Death of a Film Critic

January 02, 2018

Dear mister film critic,

I'm sure you noticed 2017 finally came to an end. Like any individual with little more than a passing interest in film, you drew up a best of 2017 list and proudly flaunted it for all to see. Rest assured, I looked at your list, but only briefly. I quickly noticed that it didn't really differ much from all the other lists I came across this year, which I found a little disappointing (though not at all surprising). It has never been easier to explore cinema from around the world, so pardon me if I ponder the need for your continued existance.

feeling obsolete

But first, let me give you a little credit. I know 2017 mustn't have been a very easy year for you. More and more people are blatantly ignoring your writings, instead all your hard work is being reduced to a single score dished out at the end of your reviews. If you're lucky, that score get plastered on a poster or is included into a trailer (possibly accompanied by a well-tailored half-quote), but more often than not it ends up as part of a lifeless average on a site like RottenTomatoes or MetaCritic, wasting away besides 90 similarly meaningless scores.

I get that standing out in this modern sea of opinions (better known as the internet) is daunting, so I understand that you do your best to flock to whatever you think is going to be popular. I can also imagine that it's not always easy to keep your employers happy and that sometimes you can't just write about the things you want to write about. On the one hand there is the publication that pays your bills and demands topics people want to read about, on the other hand there is pressure from the industry itself, which has begun to shield you from their press screening whenever they think you've treated one of their films unfairly. I do feel for you, really.

All this external pressure puts you in a very peculiar position though, doesn't it? While you write about the artistic merits of film, you gladly put aside all the commercial pressure a film director has to deal with. After all, you're dealing with works of art that live beyond the financial interests of its investors. I guess then that we, the readers of your work, would be best to ignore whatever real-life pressures are sitting in your way, simply judging the quality of your writing. Even more so I imagine, as your writings are a service to your readers rather than an actual bonafide piece of art. And as it happens, that very much includes the films you choose to write about.

Now don't get me wrong, I get that there is a thing like consensus and it's really not that odd that some of your favorites appeared elsewhere too. I'm also not here to criticize your taste in film, if you really liked Dunkirk and Blade Runner 2049, all the more power to you. But why is it that almost all the films on your list are coming from the same production country (or from the same set of film festivals, if you happen to be writing for more arthouse-oriented publications)? And why is the overlap with other film critics so big? That's not mere consensus, either you're just copying each other's lists or you're all just fishing in the same, very narrow pool of films. A pool dominated by American studio films and whatever local distributors are feeding you.

It might be acceptable for us plebs to be stuck in their our own cultural bubble, but that leniency doesn't extend to people doing the job you are doing, especially when it has become so easy to venture outside that bubble. Looking at my own 2017 favorites, at least two of them were Netflix discoveries (films I had never heard of before they were added to the Netflix library), coming out of Spain and India. Exceptional films that are readily available to a large group of people, but you never wrote about. Why? I simply don't know.

Now I know you might be an exception, and that probably means you either made it really (really) big or you moved to a smaller online publication (or even decided to start your own personal project). An admirable choice and one that deserves to be applauded, at the same time though this seems to only further underline the niche appeal of the films you are writing about while supporting the notion that they belong in a separate list, well separated from the big studio films. That is simply not true.

I believe that you, as a film critic, should take a couple of notes from the world of sommeliers. A good sommelier isn't merely aware of the wines his resaurant is serving, he needs to be the one buying the wines. Similarly, you should be educating your readers about films that are worth seeing. Not just the ones that happen to be getting a theater or home DVD release, but all good films regardless of availability and ease of access. Not just the ones pushed by big studios and offered to you for free, but also the smaller ones coming from countries that can't reach big audiences with global marketing campaigns. You do the digging, you write about it and we reap the rewards.

I'm sure I've seen you writing something about the fact that Hollywood is streamlining its films to broaden their success in China, but I've never seen you write about the increasing number of Chinese films being released each year. India is another behemot you are largely ignoring, while countries like Japan, Spain and South-Korea are also being underrepresented in your writings, even though they are still going strong. Reviewing that single Koreeda or Park flick doesn't redeem your lack of interest I'm afraid. And did you know there's a booming horror scene in South-America? You should, because a lot of these films are readily available on streaming platforms. Why didn't you tell me about it?

As long as you keep ignoring your obligation to us, the people passionate about film, you deserve little to no respect for the work you are doing and you shouldn't be surprised the industry is thinking of you as their personal lap dogs. You can keep stuffing your best of lists with all the Dunkirks and Blade Runners in the world, all it does is highlight your lack of knowledge rather than prove you can be a good cinematic host, serving a well-balanced range of worthwhile films. So let 2018 be the year that you make a positive change, one where your work stops sounding like a corporate marketing machine and may actually become of worth once again.

Best regards,
A passionate film fan.