Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
The Totally Insane Ending to 'Little Boy' Has Critics Fuming The Totally Insane Ending to 'Little Boy' Has Critics Fuming 'Mad Men' Has Ended Four Episodes in a Row With the Same Shot 'Mad Men' Has Ended Four Episodes in a Row With the Same Shot First Reviews of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' First Reviews of 'Avengers: Age of Ultron' "Mad Men" Probably Won't End the Way You Want It To. Get Used to It "Mad Men" Probably Won't End the Way You Want It To. Get Used to It The Only Oral History of 'Mad Men' You Ever Need to Read. Ever. The Only Oral History of 'Mad Men' You Ever Need to Read. Ever. Daily Reads: 'Ex Machina's Feminist Sci-Fi, Native American Actors Call Adam Sandler's Movie Racist, and More Daily Reads: 'Ex Machina's Feminist Sci-Fi, Native American Actors Call Adam Sandler's Movie Racist, and More The Death-by-Skype Horror Movie 'Unfriended' Is an Unlikely Critical Hit The Death-by-Skype Horror Movie 'Unfriended' Is an Unlikely Critical Hit L.A. Times' Mary McNamara Wins Pulitzer for Criticism L.A. Times' Mary McNamara Wins Pulitzer for Criticism Criticwire Survey: 'Star Wars' Memories Criticwire Survey: 'Star Wars' Memories The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World A Writer From The Onion Totally Destroys Patton Oswalt in This Epic Twitter Rant A Writer From The Onion Totally Destroys Patton Oswalt in This Epic Twitter Rant Why Andrew Jarecki's 'The Jinx' Could Be Very, Very Bad for Documentaries Why Andrew Jarecki's 'The Jinx' Could Be Very, Very Bad for Documentaries Daily Reads: 'Wonder Woman' and the State of Female Directors in Hollywood, A Grimdark 'Daredevil,' and More Daily Reads: 'Wonder Woman' and the State of Female Directors in Hollywood, A Grimdark 'Daredevil,' and More Daily Reads: How The Hype Machine Is Ruining Movies, Why Kevin James Movies Have a Kevin James Problem, and More Daily Reads: How The Hype Machine Is Ruining Movies, Why Kevin James Movies Have a Kevin James Problem, and More Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more Daily Reads: 'Full House' and the Dead End of Nostalgia, How the Children of the '70s Killed the Movies, and More Daily Reads: 'Full House' and the Dead End of Nostalgia, How the Children of the '70s Killed the Movies, and More The A.V. Club Picks the 100 Best Movies of the Decade; 'The Master' Tops the List The A.V. Club Picks the 100 Best Movies of the Decade; 'The Master' Tops the List The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" 'Simpsons' Showrunner Al Jean Says No Further Seasons Will Be Released on DVD 'Simpsons' Showrunner Al Jean Says No Further Seasons Will Be Released on DVD Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood' Why the Unanimous Praise for 'Boyhood' Is Bad for Film Criticism — and for 'Boyhood'

From the Wire: Critics as Situational Hitters

Criticwire By Matt Singer | Criticwire August 24, 2012 at 5:19PM

"Criticism, if it’s worth anything at all, is, first of all, self-criticism."
1
"Ratatouille."
"Ratatouille."

As literature critics continue their civilized discussion on how uncivil to make their reviews, film critics are slowly making their way into the conversation. Are critics too nice? Are they too mean? Are they too chatty with their subjects on social media? Are they too self-obsessed? Is that a ridiculous question to ask on a blog about film criticism? (Don't answer that last one.)

My favorite response from the film world so far comes from The New Yorker's Richard Brody, and an article worthy of its title, "How to Be a Critic." It's so rich in practical words of wisdom, I could just excerpt the entire post, but I suppose that sort of behavior would be more fitting for a piece entitled "How to Be a Content Thief." Instead, here's just one of Brody's many useful nuggets:

"It’s unseemly for self-interested critics to beat their breast in pride over negativity. But this has become a popular stance, as in a Jacob Silverman’s recent post at Slate. Its very title, 'Against Enthusiasm,' rankles. Enthusiasm should be more or less the only thing that gets a critic out of bed in the morning, except in the case of ghouls who are aroused by the taste of blood... Critics don’t need to be nice (programmatic niceness is itself another sort of self-falsification and self-punishment, and is at least as sanctimonious as self-justifying meanness), but they do need to know where they stand."

With the slow (or maybe not-so-slow) erosion of this great profession, it's only natural for critics to ask themselves about their place in the world. What exactly makes them relevant? Certainly hate gets more eyeballs than hosannas, and in today's traffic-obsessed world, that's increasingly important. In the real world, you catch more flies with honey. Online, acid's your best bet.

Of course, a critic who's irrationally venomous is about as useful as a critic who's irrationally kind. As a general rule, the only reviewers worth reading aren't the softies or the cynics -- they're the ones who can do either as their subject merits. I'm fond of baseball metaphors, so I'll use one here: in baseball there is a concept called "situational hitting," in which the batter adjusts his approach at the plate based on the score of the game. Down six runs in the bottom of the ninth with no one on base, it does your team no good to swing for the fences; better to work a walk and start a rally. Likewise, if you're tied in the bottom of the ninth with a runner on third and nobody out, trying to get a hit is the wrong strategy: if you sacrifice yourself with a fly ball to the outfield, the runner tags and scores, and you win the game.

Critics should be situational hitters: acerbic in one review, fawning in the next. The inflexible critic might hit a home run every once in a while. But the flexible one will have the better batting average.

Read more of "How to Be a Critic."

This article is related to: Richard Brody


E-Mail Updates



Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome