Thanks everyone for participating! Stay safe!

While I don't mind answering all types of questions, I'd like to give you an opportunity to ask questions about the inner workings, best practices, etc., of film criticism—things you couldn't easily read about—and not just give opinions or "best of" lists you could read in any review or editorial.

I've done two previous AMA's here & here. With lots of screenings postponed as a result of COVID-19, I've got a bit of time to do another round today.

Over the years I've been quoted by/featured in various editorials, FYC ad campaigns, covered various international film festivals, voted in IndieWire polls, served as a guest lecturer on international cinema, and have mentored other prominent critics.

Proof.

Comments: 2786 • Responses: 61  • Date: 

earthwarrior1524 karma

How do you become a "professional" film critic? Where does the money come from?

th3cr1t1c3277 karma

I started writing for the high school paper. Was a columnist in college.

Money? Hahahahah...

klayface94627 karma

What's your favorite guilty pleasure film that most see as a bad movie?

th3cr1t1c1027 karma

This one you can't read just anywhere, so I'll answer.

HUDSON HAWK. Danny Aiello dropping Swingin' on a Star, Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant as the villains? 'nuff said.

Tervlon574 karma

What's the single worst thing that a film maker can do to their movie in your opinion?

th3cr1t1c1007 karma

Putting plot plot ahead of story and character. Most films endeavor to tell stories. Details which immerse us in the story tend to suffer if the filmmaker or studio feels pressured to hurry along the plot.

john_stuart_kill551 karma

Do you distinguish between what you think of as "the best" films and what you think of as "your favourite" films? If so, what are you criteria?

th3cr1t1c749 karma

Absolutely, I do. While I don't boil criticism down to a formula (it's a discussion, not an algorithm), I differentiate between films that I find personally moving whether or not I think they're the best storytelling vehicles.

FilmAndFinanceMajor430 karma

How do you recommend starting out? Did you submit reviews to certain websites? What movies were “easiest” to start with?

th3cr1t1c681 karma

Get involved with the school paper. Get a degree in journalism, mass communications, or English. There are an overabundance of people without these backgrounds, and they have the hardest time making a career of it.

Take whatever screenings you can get. If you want to make a living at this, being the first to publish drives visibility.

TheBigGrizzly400 karma

What do you look for when you review a movie?

th3cr1t1c937 karma

Good storytelling methods that elevate, rather than talk down to, audiences. People are too easily enticed by the mystery box, the twist, the end. But stories are like road trips. Nobody enjoys when summer's over.

Sexymama52367 karma

What do you think is the biggest disappointing Oscar winning movie? One that you just don’t agree with winning the award and why? Also what movie do you think should have won instead?

th3cr1t1c905 karma

What do you think is the biggest disappointing Oscar winning movie?

CRASH. It panders to stereotypes of racism from which we can too easily distance ourselves.

Also what movie do you think should have won instead?

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.

ScruffMoney91306 karma

Have you ever been confronted by someone involved in the production of movie you gave a bad review to?

Edit: put have instead of gave

th3cr1t1c679 karma

Bob Orci told me to go fuck my mother. Then he disappeared from Twitter and got fired by J.J. Abrams.

futzi7278 karma

Do you watch movies in a different way depending on whether you watch them in private compared to having to write a review on them? E.g. do you take notes while watching movies and if so, what do they normally look like?

th3cr1t1c493 karma

I take notes at screenings. They're either the thought I had in a particular scene, or short hand bits to capture quotes, things I might not remember. I take more notes during festivals when I'm covering 3-5 films a day, because the brain can only hold so much at one time.

Hippopoctopus120 karma

Would love to see what a film critic's note on a movie look like...

limutwit157 karma

I work in the pharmaceutical industry, deciphering doctor’s handwriting is one of my specialty but damn I don’t know what you wrote

th3cr1t1c235 karma

Buddy, even I don't know what I wrote. Sometimes I just have to guess until something clicks in my head.

TripleJeopardy3230 karma

How do film critics see their role? Specifically, I remember Ebert gave many "bad" or "popcorn" movies good reviews. He understood that the average movie goer was looking for different things in a movie, and many times a movie that is artistically deficient can still be very popular and pleasing to the general public.

There seem to be several tracks for movies. The most prominent are whether the film is made for the public and box office success or as part of a creative vision. George Clooney has said he makes the Oceans movies so he can turn around and make The American, or another passion project.

My question boils down to this...when reviewing a film, do you have different standards for popular films versus artistic films, and can you create a review for a film that is positive even if it follows over worn patterns and uses cliched lines, if it is enjoyable and a fun ride?

th3cr1t1c329 karma

I had a great conversation with several of my colleagues in the International press, and we kind of landed on one common answer:

Film criticism is not about telling the reader what to think of a particular movie. The purpose of film criticism is to provoke thought and discussion.

do you have different standards for popular films versus artistic films, and can you create a review for a film that is positive even if it follows over worn patterns and uses cliched lines, if it is enjoyable and a fun ride?

Movies aren't algorithms to be solved. They're discussions waiting to be had. You pick a central thesis and you go defend it persuasively with your experience and eloquence.

HarryTruman31 karma

This is a great perspective to have, but it’s hard to find “good” critics, in this modern world, that provoke the sort of reaction that you hope to inspire.

What do you think is the best way to convey the mentality of thought and discussion to your audience? And who are the mentors and peers that you aspire to?

Thanks for being interesting!

th3cr1t1c43 karma

What do you think is the best way to convey the mentality of thought and discussion to your audience?

Write. It's through repetition that we build experience, and eventually repetition starts to get tiresome, that causes us to get out of our own heads, and reinvent ourselves, and then go back to writing, and so on... eventually people such as yourself start to notice and take an interest.

The more people are exposed to a mindset, the more it influences them.

And who are the mentors and peers that you aspire to?

Certainly Roger, Stephanie Zacharek, Dana Stevens, Bilge Ebiri, Manohla Dargis, A.O. Scott, Anthony Lane....

inkognitor167 karma

How has your job changed over your career?

th3cr1t1c583 karma

I think snark is a bit passé, so I've shifted away from that and just in time. Now every amateur thinks that's what defines criticism, but I've found it more challenging, more interesting, to write persuasively. And that leans into skill. The glut of amateur blogs/vlogs clogging the space can't compete with someone who can concisely persuade in 400 words.

Boxer503126 karma

Do you ever feel bad about criticizing people work? I mean what if someone put all their effort and passion into masking a good film but it wasn’t very good?

th3cr1t1c313 karma

No.

whataremylines116 karma

As a critic has there been anything you’ve grown bored of or are tired of seeing used over and over in a story; cliches, similar plots, remakes, superhero movies?

th3cr1t1c429 karma

Too many tropes to count... but I think the 'save the universe" plot is a horrible dead end that destroys everything else that goes into a movie. Stories that focus narrowly, on fewer characters, with personal stakes, are much more relatable and therefore more engaging.

adeiner85 karma

What’s the earliest you made up your mind on a movie, good and bad?

th3cr1t1c354 karma

Every time Michael Bay announces something new, I'm almost certain it'll be bad.

naceem31584 karma

What is one movie that you were absolutely blown away by?

th3cr1t1c130 karma

Robert Altman's THE PLAYER.

Captain_Autizmo179 karma

[deleted]

th3cr1t1c231 karma

Roger gave me some of my earliest advice as a film critic. He was our Carl Sagan, a great spokesperson/advocate for film criticism. I miss him.

cdn_redshirt74 karma

Have you ever seen a porno that you found especially special from an acting, directing, screenwriting, cinematography or sound editing perspective. Any recommendations for a fellow person that is also bored at home?

th3cr1t1c108 karma

SOMEWHERE UNDER THE RAINBOW is especially terrible from all angles.

Whalerage59 karma

I am a student in tenth grade, studying about film making. What are some attributes that a good film has?

th3cr1t1c100 karma

I know this sounds simple but story and character are your two most important attributes. Everything else grows out of that. Give me an interesting journey taken by characters I care about, and I'm hooked. I can forgive lack of production quality if these things are solid... but have a good editor at your side, so that any deficiencies in the actors' performances are tightened up by the pacing.

EDIT: I really appreciate you asking me. I know it's tough to put yourself out there and I respect that a lot. Good luck.

PandaTheVenusProject56 karma

You get to choose one remake and one adaptation to be produced the the director and budget that you want it. What would you choose?

Edit: :/

th3cr1t1c109 karma

No remakes.

Marsnowguy53 karma

What film adaption (book, true story) would you most like to see?

th3cr1t1c208 karma

For 30 years I wanted to see an adaptation of FAHRENHEIT 451 done properly. Then I saw it. Now I want to unsee it.

LittleMetalHorse53 karma

With such titanic budgets and armies of talent, how does the mainstream of cinema so singularly fail to deploy a story worth the name?

They aren't idiots, and i appreciate that they are in the money making business, not the art business, but surely there's a market beyond the hero's journey and a few explosions.

What am I missing?

th3cr1t1c102 karma

Starting in the 90's after the 88 writer's strike, studios slashed compensation to screenwriters. Every so often, something happens where a studio figures out how little audiences will settle for. That won't change as long as audiences keep settling.

But what makes it worse is these same studios are owned by media conglomerates that pervade our culture and create a kind normalization to movies as product rather than art.

LittleMetalHorse12 karma

That's really insightful, thankyou. I've met a few screenwriters who generally opine that in order to get a script heard it has to be summarised/infantilised as, say, Jaws meets buffy, and that's it. The idea that, on the one hand, a movie like Up can be made, and at the same time 200m can be spent on the matrix sequels without so much as three plot points written on the same cocktail menu and waved at the sound guy.

I think movies as product (indeed all pulp entertainment) is as old as the travelling players, I just wish there were alternatives gaining traction. Any writers, directors or movies you might put in the frame?

th3cr1t1c14 karma

I've met a few screenwriters who generally opine that in order to get a script heard it has to be summarised/infantilised as, say, Jaws meets buffy, and that's it.

this is exactly the phenomenon that became the norm in the late 80's-early 90's. It's satirized in the opening scenes of Altman's THE PLAYER, with real writers giving fake pitches. Buck Henry selling THE GRADUATE: PART II is simultaneously hilarious and sad because you just know, at some point, he probably really did.

TediousSign52 karma

Is it a good or bad thing when a director's style becomes noticeable?

th3cr1t1c122 karma

Yes.

Hagenaar52 karma

I remember being surprised at early reviews for Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film Starship Troopers. It didn't seem that reviewers had grasped the nature of the film, which most folks now understand to be satire.

Can you think of other movies whose intent has been largely missed or misconstrued by the majority of critics?

th3cr1t1c54 karma

I'm surprised by the number of people who seem to take BASIC INSTINCT (also directed by Verhoeven) at face value rather than as a parody of FATAL ATTRACTION.

CriticalGoku38 karma

How safe is film criticism from external meddling? That is, can be reasonably sure that most film reviews are the author's genuine opinion and not one that was influenced by fear of retribution from a producer or even the audience their writing to (I.e. Giving a film a good rrview because everyone else is doing it and you don't want to be That Guy)?

th3cr1t1c167 karma

How safe is film criticism from external meddling?

We're journalists and we're competitive. The idea that a studio can influence us is thwarted by that journalist waiting around the corner to write an exposé about that... which will generate (and has generated) a lot more attention than a positive review that ends up being a drop in the ocean.

Disney tried to ban Justin Chang from the L.A. Times because of a story Daniel Miller did on the Disneyworld tax breaks from Anaheim County. In less than four hours, all the major critics orgs threatened to exclude Disney from awards consideration and just like that the threat was rescinded.

Radikost35 karma

What do you think about modern cinema and what is the worst modern movie (2010-2020) that was a box office success?

th3cr1t1c225 karma

What do you think about modern cinema

I think modern cinema is hobbled by studio conglomerates whose objective of eliminating risk from their portfolio, in service to investors, is at odds with the objective of art, which is to be provocative.

what is the worst modern movie (2010-2020) that was a box office success?

AVENGERS ENDGAME comes to mind.

rebeccastebbin30 karma

At what point did you realize that people actually cared about/respected your opinion in your space? Was there one defining moment or was it more gradual?

th3cr1t1c106 karma

Not long after I moved to a major market and became a voting member of a major critics org, studios started shipping me screeners via same-day courier and setting up private screenings for me. That was a clue.

Bell027 karma

What do you think of platforms such as Rotten tomatoes and Metacritic?

th3cr1t1c82 karma

I think they run contrary to the purpose of film criticism. People who engage with a number instead of the content of the review tend to be upset because the entire value of the engagement is in the content of the review, not the score.

tectonictribulation27 karma

Love or hate David Lynch?

th3cr1t1c113 karma

I don't necessarily like all of his work, but I like that he does it.

I think experimental filmmakers are as essential to pushing the boundaries of what film can be just as haute couture designers push the possibilities of clothing.

Art, like criticism, is about provocation... so whether I say I like or hate a Lynch film, I'm provoked by it, and that is the point of all of this.

Chayden15325 karma

Did you ever walk out during a movie and if so, what movie was it?

th3cr1t1c53 karma

No, but I was close to walking out of WOLF CREEK.

kraftymiles23 karma

Anaconda or Lake Placid, or Lake Placid vs Anaconda?

th3cr1t1c127 karma

Make SNAKES ON A LAKE and I'll watch it.

LordCrinoline21 karma

How does your regular process of reviewing a movie go like? Do you have to watch the movie multiple times to judge it? Do you watch others' reviews or do you prefer to keep it completely raw from yourself?

th3cr1t1c50 karma

I rarely get a chance to see a movie more than once. I take notes.

There are no reviews out, generally, when I see a film.

Shadeauxmarie18 karma

Can you explain why the Oscars pick movies I can’t stand as Best Picture?

th3cr1t1c49 karma

The Academy Awards are voted on by guild members. People who make films see them from the inside out, rather than the outside in. That may contribute to the difference in perspective.

IrishEv18 karma

Do you think that nuance has been lost in movie reviews?

I don’t mean the reviews themselves but how people take them in. Everything is either the best ever or its the worst ever. A lot of people just look at the rotten tomatoes number score and don’t bother to read what any reviewers wrote.

th3cr1t1c27 karma

I think aggregators have contributed to this polarization but mainly in the vlogger/blogger space. I don't think it has affected professional criticism nearly as much.

Mr_Wrann16 karma

How do you feel about Oscar voters not having to see a movie to vote for it, or see all the movies in a given category before voting? I feel like some categories, such as best animated feature, go neglected because the voters don't care about them as much.

Also what are your feelings about the different types of film critics, such as more comedic critics like Red Letter Media?

th3cr1t1c36 karma

How do you feel about Oscar voters not having to see a movie to vote for it, or see all the movies in a given category before voting?

That's an industry guild, so it really falls to their members to decide what rules they want. That said, I do think you should have to watch a movie to form an opinion of it, no matter who you are.

Also what are your feelings about the different types of film critics, such as more comedic critics like Red Letter Media?

I think RLM started with good intentions but they've ultimately contributed to a decline in the perception of film criticism because what was copied, invariably, was the bullet point approach, failing to see the forest through the trees, rather than starting with a coherent thesis and defending it through illustrative examples.

It's very hard to do this in video form, and many are having difficulty keeping up, quality suffers. Ultimately, print journalists like myself will still be around because writing and publishing a dense, complete, 400-word review, on a movie that just premiered 90 minutes ago is our particular skill.

cream-of-cow16 karma

Do you choose to go to theaters when it's a little more crowded or as empty as possible?

th3cr1t1c48 karma

I very rarely attend films outside of press/private screenings.

MacBae16 karma

Do you watch anime?

th3cr1t1c68 karma

Not as a matter of habit. But there are some films that transcend the genre, like Isao Takahata's GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES.

bjjcripple15 karma

What are your thoughts on film studies programs like the one at UCSB?

th3cr1t1c56 karma

I'm not a filmmaker so I don't really know. But if you mean as a precursor to writing film criticism, I think they're certainly one path... but being a good writer is more critical, because your knowledge is only as valuable as your ability to distill it.

ffarkle94313 karma

Why is South Korea able to produce TV dramas that are 70-90-120 (series run) episodes and new episodes air twice weekly yet here in the United States a popular TV drama series is maybe 10-12 episodes per season?

th3cr1t1c22 karma

I don't cover television, so I couldn't tell you.

mydisposableacct12 karma

Tips for making a career (outside of Letterboxd) as a professional movie reviewer?

th3cr1t1c18 karma

If you're in high school start writing for your paper, get involved with the college paper. Major in journalism, mass communications, English, etc., intern a lot, etc.

shadowCloudrift12 karma

How much weight do you think film critic reviews hold? I see people online act defensive at times when a film isn't like by critics so they proclaim "critic reviews don't matter!"

Would you agree that there's a misconception that critics only like "snobby films" and not "fun films?"

th3cr1t1c43 karma

The purpose of film criticism isn't to tell you whether to go see a movie or not.

I think people that read reviews understand this better than people who just read scores.

I don't think we can really stop people from going to movies, but we might nudge it a little this way or that. Studios certainly seem to think we have that power.

I don't really engage with my readers. I do pay attention to what reviews get the most engagement, through conversations with my editor, and so I see these general trends and attitudes about film criticism as a challenge to use my expertise to get more creative and persuasive in shorter bursts to get ahead of the criticism and diminishing attention spans.

CentralGaming111 karma

Do you criticise movies a lot on their CGI?

th3cr1t1c45 karma

Not specifically. I do think that CGI is overused to distract from a lacking story...

Blastspark0110 karma

Are there any genre/actors/directors that you absolutely refuse to watch? (Or at least wouldn’t watch if it wasn’t your job)

What degrees would be the minimum needed to join this line of work?

Seeing as you’ve analyzed the inner workings of film and are able to tell what makes a movie good (at least in your opinion) do you think you’d be capable of using the things you’ve learned to make a film yourself?

If a film has any blatantly obvious uses of Chekov’s Gun not being fulfilled, does it ruin the movie for you?

th3cr1t1c24 karma

Are there any genre/actors/directors that you absolutely refuse to watch?

No. And there shouldn't be. If there were, I'd have no business being a film critic.

What degrees would be the minimum needed to join this line of work?

If you want to make a career of it, a Bachelors in Journalism, Mass Communications or English.

do you think you’d be capable of using the things you’ve learned to make a film yourself?

Absolutely, but I know enough people driven mad by that business that I really don't want any part of it.

If a film has any blatantly obvious uses of Chekov’s Gun not being fulfilled, does it ruin the movie for you?

No. Films aren't math. There are many ways to engage the viewer, and some movies are enhanced by extraneous details, some are hobbled by it. It's not in the what, but the how.

falconiform3410 karma

What are your thoughts on remakes? Do you think they serve a purpose in the film world? Or do you consider them to be “cash grabs”

th3cr1t1c43 karma

Cash grab. They're done with the intent of capitalizing on an existing audience, which is the studio's way of limiting risk in their portfolio... so from the start the mindset is all focused on what's good for investors, not audiences.

TalkingBackAgain9 karma

How can we avoid an endless stream of Marvel universe movies (not that it’s bad to have them) when I would also like to see new movies with new ideas that are well told and not full of cheap CGI explosions?

th3cr1t1c33 karma

Stop seeing them.

kitty_puray7 karma

Could you recommend a movie that's "so bad it's good"?

th3cr1t1c11 karma

ZARKORR: THE INVADER.

-CoreyJ-7 karma

How does a professional film critic determine that their opinion on a movie has value?

I work in the film/TV industry and I find that more and more people rely on things like Rotten Tomato scores as a guide for whether or not they are going to invest time into a movie. Whenever a bad movie gets a good review (or vice versa), I 'm always curious what metric is being used to make sure the people reviewing the films are actually qualified for the job.

th3cr1t1c16 karma

I don't think you can be an effective writer if you're constantly micromanaging the public perception of your value. A writer who writes well will be of value in one way or another.

Whether there's a market value to that is a different question, but if you stop to worry about what people think of your writing, you will not improve your writing, you'll fall behind on your work, and then you will definitely not be of value.

poporine4 karma

Would you read my screenplay?

th3cr1t1c21 karma

You wouldn't want me to.

paulerxx3 karma

Do you have a specific check list while critiquing films?

th3cr1t1c5 karma

No.

deathbyeggplant3 karma

What do you think of people who clap at the end of a movie?

th3cr1t1c7 karma

It's not just a movie thing. I think American audiences misunderstand the purpose of praise and overuse it to the point of diluting its meaning.

Godloseslaw2 karma

If critics are so smart, why dont they ever write screenplays?

th3cr1t1c3 karma

Some of the best movies ever made were written/directed by critics.

Paul Schrader, James Agee, Peter Bogdanovich, Jean Luc-Godard, François Truffaut, etc.

th3cr1t1c2 karma

Some of the best movies ever made were written/directed by critics.

Paul Schrader, James Agee, Peter Bogdanovich, Jean Luc-Godard, François Truffaut, etc.