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SPEARE'S TIPS (Special Edition) - How Do They Do It?

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SPEARE'S TIPS (Special Edition) - How Do They Do It?

Postby Shrykespeare » January 2nd, 2010, 6:03 pm

Lots of friends and co-workers have asked me, over the years, if I ever had the ambition to be a “professional movie critic”. I usually reply by telling them that that would be a dream job for me; I mean, come on: to get PAID to go see movies, and then give my humble opinion? What could be better than that? Regrettably, getting those credentials almost always require some kind of degree in journalism, friends in high places, and a shitload of luck. I, unfortunately, have all but three of those things.

And sometimes I wonder (to myself) – if I was ever offered the job of writing film reviews for a living, would I really take it? Having that job would probably entail me having to see movies that I wouldn’t normally be that interested in seeing, so that might be seen as a downside. But wait, you might say, seeing movies that might be classified as “indie” or “art-house” can only serve to expand my horizons, broaden my cinematic vocabulary, open my eyes to a whole world that I had previously shunned. And you would probably be right. But then, I must ask myself, would it be worth it?

Professional critics probably see 200 movies a year, perhaps more. Many go to film festivals, taking in as many as a dozen to twenty films in a single weekend. Good for them. I, on the other hand, only see 100 movies a year; I figure I see about 40 in the theaters, and the rest I wait for DVD. I pay for my own ticket, my own soda, my own popcorn and Red Vines. I do not have as wide a cinematic palate as they do. But, is my opinion worth less than theirs? I have seen thousands of movies in my lifetime, and I now have more discerning tastes than I did when I was a youth. Now that I have my own blog, my own column, my own forum for expressing my opinion, I feel that I have a responsibility to review a film with a more practiced hand, even though I am a mere dilettante, an amateur, compared to all those critics whose opinions actually count over at Rotten Tomatoes.

But there is one facet of this “business”, or obsession, or hobby, or passion, or whatever you want to call it, that I have never been able to reconcile; the one fact that may be my biggest hurdle to my ever turning “professional”, should such an occasion ever arise. And that is, I really don’t understand, and never have, how so-called professional critics “do it”.

Yes, that’s vague. So let me explain. A few weeks ago, I watched G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra on DVD. It was the second time I had seen it overall, having caught it on opening weekend back in August. It was, by all accounts, a corny, over-hyped, typical brainless summer action movie. The acting was as you’d expect: nothing to write home about. The effects were decent but not outstanding, the villains were over the top, and the film was as clichéd as hundreds of other big-budget action films. And I loved every damn minute of it.

Earlier this week, I watched Up in the Air, a film that has already won awards and may very well walk off with many more, including Best Picture at both the Oscars and the Golden Globes. It was well-acted, well-written, well-directed, hit exactly the emotional buttons I expected it to. It was, in every respect, an outstanding movie. But I…. didn’t… enjoy it. It dealt a lot with isolation, negativity and in one case, tragedy.

Big deal, you say. Some movies were not made to satisfy the sensibilities of ADD-ridden teenagers. Some movies were not made to be enjoyed, but rather, to tell a story that often involves a lot of sadness, depression and, yes, human tragedy. Just because they don’t make for a fun time out doesn’t mean they aren't great movies. Lots of indie movies, art-house movies and Oscar-bait movies are exactly like this for me: I don’t think I’ll enjoy them, so I don’t see them. And when I do, I don’t enjoy them anyway.

In this age where everyone’s opinion counts, any idiot with a third-grade education can give a review on Yahoo Movies or IMDb. They can give cocktail-napkin reviews that are basically run-on sentences, writing “it sucks” or “it’s the bomb” in so many varying ways. And even if we don’t take the time to write full-on reviews, we can at least give them ratings. You know what I mean… on IMDb, you can rank it anywhere from 1-10. On Blockbuster, you can rank it from 1-5 stars (with half-stars allowed). Many people tend to only use three of these numbers: 1, 5 and 10. But I hold myself to a higher standard – if there are ten different grades a movie can get, I should use all ten. And therein lies the quandary.

If I were to rate movies on how much I enjoyed them, how much I would recommend them, and how badly I would want to see them again (and at present, that is how I do rank them), I would rate G.I. Joe a 9/10 and Up in the Air a 6/10. But this is misleading. Does this mean that I consider G.I. Joe to be a vastly superior movie to Up in the Air? Absolutely not. As I said, Up in the Air featured far better acting, far better directing, far better writing, no CGI, no explosions, no chase scenes, no gunfire. I expect it to win awards, whereas I expect G.I. Joe to win absolutely nothing. But if I were flipping channels, and both movies were on simultaneously, which would I want to sit through again? G.I. Joe, every time and twice on Sunday.

If I were a “professional” critic, I would (and probably should) rate things the other way, in terms of quality. Up in the Air would get a 9/10, and G.I. Joe would get the 6/10. But something inside me can’t bring me to think that way. I go see movies to enjoy them, period. So what can I do? Why can’t I bridge the gap between enjoyment and appreciation?

Maybe it would behoove me to create two different lists, wherein I rate every movie I see on two different scales, that of “enjoyment/watchability” and that of “appreciation/artistry”. But I think doing that would be counterproductive, redundant, and, in the end, ultimately self-defeating.

So how do critics “do it”? I’ve always loathed critics that seem to pan every single movie that I enjoy. I think to myself, “Do these people enjoy anything? Are they so puffed up on the power of their own words that they’ve gotten to the point where trashing perfectly good entertainment gets them off?” If that’s what it means to be a “professional critic”, then I don’t think I ever want to be one.

But one doesn’t write for other people unless one wants some measure of respect, and I’d like to think that I’ve earned the respect of those who value my opinion, even if it conflicts with their own. If I give G.I. Joe a sterling recommendation while going “meh” to Up in the Air, do I invalidate that respect? Does my entire reputation become suspect if all my most vociferous recommendations are “guilty pleasure” movies? How does one reduce enjoyment AND appreciation to a single number? And what if there is a huge disparity between those two numbers? What do they do?

What do YOU do?

My voice is just one of millions on the Internet, I realize that. I’m not arrogant enough to feel that what I say really makes that much difference in the grand scheme of things. But as I enter my fifth decade of movie-watching, I can’t help but wonder if there is something that I’m just not getting.
Happy 60th birthday Tim Robbins! (10/16/18)

Remember, Red ... hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.
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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS (Special Edition) - How Do They Do It?

Postby transformers2 » January 2nd, 2010, 7:14 pm

Shryke your opinion is your opinion. Personally i wouldn't judge/void your opinion if you rated a film like Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen or Terminator Salvation higher than Up In The Air or Precious. It's all about writing and if the person doesn't have their head up their ass and trash a movie simply on what it is ( cough,cough both critics for The Boston Globe).Pat personally I think you are a very good writer and I value your opinion highly (as I do pretty much everyone).

Lastly i consider favorite/best to be pretty much the same thing. Sure a movie can have strong acting and be a drama but i will judge them against big,stupid blockbusters.
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Re: SPEARE'S TIPS (Special Edition) - How Do They Do It?

Postby numbersix » January 2nd, 2010, 9:10 pm

I'm completely against this notion that you can judge a film one two criteria: what your enjoy and what is "great". For what is the latter but merely an attempt to second-guess critical acclaim? If you enjoy a film you enjoy a film, and if you adore Transformers 2 and only like The White Ribbon then so be it, but trying to convince yourself that the latter is better because intelectuals seem to prefer it is merely a lie unto yourself. And people will see through such lies.
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