The New Breed of Movie Critics: The Online Generation
Even Roger Ebert's reviews end up online at rogerebert.suntimes.com.
An interesting article popped up on Variety yesterday - Times Changing for Film Critics. Written by Variety's hip columnist Anne Thompson, the article explores the recent shift in movie reviews (and critics) disappearing from newspapers and in turn the rise of the internet as the medium in which the majority of moviegoers now gain their knowledge, be it through reviews or otherwise. It was easily one of the most blatantly truthful articles I've read in a while; everyone else in this industry is too afraid to admit that the times are changing and recognize the internet as a legitimate medium (I know I've had to fight some fights on that matter). It's definitely a good read that reasonably establishes the new breed of critics that are taking over - the online generation.
Anne covers two important topics in the article: first, how interest in the newspaper critic generation is rapidly declining and thus limiting the possibility for small indie films to gain traction; second, how the new generation of online critics and the entire medium of the web is vastly replacing a world where the only way to learn about movies was through your local newspaper. She references countless ways that today's audiences gain knowledge (and opinions) on movies, mentioning everything from YouTube to trailers on Apple to JoBlo (and similar websites) to Rotten Tomatoes. There is certainly a more widespread wealth of information available to any moviegoer than ever before, but she still hits on the most important point when it comes to opinions on movies and ultimately making decisions on what to (or not to) see: "But they also listen to their friends more than any authority figures, and distrust obvious studio hype."
She goes on to explain that the issue with this generation is that they aren't able to attach to any modern critics and especially have a distaste for the older ones (more on them later). "They check out film rankings at Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic and dip into some reviews, but they haven't found a particular film critic they trust to steer them straight." Her concern then, and partially mine as well, is that "the studios, for the most part, continue to bank on short-term, wide-release youth movies vs. riskier, execution-dependent movies for adults." While there will always be those more adult films (take Oscar winners No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood for example), only those of the highest caliber and with biggest marketing budgets will actually even gain the attention of any generation. The newspaper critics of the past who used to be very important in the success of those movies no longer have a say.
This is my favorite part of her article - she actually mentions my own thoughts on the older generation of critics who haven't adapted to the latest generation of films. When referencing the possibility for newspaper critics to still retain their jobs and adapt, she states, "and maybe they'll reach younger auds in a way that stodgy content-oriented critics who don't appreciate visual effects do not." Bingo, that nailed it Anne! One of those critics, Newsweek 30-year veteran David Ansen to be exact, exemplifies that exact attitude later on by saying "it's a profound diss to the knowledge and expertise of a lot of good critics out there" when explaining that he's concerned about his own job.
I'm not out to start dissing these veteran critics myself, because I think they do have a vast knowledge that I can't even come close to equaling (Ansen has been a critic longer than I've been alive), but what is most important in this day and age is that we come to operate with the same level of respect. In a similar article on the death of the newspaper from the New Yorker, author Eric Alterman writes that "we are about to enter a fractured, chaotic world of news, characterized by superior community conversation but a decidedly diminished level of first-rate journalism." He continues saying that this transformation "will mean the loss of a single national narrative and agreed-upon set of 'facts' by which to conduct our politics." But why is that entirely necessary, especially with movies? That's a discussion for another day, but still an interesting point.
For the sake of preventing myself from drowning in my own commentary, I think it's best to leave this discussion open at this point. I strongly urge everyone to read Anne's fantastic article, simple for the fact that it'll give you a much clearer understanding on the current situation involving critics and movie reviews. I think this entire world of journalism and criticism is in the midst of an enormous change and it will eventually come down to establishing identity and legitimacy within due time. However, it can't be denied that the online generation of movie critics is becoming the more powerful medium in this industry.