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Stephanie Zacharek Laid Off By Movieline; Film Critic Position "Eliminated"

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by Matt Singer
June 7, 2012 12:45 PM
32 Comments
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On Twitter, film critic Stephanie Zacharek announced that she has been laid off by Movieline. July 13th will be her last day at the site; her position ("Chief Critic," according to the masthead) is being "eliminated." I reached out to Movieline for clarification about the future of criticism at the site -- is the "Chief Critic" position eliminated? Will their other critics, Michelle Orange and Alison Willmore, see more work? Will they be hiring someone else? -- and got back a "No comment."

The immensely talented Zacharek moved to Movieline a little over two years ago, after eleven years at the venerable culture website Salon. Her layoff is especially sad because Movieline has become such a vital destination for smart film criticism in recent years. Between Zacharek, Orange, and Willmore (who, full disclosure that you all already know, is my former colleague at IFC and current colleague at our Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast), Movieline had one of the best film critic staffs in the country, and they could always be counted on for fresh, fair takes on everything from blockbusters to indies. Last week, Zacharek had me chuckling at her water main break drenched review of "Piranha 3DD." This week, I greatly admired her thoughtful take on "Prometheus." I guess Movieline thought her work wasn't essential to their mission, but I know I speak for a lot of people when I say she was the number one reason I visited the site.

Zacharek's untimely departure from Movieline reminded me of something she wrote in her final post before she left Salon.

"When I was a journalism student in the 1980s, if you had told me that by 2010 it would be nearly impossible for a smart, experienced professional to make a living wage as a journalist or editor, I’d have accepted it only if you’d told me that by that time, we’d also be zooming around in flying cars, like the Jetsons. Journalism, as a profession, is in danger of dying; I’m still waiting for that flying car."

We're all still waiting. But in the meantime, someone should hire Stephanie Zacharek.

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32 Comments

  • charlie adler | September 18, 2012 12:54 PMReply

    completely agree, Zacharek was the main reason for visiting ml

  • Jody | July 31, 2012 8:40 AMReply

    My very favorite critic is Manohla Dargis, but I have always appreciated Zacharek. Its a shame that she was laid off. Shame on you Movieline!

  • claudio | July 13, 2012 5:41 PMReply

    She's the most talented movie critic in the world. I've just realized that she's also the only person I follow on Twitter...
    I've been reading her articles for 12 years and believe me, you can learn more from her reviews than you can ever learn at any film school. And let me add this: she always asks for truth in filmmaking. That's why I love her work.

  • GBannis | July 2, 2012 6:40 PMReply

    Must say, I never found Zacharek to be particularly original or insightful. When a critic is good, one can learn a different perspective from them even when one disagrees with them. That was never the case with Zacharek.

  • Judy L | June 28, 2012 7:54 PMReply

    Stephanie is the ONLY reason I visit Movieline. She is the best and most thoughtful film critic in the world and this is a tragedy.

  • Pauline Krull | June 11, 2012 10:18 AMReply

    Willmore and Orange are fantastic and tremendously underrated. Superior to Zacaharek, who seems to be more interested in what clever sentences she can come up with than actual passionate discourse. Name a single movie championed by Zacahrek that we owe discovery to her? A single review of hers that's landmark, that shifted your understanding of a movie (Piranha 3DD? Is there really an audience waiting on baited breath with her thoughts on that movie?) Pageviews aside, what effect is film criticism having if at all?

    Movieline is horrendous though. I can't tell if Jen Yamato works in PR or journalism. Van Airsdale is such an obnoxious bitch and it infects the site. It's a site that doesn't love movies or the effect they have on people. The IM exchange between Yamato and Airsdale about Red Tails with Tyler Perry jokes was particularly odious.

    I hope someday Orange, Willmore and Kartina Richardson (formerly with Ebert presents) get their due as brilliant, passionate film writers. Those three make me desperately want to see and think about certain movies. Zacahrek wants to dictate to me how she's superior to them. I don't celebrate anyone losing a job, but until film critics learn to share love with us again instead of jaded trivialities it won't matter.

  • Chris | June 11, 2012 2:34 PM

    "Name a single movie championed by Zacahrek that we owe discovery to her?"

    Yeah, exactly. She fails at the key test of a critic: the ability to recognize, celebrate, and illuminate worthy films. The only great films Zacharek celebrates are ones that were already canonized before she even started her SALON or MOVIELINE gigs. When it comes to new releases, not a single masterpiece has ever owed its recognition to her. On the contrary, she spends most of her time heralding schlock like Salt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Prince of Persia, or Haywire, if for no other reason than these movies plug into her idiotic wish-fulfillment fantasies. While she sometimes does praise good movies, those good movies almost always turn out to be movies where the critical consensus is already very positive anyway, and she's just going with the flow. When she goes out on a limb and goes to bat for a despised orphan, it's almost never a worthy object of her affection, but instead something schlocky and ridiculous like Haywire.

    And for the record, I didn't like The Dark Knight or Titanic very much either. I'm glad she panned them (not that she was the only one). But she seems constitutionally incapable of panning an overhyped blockbuster without turning around and immediately starting making preposterous claims for some OTHER popcorn movies THAT ARE JUST AS BLOATED AND EMPTY, IF NOT MORE SO, AS THE ONE SHE PANNED.

  • LoriD | June 10, 2012 11:40 AMReply

    Email Movieline.com at: tips@movieline.com

    Let them know this was an idiot move.

  • Sevin Okyay | June 10, 2012 10:38 AMReply

    So sorry to witness another sign that journalism may really be dying. Sorrier still not to have an address for the time being in which to find Zacharek and read her reviews. However, it's Movieline's loss, I believe that Stephanie will pop up somewhere soon enough. She is one of the very best for me. My best to her and to Charles Taylor, the articles of whom I have also read with pleasure.

  • Chris | June 10, 2012 12:30 AMReply

    Good riddance to one of the worst critics in America.

    The woman incarnates everything that's wrong with the profession. She's obnoxious, supercilious, smug, self-satisfied, haughty, condescending, intellectually lazy, incurious, and not one-tenth as smart as she thinks she is. Also, she is (apart from her husband Charles Taylor) the most shameless copycat of Pauline Kael who ever lived. Almost all of her opinions were cribbed from Kael, nor would she ever budge an inch from a Kael-derived stance once adopted. Quite simply: the epitome of middlebrow poshlost smugness.

    The simple fact is, there is no need for professional critics to exist at all. The internet renders them redundant. I've read plenty of superb film criticism over the years, but practically all of it was written by either retired critics (e.g. Rosenbaum, Kaufmann), dead critics (take your pick), or simply gifted amateurs (any number of excellent bloggers, who can go into far greater depth and precision of analysis than the space-constrained professionals). The pros rarely deliver the goods; certainly Zacharek, with her smug, hipster reverence for schlock and trash (because it feeds her infantile ego) and disdain for challenging art, almost never did.

  • Andrea | January 4, 2014 3:33 AM

    I completely agree with your opinion on Zacharek. On the note of her being 'intellectually lazy', I've noticed that nearly every one of her reviews states facts that are flat-out wrong. Not only does she not do her research before writing her reviews, but she also has her nose so high up in the air that she doesn't make it down to Earth long enough to connect with movies on a human level. She often criticized movies for lacking emotional attachment when the truth is she just doesn't know what it feels like.

    I got so tired of seeing her pretentious, arrogant reviews that I had to stop ready The Village Voice all together.

  • Richard | June 11, 2012 5:15 AM

    Nobody gets this hot and bothered without a reason. I wonder what this particular insect up your colon is about....

  • Chris | June 10, 2012 4:28 PM

    "Sheesh! Did she stand you up for the prom?"

    I could just as easily ask the same of Zacharek whenever she reviews any of the filmmakers Kael ever ruled persona non grata (e.g. Malick, Eastwood, Michael Moore). "Did Terry Malick stand you up at the prom, Steph?" She's ridiculous, because she pretends to base her opinion on the footage itself, when the actual fact of the matter is she made up her mind a priori, before the movie even started. Of all critics in the legitimate media, Zacharek is one of the worst because one of the most DISHONEST. She plays favorites to an astonishing degree. Certain actors and directors are going to get an incredibly rough ride from her NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO, simply by virtue of having once been detested by Kael, just as others are going to get an incredibly easy ride and plenty of free passes, simply by virtue of having once been adored and adulated by Kael.

    "Yeah I know, to you, all women sound the same."

    If there's one thing Kael's and Zacharek's intellectually lazy, know-nothing fanboys and fangirls need to do, it's to stop with the knee-jerk (and fact-free) accusations of sexism and misogyny. I'd bet the house I know more about women's intellectual achievements than you could even dream of knowing. Are you familiar with the scientific achievements of Henrietta Leavitt, Barbara McClintock, Rosalind Franklin, Candace Pert, or Lynn Margulis? I am. And I know just how significant and groundbreaking each of these brilliant, marvelous women were. Have you read Jane Jacobs, Rachel Carson, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Lady Murasaki, Sappho, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, Virginia Woolf, George Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Toni Morrison, Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Jane Ellen Harrison, Susan Sontag, Simone de Beavoir? I've read them all, and I admire them all. So kindly spare me your pseudo-feminist indignation because I deign to call a spade a spade, and a hack a hack (whether said hack has a vagina or a penis matters jack shit to me - Zacharek's husband Charles Taylor is even worse than she is).

    You, on the other hand, clearly have your P.C. feminist credentials in order because you like Kael and Zacharek. Clearly, one's degree of respect for women as a sex is determinable from how many air kisses one blows the way of a pair of opinionated blowhards who HAPPEN to possess a set of tits.

  • LoriD | June 10, 2012 11:50 AM

    Sheesh! Did she stand you up for the prom?
    I've read a lion's share of criticism old and new, from critics dead and alive. In my opinion SZ has her own voice. She isn't derivative of Kael except she is also an intelligent woman who knows her cinema.
    Yeah I know, to you, all women sound the same.

  • Serena | June 9, 2012 8:49 PMReply

    This deeply saddens me not just because Stephanie is a wonderful, immensely talented writer, but a couple years back she wrote a lovely article about a noir montage I did, and having someone like her recognize my potential as a film editor is invaluable. I know Stephanie will land on her feet--maybe she can stop by Filmspotting in the meantime?--and I send my sincerest, best wishes to her and Charles.

  • MaryAnn Johanson | June 9, 2012 6:08 AMReply

    Roger Ebert wrote: The underlying problem may be that the internet survives on the assumption that people should be happy to work for free.

    A bigger problem: A lot of people *are* working for free for big corporate sites with staffs and budgets that are paying everyone else but the writers. When pageviews are all that matter, thoughtful writing cannot survive.

  • Asian Movie Waif | June 8, 2012 7:50 PMReply

    The tone of Stephanie's writing is pleasantly conversational but it's steeped in knowledge, insight, really wicked wit (like her real person) and always gets to the heart of the film. I too laughed out loud when reading her and re-played her sentences in my mind. And what's really special to me is that both her writing and her person is impressive but not intimidating. Thanks for all this.

  • Roger Ebert | June 8, 2012 7:28 PMReply

    I admire her work so much. I hope she will find a new home shortly. Her husband Charles Taylor was also excellent at Salon. The underlying problem may be that the internet survives on the assumption that people should be happy to work for free. Sooner or later the rent will come due.

  • buttercup | June 8, 2012 3:42 PMReply

    She is one of my favorite critics writing today, in that I took great pleasure in reading her reviews and while I don't agree with her opinion 100% of the time, she's led me to some movies that I adored ("Hellboy," "The Last Mistress") that I would never have seen without her prompting. I really hope she'll find a home for her writing!

  • Jake Jacobson | June 8, 2012 2:50 PMReply

    The car has flown. Inevitable? Infuriating. Living wage? Over. Movieline...now just another studio megaphone...grrrrr.

  • Todd Bradley | June 12, 2012 10:49 AM

    While seeing Steph's departure is a bad sign, one thing you cannot say is MovieLine is a studio-worshipping site. Always working in its favor is the willingness to not treat Hollywood like a cathedral. They have had a share of great writers leave because the parent syndicate has been squeezing the purse strings. I hope they can endure as one of the original voices on the web.

  • stwsr | June 8, 2012 1:00 PMReply

    Another sad day for film journalism and all cinephiles.

  • Anselma Dell'Olio | June 8, 2012 4:03 AMReply

    The Number One reason for visiting Movieline? How about the ONLY reason I ever visited Movieline; not that I have anything against the site, just that she is the reason I ever checked it out. Zacharek will surely be snapped up pronto by a discerning publisher. Corky, dyspeptic and original, I look forward to following her wherever she decides to go, arguing with her all the way. In bocca al lupo, Zac! (Crepi il lupo.)

  • Guy Flatley, moviecrazed.com | June 7, 2012 7:41 PMReply

    Stephanie Zacharek is a lively, probing critic, an elegant writer who could never be mistaken for an on-line softie. So naturally she got dumped.

  • David Edelstein | June 7, 2012 6:08 PMReply

    One less magazine I'll visit to re-examine my responses and re-watch movies through the eyes of a unique and remarkable writer, and one whose bold earnestness routinely puts dodgy ironists like me to shame.

  • Really | June 7, 2012 3:37 PMReply

    Sad for Stephanie, but was this worthy of an Indie Wire News Alert? Seriously?

  • Peter Labuza | June 7, 2012 5:20 PM

    This was in a blog called Criticwire, which covers going-ons in film criticism. So was this worthy of an comment asking whether this is news? Seriously?

  • bob hawk | June 7, 2012 4:12 PM

    Yes.

  • jessieT | June 7, 2012 3:34 PMReply

    Well sure, everyone's a critic, everyone can shout out on anything at any time. Why read well thought ought opinion/criticism.
    What next - just say good, bad, indifferent...

  • Audrey Ewell | June 7, 2012 1:51 PMReply

    The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away. I'm just not sure if I totally like this brave new frontier we're building. Agree or disagree with a knowledgeable critic's take on film, I prize having people who recognize the influences and historical contexts of the films and filmmakers making movies today. I kind of hate the youtube era. Everyone's got an opinion. But the informed opinions are being drowned out in the pure volume of people shouting FIRST every chance they get.

  • Mark Rabinowitz | June 7, 2012 1:41 PMReply

    Ugh. The purge continues. Come on over to the old critics home, Stephanie. I'll make the gin and tonics.

  • Kate Erbland | June 7, 2012 12:58 PMReply

    While 8 times out of 10, I don't agree with Zacharek's opinions on films, that doesn't impact how much I enjoy her opinions and her style. She's one of the few fellow critics that I read religiously.

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