If you like movies, you probably read reviews and you may wonder, “What does being a movie critic mean?”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a critic as follows: “a person who judges the merits of literary, artistic, or musical works, especially one who does so professionally.” The people who write the reviews you see in magazines and newspapers analyze film as an art for a living.
When I read a review of a film. I usually think, “That’s an interesting view. I’d like to see the film for myself so I can form my own opinion.” As much as reading someone else’s view on a movie may be interesting or helpful, I want to experience the film first hand. I want to be able to see all the elements at work and decide for myself if those elements tell a good story.
The essence of a good movie is its ability to effectively take us on a journey. How does the story resonate with its viewers? Does it make us think about relevant themes and issues that we can apply to our personal lives and the world at large? Can we empathize or sympathize with the characters? Without these elements, a film is filled with flash and bang or laughter and romance but lacks depth.
The question I find myself asking is, “What is the role of professional critics within the context of the film industry as a whole?” I am not trying to be disrespectful to the hundreds of writers who make a living writing movie reviews. But ultimately, film critics are just people like you and me who happen to get paid for the opinions they voice.
I understand the need for associations and institutions (such as The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) that define standards and guidelines for what constitutes excellent film as an art form. But the success of a film is often measured in how much money was made at the box office and how many tickets were sold rather than the number of awards it received.
For example, The Avengers and Zero Dark Thirty had relatively similar worldwide gross incomes (approximately $1.5 billion and $1.4 billion respectively*). However, Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for five Academy Awards (of which it won one) and The Avengers was only nominated for one Academy Award. Should one of these films be considered more successful than the other or defined as a “higher” form of art? Is it the money, the awards, or the audiences themselves who define a film’s success?
I believe it is the role of all movie-goers to decide for him or herself if they think a movie is successful or not. Yes, there are numbers and figures and statistics that objectively rate how well a film has been received. But I do not connect with a film on an emotional and meaningful level, I might not consider the film a success.
Every movie-goer should be a critic. We should not rely on professional critics to do our critical thinking for us; we should make a conscious effort to critique and analyze. When you walk out of a movie—whether you thought it was good or bad—you should be able to articulate why you liked it, what ways it could have been better, and why you are so excited or disappointed about what you have seen.
Think of your favorite movies. Are they ones that got a fifty percent or higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes or positive reviews from critics? Or are they the ones that stand out in your memory because they moved you to tears, had you holding your stomach in pain from laughing, and will stay for the rest of your life?
*Box office numbers taken from boxofficemojo.com