Film criticism is the analysis and evaluation of films and the film medium.
Film criticism differs from movie reviews in that a film criticism is meant to be a complex analysis and judgement of the film, while a movie review is a more consumer-oriented recommendation.
In general, film criticism can be divided into two categories: journalistic criticism found regularly in newspapers, magazines and other popular mass-media outlets; and academic criticism by film scholars who are informed by film theory and are published in academic journals.
Film was introduced in the late 19th century, but criticism for the craft didn't emerge until the early 1900s. The first paper to serve as a critique of film came out of The Optical Lantern and Cinematograph Journal, then the Bioscope followed it in 1908. It wasn't until the 1920s that critics started analyzing film for its merit and value as more than just entertainment, giving viewers a place where they could better understand the stories. In the 1930s, film developed its place at the attention of the public, developing concepts of stardom and celebrity among the actors in film. This led to a rise in obsession with critics as well, so they were often seen on the red carpets and major events with the actors.
It was in the 1940s that new forms of critics emerged. One form that came out of it approached the format of essays, analyzing films with a distinctive charm and style to persuade their side of the argument. It was the emergence of these styles that brought film criticism to the mainstream, gaining the attention of many popular magazines; this made film reviews and critiques an eventual staple among most print media. As the decades passed, the fame for critics grew and gave rise to household names among the craft like James Agee, Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael and in modern times Rogert Ebert and Peter Travers.
Film critics working for newspapers, magazines, broadcast media, and online publications, mainly review new releases, although some reviewers include reviews of older "classic" films. The plot summary and description of a film that makes up the majority of the review can influence whether readers or listeners decide to see a film.
In the 2000s, the effect that reviews have on a film's box office performance and DVD rentals/sales have become a matter for debate. Some analysts argue that modern movie marketing, using pop culture convention appearances (e.g., Comicon) and social media along with traditional means of advertising, has led, in part, to a decline in the readership of many reviewers for newspapers and other print publications. There are fewer critics on television and radio in the last thirty years.
However, in recent years, there has been a growing concern in the film industry of the influence of online film criticism becoming disconcertingly potent, especially with the review aggregate website, Rotten Tomatoes, which was blamed for several films in 2017 underperforming because of the low score derived from film critics that the website posted for most of them. This has led to studies such as one commissioned by 20th Century Fox claiming that younger viewers give the website more credibility than the major studio marketing, which undercuts its effectiveness.
Today, fan-run film analysis websites like Box Office Prophets and Box Office Guru routinely factor more into the opinions of the general public on films produced.
Some well-known journalistic critics have included: James Agee (Time (magazine), The Nation); Vincent Canby (The New York Times); Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times, At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper); Mark Kermode (BBC, The Observer); James Berardinelli; Philip French (The Observer); Pauline Kael (The New Yorker); Manny Farber (The New Republic, Time, The Nation); Peter Bradshaw (The Guardian); Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune); Andrew Sarris (The Village Voice); Joel Siegel (Good Morning America); Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader); and Christy Lemire (What The Flick?!).
Online film reviews
Some websites, such as Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, seek to improve the usefulness of film reviews by compiling them and assigning a score to each in order to gauge the general reception a film receives. The Online Film Critics Society, an international professional association of Internet-based cinema reviewers, consists of writers from all over the world, while New York Film Critics Online members handle reviews in the New York tri-state area.
A number of websites allow Internet users to submit movie reviews and scores to allow a broad consensus review of a movie. Rotten Tomatoes does this by generating separate consensus for critic reviews and user reviews.Some websites specialize in narrow aspects of film reviewing. For instance, there are sites that focus on specific content advisories for parents to judge a film's suitability for children. Others focus on a religious perspective (e.g. CAP Alert). Still others highlight more esoteric subjects such as the depiction of science in fiction films. One such example is Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics by Intuitor. One Website, Everyone's a Critic, allows anyone to publish film reviews and comment on them.
Blogging has also introduced opportunities for a new wave of amateur film critics to have their opinions heard. These review blogs may focus on one genre, director or actor, or encompass a much wider variety of films. Friends, friends of friends, or strangers are able to visit these blogsites, and can often leave their own comments about the movie and/or the author's review. Although much less frequented than their professional counterparts, these sites can gather a following of like-minded people who look to specific bloggers for reviews as they have found that the critic consistently exhibits an outlook very similar to their own.
Community-driven review sites have allowed the common movie goer to express their opinion on films. Many of these sites allow users to rate films on a 0 to 10 scale, while some rely on the star rating system of 0–5 or 0–4 four stars. The votes are then culled into an overall rating and ranking for any particular film. Some of these community driven review sites include Reviewer, Movie Attractions, Flixster, FilmCrave, Flickchart, and Rotten Tomatoes.
Some online niche websites provide comprehensive coverage of the independent sector; usually adopting a style closer to print journalism. They tend to prohibit adverts and offer uncompromising opinions free of any commercial interest. Their film critics normally have an academic film background.
Criticism and lexical creativity
The "undulating curve of shifting expectations" (UCoSE) refers to both the title of a recurring entertainment industry feature in New York magazine by cultural critic Adam Sternbergh and also to a concept of media analysis co-developed by writer Emily Nussbaum.
UCoSE refers to the dynamic tension between pre-release promotional efforts and subsequent audience reactions to entertainment media.
…what the UCoSE does is provide us a way of analyzing the trajectory of entertainment products as they metamorphize their way through his theorized seven-stage growth chart: Pre-Buzz, Buzz, Rave Reviews, Saturation Point, Overhyped, Backlash, and finally, Backlash To The Backlash.
Female Representation & Controversies
There have been many complaints against the film criticism industry for an underrepresentation of women in their circle . A study of the top critics on Rotten Tomatoes shows that 91% of writers for movie/entertainment magazines and websites are men, as are 90% of those for trade publications, 80% of critics for general interest magazines like Time, and 70% of reviewers for radio formats like NPR.
Variety refers to the effects of this disproportion in their article on the subject:
Clem Bastow, culture writer at Guardian Australia, says, “The critical response to ‘The Intern’ was fascinating. There’s a subset of male critics that clearly see Nancy Meyers as code for chick flick and react with according bile. What’s very interesting, though, is that I think female critics, working in an industry that is coded as very male, if not macho, often feel the need to go hard on certain films for women, presumably because they worry that they’ll be dismissed, critically speaking, if they praise a film like ‘The Intern,’ as though they’re only reviewing it favorably because they’re women.”
More often known as film theory or film studies, academic critique explores cinema beyond journalistic film reviews. These film critics try to examine why film works, how it works aesthetically or politically, what it means, and what effects it has on people. Rather than write for mass-market publications their articles are usually published in scholarly journals and texts which tend to be affiliated with university presses; or sometimes in up-market magazines.
Most academic criticism of film often follows a similar format. They usually include summaries of the plot of the film to either refresh the plot to the reader, or reinforce an idea of repetition in the film's genre. After this, there tends to be discussions about the cultural context, major themes and repetitions, and details about the legacy of the film.
- Film canon
- Prestige picture
- List of film critics
- List of film journals and magazines
- List of films considered the best
- List of films considered the worst
- At the Movies, a TV series for reviews of movies, originally hosted by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
- For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, a 2009 documentary film
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- Peter Bradshaw gives advice to young, aspiring, would-be film critics (The Guardian, 8 July 2008)
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