Film Criticism

FILM JOCKEYS HEADER

What happens when a legendary film critic brings is geriatric crankiness to an internet movie show? Film Jockeys follows the adventures of Carl Barker, his far-too-young production staff, the filmmakers and the movie characters that inhabit their world. Written and illustrated by Derek Bacon, it’s the perfect webcomic for passionate film fans who think January is an awesome month for new releases. For your consideration, Episode #7:

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Culture Warrior

Two weeks ago, thousands of people read a restaurant review in full for the very first time. Many of these people don’t live anywhere near the restaurant, or would have no intention of visiting it if they did. Pete Wells’s Socratic takedown of Guy Fieri’s bloated American Kitchen & Bar in Times Square is an exemplary work of fiery, hilarious, righteously indignant criticism. By constructing nearly the entire review through questions, Wells paints a detailed picture of his experience while simultaneously explicating, point-by-point, its astronomical failure. So why the hell am I writing about a review of a restaurant on a movie site? As the vast reception and ensuing conversation about Wells’s review indicates, the implications of this singular work stem far beyond food criticism. Movie critics and restaurant critics may seem to have as much in common as apples and celluloid in the world of written evaluation. However, as leisure activities, movie theaters and restaurants share a great deal. After all, dining out and moviegoing just about weigh even in the ritual of the American first date, and these activities are regularly combined, sometimes simultaneously (thanks, Alamo Drafthouse!). But beyond the disparate objects of analysis, Wells’s work brings to light several important concerns particular to the enterprise of film criticism.

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History of the World Critic

“Asking a writer what he thinks of critics is like asking what a fire hydrant feels about dogs.” No one has portrayed that Ann Landers quote better (or more directly) than Mel Brooks in History of the World: Part 1 in the sketch where a caveman critic pisses all over a newly envisioned cave drawing. Not only is the relationship between creator and critic as old as man, it’s also always involved urination. On the most recent edition of the Scriptnotes podcast, screenwriters John August and Craig Mazin discuss the looming spectre that is The Critic – a terrifying boogeyman for some, a knock-kneed weakling to others, and a complete non-entity to more. “Well this isn’t going to endear me with many critics,” begins Mazin (who recently explained the depressing state of screenwriting as a career to Reject Radio listeners). “I don’t care. I do not care. I don’t write movies for critics; I write movies for audiences. My entire focus is on what the audience thinks of the film.” The thing is, that outlook does endear him to me. That may sound counter-intuitive coming from a critic, but it’s an excellent mindset to have as a creator. Here’s why.

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FSR

Personally, I was the author of article #1. But then again, back in those days I had a one-in-four chance of being the first person published, boosted by the fact that I was was the only user actually in the system at that point. So it seems appropriate that I would be the one whose byline appears on this, our article #20,000. However, it wouldn’t feel right if this were about me. I may have started this little engine, but it’s many miles and many articles have come from dozens of wonderful contributors, delivering over 10 million words of movie loving content to over 75 million readers worldwide to date. That is how far we’ve come here at Film School Rejects. Today we happily celebrate an amazing milestone that far exceeds any of the hopes and dreams we had when this thing began.

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This post is probably not what you think. There are no LOLCats, no Rage Comic stick men bellowing about the superiority of The Dark Knight and Inception. It’s not really a love letter to modernity. But it’s also not Sight & Sound‘s decennial Top Ten List. That prestigious publication has done great work since even before polling critics in 1952 to name the best movies of all time. They’ve recreated the experiment every ten years since (with filmmakers included in 1992), and their 2012 list is due out soon. However, there is certainly overlap. The FSR poll includes only 37 critics (and 4 filmmakers), but we’re young and have moxy, and none of us were even asked by Sight & Sound for our considerable opinion. That’s what’s fascinating here. The films nominated by those invited by S&S have the air of critical and social importance to them. They are, almost all, serious works done by serious filmmakers attempting to make serious statements. This list, by contrast, is the temperature of the online movie community in regards to what movies are the “greatest.” The results might be what you expect. But probably not.

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In his latest blog post, Roger Ebert was plainspoken when remarking: “Unless we find an angel, our television program will go off the air at the end of its current season.” The reason, despite the show’s measured success? They can’t afford to make it anymore. It’s a simple (yet intractable) problem with an equally simple (yet harrowing) solution. Now, more than ever, Ebert Presents: At the Movies needs to do what public television and radio have been doing for decades – hold a fundraising drive. However, instead of setting up phone banks and interrupting our regularly scheduled programming to promise us a tote bag with our $100 donation, Ebert and the show need to step into the modern world of fundraising with Kickstarter.

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Culture Warrior

I am going to attempt something that many have tried and failed to communicate to people for the purpose of arriving at a reasonable understanding for years. It’s mainly been attempted by persons defending their own personal profession and therefore really only speaks to those who have already been listening all along. In that sense this will be no different. However, I haven’t quite yet seen (though, I haven’t quite yet looked either) an explanation from the one side being attacked that says, in more words, “this is really who we are.”

Why? For the same reason we get dismissive of the lump assumption that all are one. This may not be what is always done in every case, but I don’t really think I’m going to over-generalize anything I will soon say. I will admittedly assume, though, that generally speaking I think this analysis of one side brought upon because of a somewhat popular perception from the other side typically holds true.

These are those perceptions:

Critics don’t like what the general public likes

Critics are irrelevant

Critics are self-absorbed

Critics are biased

Critics. Hate. Movies….and life…because they’re bitter they’re not talented enough to make movies themselves so their only pleasure is to tear down the works of those who successfully accomplished what they never could.

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Early yesterday, the LA Times blog released quotes from Atlas Shrugged Part 1 writer/producer John Aglialoro which indicated that he was throwing in the towel on making Part 2 and Part 3. The reason, of course, was that the film just didn’t make its money back. Aglialoro spent a reported $10m of his own cash on the production, and a second week drop off hurt the independent flick considerably. The movie has currently only made $3.2m at the box office. It started with an impressive per screen average, but as with other films which zero in on an audience, everyone who wanted to see the movie saw it opening weekend. The numbers dropped, and an expansion was scrapped. Aglialoro very specifically blames critics and what he believes is a collective “fear of Ayn Rand” amongst them for the movie’s failings. So much for personal responsibility. However, it’s his ire and hatred of the critical response that has caused an about-face. Aglialoro now claims that, while he was once defeated, he now stands ready to proceed with making Atlas Shrugged Part 2 and Part 3. Like all misunderstood artists, he should.

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The modern icon of film criticism beloved for his opinion-having presence on At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert (and, of course, Oprah and The Critic) will be back on small screens soon enough when Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies finds its way down to earth from satellites in space. Although he won’t be the main fixture, Ebert will use his computer-powered voice to shine the spotlight on the overlooked films of the past and present. The co-hosts will be heavy hitters Christy Lemire – who has written for the Associated Press for over a decade – and the dreadlocked Elvis Mitchell – who is best known for his erstwhile presence at the NY Times, guest spot on an episode of Entourage, and famous love of Cuban cigars. The show will air starting January 2011 and will hopefully make its way beyond the borders of Chicago. Ebert inspired an entire generation of film fans and aspiring critics. It’s good to have him back. [Roger Ebert]

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Our Cole Abaius might be slow on the uptake, but he took some time to mull over Roger Ebert’s recent article about the death of the film critic, and after a few days we find him in the interesting position: disagreeing with Roger Ebert. And disagreeing with most of his colleagues.

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Since we’re primarily a film criticism website, we decided to write an editorial on why film critics are obsolete. Daring? Groundbreaking? Iconoclastic? Our vote is for Ridiculously Foolish.

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Monday Morning Water Cooler Discussion

Much has been made of the impending doom faced by print film critics around the country. Now, everyone from the casual film blogger to the tenured film scholar seems to be chiming in with their opinion. We want to know what you have to say about it…

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published: 11.26.2014
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published: 11.26.2014
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