Film Critics: Friends or Foe?

William Nsieyanji gives his opinion on whether we should trust film critics

William Nsieyanji
18th February 2019
Image: Flickr, Steve Rainwater

My personal distrust of film critics has derived from artistic snobbery, a common prejudice throughout all art forms where certain genres are regarded as more gracious than others. Which explains why dramatic biopics never fail to be nominated at the Oscars and is the genre with the most best picture wins with 20 in total. Whereas there has only been one horror film that has ever received a best picture nomination (The Exorcist 1973). The Academy Awards of Motion Pictures and Sciences has already been scrutinized for its lack of appreciation of other genres with Will Ferrell and Jack Black’s softly satirical song at 79th Oscar Awards Ceremony joking that they “do not like to laugh” and that a comedian’s name will never be called at the Oscars. In 2016 The Academy were also accused of having a racial bias in their nominations and the #OscarsSoWhite movement motivated household names like Will Smith, Reese Witherspoon and Spike Lee all to boycott that year's festivities.

Films are so subjective that people will inevitably have varying opinions about them.

Genre and potentially ethnicity are not the only biases behind reviews, there is also the actors, directors and producers associated with the film which I personally believe also influences critics in their reviews. When was the last time you read a negative article featuring Leonardo DiCaprio or Meryl Streep? A critic’s opinion of the director or lead actor/actress in a film will affect their opinion of a film before they even watch it. In essence, I am suggesting that if the critic is a fan of the star, they are likely to write positive reviews of the film and negative reviews for a star who they particularly dislike. According to research from Cinema Blend some reviewers are more prone to writing negative reviews and some are more prone to positive ones. Steve Persall from the Tampa Bay Times was rated the most positive film critic in the US by having 25% more positive reviews in his archives than any other contemporary critics, meaning that if you are a Tampa Bay Times reader you are probably frequently exposed to overly kind and sugar-coated reviews. In contrast, Joe Morgenstern (The Wall Street Journal) is 13% more likely to tell you a film is crap than any other critic. This study does not by any means prove my fan theory but does demonstrate that critics are not always fair impartial candidates when it comes to movies. Having said that, neither is anyone. Films are so subjective that people will inevitably have varying opinions about them and there is not a correct viewpoint to hold.

Whether or not you should trust film critics depends on how significant it is to you for a review to be reasonable and not clouded by biases and snobbery.

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