In a world dominated by social media, the phrase “everybody’s a critic” has taken on a new meaning. No longer are the roles of professional film critics limited to the Roger Eberts and A.O. Scotts of the world, but rather, anyone who wishes to share his or her opinion with the world may do so. Simply post your thoughts on a movie’s quality via Facebook and Twitter, or create a YouTube channel in the hopes that enough viewers will want to hear more. It’s a process that’s fast, accessible and virtually limitless, ensuring that all opinions on upcoming film releases can be heard and shared with like-minded thinkers. Yet this newfound “critic culture” has inadvertently created a divide between professionals and casual Internet critics, one where the former’s reviews are viewed as detrimental to the latter’s opinions.
The issues created by this divide are not limited to one side, but they do highlight a distinction in how newspaper/magazine critics grade films, compared to the average moviegoer. Whereas one side judges a film by its performances, narrative, and presentation, the other might view it in terms of pure entertainment value, or, in the case of fandom-based films, whether it successfully adapts a pop culture franchise. After all, one wouldn’t call the 2004 Punisher movie starring Thomas Jane a “good film”, but it still provided the best live-action version of Frank Castle prior to his appearance in the Marvel Netflix universe. Thus, the need to increase interest in film criticism lies not only in writing stronger critiques, but also ensuring that the current generation of readers views a critic’s commentary as worthwhile and relevant. After all, the role of a critic is to write about whether or not a film is worth viewing, even if readers won’t always agree.
In order to expand interest in, and appreciation of, film, we must ask ourselves an important question: what is the driving force behind film criticism? Obviously watching and discussing films with other people is immensely fun, but being a critic is more than just that. It is about understanding why a film performs as well as it does and what details and nuances separate the masterpieces from average and poor movies. If two films follow a similar plotline or exist in the same genre, what production qualities elevate one film above the other in regards to the medium as a whole? Audiences generally do not think about a movie on this level and instead view it primarily as a two-hour piece of escapism, with the film’s underlying subtext revealed through multiple screenings. It is the critic’s job to assist moviegoers to see something that they might not have noticed upon first viewing, enlightening them so that they can appreciate the film on a deeper level.
If the director’s role is to visualize how a screenplay translates into film, it is the role of the critic to describe that vision to audiences and why they should or should not go see it. This, in turn, ensures that the critic plays a role in making a film matter, using their knowledge and consumption of cinema’s inner workings to understand what made it it successful. It’s not simply a case of “thumbs up” or “thumbs down,” but rather, a means of detailing the experience a film provides in a palatable manner for the audience. By conveying their thoughts on a moviegoing experience, a great critic can successfully build a case that, regardless of whether you agree with their verdict, you can at least see where they’re coming from, and, consequently, gain a greater appreciation of the art. This, in my opinion, represents the best possible relationship between critic and reader, one where the latter can respect the former’s grade even if they don’t fully agree with it.
Thus, the key to increasing interest in film criticism amongst a new generation of moviegoers is to show them that critics play a vital role in the success of modern cinema. Critics might view films along the lines of art rather than pure entertainment, but our understanding of moviemaking offers a voice capable of understanding the why and the how behind a movie’s message. We see what a general audience might not because our job requires us to watch hundreds of movies per year, thereby drawing attention to the factors that make a film good, bad or just plain mundane. Furthermore, a film critic’s platform allows them to bring attention to non-mainstream and indie films that general audiences might glance over in favor of big-budget blockbusters. Without the input of critics, films like 2017’s Lady Bird might have been ignored due to its independent budget, regardless of its near-universal acclaim and placement on multiple top ten lists for that year. Using their written voice, a critic possesses a platform capable of informing the public of what does work in cinema, and what needs to be fixed so that the good movies outweigh the bad.
Ultimately, people become film critics because they recognize the value in film, from the Oscar-winners to the popcorn flicks to the “so bad they’re good” travesties. By convincing newcomer critics to write analytically while never devaluing the reader’s opinion, they can make their reviews feel just as insightful and compelling as the films being covered. That way, whether or not the reader agrees with their argument, they are still compelled to think and understand the critic’s position, rather than simply say “you’re wrong.”