People love to bash critics. The Wall Street Journal came up with a list of 10 things movie critics won’t tell you, and it quickly became the most popular article on their website.
Like any list, this one is highly subjective but since critics put together Top Ten lists that are equally subjective, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Here are some highlights.
1.) We’re not as powerful as we once were
Duh. With the passing of Roger Ebert, lots of people weighed in that the era of powerful individual critics is over. But that era had already long passed. (Pauline Kael may have single-handedly saved “Blue Velvet,” as Kyle MacLachlan suggested the other night but that just doesn’t happen anymore.)
The great thing about the Internet is it freed up access to hundreds of other critics’ views, not just your local critic and the handful of national critics who wrote for magazines.
Although it does nothing for the state of critical thinking, aggregation sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic help create a persuasive critical consensus that no single critic could ensure alone. Collecting a couple hundred reviews and quantifying them may be crude but it’s an effective barometer nonetheless.
2.) We’re not exactly in tune with the public’s taste
Duh again. It’s not our job to reflect the tastes of the masses. Never has been and never will be. That being said, except for movies like “Transformers” and “The Fast and the Furious” series, there’s a lot closer correlation between box office hits and critical hits than you might think. For instance, the Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the new “Star Trek” movie a score of 87 out of 100 and the Will Smith debacle “After Earth,” only a 12. That corresponds pretty closely with the respective box office receipts.
8.) It’s gotten so bad, we actually prefer television to most movies
This is a little misleading, but it contains a kernel of truth. I’d say, we actually prefer great television to most movies. Cable series like “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” “Dexter” and “Game of Thrones,” even “Girls” and “Veep,” are better than most movies. But all in all, the percentage of good to bad on television is probably no higher than that of good to bad movies. And I still think a great movie tops a great TV show, but I admit it’s close, and getting closer.
And finally, the last thing movie critics won’t tell you is:
When all else fails, we turn to Tarantino
This made me laugh, because it’s certainly true for me. I find Quentin Tarantino to be one of world’s most exciting filmmakers, even though his movies are often wildly uneven in tone, lazily plotted, and chock full of violence and arch dialogue. Critics may like Tarantino more than average moviegoers because he’s willing to subvert, break up, or even overthrow many movie conventions. Since critics tend to see hundreds of movies, they, more than most people, prize innovation. And Tarantino is nothing if not innovative.
That being said, Tarantino has had remarkable box office success. His last two films, “Django Unchained” and “Inglorious Basterds” grossed almost $750 million worldwide – that can’t be all critics.