One of the things people ask me most about my job is: How did you become a movie critic?
The answer is simple.
The previous one died.
If that sounds flippant, well, it is, a little. But the previous movie critic, the late, great Bill Muller, was one of my best friends, and he’d have had me respond no other way. Like me, he started out in news, both of us at one time working as night-cop reporters. He was just as aware as I am that the fortunes of journalists often rise due to the misfortunes of others.
I also had been a television critic for years, so I knew something about criticism, at least in theory. I’d filled in here and there with some movie reviews, so I wasn’t ignorant about the job.
Or so I thought.
I became the critic for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com, and shortly thereafter for the USA TODAY Network, 10 years ago. In that time, according to review-aggregator site RottenTomatoes.com, I’ve written more than 1,700 reviews. That’s a lot of movies. And a lot of typing. It doesn’t include the hundreds of interviews I’ve conducted with … just about everyone, really. (This is more a reflection of my job title than my, ahem, magnetic personality.)
The folks I’ve talked with over the past decade include Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino, Emma Stone, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Michael Caine, Mariah Carey (yes — she’s really good in “Precious”), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Rockwell, Nicole Kidman, J.J. Abrams, Amy Schumer, Amy Adams (who said, when I told her she didn’t really sound like her character in “Enchanted” — duh — “My brother calls me a failed optimist”), Jamie Foxx, Kristen Stewart, Rob Pattinson, Jim Carey, Marissa Tomei, John Sayles, Joaquin Phoenix, Christian Bale, Ridley Scott, Gabourey Sidibe, Michael Shannon, Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Kirsten Dunst, Elizabeth Olsen and a whole slew of others.
It’s a pretty swell job.
Much has changed during that time, both about the movies and about me. So to celebrate 10 years (hoist the beverage of your choice), here are 10 things I’ve learned about movies and criticism in the past decade.
This started before I came aboard, but it has continued: Studios are interested in huge blockbusters, and they’ll greenlight a movie you make on your iPhone. (That’s no slight; “Tangerine” is terrific.) It’s the in-between movie, the mid-budget risk with some biggish names making offbeat stories, that’s disappearing. That’s too bad. If you file through critics’ top-10 lists most years, those make up a lot of what you’ll find there.
“It’s very difficult,” the writer and director Charlie Kaufman told me in an interview. “It’s always been very difficult and it’s become more difficult for a certain type of movie to be made by a studio. ‘Adaptation’ was made by Sony Pictures, and that is a movie that would never be made by a studio now. Ever. There would be no point in going in there and talking to them.”
Will the situation improve? It’s not promising. Check back in 10 more years and we’ll see.
When I wrote a snarky sports column, I no longer watched games for pleasure. I didn’t want to see a close game. I wanted to see a blowout, so I could better form an idea and make deadline. You give up your rooting interest. The same is true of how I watch movies. I have other things to think about. Of course I pay more attention to technical aspects of making a movie than I used to — I don’t know that the word “framing” ever came up in casual conversation before — but the story is still the driving force for me. And sure, I get excited to see the next Spielberg movie, like anyone else. But once the lights go down I judge everything on its merits, nothing more. And nothing less. That said …
Anyone who reviews movies has to be. I never pretend mine is the only opinion that matters, or even counts more than anyone else’s. I labor under no delusions that I know more than anyone else about a movie. But everything I write stems from loving movies. That’s why I’m delighted when one turns out to be good, and disappointed when another one doesn’t. But I’m always happy to see the next one.
There’s a Twitter fight going on about whether “Twin Peaks: The Return” is a long movie or a TV series. I vote the latter, but who cares? There are great movies and great TV series, and bad ones, too. But writing about them differs greatly, for this reason: No matter how big the movie (think one of the “Star Wars” films), it opens on a Friday and, for me at least, it’s gone. Five or six movies will open next week. But a good TV show can last years. Series evolve. Characters come and go. It’s more of a long-range view.
OK, technically it does. What I mean is that there are many movies I recognize as being great, but I don’t necessarily need to watch them again and again. My first year I saw “There Will Be Blood,” which probably remains the greatest film I’ve seen in this job. It’s a massive achievement, yet if I ran across it on cable while channel-surfing, I’m not sure I’d stop for long. But “Michael Clayton,” from the same year? I’d be there till the end. There’s a difference, at least to me, in achievement and entertainment. Or maybe I’m just rationalizing my deep and abiding love for “Caddyshack.”
The fact is, we get everything. We may not get a movie the day it opens, or you may have to drive a long way from your house to see it (see: urban sprawl), but if it’s a movie, chances are it’s going to play here. Dan Harkins, the owner of Harkins Theatres, has made a real commitment to small and independent films. Cool spots like FilmBar make sure we cover the waterfront.
Actually that’s only true on the days when I get the list of films opening the next week and realize that I can’t get to all of them, even with the terrific assistance of Barbara VanDenburgh, Randy Cordova and Kerry Lengel, who help me out when they can. Sometimes the list will have 10 movies on it. It’s an embarrassment of riches (except for the bad movies). We are committed to trying to review every film that opens in theaters, but sometimes it’s too much. So if you are one of the many people who call and write asking why we didn’t review (insert name of your potential favorite movie we skipped here), there’s your answer.
And yet that’s the first, and sometimes only, thing people pay attention to. I include my own children in that. Unless I know when the credits roll that I’m going to give a movie 5 stars (which doesn’t happen often) or I absolutely hated it (which happens more frequently), assigning the number of stars to a film is the last thing I do. I take it seriously, but calculating the difference between a 3.5-star movie and a 4-star one is tricky. (Also, most of the other papers in the USA TODAY Network that run my reviews use a 4-star system, while we use a 5-star one. That means I have to use, gulp, math to figure out the adjustment.)
Sometimes you’ll get a great interview out of someone with a bad movie, which means some hemming and hawing at the start of the conversation (using words like “interesting” or “different” instead of “good” or “enjoyable”). Good directors and actors make bad movies sometimes. It doesn’t make them less interesting to talk to.
And a bad interview (or a good one) in no way reflects on the related review. I met Philip Seymour Hoffman for an interview once, and it went … not great. He just wasn’t into it. Not long after a publicist called and asked if that would affect my review. Absolutely, 100 percent not. Not then, not ever. An interview is a business transaction. A review is an evaluation of art. One has nothing to do with the other.
There’s no way this won’t sound like complaining, but here goes: Being a movie critic is a time-consuming job. Granted, it’s not as hard as the TV beat, where you have to slog through literally hundreds of new shows each year. But you have to drive to the theater, spend a couple of hours, come home, write a review, etc. I know, boo-hoo. And that’s precisely the reaction you should have. Whenever my kids hear me complain about being busy, they look at me with a look that says, “Anyone who complains about watching and writing about movies for a living deserves a punch in the throat.” Agreed. Onward.
- Do Berlinale film critics always get the best film right?
- Goodbye to Language talks its way to top of US film critics' poll for 2014
- DA: Uncle Charged For Firing Back At Gunman Who Shot 10-Year-Old Boy In Back Of Head
- The Austin Film Critics Association votes to remove Harry Knowles
- Cuba Gooding Jr: ‘I had 10 years in the wilderness’
- Meet the 10-year-old maths genius who's just enrolled at college
- Disney casts 10-year-old newcomer as Mowgli in Jon Favreau's Jungle Book
- 'Some things never change': Miley Cyrus slams 'dumb' reports she's split with Liam Hemsworth as the couple celebrate their 10-year anniversary
- Frankford Community Marches For End To Gun Violence Following Shooting Of 10-Year-Old Boy Walking Home From School
- The 10 best films about films
- Katie Holmes in Australia for first time in 10 years to raise vital funds for Ronald McDonald House Charities
- 10 years on and 20 more to go - Mojang on the present and future of Minecraft
|What I've Got In Mind (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Poker School - Poster (What I Really Learned In School) (Size: 24" x 36") (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|In Three Words I Can Sum Up Everything I’ve Learned in Life Vinyl Wall Decal (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|(23x35) What I Really Learned in School (Cards, Poker Hands) Art Poster Print (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading too Much (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science (and What Ive Learned So Far) (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Movies On My Mind: My First Dozen Years as a Film Critic For the Easton Irregular 1998-2010 (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|What I've Learned From Never Having a Boyfriend (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|What I've Learned From Chickens (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Dogs Who Found Me: What I'Ve Learned From Pets Who Were Left Behind by Foster, Ken (2006) Paperback (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Bitter Medicine: What I've Learned and Teach about Malpractice Lawsuits (And How to Avoid Them) (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Dogs Who Found Me: What I've Learned From Pets Who Were Left Behind (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|What I've Learned from You: The Lessons of Life Taught to a Doctor by His Patients (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|You Can Observe A Lot By Watching: What I've Learned About Teamwork From the Yankees and Life (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Pushing Double Nickels: Fifty Things I've Learned in Fifty Years (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|One and the Same: My Life as an Identical Twin and What I've Learned About Everyone's Struggle to Be Singular (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Beyond the Homestretch: What Ive Learned from Saving Racehorses (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|What I've Learned: An Encyclopedia of Perpetual Bullshit (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Winning Balance: What I’ve Learned So Far about Love, Faith, and Living Your Dreams (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Lessons from the River: What I've learned from whitewater canoeing and camping on Maine's rivers (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Let me tell you what I've learned: Texas Wisewomen Speak (Louann Atkins Temple Women and Culture Series, Book Four) (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Mutley's Great Adventures: What I?ve Learned Living with MS (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Beyond the Homestretch: What I've Learned from Saving Racehorses (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|The Dogs Who Found Me: What I've Learned from Pets Who Were Left Behind (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|What I Really Learned in College (With Honors Series) (Volume 1) (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|What I've Learned about Sex (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|The Mother's Guide to the Meaning of Life: What I'Ve Learned in My Never-Ending Quest to Become a Dalai Mama (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: What I Learned in Ten Years as a Microsoft Programmer (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Mother's Guide to the Meaning of Life: What I've Learned in My Never-Ending Quest to Become a Dalai Mama (check at Amazon)||0.0|
|Are We Sinking Or Are My Legs Getting Shorter?: The Stupid Stuff I've Learned Over The Years as a Professional Boat Captain (check at Amazon)||0.0|
Goody: What I've learned in 10 years as a film critic have 2237 words, post on www.azcentral.com at December 8, 2017. This is cached page on USA Posts. If you want remove this page, please contact us.