Essay Question: Do critics do anything nowadays except give out awards? What is the purpose of a film critic in today's entertainment industry?

OFCS members ponder the question (suggested by member Phil Hall):

“Do critics do anything nowadays except give out awards? What is the purpose of a film critic in today’s entertainment industry?”

Answers after the jump.

Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall:

The purpose of a film critic is essentially: to help people decide whether the film looks like something they want to see; to give people who have seen the movie a different perspective on what they’ve seen (or to perhaps validate their opinions); and to go on the record so that, years from now, people can look back and see what we thought of these films before the revisionists started in on them.

Jonathan Richards,

My old friend and mentor Archer Winsten, who reviewed movies in the New York Post for half a century, always felt that it was a reviewer’s job to write well and tell the reader what the movie was about. In his 1997 obituary, The New York Times explained that “Mr. Winsten did not approach movies with furrowed brow, on the lookout for some auteur’s allegorical meaning in a lighting scheme or camera angle, but with the expectant delight of someone who went to the movies to be entertained.”

This isn’t to say Archer liked everything. But he recognized that there are all sorts of tastes. He tried to be inclusive, and understood that a critic’s opinion is no more valid that an audience’s. He never considered himself to be the main event, and never tried to dazzle and intimidate the reader with displays of arcane knowledge. From a critic’s perspective, he reflected Spencer Tracy’s famous advice to actors, “Learn your lines and hit your mark.”

Write well and describe the movie. It might still work today.

Rob Gonsalves, eFilmCritic:

The purpose of a film critic in today’s entertainment industry is to pass unassailable judgment on that industry’s product, to see the makers of that product driven before us, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Kevin LaForest, Montreal Film Journal:

They Write Reviews, Don’t They?

David Cornelius,

1. Yes. They watch movies. Sometimes they even review them!

2. Same thing a critic’s purpose has always been: to inform readers, to celebrate artists, to share their love of the movies, and, most of all, to keep the discussion going.

Nell Minow, Movie Mom:

The film critic is not a part of the entertainment industry. The film critic is a part of the journalism industry. We are there to report on, assess, and illuminate the entertainment industry and its products. We are there to guide audiences away from the over-marketed and under-produced products of that industry and to encourage them to try movies they might not have heard of, even those without big stars and in other languages. We are there to challenge their thinking, provide context, and provoke discussion. And we are there to set an example with the diligence of our study and the excellence of our writing to engage them in our passionate attention to stories, characters, meaning, and even entertainment.

Nathan Shumate, Cold Fusion Video Reviews:

Granted, my circumstances are different from those of most film critics: I rarely review new releases, and often cover forgotten obscurities that my readers aren’t going to encounter without deliberate searching. I don’t assume that the point of my reviews is to advise readers whether to watch a particular movie or not; instead I’m something like a travel writer, giving my audience entertaining accounts of encounters with movies. I periodically tell myself, “I’m not a film reviewer; I’m a columnist, and my subject is movies.”

Phil Hall, Film

The excess proliferation of film critics awards is ridiculous, to be certain, and the situation is exacerbated when we realize that the film that dominated most of the 2009 awards — The Hurt Locker — was (to be kind) not embraced by moviegoers, despite critical kudos.

Complicating matters is the reality that Hollywood is ratcheting up its use of anti-critic sentiments to trumpet its cheesier box office hits. The new installments of the Transformers and Twilight franchises were surrounded with news articles of how these films were supposedly “critic proof.” Paramount upped the ante by taking a traditional kiss-of-death strategy, the absence of press screenings, and playing it to a marketing advantage with the release of G.I. Joe last summer. Despite openly acknowledging that all but a few fanboy site critics were barred from previews, Paramount happily pushed G.I. Joe to box office success. Its message: who needs the out-of-touch critics?

It also doesn’t help that the collapse of print media has seen the exodus of many highly respected film critics from their long-held positions. In a cost-cutting environment, film critics appear to be the first to get the heave-ho; sports columnists or political pundits, who also get paid to offer opinions, did not suffer such a harsh occupational fate.

At the same time, the growing glut of online critics has created an overload of opinions. Who can you believe when it comes to determining the pros and cons of whatever film is opening?

Ultimately, the profession needs to step back and re-evaluate its purpose and goals. Granted, each critic has a personal agenda and many have specific niches that are separate from the overall profession. But if film critics believe that they are serving a proactive role rather than a reactive one, then new strategies are needed because there is very, very little in the way of proactive film criticism being employed today.

Robert Roten, Laramie Movie Scope:

Movie tickets can be quite expensive. One purpose served by film critics is to let moviegoers know which movies, in the critic’s estimation, are worth the cost of a ticket and which are not. Critics that serve this function could be said to be commenting the entertainment value of films. Some even go so far as to provide a dollar figure for what they think a ticket is worth for each film they review. This is a valuable consumer service.

Critics also provide news and entertainment value in movie reviews and related articles, according to how entertainingly a critic writes and how well the critic is able to inform, analyze, critique and otherwise comment on the social or political context of films, or how well movies are constructed. Of course there are critics who don’t fit into either of these two categories and even they must provide some service to their readers, if they have readers.

Margot Harrison, Seven Days:

I would like to say the purpose of a critic is to help movie-goers pick and choose and develop their own critical faculties, but I think most people don’t read reviews for that reason, and most people rely more on word of mouth than criticism. However, everybody likes to talk about movies, especially on the Internet, and critics often get the ball rolling and set the tone. And that’s a good thi

ng. Well-thought-out reviews tend to generate intelligent (or reasonably intelligent) comments. On sites like the AV Club, I come for the reviews and stay for the conversations. Criticism doesn’t sell movies (with a few exceptions) or keep bad movies from being made (obviously), but it does foster a lively discourse about them. And I think it can force people to back up their visceral responses with logic (“Wait, you say Avatar is full of cliches? Or are those resonant myths?”), which is not a bad thing.

Christopher Long,

Critics who follow the siren call of capital, automatically granting significance to any film that has been branded by marketers as significant (i.e. expensive), desperate to file the 476th review of Fart Quest 4: He Who Smelt It before the 477th one hits the wires, serve no more function today than yesterday, or even three days before that. If you see yourself as being part of “the entertainment industry,” it is unlikely that you will be able to accomplish anything except to provide free publicity to Hollywood studios that don’t need it, but thank you for your largesse anyway. If, on the other hand, you write only about the films that you actually have something useful to say about, and say it well, you can perhaps provide some illumination on a moonless night, or at least lend a sturdy shovel to anyone navigating a path through the manure pile.

Mike McGranaghan, Aisle Seat:

The purpose of a film critic today is the same as it has always been: to be a cheerleader for excellence. While it’s true that some big-budget tentpole movies are essentially “critic-proof,” the truth is that many films require the passion and nurturing of critics in order to survive in a competitive marketplace. Movies like The Hurt Locker and Precious found audiences because critics were the first to bring those movies to the public’s attention. We essentially do for smaller films what their marketing departments cannot do: get folks excited to buy a ticket. Without critics championing the underdogs, we’d be doomed to live in a world full of “squeakquels.”

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