This article is from Issue 51: May/June 2011

Yes, We Need Critics

Film criticism is under assault. Our culture is one where everyone gets a voice and every opinion is right. Bloggers and online communities dominate the conversation, while websites like Rotten Tomatoes allow moviegoers to get a consensus without even reading a review. It’s a complete free-for-all.

The public has grown negative toward the practice of film critique, espousing the view that critics only like movies not meant for “normal” people. And out of all this, a pivotal question persists: Do film critics matter?

Perhaps the greatest defender of the film critic is film itself. Essentially, film critics matter because film matters. Americans simply don’t flock to theaters every weekend spending millions of dollars for no reason. We don’t talk about films with our friends, family and co-workers because there’s nothing else to say. Movies matter. They tell stories. They entertain us. They educate us. They allow us to escape. They are a universal means of communication.

Movies, nevertheless, are most important because of their cultural implications. They both reflect and shape culture, challenging the way we think and feel. In his book Life: The Movie, Neal Gabler goes so far to say American culture takes on the characteristics of movies and calls film “the most pervasive, powerful and ineluctable force of our time.” So, if film is this important, especially culturally, it only makes sense we need critics to study, critique and guide us through dialogue about it. Without them, the medium—by becoming susceptible to perversion and greed—loses its quality, integrity and power.

Today, as Hollywood continues to make bad movie after bad movie—sequels, remakes and a slew of 3D gimmicks— the need for film critics seems even greater than ever. Consider the prophetic words of the great American film critic Pauline Kael: “Criticism is all that stands between the public and advertising.”