In my own small way, I am a filmmaker. I’ve slowly improved my craft and dedication to the art. The key to my development is constant criticism, first of self, and then of the world of cinema. In my opinion, there should be more filmmakers dedicated to film criticism; I’d even suggest that a purely intellectual (as opposed to practical) critic is at best pretentious and at worst totally useless to movie evolution. It’s true, though, that everyone’s a critic. But, art being subjective, whose criticism should you be listening to? Here are a few signs of worthy critics, standards I strive for.
1. They’re a cinephile
If a movie critic doesn’t love movies, why the bloody hell would you read or listen to them? If they love movies, they’ll praise the good things even in stuff they don’t like, they’ll show knowledge of the filmmaker’s point-of-view, and they’ll know a thing or two about movie history.
2. They’re optimistic
There’s many critics who like being prophets of the doom of popular cinema, if they don’t believe it’s already upon us. This is kind of the dark side of being a cinephile; it’s easy to get caught up in the glorious past, which makes the uncertain future rather disconcerting. These folks will usually end up vocally pining for silent films, obscure art movies, and the French New Wave. Not that those things are bad. I have a link to the Criterion Collection on this blog. The problem is, if they’re obsessed with the past, they’re not going to have insights into the frontier. Avoid them.
3. They know their limits
It’s easy, especially for young, arrogant kids like me, to talk about things I don’t understand with a false sense of authority. That’s stupid. Sadly, it’s hard to recognize your own arrogance until it’s too late. I try to rectify it when I see it. This lack of self-knowledge afflicts everyone to some degree, but when a critic has it and makes no attempts to change, it poisons their reviews. Instead of an honest, measured opinion, you’re getting an emotional reaction mixed with bullshit.
4. They’re broad-minded
Not everybody has to like every movie. A critic, though, shouldn’t let their recommendations rest solely on their personal taste. They need objective and subjective perspective.
5. They acknowledge their mistakes
6. They’re not bitter
If a film critic is still complaining about some film they didn’t like that came out in the 90s or something, it’s in your best interest to avoid them.
7. They’ve at least tried to make a film
A lot of film critics are actually average Joes & Janes who happened to take Film Studies in college, or have no pedigree besides vocabulary, snark, and automated spellcheck. They may hobnob at screenings and cite Fellini and Kubrick, but it doesn’t mean they can get inside any given film. If it’s insight you’re looking for, turn to the folks who actually work in the movie business, even if they are relatively unsuccessful.
8. They’re plugged in to moviemaking communities
This one doesn’t mean they get to chat with Spielberg or Del Toro, but simply that they hang around filmmaking communities, even local ones. I am a part of the Indiana Filmmaker’s Network.
9. They respond to readers
Even Roger Ebert, who’s got a massive readership, takes the time to talk to people. Even critics need critics.
Well, there you go. Unfortunately, I don’t have a list of recommended film critics at this time, but I’d be glad to compile one. Whatever you do, whoever you read, keep an open mind, and take time to reflect.