Do You Have A "Style" When It Comes To Reviewing Movies?

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I'm not a fan of newer stuff. 1930-70s is for me. I can say the same about music.
Right, but I'm asking why give them a 1/10 just to pull down their averages? (Which is how I interpreted your remark about giving them a 1/10 to "have more influence").



Re: self-absorbed film watching. Neat idea (and term!), though one can like that without liking self-absorbed film reviewing, which is after all the topic.

I think that's a pretty important distinction, since it determines whether you're writing reviews for yourself, for the satisfaction of adding your opinion to the din/having it in the ether, or whether you're writing it for a prospective reader who wants to get something out of it (insight, entertainment, or information).

It mirrors a distinction I make about people's posts on forums, actually, in that there's a huge difference in contribution between people who just record their opinions for posterity and people who have discussions with others (though there are more wrinkles to that than there are for reviewing).
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Cassavetes and Altman are two of my favorite directors
Same! Even if Altman's filmography is a little more perilous. But that's part of the fun of Altman.



Re: self-absorbed film watching. Neat idea (and term!), though one can like that without liking self-absorbed film reviewing, which is after all the topic.

I think that's a pretty important distinction, since it determines whether you're writing reviews for yourself, for the satisfaction of adding your opinion to the din/having it in the ether, or whether you're writing it for a prospective reader who wants to get something out of it (insight, entertainment, or information).

It mirrors a distinction I make about people's posts on forums, actually, in that there's a huge difference in contribution between people who just record their opinions for posterity and people who have discussions with others (though there are more wrinkles to that than there are for reviewing).
You can have your cake and eat it too. The trick is to hopefully write something for yourself that still manages to add to a conversation outside of your own solipsism. Pauline Kael (in her review of Shoeshine) is almost a completely personal take on her experience of the film (the day she was having, an argument with a boyfriend, a couple she overhears at the theatre). But she uses that personal experience to become relatable to her audience. It opens a window that allows us to empathize with her viewing of the film, just as she empathized with the film and its characters while watching it.

There are a number of different tacts that a critic can take in their writing, for example, hoping to give their audience some idea if the film is worth their time. But that isn't what I read a review for. I'm almost exclusively interested in those who are writing in hopes that they can get to the root of why a film affected them the way it did, completely irrelevant to whether I might feel the same way or not. I want them to try and engage me as a piece of writing in and of itself. And, frankly, I don't know how that gets done without sometimes risking coming off like a self absorbed dope at times.

In general, the films I like the most are those that lay themselves bare to be ridiculed, either because they bit off more than they could chew, or they risked not being very likeable, or seemed personal to the point of complete abstraction. So when I write about them, I feel I should be just as inviting of utter failure as they have been. It's the least I owe those directors who put themselves out there like that. Of course, it's a difficult balancing act to pull off. One that I undoubtedly stumble over more than succeed. But the risk of looking the fool is part of the charm of writing about film.



You can have your cake and eat it too.
I approve of this idiom coming from someone named crumbsroom.

The trick is to hopefully write something for yourself that still manages to add to a conversation outside of your own solipsism. Pauline Kael (in her review of Shoeshine) is almost a completely personal take on her experience of the film (the day she was having, an argument with a boyfriend, a couple she overhears at the theatre). But she uses that personal experience to become relatable to her audience. It opens a window that allows us to empathize with her viewing of the film, just as she empathized with the film and its characters while watching it.
I'm glad you mentioned this, because I almost said something similar preemptively: that making reviews about your personal experience implies that this person is interested in you as a reviewer on an ongoing basis. Those kinds of subjective experiences are much more valuable if you have (or anticipate you will build) a group of regular readers who will benefit from knowing that personal context so they can use it to deepen the experience of reading your other reviews. Without that, I think it makes less sense (even though any personal anecdote can be interesting by itself).

I think the disconnect is when some rando on the Internet (not to disparage Internet randos, this whole site is built for them!) is sharing some personal story that just doesn't have a lot of significance to anyone else and doesn't work as an investment in understanding them as a critic, because nobody reading it will be reading anything else they write. It works great for the Kaels and Eberts and Berardinellis of the world, though. But I think for most people it's kinda aspirational. Which is also fine.

There are a number of different tacts that a critic can take in their writing, for example, hoping to give their audience some idea if the film is worth their time. But that isn't what I read a review for. I'm almost exclusively interested in those who are writing in hopes that they can get to the root of why a film affected them the way it did, completely irrelevant to whether I might feel the same way or not. I want them to try and engage me as a piece of writing in and of itself. And, frankly, I don't know how that gets done without sometimes risking coming off like a self absorbed dope at times.
I very much agree with "engage me as a piece of writing in and of itself." Big co-sign there. I often tell people my first goal in writing anything is simply to engage or entertain the reader. This takes priority over conveying even basic things about the film. They're not usually in conflict, but when they are, choose the interesting thing over pretty much anything else. But in saying that, I'm also admitting that capital-c Criticism is not my first priority. That is a conscious choice on my part, and it means admitting sometimes my choices are not good as criticism, even if they might be better as writing. This distinction might seem pedantic, but I find it useful.

Kinda reminds me of that old quote about how "the young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions" kinda thing. Anything can work if you do it consciously and skillfully, though it might "work" as one type of thing at the expense of being good as an example of something else, if that makes sense.

In general, the films I like the most are those that lay themselves bare to be ridiculed, either because they bit off more than they could chew, or they risked not being very likeable, or seemed personal to the point of complete abstraction. So when I write about them, I feel I should be just as inviting of utter failure as they have been. It's the least I owe those directors who put themselves out there like that. Of course, it's a difficult balancing act to pull off. One that I undoubtedly stumble over more than succeed. But the risk of looking the fool is part of the charm of writing about film.
Yep yep, fair enough. Just to be clear, I'm not trying to persuade anyone (and certainly not you) they're Doing It Wrong. Mostly I'm trying to prompt self-reflection about the trade offs, because my sense is that the overwhelming majority of movie reviews are just people thinking out loud, writing without intentionality or asking themselves who might read it or what they might want from it. And yeah yeah, I know, wanting things written on the Internet to be more considerate and outwardly focused is like trying to make the ocean a little less salty. I'm a hopeless desalinator.



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
Right, but I'm asking why give them a 1/10 just to pull down their averages? (Which is how I interpreted your remark about giving them a 1/10 to "have more influence").
So the overall score is lower, as little of an effect it might be, as opposed to giving them a 3/10.


I figure each person only has room for so many movies, so I try to influence as much as I can.



So the overall score is lower, as little of an effect it might be, as opposed to giving them a 3/10.

I figure each person only has room for so many movies, so I try to influence as much as I can.
I get what you're trying to do, I just don't understand why.

Intentionally voting that someone's art (actually, the art/work of many people: actors, writers, the directors, the costumers, etc) deserves the worst possible score feels wrong to me.

I have a few friends in the film industry (a director, a costume designer, a VFX artist), and the idea of someone giving their work a 1/10 just to drag down their average . . .

I can understand upvoting stuff you like. I don't mind the idea of boosting the average of a film that you think deserves more attention. But trying to discourage people from watching a film they might like seems like a far less pure motive.



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
Same! Even if Altman's filmography is a little more perilous. But that's part of the fun of Altman.
Yeah. I've seen more "misses" than "hits", but those ones I love are some of my very favorites (Nashville, McCabe and Mrs. Miller).


Since we've mentioned Kael, I like those who talk about the audience when they are in the theater. I remember she was upset that the entire crowd cheered Robert (Jack Nicholson) left his girlfriend during "Five Easy Pieces"


I get what you're trying to do, I just don't understand why.

Intentionally voting that someone's art (actually, the art/work of many people: actors, writers, the directors, the costumers, etc) deserves the worst possible score feels wrong to me.

I have a few friends in the film industry (a director, a costume designer, a VFX artist), and the idea of someone giving their work a 1/10 just to drag down their average . . .

I can understand upvoting stuff you like. I don't mind the idea of boosting the average of a film that you think deserves more attention. But trying to discourage people from watching a film they might like seems like a far less pure motive.
I would never do that to "art" - but instead, movies I find that are awful, but will get attention (usually for something that has nothing to do with movies - a tweet, a nude scene, etc).. I've probably done that less than 10 times with movies I thought were absolute garbage. So maybe they were 1/10's in my book. I'm sure a few were a little better, but I wouldn't give them a 2 for the reasons I mentioned earlier.



I approve of this idiom coming from someone named crumbsroom.


I'm glad you mentioned this, because I almost said something similar preemptively: that making reviews about your personal experience implies that this person is interested in you as a reviewer on an ongoing basis. Those kinds of subjective experiences are much more valuable if you have (or anticipate you will build) a group of regular readers who will benefit from knowing that personal context so they can use it to deepen the experience of reading your other reviews. Without that, I think it makes less sense (even though any personal anecdote can be interesting by itself).

I think the disconnect is when some rando on the Internet (not to disparage Internet randos, this whole site is built for them!) is sharing some personal story that just doesn't have a lot of significance to anyone else and doesn't work as an investment in understanding them as a critic, because nobody reading it will be reading anything else they write. It works great for the Kaels and Eberts and Berardinellis of the world, though. But I think for most people it's kinda aspirational. Which is also fine.


I very much agree with "engage me as a piece of writing in and of itself." Big co-sign there. I often tell people my first goal in writing anything is simply to engage or entertain the reader. This takes priority over conveying even basic things about the film. They're not usually in conflict, but when they are, choose the interesting thing over pretty much anything else. But in saying that, I'm also admitting that capital-c Criticism is not my first priority. That is a conscious choice on my part, and it means admitting sometimes my choices are not good as criticism, even if they might be better as writing. This distinction might seem pedantic, but I find it useful.

Kinda reminds me of that old quote about how "the young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions" kinda thing. Anything can work if you do it consciously and skillfully, though it might "work" as one type of thing at the expense of being good as an example of something else, if that makes sense.


Yep yep, fair enough. Just to be clear, I'm not trying to persuade anyone (and certainly not you) they're Doing It Wrong. Mostly I'm trying to prompt self-reflection about the trade offs, because my sense is that the overwhelming majority of movie reviews are just people thinking out loud, writing without intentionality or asking themselves who might read it or what they might want from it. And yeah yeah, I know, wanting things written on the Internet to be more considerate and outwardly focused is like trying to make the ocean a little less salty. I'm a hopeless desalinator.
Sadly, I hardly think far enough into the future to even think in terms of anticipating any growing following for my writing. I'm much lazier than that. I simply write whatever pops into my head, often stream of consciousness, and then do some actual work cleaning up what is ultimately just a mess of words and thoughts. I generally will remove the more grotesquely pointless digressions (usually) and the completely indecipherable nonsense (hopefully). But I don't go out of my way to keep the writing entirely on point. Sometimes, I have enough to say about the film, that there miraculously ends up being some kind of thread or coherent argument that runs through everything. Often though, the film is only a jumping off point for whatever thoughts the film unleashed in me.

While what I end up offering I can only imagine leads to somewhat uneven reading, I don't think it is important to always sweat being technically any good or even exactly make the point you were hoping to make. It's the struggle to articulate something that is interesting to me, and it is in that struggle that we will see glimpses of what is truly interesting in a piece of film criticism--the idiosyncracies of the person writing about the film. I think it's fine and dandy for the film itself to play second fiddle to this. FIlms are always more than what is simply on screen, anyways. At least the good ones are.

This is all a matter of taste though. I suppose that, as a fairly big champion of what others might call 'outsider art', things are just so much more interesting to me when they seem less thought out and more instinctual. Less schooled. Preferably a little unrefined. I'd rather see someone flail at making a point that is above their weight class, then articulate an argument that comes effortlessly to them. But my brain only half works, so maybe I simply feel a kinship with those who make careers of failing similarly to myself.

That said, it's always a valuable conversation to think over the link between what is being 'kept real' by the author, and what actually can have any value to the audience. To overthink that connection though, I believe, would likely frighten some of really original and interesting takes back into the shadows simply because of what we assume an audience wants. Or what makes sense. Or what is too self indulgent. No one reallllly knows, and so its a fool's errand to give it a whole lot of consideration. People just need to write and see what happens, as far as I'm concerned.




Yeah, I can dig most of that, though I'll add that I think most of it is still consistent with some of the things I'm mentioning (and sorta-kinda advocating, though not that strenuously). IE: you can still reach for a point you don't have a handle on, but in a way that is still focused on the reader.

But anyway, intentionality is the whole ballgame, for me: if someone finds value in just going with the flow because they think that leads to interesting stuff, then rock on. That's a thoughtful form of solipsism, as opposed to the kneejerk Internet "here comes my opinion everybody, which I think is valuable just because it's from me" stuff we see so often. So big-time agree on the jumping off point/dialogue stuff, since that is outwardly focused and concerned with dialogue (er, dialogue between writer and reader, not cinematic dialogue).

I also agree very much with not trying to keep "on point" too much. When I started writing reviews, as a young teenager, I was basically just going down a checklist ("oh no, I didn't mention the quality of the acting!") and it was, in retrospect, really dull. I think it improved (however much it did) when I started following the observations where they wanted to go, and cared more about the flow from one point to the next.



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
Sadly, I hardly think far enough into the future to even think in terms of anticipating any growing following for my writing. I'm much lazier than that. I simply write whatever pops into my head, often stream of consciousness, and then do some actual work cleaning up what is ultimately just a mess of words and thoughts. I generally will remove the more grotesquely pointless digressions (usually) and the completely indecipherable nonsense (hopefully). But I don't go out of my way to keep the writing entirely on point. Sometimes, I have enough to say about the film, that there miraculously ends up being some kind of thread or coherent argument that runs through everything. Often though, the film is only a jumping off point for whatever thoughts the film unleashed in me.

While what I end up offering I can only imagine leads to somewhat uneven reading, I don't think it is important to always sweat being technically any good or even exactly make the point you were hoping to make. It's the struggle to articulate something that is interesting to me, and it is in that struggle that we will see glimpses of what is truly interesting in a piece of film criticism--the idiosyncracies of the person writing about the film. I think it's fine and dandy for the film itself to play second fiddle to this. FIlms are always more than what is simply on screen, anyways. At least the good ones are.

This is all a matter of taste though. I suppose that, as a fairly big champion of what others might call 'outsider art', things are just so much more interesting to me when they seem less thought out and more instinctual. Less schooled. Preferably a little unrefined. I'd rather see someone flail at making a point that is above their weight class, then articulate an argument that comes effortlessly to them. But my brain only half works, so maybe I simply feel a kinship with those who make careers of failing similarly to myself.

That said, it's always a valuable conversation to think over the link between what is being 'kept real' by the author, and what actually can have any value to the audience. To overthink that connection though, I believe, would likely frighten some of really original and interesting takes back into the shadows simply because of what we assume an audience wants. Or what makes sense. Or what is too self indulgent. No one reallllly knows, and so its a fool's errand to give it a whole lot of consideration. People just need to write and see what happens, as far as I'm concerned.


I actually love digression


I keep all the associations, stream of consciousness, etc.. It humanizes a review - I can't really get with the robotic reviews. I have a lot of problems with my laptops, and even before, I just don't have the energy, nor the organization. I have things in a thousand different files on computers, notebooks, even these huge 4x3 foot post-its I hang all over the walls.


I know you mentioned you were a RT refugee.. I'd love to read your reviews, and you can always submit them up top at "Reviews" or if you click on "MOVIES" (upper-left) to rate and write something.



Yeah, I can dig most of that, though I'll add that I think most of it is still consistent with some of the things I'm mentioning (and sorta-kinda advocating, though not that strenuously). IE: you can still reach for a point you don't have a handle on, but in a way that is still focused on the reader.

But anyway, intentionality is the whole ballgame, for me: if someone finds value in just going with the flow because they think that leads to interesting stuff, then rock on. That's a thoughtful form of solipsism, as opposed to the kneejerk Internet "here comes my opinion everybody, which I think is valuable just because it's from me" stuff we see so often. So big-time agree on the jumping off point/dialogue stuff, since that is outwardly focused and concerned with dialogue (er, dialogue between writer and reader, not cinematic dialogue).

I also agree very much with not trying to keep "on point" too much. When I started writing reviews, as a young teenager, I was basically just going down a checklist ("oh no, I didn't mention the quality of the acting!") and it was, in retrospect, really dull. I think it improved (however much it did) when I started following the observations where they wanted to go, and cared more about the flow from one point to the next.
I'm aware we are pretty much mostly on same page, was just elaborating on my general point because Unnecessary Elaboration is my middle name.

And, just so it's clear, I don't simply give self indulgence a pass for the sake of self indulgence. More often then not, it's awful (and this goes for some of my worst attempts as well). There needs to be something of insight, amusement or aggravation in the mix for me to think it is worth slogging through someone else's narcissism. My own is exhausting enough.



I actually love digression


I keep all the associations, stream of consciousness, etc.. It humanizes a review - I can't really get with the robotic reviews. I have a lot of problems with my laptops, and even before, I just don't have the energy, nor the organization. I have things in a thousand different files on computers, notebooks, even these huge 4x3 foot post-its I hang all over the walls.


I know you mentioned you were a RT refugee.. I'd love to read your reviews, and you can always submit them up top at "Reviews" or if you click on "MOVIES" (upper-left) to rate and write something.
I posted a review somewhere around here. In one of these horror threads. But it manages to be mostly on point though, so not a great example of my worst impulses. And so what is the fun in that?



Welcome to the human race...
I must admit to giving certain movies a 1/10 (usually if they're new) to have more influence, and also giving a 10/10 to maybe give a lesser known movie a boost. Sometimes I'll change it later just so my IMDB scores are more organized.
I figure a 1/10 can't be given out so arbitrarily - it has to represent the worst of the worst that cinema as an art form can offer, so I try to give them out about as rarely as I give out 10/10 ratings to the best films. If people are going to avoid a film based on my numerical rating then anything south of 5/10 should get the job done anyway - who decides that a 1/10 must be avoided by the plague but a 2/10 is an acceptable risk?
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Iro is to reviews as Kubrick is to films.



I've always depended on the kindness of strangers
For an interesting experiment, try to find a review of a movie you like, the text, and then try to find a corresponding video.. They sound nothing alike.


I don't know why critics can't just talk like they would on the street. Isn't the purpose to communicate? Some reviews I read go over my head and I wonder what business they're in. It reminds me when politicians speak in platitudes instead of telling me about specifics, which is my concern, not how many syllables each word has. And if they want to sound smart, they can still do so.. There's a nice quote, which I don't remember.. Something how artists making the complex sound simple, and how intellectuals turn something simple into something complex... So much for their goal of communication. I think their only goal is money/power/ego. I doubt most critics care about the "common man" and probably look down on him for not going to an elite school.


I found one quote. It's not it, but I've seen many forms of the quote and its derivatives. Basically the same saying, only using different words so it isn't blatant plagiarism. Doing just enough not to be sued, but to cash in...


Charles Bukowski 'An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way. An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.'


He's a good example. I've seen many of his videos, and he's a smart guy, but he doesn't use pretentious language.



Here's a sub-question? Any working-class movie critics who aren't trying to sound pedantic?



Welcome to the human race...
Here's a sub-question? Any working-class movie critics who aren't trying to sound pedantic?
Try YouTube, there's no shortage of such individuals on there. Only catch is that they tend to review movies you'd consider too new anyway. Myself, I pretty much gave up on watching such reviews because I realised that the conversational tone of spoken-word reviews does not necessarily lend itself to a better expression of cinematic insight than written ones (this is true not only of YouTube-centric critics like Chris Stuckmann but also of a professional like Mark Kermode whose radio reviews are recorded on video and uploaded). I still watch essays, but I consider them distinct from reviews and they tend to show a conscious manipulation of the video form rather than just sound like they're "on the street".

Anyway, as for my review style, I know that I am probably writing for an audience who pays attention to what I write precisely because they are familiar with my online presence so I make no real pretense towards objectivity beyond the discussion of technical details or basic statements of fact like history or information about the creators. After all, you're reading it for my take, right? I tend to include a logline at the beginning of my reviews that quickly sums up in the plot in one sentence that only takes up a line or two and try not to spend too much time recounting the plot unless the details are pertinent to my assessment. Likewise, that ends up being true of the craftsmanship - I can't just say that cinematography looks good, I have to explain how it serves the film as a whole. I'll also attempt to determine exactly what themes the film is attempting to address and unpack, which naturally leads to whether or not it's doing that well (and whether or not it's a worthwhile endeavour - again, the key word is "subjective"). Then I come up with a conclusion that encompasses everything into one more paragraph (tied to an introductory paragraph in true essay form) and that usually does it for me.



I figure a 1/10 can't be given out so arbitrarily - it has to represent the worst of the worst that cinema as an art form can offer
This got me curious and so I headed over to the IMDb. Of 3,060 films I've rated, I've given out exactly one 1/10 rating to an exploitative, poorly acted, garbage-but-not-fun garbage movie called Hitch-Hike.

I also get twitchy about people handing out 1/10 ratings because they are frequently used to lower the scores of movies aimed at certain demographics. (For example, who are the 6.6% of people giving Vampires vs. The Bronx a 1/10?!). (Okay, I followed one person who gave it a 1/10 and, surprise surprise!, his rating history is full of 1/10 ratings for any movie that: criticizes Trump, has people of color in lead roles, has the word "immigrant" in its plot description, features gay/trans characters. Has he actually seen these movies? Doubt it! And lest you doubt his taste, he considers Krull a PERFECT movie. 10/10!).

I still watch essays, but I consider them distinct from reviews and they tend to show a conscious manipulation of the video form rather than just sound like they're "on the street"
Yeah, these days most of what I seek out in terms of "published" content falls in to the "essay" category. I'm more into someone delving into one aspect of a film (or even comparing two films) than just a straight-ahead review.



This got me curious and so I headed over to the IMDb. Of 3,060 films I've rated, I've given out exactly one 1/10 rating to an exploitative, poorly acted, garbage-but-not-fun garbage movie called Hitch-Hike.

If it's the same Hitchhike I know, it's as good a contender as you might get for a one star movie.


I used to virtually never give anything less than a 5/10, because it is the exception for me to ever hate watching anything. Even if I think the movie is bad, I couldn't see any need on giving it a 'failing' grade. Eventually I realized this didn't make a lot of sense though since I was frequently rating movies I thought were actually okay a 6, only one better than films I thought were total garbage. So it's now currently open season for me giving low ratings for lots of films these days. Yippee! Liberation!



If it's the same Hitchhike I know, it's as good a contender as you might get for a one star movie.


I used to virtually never give anything less than a 5/10, because it is the exception for me to ever hate watching anything. Even if I think the movie is bad, I couldn't see any need on giving it a 'failing' grade. Eventually I realized this didn't make a lot of sense though since I was frequently rating movies I thought were actually okay a 6, only one better than films I thought were total garbage. So it's now currently open season for me giving low ratings for lots of films these days. Yippee! Liberation!
Like I've said before, knowing people who make or help to make movies is a good reminder that films (and especially indie or low-budget movies) are made by real humans and most of them are trying to do something good or interesting.

Which isn't to say that I overlook flaws, but more that I look for the strengths of any film. What tends to ding scores for me is more often a sense of "soullessness", a sense that no one really cared about what they were doing, or an unendearing laziness (like a film just stringing together the most common tropes from beginning to end).

My ratings probably look pretty much like a bell curve, maybe skewing a bit toward the higher numbers because I don't hesitate to add a star for neat special effects or a very strong performance.

Ultimately, this is why I prefer reviews to ratings--you never quite know what's behind someone's 4/10 or 9/10.