On being a generous critic

by Sonny Bunch on January 24, 2013

I’ve been flipping through* Nell Minow’s 101 Must-See Movie Moments, an entertaining ebook that highlights, well, must-see moments in films that you might not have caught (or lesser-talked-about moments in films that everyone has caught). At $1.99 (and free for Amazon Prime members), it’s a steal, especially considering all of the work that must have gone into it. I just want to comment on one quick thought by Nell in the introduction:

The single most important attribute for a career in reviewing each week’s big studio releases is an infinite capacity for awful movies. We become critics because we love to watch great movies and then we end up sitting through an endless series of buddy cops, gross-out comedies, second-rate superheroes, chases, explosions, and remakes of television shows that some studio executive loved as a kid. And yet, almost always I can find some moment—some performance, line of dialog, production design, or insight—that makes me glad I saw it.

The most important attribute in the modern day movie reviewer** is the capacity of generosity. In order to be helpful to your readers, you must accept a film on its own terms. Which is to say: One shouldn’t complain that an Arnold Schwarzenegger film isn’t a Kubrickian contemplation on the nature of man. It’s easy to slam your standard Hollywood offering—easy, and oftentimes warranted—but it can get awfully boring recounting the ways in which our entertainment lets us down. Trying to find an element of excellence in everything you see is harder but, ultimately, more rewarding in the long run. This, of course, doesn’t mean pretending to like everything or cutting bad films an infinite amount of slack.

On an entirely unrelated note: I’m going to a preview of Hansel and Gretel this evening. I really hope they screen it for us in 3D!

*Can one really “flip through” an ebook? Hard to say.

**There’s an important yet blurry distinction to be made between “movie reviewer” and “film critic.” I break it down something like this: The former connotes an element of service for your readers—”Will you like this movie?”—whereas the latter deals with slightly headier concerns—”Should anyone like this movie and what does it tell us about the medium in which it exists?” But your mileage may vary.

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