Who’s a Film Critic? Am I? Are You?


Photo: Walt Disney / Pixar

Awards Daily writer Sasha Stone has sparked an interesting conversation while pointing to IndieWire‘s Toronto Critics Poll, which takes a look at 34 films from the Toronto International Film Festival and sums up an overall opinion using a variety of online reviews a la RottenTomatoes.

Stone’s commentary on the polling data has her debating the term “critic,” saying not everyone included in the aggregate is necessarily a critic, at least not in the understood meaning of the term. She writes:

What makes a film critic, one has to wonder. Nowadays, anyone with a blog who sees movies is called a “critic.” I really think that should be amended to use the term “blogger” or “industry columnist.” Not everyone is an actual film critic. I feel like I’m the only person in the known universe who cares about the difference but that’s because I come from a time when there was a difference; not just anyone could write about movies and be called a “critic.”

Jeff Wells adds to the discussion as a result of Sasha’s post and despite being known as an opinionated blogger on all things movies, he freely says, “I wouldn’t call myself a ‘critic’ either, [which] can be otherwise defined as seeing every last film that comes along and sitting down like a rank-and-file machinist in Detroit and reviewing every last one (including and especially the awful-awfuls) and always with a five-or-six-paragraph plot synopsis.”

He adds, “We all know what proper film criticism is and no, I don’t follow the form. But a fully considered response to a film doesn’t always have to be expressed in ten to twelve graphs with five or six devoted to some droning boilerplate synopsis.”

Personally, I have never labeled myself as a “proper” film critic (or a film critic at all for that matter) despite doing my best on a weekly basis to review as many of the new releases as possible. I think it takes more than just starting a website, seeing a movie and writing about it to be a film critic. However, I would like to think I am on my way to perhaps one day claiming such a title, and hopefully in a way that doesn’t read like someone dedicating five or six graphs to synopsis as Wells puts it.

The best critics are those that have seen movies you and I have never even heard of. They have an understanding of film history and look at movies on a whole and aren’t particularly dedicated to a single genre. They can see a film and guide you in other directions and have you exploring new avenues based on your likes and dislikes. One of the reasons for my weekly What I Watched columns is to do just that. However, if you’ve been keeping up with that column you will see just how many films I have not seen and perhaps once I come back around to many of these titles I will be on my way to becoming a proper critic. Until then I look at it as a journey and one I hope many readers will join me on and help me shape the way I convey my opinions and interact with a new generation of film lovers.

In my opinion the title of film critic isn’t given as much as it is earned. However, that doesn’t mean that a film critic’s opinion is more worthy than yours or mine, but it’s an opinion that has earned respect as a consistent measure of a film’s quality. Agree or disagree, a good critic is a useful tool. Sure, some aren’t that good, and some are downright awful to the point any random film blogger can prove more useful in one paragraph than some of these critics’ 10 paragraph time wasters, but a lot of the time that has much to do with the outlet they write for and their interest in discussing film as an art or simply being the first outlet with a review online, a trend the Internet has created and one that is also hurting the art of film criticism 140 characters at a time.