So if you read my article of the Top 5 DON’Ts for a good film critic, then here are the Top 5 DOs for a good film critic or reviewer. There are things that good critics should avoid doing, but you should also know these top tips good critics follow.
How do you know if you are a good, or even a great film critic? I mentioned in my previous article that good critics measure the quality of a film. But how? And how could YOU do so? Here’s my Top 5 DOs for a good film critic.
5. DO love film
Pretty obvious, isn’t it? That’s why it’s number 5 on the list. Some of the best critics practically BREATHE film, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to all great critics. Whether you’re a fan of film or an expert, you should have at least some love and appreciation for film. If you don’t watch lots of movies and don’t really see film as an art form, then you’re not really the right person to critique the movie. Although, just because you don’t like French New Wave Cinema or Italian Neo-realism (very different film styles from contemporary cinema), that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the art form as a whole. Whether you like those film styles really depends on what kind of person you are. All in all, you have to WANT to make movie reviews. It wouldn’t be fair for you to review movies if you don’t really like film. Why be a film critic if you don’t love watching movies? I don’t mean “passionately” watching movies; I mean watching movies for fun at least. Don’t make film reviewing feel like a job only or else you won’t have any fun. Similarly:
4. DO understand film to a good extent
Again, just because you haven’t watched much of French New Wave or Italian Neo-realism doesn’t mean you can’t understand the art form, BUT it would without a doubt help you a lot if you watched some of it. You’d understand a bit more about film’s artistic aspects, its history, the techniques, the industries, etc. Just because you haven’t seen every single film doesn’t mean you’re inexperienced, but try to watch as many films as possible to get an understanding of your own taste and your own judgment.
There are numerous ways films can be made and there are numerous ways a story can be told through film. If you understand that film’s not just entertainment, but also an art, then you’re in the right place. You should be able to understand cinema quite well. Not necessarily be an expert, but you should know what you’re talking about. It’d also help if you understood the process of making a film.
Even if you don’t really like French films, you should at least appreciate them. And again, if you HAVE seen plenty of movies, seen those kinds of movies and believe you understand the film art enough, don’t act like a film snob.
3. DO give examples and explanations
To me, writing a review is like writing an essay. It’s not about how much you know or how right you are; it’s about trying to give out your argument and explain it the best way you can. You can’t just say “this movie is bad because I say so”. Critics have an opinion, but they have to have a reason for why they believe something works or doesn’t work. When you make points, explain them, give examples. Don’t give out a claim without being able to support it. Fair enough. Moving on:
2. DO say good AND bad things
People say “if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.” This isn’t the case with reviews. You don’t have to be harsh, but when there’s something in a film that doesn’t work or something that seems distracting within the film, bring it up (and remember, DON’T be nitpicky). If you can’t think of anything positive to say about the film and you truly feel like you have to be brutally honest, bring it up. If you can’t think of anything negative either, then simply say “I couldn’t think of anything bad to say about it. I loved this movie” or something. If you’re doing a negative review of a film, try to give out something positive or some other credit. Just because it’s a positive review doesn’t mean there can’t be negatives; and just because it’s a negative review doesn’t mean there can’t be positives.
I’m a fan of an Internet reviewer known as Confused Matthew. He usually makes negative movie reviews on films that are usually regarded as good, like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Lion King, No Country for Old Men, etc (although he does make positive reviews too). He has great arguments that regard these films as bad in its storytelling (he rarely mentions the technical side of the film in his reviews), and most of the time it’s hard not to agree with what he has to say. Although he’s usually very negative, he will give credit to the film when credit’s deserved. One of his best examples is his negative review of Titanic. He gave out harsh criticism on the storytelling of the trite romance and the misuse and inaccuracies of the real human tragedy. But when that film had something that worked, he’d mention it no matter how much he disliked Titanic.
And the number 1 tip for a good, even GREAT critic is…
1. DO put yourself in the director’s shoes
(I could have put “DO be honest” on the list, but then I’d be repeating myself with “DON’T lie” from the other Top 5 list.)
This is something film critics and even film fanatics are more aware of than other people. Making a film is harder than it looks. Can you imagine how hard is it to be the director? He’s basically the one who controls the film. He’s in charge of making the creative decisions, to try to make the film look good, to organize the cast and crew, etc. If you want to be a film director someday, starting out as a film critic really would help a bit to understand the quality of the film. It’s going to be hard work.
Here’s a little exercise: when you watch a good movie, think about the kinds of movies that the director films, think about his intent, about how he went through the process of making the film, etc. If a movie was bad, ask yourself these questions: Was the director too stubborn to listen to others? Was he even trying or just plain lazy? Did he have enough creative control? Did he have enough experience? Was there something wrong “behind-the-scenes”?
In my Snow White and the Huntsman review, I hesitated to give a negative review (instead opting for a more mixed review) partly because I felt the director really was trying. This film didn’t feel like a bad film to me; this film felt more like a first draft for a FAR better film. Besides, it’s his first time directing a film, so he will make mistakes when trying to direct for the first time. Perhaps he’ll even look back at the film years later and become more aware of how he could have improved his film. Who knows?
You don’t have to know everything about the director’s film background either, but it really would help. Also try to think about what the director was trying to aim for in his project and how well he achieved it. Even if your interpretation might be different from the director’s original intent, it’s not bad to come up with your own conclusions. That’s what film reviewing’s about.
I know I’m saying director when I should also mention the producers, the writers and the rest of the crew, but the director is the one who has the most creative control over the film and the most responsibility over the quality of his work. To sum up and conclude: a good critic can be what a good director can be.
So there you have it. I hope these were useful for you. Again, if you already knew about these tips, I hope you enjoyed reading the article. I’m not writing this article as an expert in film criticism. This is an idea of what I believe a good film critic should be. This is coming through my own experiences. As much as I follow these tips myself, I still have a lot to learn about cinema and so much for me to explore as a film critic. I hope that I’ll become a great critic in the future, and also a great filmmaker. Only time will tell.
Confused Matthew is one of my examples of a good film critic. If you want to check out this negative review of Titanic by Confused Matthew, here’s the link to the review. It’s one of his best reviews and my example of a film review done right!