What movie would you have liked to review had you been a critic upon its initial release?
Probably “2001: A Space Odyssey.” One of the ultimate sci-fi movies and an enduring influence today, reviewing the film and interpreting Kubrick’s reading of Arthur C. Clarke’s novel, with its deliberate pacing, subtly menacing storyline and ambiguous ending, would have been quite a challenge back in 1968.
Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless” is both an engagingly wry drama and the film that forever altered postwar cinema as one of the seminal works of the French New Wave. With a lightweight, mobile camera and formal innovations that included jump cutting and actors directly addressing the camera, Godard opened the door to a whole new way of making movies. Filmmakers never looked back, adding the narrative and stylistic techniques of the New Wave to their moviemaking repertoire.
Romantic comedies are not always the favorites of movie critics, but they represent one of the most pervasive and enduring genres. Classic romcoms, screwball comedies and contemporary romance-hybrid forms continue to entertain audiences and challenge critics to relate to and broaden popular taste.
If people don’t want to become a film critic themselves, they’re usually curious about any good movies I’ve seen recently and can recommend. The challenge is that my tastes are so broad and inclusive that people really need to provide some guidance regarding their preferences for me to give a relevant response.
Aside from American independent film, I have a real interest in Asian cinema and have followed the work of contemporary filmmakers from China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia for more than a decade. I expect that Thailand and Vietnam will be the next countries to develop significant movie industries that will exert international influence.
As a critic who’s also a screenwriter, my approach to reviews is very narratively driven. I closely consider story structure, character development, pacing, reversals and genre elements at the same time I’m evaluating visual style, including the film’s cinematic grammar, as well as editing, scoring and production values.
Wine and food writer or critic.
Artists are a justifiably opinionated and talented group and it’s hard to conceive how any but a few critics have had a discernable impact on how filmmakers create movies. However, critics are influential with the moviegoing public and as the field has developed over the decades, critics have arguably done more to educate audiences and influence their tastes more than filmmakers even. Whether this process makes movies better, I’m not sure, but hope at least it makes the variety of films more diverse.
When a filmmaker contacts you directly to compliment your review, as happened with an Oscar-winning director regarding my review of his documentary last year, then you know that your critique is reaching one of your primary target audiences. Of course, when marketers use critics’ quotes, interviews or tweets to promote a movie, then critics may also have a noticeable impact.
Become an expert generalist in film, the arts, current events and whatever else interests you. Critics frequently have to draw on information beyond the scope of cinema, so the more you know and experience about the world the better prepared you’ll be. At the same time there’s a lot to be said for specializing in a particular area of film that can demonstrate your expertise. And don’t just watch movies – read fiction, nonfiction and periodicals, listen to great music, travel wherever you can, study a foreign language – whatever motivates you while you’re also developing your writing skills. And then find an audience – blog, tweet, write guest columns and pitch to publishers to get your work out and develop a following that can sustain you throughout your career.
Social media will increasingly influence how critics write and reach their audiences. With blogs and Twitter, self-publishing is easier than ever, but branding your work and retaining readers becomes more of a challenge in a multi-platform, four screen entertainment market. Writers who are prepared to gain some technical skills and employ multiple publishing technologies will work harder but likely develop better informed, more loyal readers.
Digital media are continuing to make film criticism more accessible and familiar to readers who now have the opportunity to explore decades of movie reviews, essays and books. Critic who embrace social media and digital platforms will see their audiences grow and gain insight from readers’ feedback.
In my view, film critics should entertain as well as inform their readers -- reviews should make both fun and worthwhile reading. Through their writing, critics help point the way toward new artists, genres and movements for audiences to pursue and appreciate, as well as deepen our familiarity with the history and diversity of cinema.
One major misconception is that most critics are frustrated creatives who prefer to criticize rather than originate material. Film criticism itself is a creative pursuit and many critics have also been active in filmmaking, screenwriting or producing. Essentially, we love movies and we’re addicted to contributing to the filmmaking process, rather than simply tearing it down as some mistakenly assume.
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