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Why the Best Movies Still Get Bad Reviews -- And Why That's a Good Thing

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire March 29, 2012 at 7:07PM

Critics "get it wrong" all the time. Here's why we're glad they do.
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"Citizen Kane."
"Citizen Kane."
Abraham Lincoln famously said you can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time.  He wasn't talking about movies -- possibly because movies weren't invented back then, I'm not sure -- but his quote applies to the world of cinema just the same.  Directors might please some of their viewers all of the time, they might please all of their viewers some of the time, but they'll never please all of their viewers all of the time.  Somewhere out there is at least one person who hates every single movie you love.  Every single one.  And, by the same token, somewhere out there is at least one person who loves everything you hate, who thinks you're absolutely bonkers for crapping on "Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star" (that one person, by the way, is named Nick Swardson).  Don't believe me?  Just google "The Godfather" and "overrated" and look at how many hits you get.  It's in the millions.

If you still don't believe me, well frankly, you're hurting my feelings.  But maybe Flavorpill's list of "12 Great Movies The Critics Got Dead Wrong" will finally convince you.  Jason Bailey pulls quotes from negative reviews of a dozen iconic works of cinema, and shows how none of them were above receiving a pan or two.  For example, here's The New Republic's Otis Ferguson on "Citizen Kane":

“The picture is very exciting to anyone who gets excited about how things are done in the movies… and in these things there is no doubt the picture is dramatic. But what goes on between the dramatic high points, the story? No. What goes on is talk and more talk. And while the stage may stand for this, the movies don’t.”

Now, strictly speaking, the list isn't really "12 Great Movies THE Critics Got Dead Wrong" -- it's more like "12 Great Movies A COUPLE Critics Got Dead Wrong."  By and large the critics liked "Citizen Kane," and Richard T. Jameson may not have gotten into the horror (the horror) of "Apocalypse Now," but the vast majority of his colleagues did.  A real list of "the movies critics got dead wrong" would need to include stuff like "Bucky Larson," which got absolutely no positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.  And, hey, if someone wants to write that piece, please do.  I can always use a good chuckle.

Regardless of the title, though, this list is instructive for exactly the reasons I described above: it reminds us that even the quote-unquote masterpieces of film history have their naysayers.  And you know what?  That's a good thing.

I know a lot of folks disagree with me about that last point.  More and more, it seems, Internet conversations about critically acclaimed movies are basically just people complaining those critically acclaimed movies aren't critically acclaimed enough.  If four out of five critics love "The Raid: Redemption," everyone will gang up on the fifth critic until they're rhetorically beaten into submission.  "We all like it, why don't you like it too?  What's wrong with you?"  

Sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic emphasize the mathematical side of film criticism -- playing up the grades and scores critics give movies individually and collectively.  I certainly understand getting excited about a movie, and wanting to share it with other people.  I also understand how disappointing it can be to recommend a movie you really believe in, only to find out the person you recommended it to didn't end up enjoying it the same way you did.  You feel let down, and maybe you even question your own taste a little. "Was I wrong?  Is 'Bucky Larson' not as good as I thought?" (Sorry, it's too late to turn back now.)

But remember how we all hated math in high school?  We hated it.  So why do we want more of it in film criticism?  Does it really make that much difference if 99% of critics liked a movie instead of 100%?  You know what would happen if everyone liked the movies you loved?  You'd have nothing to talk about.  You couldn't debate the finer points of acting or defend that plot twist you really loved. When someone disagrees with you about a movie -- especially a movie with a large critical consensus -- they're doing you a favor.  Don't be pissed off about it; be excited about the opportunity to go to bat for something you love. That's what Abraham Lincoln would have done.

Read more of Flavorpill's "12 Great Movies The Critics Got Dead Wrong."


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