As certainly the nerdiest person in my friend group, I was the first to consider film as an art form rather than just as entertainment. My first review was on the 1972 classic The Godfather. I had been struck with the inspiration to write down my thoughts on the film because of its creepy use of silence and smooth lighting, but also to voice my frustration that I couldn’t understand a single word Marlon Brando said in the entire film. A few years earlier, my life had been changed by two seemingly unrelated things. The first was a biography of George Lucas by Brian Jay Jones, and the second was Forrest Gump (1994). These two events aligned the cosmic bodies of cinema over my head and I was immediately intrigued by all things film. However, I was still young and mentally unprepared for the Scorseses and Tarantinos I was so intrigued by. After failing to convince my parents to let me watch Apocalypse Now (1979), I resorted to perusing the IMDb Top 250 and consulting the IMDB Parents Guide. After watching a couple of Kubricks, Finchers, and Nolans, I had reached the point where I began to call movies “films” and had finally learned the meaning of the word “cinematography.” In other words, I had just begun to fancy the idea of myself becoming a film critic. Naturally, I wanted all my friends to know that I was now The Movie Guy. I began to take a journal with me to the theaters when we went to go see the next Star Wars or Marvel film. And the next. And the next. Because that was all we were interested in seeing as 13-year old kids.

I’m not saying I wasn’t interested in going to see those blockbuster popcorn movies—quite the contrary. I loved them, and I still do. I think too often, critics, obsessed with their posh perception of cinema, will dismiss films designed to entertain as worthless spectacle. However, I see them as stepping stones and building blocks for people discovering a love of film. Writing for my school newspaper, I began to put out alternating reviews of “artsy” films as well as Hollywood blockbusters. Films like Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) and Captain Marvel (2019) were fun to criticize, as the flaws were obvious, and people would actually listen to your thoughts on them. Franchise films are movies that everyone will go see, either because they are invested in the story or just because they are popular. They are effective at drawing crowds, especially teens and young adults, because people want to see how their favorite characters develop. In other words, blockbusters can get people invested in movies. This is important because when people are invested in a movie and care about the story and characters therein, they are more likely to recognize things they can criticize.

One of the most popular forms of film criticism today is the video essay. Thousands of new critics have popped up on YouTube talking about their favorite movies, and the vast majority of them cover blockbuster films. The two most important movies for the art of film criticism in the past 15 years have been The Dark Knight (2008) and Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017). There must be some sort of requirement for video essayists to cover these two films, because the number of people discussing them online is tremendous. The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s second Batman film, has been hailed as the greatest superhero film of all time since its release. Superhero films as a genre are extremely popular, so a lot of young people will flock to discussions about The Dark Knight, asking why it is considered the best. They will take to YouTube and mine the thousands of hours of critics explaining their thoughts on the matter, and they will walk away from it having a new understanding of what makes a good film. Some will agree, and some will disagree. But either way, they will have developed an opinion on a film that is beyond just “it was good” or “it was bad.” They will then most likely apply this newfound knowledge to other movies, and thus, a new critic will have been created.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi, unlike The Dark Knight, succeeded in dividing one of the largest and most passionate fan bases in film history: Star Wars. Its complete contrast with the rest of the series and disjointed writing clashed with its new and deep themes and technical prowess. I haven’t met a single Star Wars fan who doesn’t have a very strong opinion on this film. Like I said above, Star Wars has not only a very large fanbase but also an extremely passionate one. Because of this, you need to be able to defend your opinions on each film or else you will be taken down. The Last Jedi has also prompted thousands of video essayists to take to their platform and discuss the film in whatever way they can. Whether it’s six hours of critiquing the writing scene by scene or a three-minute video of a person yelling about the “themes,” everyone has voiced an opinion on this film. It enabled hundreds of budding critics to find platforms and audiences for their work as more and more people needed to find the evidence to back up their feelings on the film. Fans would go see the movie, decide if they liked it or hated it, then they’d research their side of the debate by reading or watching critiques. Several Twitter battles later, and another critic will have been created.

I was incredibly disappointed when Scorsese and Coppola dismissed Marvel movies as “not cinema” and “despicable.” While they may not be the artistic masterpieces those two directors have created, they are the loves of millions of passionate fans. If just one of those fans wants to find out why they love a Marvel or Star Wars film, those franchises have succeeded in birthing a critic. Not everyone will have the spark of inspiration to devote their lives to film as I did. Most people will gradually build up to art films through blockbusters. Unless they have incredibly nerdy parents, their first on-screen idols won’t be Michael Corleone and Charles Foster Kane, but rather, Luke Skywalker and Captain America. So that’s how we can get youth more interested in film criticism. By encouraging people to ask why they liked something rather than telling them that they’re wrong. It is through the superhero film, the adventure film, and the CGI spectacle that young critics will develop. They may not be as important or meaningful to older critics, but to the youth, they are essential.

Vance Cunningham

Vance Cunningham

Vance is a Junior at Shorecrest High School in Shoreline, Washington, and has been writing movie reviews since he was 12. He has received the Editors Choice award for his work in TeenInk Magazine and writes for his school newspaper, “The Highland Piper.” He has also met and worked with “Seattle Times” critic Moira Macdonald and runs the “Just Dumb Movies Podcast” with several friends. His interest in film was sparked simultaneously by Forrest Gump and a biography of George Lucas by Brian Jay Jones, and since then he’s fallen in love with films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ocean’s Eleven. In order to deal with Covid-19, over the summer he watched over 120 films, discovering directors like Akira Kurosawa and Jean-Luc Goddard, as well as rewatching The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter series back to back.

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