8 Things That Make a Good Movie Critic

I was paid real-life money for my The Avengers movie review when it came out in May of 2012. While I had been getting paid to write by various clients. publishers, and sites for over a year at that point, it was the first movie review that I got paid to write. That was the moment that I considered myself a professional movie critic. 

Well, not at the time. In retrospect, I have declared that when I became a movie critic. At the time. I was a writer who just happened to write a review that week. But then I would write and get paid for many more movie reviews, and also landed a few jobs where I was paid to be a TV series critic as well. After 7 months of writing reviews, I started The Movie Breakdown podcast with Scott Martin.

Now, I can say that I've been professionally reviewing movies for a decade. While I am not even close to the league of legends like Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael in acclaim, following, prolificity, or talent, I do feel that reviewing movies for ten years for various outlets and in different formats means I have some idea on what makes one a movie critic.

Of course, just like film criticism or any critiquing of art. my thoughts on a movie critic is mostly subjective, but a subjectivity that is based on doing this for a decade with a modicum of success. I have learned a lot about what makes a good movie critic over that time, and I will confess that what I thought was the role of a critic in 2012 has evolved.

Since I constantly read what people think is the job of a critic and have seen the rise of people that I really think have missed the point, I thought it would be a good time to list eight things that I think make a good movie critic.

I realize such a list abundant with wisdom treasures may now change your life. It will likely put you one step above that kid who still plays with Pogs. Strap in and enjoy the ride.

1. A good critic knows art is subjective. All art is subjective. Repeat after me. ALL ART IS SUBJECTIVE. If one considers themselves a critic and does not agree with this, then they are the worst possible kind of critic, because they already failed at how to view art. 

One of the biggest negatives regarding the rise of social media and by extension, the opportunity for far more movie fans to express their opinion in a public forum, is that a small but very loud toxic outlier of 'hardcore' fans have used their writing, podcasting, and videos to 'gatekeep' their beloved entertainment to the point they attacks creators who they feel are defiling their childhood and lash out at fans that don't agree with them. 

They pass themselves off as critics and reviewers, and they have a significant fan base, but in order to validate their opinions and to further their agenda of their favourite series returning to the way they want it (which usually means lacking diversity and keeping white heterosexual males in lead roles), most of them will toss out that current shows and movies of the past few years have been objectively bad.

Any critic that says a creation is objectively bad (or good), is an awful critic and has no comprehension of art. It is a term used by someone who is insecure and can not properly convey their thoughts, so in a desperate attempt to add weight to their view they throw in the one word that almost never should be in a good review.

If a critic can remember this truth, then they automatically will be much better at their job, and have a better understanding of their role in reviewing, analyzing, and discussing movies.

2. A good critic is sincere and honest about their experience with the movie. A movie critic is a person sitting down and watching a movie, and their top job is recognizing that. A movie can hit various people in various ways. Being married to Emily and having experience with her relatives is a major reason why Turning Red resonated with me more than others. Being a dad means not only that I have a soft spot for family movies, since I get to enjoy them with my kids, but I often am deeply connected to pictures that explore the dynamic of parents and their children. Many agree that Everything Everywhere All At Once, Moana, Arrival, A Quiet Place, and The Mitchells vs. the Machines are very good movies, but they rank high as the best of their year for me due to how much they spoke to me as a parent and how crucial my relationship with my children is in defining me.

Obviously, a critic should know about the technical aspects and be able to analyze performances, and have seen enough movies to recognize when a movie is being fresh rather than bogged down by formula. But a critic also must be honest with the fact that what connects with us and makes a movie soar is deeply personal. A movie doesn't top a Best of List based on the cinematography or editing alone, but rather how it deeply digs into our hearts and refuses to leave. How a movie connects depends on our own personal experiences, history, beliefs, desires, and feelings.

Some critics may deride a picture as a mindless horror flick or goofy little comedy, but if a critic continues to think about it or rewatches it often, then they need to accept for them this is a four-star movie or however they decide to rate and score pictures. The job of the critic is to delve into why a movie connects, and that honesty along with the knowledge of what makes movies work can provide essential insight for the critic's audience.

In one area that some critics disagree, I believe there is almost no difference between a best movie and a favourite movie, if we accept all art is subjective. 

3. A good critic is a conversation starter. A film critic should know a lot about movie history, why a certain camera angle was used, have some knowledge of the filmmaking process, and can generally give some interesting insight into why a movie did or didn't work. A critic should be able to communicate why the movie earned the four stars or was hobbled with a lonely one star. 

But a movie critic is not a taste maker. It is not a critic's job to tell us what to think and declare what movie is really worth our time. A critic's role is to give an honest impression of a movie backed by their years of insight. The review then opens the doors to allow others to take that perspective to reflect upon their own experience with the movie where they can provide their own thoughts. A critic should aim to get a reader or listener to seriously think about the movie and delve into what is trying to say. 

One of the biggest roles of the critic is to start the conversation and discussion around a movie.

4. A good critics knows all art is political. There is often backlash against writers who decide to delve into the politics or message of movies that some deem as harmless popcorn munchers. While not every movie is didactic or is driven by a strong message, in some form every piece of art is political. Every artist has their own beliefs, stance, preconceptions, background, and history that deeply informs what they create. Even if the message or views are not overt, all art is driven and crafted through the eyes of creators who are formed with their own stances, prejudices, desires, and views.   

A critic is always aware that art is trying to say something. Even if that something is an attempt to be apolitical, because that is still a stance. The critic's job is to explore and delve into those things, even if the movie is animated kid adventure or a 'mindless' action picture. The Princess is almost all action, but it is foolish to not believe it isn't saying something about the role of gender in our society within the action sequences.

Great art is a reflection of our society. All art is political in some way. All art has something to say about the world we live in, even if the story is set in another galaxy. A critic is here to start digging at some the major ideas and try to explore the message and themes, and then hopefully trigger a healthy and enlightening exploration with the readers and listeners. 

5. A good critic recognizes it is a miracle that any movie is made, and many hardworking, passionate people created it. It is inevitable that a critic or any movie goer will be encountered with a movie that they hate. To be honest about the movie experience, a critic must reveal why a movie didn't work and discuss the flaws and shortcomings. But what a critic must remember is that every movie is a miracle that it actually got made, and it has so many moving parts and is filled with people who threw their heart and soul into it. If we can remember how much hard work and passion went into every movie, then it allows us to not take glee in tearing a movie apart. A negative review should still be a fair review, and try to find things that worked, since there must be someone out there that will love the movie. One person's garbage is another's treasure, and a critic should always remember that.

Plus, it is good for a critic to not take glee in panning a movie, because then it opens up the same thing for their own reviews and writing. There is a big difference between being critical and being an asshole.

6. A good critic realizes a view on a movie can evolve. As mentioned before, film criticism is a part of a conversation. A good conversation thrives when we're open-minded, which means our opinions can change and evolve. It is a strength to admit your views on a movie have adapted, grown, and changed. If a critic now likes a movie that they once disliked, then it does not devalue the original review. That review is still true to person who wrote it at that time. but they have evolved with the movie since then. A good critic is always open to revisiting a movie, and allowing a picture a second chance to amaze them. 

Ebert on several occasions revisited a movie, and admitted that his opinion on the picture had drastically changed. He originally gave mildly favourable reviews to Unforgiven, Groundhog Day, and Alien but as the years went on, he included all three in his prestigious Great Movies collection. It didn't even take me that long to turn around on Get Out where I initially gave it a three-star recommendation, then on a revisit I pumped it up to three and a half, and by the end of the year, I realized it was one of the best movies of the year. 

A movie never changes, unless it was produced and directed by George Lucas, but a critic realizes a person does, thus their relationship and experience with a movie evolves over time. They must always be willing to return to a movies, and see what it has to say a second or third time.

7. A good critic watches all kinds of movies. A casual movie fan can stick to the genre that they love. But if someone wants to be a movie critic, then in order to be good at the job, they need to watch movies of all genres, from every time periods, and from different countries. They should seek out movies deemed classics, but also movies considered bombs, flops, and disasters. The more diverse collection of movies the critic watches, then the more they will have to say and the more insight they can provide. The goal is not to just watch a lot of movies, but take they time to really analyze it, and understand how and why it was constructed. A good critic has a wealth of movie knowledge, and has taken time to learn the technical and creative aspects that craft each movie.

8. A good critic does a variety of writing. Okay, some critics aren't writers. They stick with YouTube videos or podcasts. So, feel free to replace writing with 'creating.' A good critic tries to be creative with their reviews, and not just stick with one formula. A good critic is willing to take risks to provide fresh and unique perspectives on a picture. They also realize part of their job is to entertain and keep the reader engaged.

But also, they don't just write reviews. A good critic will write opinion pieces or write pieces that don't even involve movies, such as pieces about parenting, politics, or stamp collecting. Some critics may try to be really creative and craft a short story or even a novel. Writing is always a form of storytelling, and so a critic should be willing to try different formats for their movie reviews, but also various other types of writing exploring different subjects and topics. The different styles of writing will help them create more thoughtful and memorable reviews. A writer writes, and keeps on writing. To be a good critic, we must always be writing, even when it isn't a review.

Of course, the last one is likely the one that some really disagree with me. I have always had aspirations for my writing beyond movie reviews. I see myself as a storyteller and writer, and a movie critic is just one type of writing that I do.

I also confess that in the past several years I've done a lot less written reviews, and have resorted to the podcast to cover that area. I have learned that I seem to have three types of audiences for my stuff. The person who both reads my writing and listens to my podcast. The listener who just listens to my podcasts. The reader who only reads what I write. This means that over the past few years, I have been ripping off my readers who once enjoyed many written reviews from me.

My goal is to push myself much more on this site. The plan is to at least write a mini reviews along with some longer reviews for every 2022 release that I see going forward. I also will finally dig into the long promised reviews of MCU movies and Disney animated theatrical releases. I also hope to slowly make up for all the written reviews I've missed over the years by writing reviews for many past movies. This means that I need to accept that not all reviews can be 2k words, but a few with just a mere hundred or so is necessary.

Plus, I want to have a variety of different writing on here, because it will not only keep me engaged, but I also know it is what long-time readers appreciate. The biggest project for the site that I've also over-hyped but not delivered yet is the serialized weekly fiction. On top of that, I hope to have more opinion pieces, silly humour pieces, and whatever may spark my writing flame.

But this piece is about what makes a good critic. I appreciate the many who have followed me for this past decade, and some for even longer. I hope for many more decades to entertain you with my writing and podcasting.

What do you think is necessary to be a good critic?