A Film Critic’s New Year’s Resolution
by Phil Boatwright

“If a critic hates a film I usually like it.” You have no idea how often I’ve heard that declaration of disdain – not so much as a response to my critiques, but in reference to the movie views of my more famous colleagues in criticism. I’d like to believe I’ve been spared that lump-summing because I’m considered a better writer and more insightful. But more probably, it’s because the assailant is being somewhat tactful. This beckons the question, “What’s the purpose of a film critic?” And the followup query, “Are critics really necessary?”

In order to defend those who critique over two hundred movies a year, it must be stated up front that we reviewers know more about movies than you do and that you are boobs when you ignore our reviews.

I got your attention with that one, didn’t I? Well, before you hurl that rotten tomato at me, I’m just kidding. Hang with me a minute, while I dig myself out of this hole.

From my research I have found that generally the public goes to movies in order to ease the tensions of the day. In most cases, they’re not looking for anything with an “art-house” ethereal flair. They just want to see something blow up or Katherine Heigl get together with her male costar after two hours of bickering. Truth be told, when we go to a movie for enjoyment’s sake, most in my profession are looking for the same things as you. But as critics we evaluate movies and often compare new releases with previous films in the same genre. And we are an essential part of the movie-making process, for as Pauline Kael once wrote, “Criticism is the only news about movies, everything else is advertising.”

Most of the film critics I know have an abiding love for this art form, but it’s a frustration knowing there are great films going unwatched while mediocrity abounds at the local cineplex. But what we movie reporters like in movies may not be your cup of tea. That doesn’t make you boobs. That’s the magic of movies; one film appeals to some while exasperating others.

So, here’s why film critics are necessary in 2012. It costs $10 a ticket – or more. (Have you ever regretted doling out $10 – or more – for a movie?) And along with this financial concern, there’s also the issue of what we as Christians should be putting into our heads. (“I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” - Psalm 101:3. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” - Ephesians 5:11.) Religious or not, most people find the MPAA rating system inadequate and often wish they had paid attention to reviewer warnings.

Studios were once regulated by the Motion Picture Code, which was established in the 1930s to order to protect the values and moral concepts society considered the standard to live by. You didn’t need a reviewer’s warning so much. By the end of the 1960s, however, the Code had vanished, replaced by the MPAA rating system. Alas, this new policy did nothing to control what filmmakers put in their products.

Swearing, irreverence to God, excessive violence, crudity, nudity, perversity – these were forbidden under the Code. Many filmmakers thought this code of decency was restrictive, and were determined to end it. But while the ideal of the new MPAA system was to allow for more mature themes, the reality was a door opening to a bombardment of excess. There are no restrictions anymore. The “artists” finally won. But the culture lost.

When closely examined, there were films from the Code era that dealt with the same issues moviemakers address today. The difference: the execution of the subject matter under the Motion Picture Code tended to be more profound as it was handled with more discretion.

You gotta admit, there’s not a lot of discretion going on in Tinseltown these days.

In order to best serve you, today’s critic should serve as a reporter. It’s no longer his opinion that’s paramount, but his recording of the film’s plot, message and content. By supplying you with the synopsis and the reasons for the rating, you can make informed decisions before handing over that $10 bill – or more. (BTW, if your favorite critic isn’t providing you with a content breakdown – find another critic.)

So, what’s this reviewer’s New Year’s Resolution? Same as last year. And the year before. Try to write shorter and get the commas in the right places.

Happy New Year, everybody.