At this time of year, when film lovers everywhere are posting their top ten lists and talking about which films deserve Oscars, I hear a lot of moviegoers complaining about critics. They talk about critics as if critics purposefully and habitually disdain anything that a “normal person” could enjoy. They speak as if critics deliberately seek out things that are merely complicated or “intellectual.”
Recently, when I praised The Master, another moviegoer groaned and said, “That movie was made just for critics.” No… it was made for moviegoers, especially for those moviegoers who are so enthusiastic that they will sit down and examine every aspect of a movie — from the acting to the composition to the editing to the color schemes to the lyrics of the songs that are on the soundtrack. It was made by a man who loves movies so much that almost everything that ends up in the finished film is there for a good reason.
Sure, there are some critics out there who strive to seem superior to others.
But most critics are just fans of movies… such big fans that they like to examine and talk about everything that’s in a movie.
Today, I came across a reminder of what a great critic can accomplish.
A good critic is no different from the friend you know who studies baseball, who can tell you about the pitcher’s strengths and the batter’s history, who can talk about the history of the ballpark and how many times in history there has been such a high-scoring inning. A good critic is like that friend you know who has played musical instruments so long that he knows the difference between a good violin and a great one within a few notes of a performance.
When a person loves a particular pursuit, they gain an appreciation of aspects that others don’t. That’s not something to resent; it’s something to admire. We are all critics of many things in our lives, and that’s a positive thing. It tells us what we love. Maybe you’re a critic of cheese, or pickup trucks, or fashion sense, or sermon writing, or childcare.
A good film critic finds things to love in both obscure and popular cinema. A good film critic helps us see popular cinema with new eyes, and give us a way in to understanding “difficult” cinema. A good film critic shrugs when audiences cheer for something that is manipulative, derivative, and sloppy. But he also finds and celebrates treasures that have been overlooked or misunderstood.
I’m still a beginner. Roger Ebert is a master. His blog is often very rewarding. And he recently uploaded a review by a correspondent of his — Michał Oleszczyk — that is one of those pieces of criticism that exemplifies what critics do best: It’s a detailed, observant, love-filled appreciation of “La Luna.”
It is, in short, an act of love.