Saturday, December 04, 2004

What makes a good critic?

Browsing around last week for early reviews of Closer, I came across this site, which impressed me enough that I added it to the Signal Bleed links. There are tons and tons of movie critics in print and online these days, and all it takes is a quick look through the reviews for any new release on Rotten Tomatoes to see how sloppy and amateurish most of them are. Nowadays anyone with an opinion and a website can be a film critic (says the pot to the kettle). But while the Internet has led to the proliferation of idiotic movie "critics" and the dumbing down of the whole enterprise, it's also led to more exposure for smart, literate people with well-considered opinions who otherwise would not have gotten their criticism in print. The critic at Movies Into Film, N.P. Thompson, apparently writes for some obscure newspaper that I would have never come across, but thanks to the magic of the net, I can read and recommend his intelligent, biting reviews conveniently.

In fact, most of my favorite critics I discovered online, and that brings me to the title of this entry. While I appreciate people like Manohla Dargis at the New York Times and the venerable (if perhaps veering into senility) Roger Ebert, my favorite critics are the bitter, cantankerous sorts like N. P. Thompson. People who take movies very, very seriously, probably too seriously for a mainstream publication, and have no reason to hide their contempt for Hollywood, movies they don't like, other critics, etc. People who often have opinions very different from mine, and will savagely tear into a movie I thought was great, or heap praise on something I found completely mediocre. The great thing about critics like this is that, while they may be unpredictable to a certain degree, they will always defend their opinions with passion and sound reasoning, which is far more important than whether I agree with them. Given the bland sameness of most movie criticism out there, it's refreshing to find someone who thinks for themselves, and actually knows how to write in a clear, cogent manner. It's not something I come across all that often.

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