for some of the best film writing this year. Perhaps the strikes will result in greater fairness for film-makers and, therefore, in greater films – and greater film criticism.

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The following sources will help you locate film reviews and criticism. In order to find a film review, you need to know the film title and film release date. If you do not have this information, consult either Halliwell's Film Guide , the Oxford Companion to Film , the International Directory of Films and Filmmakers (Vol. 1) or the Motion Picture Guide .

What are the differences between film reviews and film criticism?

Film reviews are written for the general public by usually journalists or other non-academics and appear in newspapers, magazines or online around the time the film is released in theatres. Their purpose is to describe the plot, characters, director, etc in order to help determine whether or not a film should be seen.

Film criticism is the study, interpretation and evaluation of a film with regard to issues such as historical context, theory or technical analysis. Film criticism is written by academics and is published in books or scholarly journals. It may sometimes address a specific apsect of a ilm or focus on the work of a particul director or genre. Critical reviews may be published many years after a film is released.

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What Does a Film Critic Do?

Find out what a film critic does, how to get this job, and what it takes to succeed as a film critic.

film critics purpose

Film critics are responsible for writing and publishing their opinions on movies, television shows, and other forms of media. They’re often tasked with covering the latest releases in theaters or at home, as well as reviewing older titles that may be getting a Blu-ray release or airing on a streaming service.

Film critics typically have a strong knowledge of film history and theory. This helps them to better understand how certain films fit into the larger context of cinema as a whole. It also gives them insight into what makes certain movies more successful than others—and why some succeed despite being poorly made.

Film Critic Job Duties

Film critics typically have a wide range of responsibilities, which can include:

  • Analyzing the social and cultural significance of film through reviews and critiques
  • Reviewing the box office performance of new releases, tracking statistics such as audience demographics and popularity with critics
  • Providing feedback to producers or directors regarding the strengths and weaknesses of their film
  • Reviewing screenplays and scripts and offering feedback on plot development, character development, dialogue, and pacing
  • Evaluating acting performances and how they contribute to the success or failure of a film
  • Writing articles about specific actors or directors to help promote their work to new audiences
  • Reviewing film festivals to identify promising new directors and actors
  • Reviewing DVDs and other home entertainment releases for content and quality
  • Identifying trends in the film industry through interviews with directors, producers, actors, and other industry professionals

Film Critic Salary & Outlook

Film critics are typically paid on an hourly basis, and their salaries can vary depending on a number of factors.

  • Median Annual Salary: $62,500 ($30.05/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $122,000 ($58.65/hour)

The employment of film critics is expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

An increase in the number of online-only publications and digital platforms will create more jobs for film critics. However, the growth of online streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, may reduce the demand for traditional print media, such as newspapers and magazines, and limit the need for film critics.

Film Critic Job Requirements

Film critics typically need to have the following background:

Education: Film critics need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to get started in this field. A bachelor’s degree in film, television, English or another related field can provide the critical thinking and writing skills needed to be a film critic. Some aspiring film critics choose to pursue a master’s degree in film studies to further their education and increase their employment opportunities.

Training & Experience: Film critics typically have a background in film studies or a related field. They may have worked as an intern for a film critic or in a film-related position. They may have worked in a movie theater or as a projectionist. They may have worked as a film festival organizer or as a film distributor.

Film critics may also have a background in writing. They may have worked as a journalist or as a copywriter. They may have worked in advertising or public relations.

Certifications & Licenses: While certifications are not common for film critics, they may be required by certain publications. For publications that do not have specific requirements, candidates can submit a portfolio of their best work to apply for an open position.

Film Critic Skills

Film critics need the following skills in order to be successful:

Research: A film critic needs to research topics and films they’re reviewing. This can include learning about the director, producer and actors involved in the film. It can also include learning about the film’s production company, the film’s budget and any other information that can help the critic write a thorough review.

Writing: A film critic uses their writing skills to create reviews of movies. They use their writing skills to convey their thoughts and opinions about a film. They also use their writing skills to communicate with others in the film industry, such as movie producers and directors.

Knowledge of film industry: A film critic needs to have a thorough understanding of the film industry to be able to write about films effectively. They need to know the different roles in the film industry, such as directors, producers, actors and screenwriters, to be able to write reviews that are informative and interesting to their audience. They also need to know the different roles in the film production process, such as pre-production, production and post-production, to be able to write reviews that are detailed and informative.

Ability to analyze films: Analyzing films is the ability to break down a film’s elements and explain how they work together to create a certain mood or message. Film critics use this skill to write their reviews, which are often based on the critic’s opinion of the film’s strengths and weaknesses.

Critical thinking: Critical thinking is the ability to analyze information and form conclusions. Film critics use critical thinking to form opinions about films they review. They use their critical thinking skills to analyze the film’s plot, characters, cinematography and other elements to form an opinion about the film’s quality.

Film Critic Work Environment

Film critics work in a variety of settings, including print media (newspapers, magazines, and journals), broadcast media (television and radio), and online media (websites and blogs). They may also work as freelance critics, writing for multiple outlets. Most film critics work full time, and their work hours may include evenings and weekends to attend film screenings and premieres. Some film critics travel to film festivals around the world to see new films and meet with filmmakers. The work of a film critic can be stressful because of the tight deadlines and the need to be constantly aware of new films and developments in the film industry.

Film Critic Trends

Here are three trends influencing how film critics work. Film critics will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

The Rise of the Digital Critic

The rise of the digital critic is a trend that is quickly changing the film criticism industry. With the increasing popularity of online publications, more and more critics are turning to the internet as a way to share their opinions with a wider audience.

This shift has led to an increased demand for film critics who can write well-crafted reviews that are both informative and entertaining. As more and more people turn to the internet for information about movies, critics who can create content that meets this demand will be in high demand.

More Focus on Diversity

As the film industry becomes more diverse, so too will the critics who cover it. This means that film critics need to be aware of the different perspectives and experiences that come from being part of a minority group.

By understanding the challenges that minorities face in the film industry, critics can provide a more accurate representation of what is happening in the world of cinema. In addition, they can help to promote films that feature diverse casts and crews, which is important for creating a more inclusive industry.

A Greater Emphasis on Personal Opinions

In recent years, there has been a growing emphasis on personal opinions in the media. This is especially true in the world of film criticism, where readers are looking for reviewers who have a unique perspective on the latest releases.

As a film critic, you can capitalize on this trend by developing your own voice and style. By doing so, you will be able to connect with readers and establish yourself as an authority in your field.

How to Become a Film Critic

A career as a film critic can be both rewarding and challenging. It’s important to have a strong knowledge of cinema, but you also need to be able to write well and have a keen eye for detail. You should also be prepared to see a lot of movies and be able to write about them quickly.

To get started in this field, it’s best to start writing reviews for local newspapers or online publications. This will help you build your portfolio and gain experience. You can also volunteer to work on film festival committees or serve on juries for film competitions. This will give you the opportunity to meet filmmakers and other professionals in the industry.

Advancement Prospects

Film critics may advance in their careers by writing for more prestigious publications or by working as a film critic for a major news outlet. As they gain more experience, film critics may also be able to teach film courses at a college or university. Some film critics may also choose to produce their own films or write screenplays.

Film Critic Job Description Example

At [CompanyX], we’re looking for a highly-qualified film critic to join our team. As a film critic, you will be responsible for watching and writing reviews for new release films. Your reviews will help our readers make informed decisions about which films are worth their time and money. In addition to writing reviews, you will also be responsible for conducting interviews with filmmakers, actors, and other industry professionals. The ideal candidate will have a deep love and knowledge of film, as well as strong writing and research skills.

Duties & Responsibilities

  • Write and publish reviews of new release films in a timely, professional manner
  • Engage with readers in the comments section of website or blog to discuss film-related topics
  • Attend press screenings and festivals to view new films before they are released to the public
  • Conduct interviews with filmmakers, actors, and other industry professionals to gain insights into the filmmaking process
  • Maintain up-to-date knowledge of current films, industry news, and trends
  • Keep abreast of new technologies and developments in the field of film criticism, such as new platforms for viewing and discussing films
  • Write thoughtful, well-reasoned essays on classic films and filmmakers
  • Speak publicly about films at events such as panel discussions, Q&As, and lectures
  • Serve as a jury member for film festivals and award ceremonies
  • Teach courses on film history, theory, and criticism at the college level
  • Work with editors and publishers to develop ideas for books, anthologies, and other publications
  • Consult with film production companies on script development and other aspects of pre-production

Required Skills and Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s degree in film studies, communications, or related field
  • 3-5 years professional writing experience, with a strong portfolio of work
  • Exceptional research, writing, and editing skills
  • Ability to work independently and meet deadlines in a fast-paced environment
  • Thorough knowledge of film history and theory
  • Familiarity with different genres and film movements

Preferred Skills and Qualifications

  • Master’s degree in film studies or related field
  • Experience teaching film courses at the college level
  • Fluency in more than one language
  • Working knowledge of design software, such as Photoshop or InDesign

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How do critics go about producing a film analysis?

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When it comes to writing film analysis, there are several ways a critic may go about planning and writing a critique. Depending on the publication they are writing for, each critic has their own set of goals they will need to cover, and have their own writing style too. In general, though, there are several components that are considered important to include in a critique.

Before watching the film

Before a critic watches the movie there are several things they should do. All critics will have different criteria on what information they’ll want to know before watching the movie.

In general, a critic will avoid other reviews and will only carry out minimal research – assuming they are already familiar with the cast and director before this movie. If the movie is a direct sequel, they normally watch the film prior in advance if they are unfamiliar with the franchise. If the critic is unfamiliar with the cast and/or director of the movie they are writing an analysis on, they will normally undertake filmography research into their previous work.

Avoiding exposure for movies can be difficult, especially when it’s concerning a popular release that has a lot of marketing effort behind it. When possible, they’ll go into a movie blind to avoid any preconceived judgements and allow for the critic to go in with an unbiased background.

Critics debate whether to watch the film’s trailers, as it can give context to the movie, but it can sometimes also contain spoilers, so every critic will have their own process regarding this. 

In general, a critic should remain unbiased by any marketing, trailers or reviews before watching the movie they are providing analysis on to give their authentic opinion, so the review readers can trust what they’re reading is accurate.

While watching the movie

To critique a film, you only need to watch it once, but some critics prefer watching the movie a few times to ensure they get all the details they’ll need for their analysis.

It’s best to watch a movie in its entirety, with no distractions, to fully understand what the director intended to create. When you constantly pause, and replay movie scenes, you take yourself out of the movie and will lose the way the film was meant to be enjoyed. Critics also believe that this can affect how you write about the movie.

When it comes to note-taking while watching, once again, many critics have different opinions on this. For some, this is a vital part of their process, to ensure they have notes on key moments throughout the movie. Other critics will only jot down some keywords as they watch the movie to ensure they don’t miss anything important in the movie. This can help them when it comes to writing plot outlines, analysing themes and critiquing the acting and cinematography.

After watching the movie

After watching the movie is where the majority of work gets done. For those critics who don’t take notes while watching a movie, as soon as they finish viewing the film, they note down all of their thoughts and then decide what is necessary to convey to the audience.

Most critics aim to answer several questions of filmmaking when it comes to writing their reviews. This includes:

  • Plot: What the movie is about? How did the setting affect the storyline? Was it believable?
  • Themes: What was the goal of the movie? Was it created to entertain the audience, or bring awareness to something? Did symbolism play a strong role in the movie?
  • Acting and characterisation: How were the characters portrayed? Did the actors make the characters come to life? Did the characters have complex personalities? Were there stereotypes that the characters fell into? Did the characters add to the storyline of the movie?
  • Direction: Did the director pace the film well? How did the direction of this movie go in comparison to other works by the director? Was the storytelling complex? Was the conflict of the movie attention-grabbing? 
  • Score: Did the music choice support the mood of the movie? Did it add value to the scene? Was the music cue timed well for the scenes they were in?
  • Cinematography: How did things like colouring and lighting affect the tone of the movie? Were the shots effective in telling the story? Were sequences coherently shot? Were scenes and actors framed well?
  • Production design: Did the sets feel lived in? Were the sets believable for the story and the characters? Were the costumes suitable for the characters?
  • Special effects: Were the effects believable? Do they align with the era, tone, and genre of the movie? Were they well integrated into the story?
  • Editing: Was the editing clean? How were the transitions in sequences?
  • Dialogue: Were the conversations believable? Did they develop the plot? Did the dialogue match the tone of the movie and the characters?

Writing the review

Once a critic has noted down all their thoughts, they write the review. Like with any writer, every critic will have their own unique process for doing this. Some will prefer to just grab a cup of coffee and write everything down in one go, others will create a plan for each paragraph and go through step by step what they’re going to include.

The main aim of film analysis and critique is to do more than summarise what happened but to convey to the audience how the movie resonates with the critic. The audience should feel connected to the writer, as the writer aims to gain the trust of their audience so that they return to read other work. That’s why several critics will put their voice into their work.

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The 12 Best Movie Critics of All Time, Ranked 

Many thumbs up.

Film critics are tasked with honesty, — and they are often seen as responsible for informing moviegoers of whether they should part with their hard-earned money or not. This has been the case from the prime of TV's Siskel & Ebert to the rise of Rotten Tomatoes.

Through the decades, there have been many movie critics who have made a particularly significant impact in the world of film, and each of these are worthy of mention. Each of these critics have left a lasting impression on moviegoers across the world, and an influence on film itself.

12 Joe Morgenstern

Joe Morgenstern - Film Critic

Writing as a film critic for almost twenty years at Newsweek, Joe Morgenstern made a name for himself as an authority in film. He went on to write for The Wall Street Journal for almost another thirty years. Morgenstern won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2005 for his work in film and television criticism.

RELATED: 10 Underrated Movies Recommended by Gene Siskel One of his claims to fame during his tenure at Newsweek is that he wrote a negative opinion of the film Bonnie and Clyde , but after careful consideration, published a retraction in a subsequent issue of the magazine. Which served to work as a great marketing opportunity for the film, noting that it caused a renowned film critic to change his opinion on the quality of the film.

11 Mark Kermode

Mark Kermode - film critic (1)

An widely published critic, musician, radio and podcast host, Mark Kermode is a name many film buffs are familiar with. Kermode began his film critic writing career in Manchester's City Life magazine, then moving on to Time Out and NME in London. He has also written for The Independent , Vox , Empire , Flicks among others.

RELATED: 12 of Gene Siskel's Favorite Movies Ever In addition to his truly prolific career in writing, Kermode is also a double bass player and has played in various rockabilly bands. Kermode became chief film critic for The Observer in 2013. In 2014, he named The Babadook the best film of the year. His favorite film is The Exorcist .

10 Andrew Sarris

Andrew Sarris - Film Critic

Andrew Sarris was a lover of film. Writing for the magazine, Film Culture , and then eventually moving to write for The Village Voice . Some regarded his writing as elitist, but was undeniably one of the most impactful and respected in his field. Eventually, he wrote for The New York Observer and then taught as a professor of film at Columbia University until he retired in 2011, a year before his death.

Sarris was married to fellow film critic Molly Haskell . Sarris claimed that for thirty years, if anyone were to ask what his favorite film was, his answer was unvaried: The Earrings of Madame de... , by Max Ophuls . Sarris consistently referred to this film as the most perfect film ever made.

9 James Agee

James Agee - Film Critic

James Agee was an accomplished novelist, journalist, as well as a poet, screenwriter, and film critic. In the 1940s, he became one of the most widely known film critics as he wrote for Time Magazine . He wrote for Fortune , The Nation , and Life Magazine , as well.

RELATED: Behind the Scenes: 10 Great Films About Filmmaking That Aren't ENTOURAGE In 1958, he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family . Additionally, he is well-known as the screenwriter for such revered film classics as The African Queen and The Night of the Hunter .

8 André Bazin

Andre Bazin - Film Critic

In his unseasonably short life, André Bazin was nevertheless a prolific critic and theorist of film. As the co-founder of the film magazine Cahiers du cinema , he regularly would provide criticism and feedback on films of that era.

Bazin's passion for realism often conflicted with other film theorists of his time. The influential voice was silenced to soon, when Bazin died of leukemia at age 40 in 1958.

7 Molly Haskell

Molly Haskell

Author and feminist film critic, Molly Haskell has been active in the field since the 1960s. Writing for publications such as The New York Times , The Guardian, Esquire, and many others, she has established a legacy as one of the most influential of all critics. Her most famous book is the searing, incisive From Reverance to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies .

On top of reviewing film and stage for decades, she is also an accomplished author with over a half dozen books written on the topic of film and film criticism. In 2019, she was the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow of the Year.

6 François Truffaut

Francois Truffaut - Film Critic

Not only was François Truffaut an esteemed and influential film critic, but he also was, of course, a director, screenwriter, producer and actor. He is regarded as one of the founders of the French New Wave, and remains to this day one of the greatest icons in the French film industry.

RELATED: 'The 400 Blows' and 9 More of the Best French New Wave Movies, According to IMDb His career in film speaks for itself. He served as a director to over twenty films, an actor in over fifteen films, and a producer to at least five. He has over a dozen written books credited to his name ( Hitchcock/Truffaut is an essential read for all fans of film).

5 Vincent Canby

Vincent Canby - Film Critic

Vincent Canby was an accomplished writer who served as the premier film critic for The New York Times from the late 1960s until the early 1990s, moving only then to be their main theater critic from 1994 until 2000, when he passed away. Before the Times , he wrote briefly for the Chicago Journal of Commerce , then another brief stint at Variety .

Canby was known to be a supporter of filmmakers with a specific style, such as Stanley Kubrick , Spike Lee , and Woody Allen . Additionally, he was known to have a highly negative view of films that were generally well received, such as Blazing Saddles , Rocky , Rain Man , among others. Whether you agree with his opinions or not, Canby was truly a master with words, and will forever remembered in the world of film and theater.

4 Leonard Maltin

Leonard Maltin

Film critic, published author and editor, podcast guest and host, noted television host... and Guinness World Record Holder?! Yes, Leonard Maltin holds the world record for the shortest movie review, which consists of his review of the 1948 film Isn’t It Romantic in which he merely stated: “No”.

RELATED: 9 Movies Roger Ebert Hated, But Audiences Loved

Voicing himself in South Park and The Simpsons (he also played himself in Gremlins 2 ) and writing or editing over 20 books, Maltin is not only accomplished, but he is beloved by all, being honored by the National Board of Review, the Telluride Film Festival, the Los Angeles City Council, and many others.

3 Gene Siskel

Gene Siskel

Most famous for being half of the duo of Siskel & Ebert , Gene Siskel has a very long history of providing the world with his opinion on film. He began his career writing for the Chicago Tribune in 1969. From there, he hosted a review program with Roger Ebert until his death in 1999.

In 1998, Siskel was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent immediate surgery to remedy the issue. Despite briefly returning to the show, in February 1999, he decided to take a leave of absence to allow himself to recover, only to pass away from complications 3 days later. His legacy will forever and always get two thumbs way up from friends and fans alike.

2 Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael

A critic from an earlier era than some of these others, Pauline Kael was one of the most influential film critics of her era. She was known as witty, biting, and being overtly opinionated, but still focused on getting her voice heard. She was known for regularly disagreeing with her contemporaries.

RELATED: Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Movie Critic’ Is Set in 1977, But It’s Not About Pauline Kael

Writing for The New Yorker for over twenty years, Kael created a lasting impression with critics of several generations. Despite a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease in the 1980s, she continued to write for New Yorker until 1991, when she announced her retirement.

1 Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

When it comes to movie critics, the one name that is recognizable above all else is the truly unforgettable and inspirational Roger Ebert . His career lasted nearly a half-century, and his impact has lasted long after his death in 2013. He paved the way for virtually every critic who's followed.

Whether he was writing for the Chicago Sun-Times or hosting his widely beloved television series sharing his thoughts on film, Ebert was a worldwide treasure. He was the first film critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, in 1975. While he may be gone, he will never be forgotten and will always be loved for what he brought to the world of film criticism.

NEXT: 15 Great Underrated Movies Recommended by Roger Ebert


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‘Bob Marley: One Love’ Review: Mostly Positive Vibes

This patchy biopic lauds the Marley of dormitory posters, a snapshot of a lifestyle hero who is always the coolest guy in the room.

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A man with a guitar sings passionately while swinging his hair around.

By Amy Nicholson

Bob Marley was an enigma, a fascinatingly flawed idealist as most interesting figures are. Born into poverty in Nine Mile, Jamaica, the young Marley had weak singing pipes but a stubborn drive to be heard. He forged himself into the voice of his island and beyond, belting reggae anthems that have become hymnals to the world’s downtrodden, as well as anyone who likes a good groove. He died in 1981 at the age of 36 before he had to witness his legacy undergo a tough cross-examination. Did Marley’s generosity to strangers balance out his dismissal of women? Did his own painful childhood pardon him for being a distant father? Did his sincere proclamations of peace and unity accomplish anything — and is it fair of us to expect that they should?

Such grappling is justified, although it wouldn’t be pleasant for anyone. Reinaldo Marcus Green’s patchy and unsatisfying biopic “Bob Marley: One Love” doesn’t even try. It lauds the Marley of dormitory posters, a snapshot of a lifestyle hero who is always the coolest guy in the room. At most, the movie takes his image from flat to lenticular. If you never got to see Marley move, Kingsley Ben-Adir is a fine simulacrum.

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The problem is the script, credited to Terence Winter, Frank E. Flowers, Zach Baylin and Green. Smartly, the writers avoid the standard birth-to-grave template to focus on two years in London, where Marley, a pacifist, survived a surge in election-year violence, even when gunmen shot up his house, injuring him and three others. But the film doesn’t have much to say about his time in exile. Was Marley feeling betrayed by his country? Was he homesick? How was he handling his ascension to international superstardom? When Marley and his buddies from the Wailers (who are presented as a doting throng, not as individuals) check out the Clash, we can’t even tell if they’re having fun. (For the curious, the real Marley vibed with punk rock, saying, “Punks are outcasts from society. So are the Rastas.” )

Occasionally, we see random flashbacks. The best involve Marley’s relationship with Rita, his wife and backup singer, who is played as a teen by Nia Ashi and in adulthood by a compelling Lashana Lynch, before their outside dalliances reroute their marriage into what’s portrayed onscreen as a chaste, tender loyalty. The rest are missed opportunities for insight into the man.

According to personal accounts in Roger Steffen’s first-rate biography “So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley,” the singer’s mother was uncomfortable that her son was half-white and, when she remarried, made the boy sleep underneath the house apart from her new family; here, she’s merely a blurry figure cradling young Marley to her bosom.

Instead, confoundingly, we’re given scenes about how Marley was totally right to insist on a minimalist album cover for “Exodus.” We also see the title track come together with Marley improvising lyrics while the other Wailers pound bongos and clank spoons against teacups. It’s a neat party trick, but there’s no enlightenment into his songcraft.

Yet, Ben-Adir, who was excellent as Malcolm X in “One Night in Miami,” taps into Marley’s essence. His first close-up comes as Marley is assaulted by flashbulbs. A reporter asks, “Do you really believe music can unify?” Eyes downcast, face filling the screen, Ben-Adir barely moves. He’s showing us an artist grounded by his quiet certainty of purpose, a man fueled by his resolute sense of self. In his concert scenes, Ben-Adir shuts his eyes just as Marley used to do, bouncing to his own beat with one hand held high like a charismatic preacher. His magnetism is the inverse of his contemporaries David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Mick Jagger who seduced the crowd below. Marley makes the crowd yearn to force a connection with him, to be inside that self-sufficient bliss.

If the movie succeeds at anything, it’s in capturing Marley’s lingering spell on fans. The wall-to-wall music makes you want to crank him up even louder on the way home. As “Get Up, Stand Up” blares, Green unspools a montage of Marley’s average day: morning jogs with his mates, afternoons noodling on the guitar, a soccer break, nearly always with a joint somewhere in the shot. It’s a teenager’s dream life. Who wouldn’t revere the adult who pulled it off?

What we don’t see are his failings, particularly the extramarital relationships. The former Miss World Cindy Breakspeare (Umi Myers), the most public of Marley’s other women and the mother of one of his children, sits in his studio unspeaking, unacknowledged and quite literally out of focus. Only through Lynch’s spine-deep performance as Rita do we see the complexity of loving a man who was harder to like the more you knew (or needed) him. Rita is the only character who pokes at Marley’s beatific image, forcing him to acknowledge the magical thinking that would ultimately lead to his early death.

After one brutal fight, Marley dances behind Rita onstage during “No Woman, No Cry” and puts a hand on her shoulder as if to nudge her forgiveness in front of the audience. The stoicism on Lynch’s face as she sings — and obeys — her husband’s plea to shed no tears is a staggering mix of irony, cruelty and acceptance. If “One Love” had a dozen more scenes with that power, it would be a worthy tribute to the icon and the man.

Bob Marley: One Love Rated PG-13 for brief language and violence and cumulus clouds of ganja. Running time: 1 hour 44 minutes. In theaters.

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