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Justin Hanvey

Netflix, RottenTomatoes, and the end of movie criticism

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According to one guy at least

What do you think? Does the popularity of RottenTomatoes and Netflix's new thumbs up thumbs down rating system spell the end of movie criticism? I'm not sure I agree with him. On RT I'd say they have a rather rigorous process to be considered for addition to their reviewers pool, and while I'm not really that sure about Netflix I don't really think it ever was a bastion of great film criticism to start...

And he might invalidate his whole opinion to me by loathing Hail, Caesar...course that might be petty of me heh.

I'm one of those guys who rarely sees a movie in theater unless it has a high RT rating (unless I'm bored, or it was something I wanted to see regardless) and they haven't steered me that badly yet. In particular I had no interest in seeing Ouija: Origin of Evil til I noticed its higher RT rating, and I was duly impressed with the film, a rare light years better sequel/prequel (TBF the original was a very meh movie on its own so it wasn't that hard to beat it)

Edited by Justin Hanvey

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Anders   

This is a proclamation that gets tossed out every time something like this changes, but I doubt criticism is going away entirely. It's interesting that he name drops Siskel and Ebert, since they were grilled over the same thing regarding their "thumbs up, thumbs down". The truth is I don't think very many people actually read film criticism anyway. They usually go on word of mouth and advertising, and RT really just tracks word of mouth. That is, there *is* no "RottenTomatoes" that gives a score. RottenTomatoes is not an entity that reviews movies. It's merely an aggregate. And, if your taste runs toward the aggregate, it's probably going to steer you well. If you have more idiosyncratic taste, you may be baffled, as this writer apparently was over HAIL, CAESAR! (which I loved by the way). Personally, given the limited time I have I'm more in the "wait until a couple of critics I like and whose taste I can accurately gauge chime in" camp. It's one of the reasons I give out very few low, low ratings. I don't really like RT that much, except as a place to collect reviews in one spot.

Darren Hughes commented on Twitter that he judges people based on the distribution of their Letterboxd ratings (tongue in cheek, I assume). The idea being that he doesn't trust people who give out tons of 4s and 5s. But, with my other commitments in life and the fact that I'm still discovering a lot of older, well-regarded films, means that my distribution skews high. But I just try to avoid things I know I'm going to dislike.

Edited by Anders

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Genuine, thoughtful, and good film criticism has always been rare.  We can always use more Pauline Kaels and Rogert Eberts, and some of the best writing on film I've read has been done by good writers who are not popular "film critics" at all (such as Geoff Dyer, Zadie Smith, and David Foster Wallace).

Popular aggregates and ratings systems, of any variety, have practically nothing to do with film criticism.  Do not use them to decide what you watch.

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Anders   
9 hours ago, J.A.A. Purves said:

Popular aggregates and ratings systems, of any variety, have practically nothing to do with film criticism.  Do not use them to decide what you watch.

Amen.

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M. Leary   
On 3/21/2017 at 9:05 AM, Anders said:

Darren Hughes commented on Twitter that he judges people based on the distribution of their Letterboxd ratings (tongue in cheek, I assume). The idea being that he doesn't trust people who give out tons of 4s and 5s. But, with my other commitments in life and the fact that I'm still discovering a lot of older, well-regarded films, means that my distribution skews high. 

I am very out of the loop when it comes to film conversation right now. I fear it is because after things filter through Twitter and Letterboxd, not much makes it to forums any more - and I do not have extra time to spend on either of those platforms. So I am stuck with journals mainly.

Though there is still a lot of terrific film writing out there. Much more than there seemed to be 10 years ago.

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I think the suggestion that this is "the end of movie criticism" is akin to the various thinkpieces which arrive each year suggesting we're nearing "the end of cinema," usually because of the new era of television, streaming platforms, etc. Film writing continues to evolve and branch out into new territory, with interdisciplinary academic writing, long-form essays, podcasts, and various independent websites and magazines exploring new ways to engage with the form (my current favorite is Bright Wall/Dark Room, which is publishing some of the best criticism I've seen from a wide variety of authors and perspectives). Film criticism might be changing with different mediums and ways of propagating the writing, but unless we enter into an apocalyptic dystopia, I imagine writing about art and its impact is not going away any time soon.

On 3/21/2017 at 7:05 AM, Anders said:

Darren Hughes commented on Twitter that he judges people based on the distribution of their Letterboxd ratings (tongue in cheek, I assume). The idea being that he doesn't trust people who give out tons of 4s and 5s. But, with my other commitments in life and the fact that I'm still discovering a lot of older, well-regarded films, means that my distribution skews high. But I just try to avoid things I know I'm going to dislike.

Maybe this is why Darren doesn't follow me on Letterboxd :). My ratings average tend to peak at 4-stars, mainly because I've learned to discern which films I probably wouldn't like, and I don't have a publication or press responsibilities forcing me to watch and review films I assume I wouldn't enjoy.

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Before Rottentomatoes my main way of choosing if a movie was worth seeing was first *if my friends/family said so, then *trailers and whether *actors I liked were in it or its a Studio Ghibli film, and more recently if it had a good review on the DVD jacket by Roger Ebert (or Peter Travers used to be, which now I feel somewhat embarrassed by), but Rotten Tomatoes has made it a whole lot easier, and I do often read through the review blurbs, seeing why people gave a Rotten or Fresh score. Sometimes I've still chosen to go see a movie even if it was a low score and sometimes it turns out just as bad a said, or my own low expectations help me enjoy it more.

I'm probably more of the average joe, I don't have favorite film reviewers since Ebert died (other than some of you like Steven Greydanus and Jeffrey Overstreet who I often google their thoughts on a movie if I'm up in the air about it), and I do tend to use review aggregates as a litmus test. Even on Netflix for a time I just picked a movie if it looked interesting, and then I started noticing that I had been watching a string of really bad movies and noticed that most of the ones I did like had higher star ratings (with some exceptions), so I just started picking what to add to my list based on star ratings and if it looked interesting to me. I still follow some of my old rules too, and it all works out usually.

but that's what works for me. I don't expect it to for everyone.

 

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Andrew   

I still enjoy thoughtful film criticism, partly because I want to read what other folks have to say and also as a way to hone my analytic and writing skills.  Like Justin, with Ebert's passing I don't have a favorite popular film critic, but I'll sift through RT's top critics and read what interests me.  (I also just subscribed to Film Comment, figuring it was time to do so, instead of paging through it at the local bookshop every couple of months.)

It's interesting to see the comments here about film ratings, too.  If I had to guess, most of my reviews probably fall into the 3.5 to 4 star range, for a couple of reasons:  1) I'm very selective about what I view on the big screen and write about anymore (I like for my weekly written review to be about a film that I really give a damn about); and 2) like Ebert in his last several years, I'd rather err on the side of generosity and praise what is praiseworthy.  

And yeah, I think the "end of criticism" is a load of hoohah, just like the "end of ---" shtick almost always is.

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NBooth   

Brett Ratner:

“I have such respect and admiration for film criticism. When I was growing up film criticism was a real art. And there was intellect that went into that. And you would read Pauline’s Kael’s reviews, or some others, and that doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s about a number. A compounded number of how many positives vs. negatives. Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’ And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful,” Ratner said.

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Ratner's an idiot if he thinks Batman v Superman was "incredibly successful".

It had a huge opening weekend, but that's no credit to the film; that's to do with marketing and audience interest in pre-sold franchises as much as anything else.

A more telling metric is the fact that Batman v Superman was one of a very few wide releases last year that failed to double its first-weekend gross. In fact, among the top 130 films of 2016 (i.e. all the films that grossed at least $11.5 million in North America), the only other films that failed to double their first weekend were Warcraft (the #70 film of the year) and Fifty Shades of Black (the #129 film of the year).

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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54 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

Ratner's an idiot if he thinks Batman v Superman was "incredibly successful".

 

It's hard to tell whether he's speaking solely about Bv.S's financial success, or if he's speaking to artistic merit (which would still make him an idiot).  FWIW, I put about as much stock in the ratings system of RT and Netflix as I do the ratings (and Top 250 list) I've seen for a decade or more over at IMDb, which isn't much stock at all. And, truth be told, I'm do not miss the forums on IMDb. Good riddance.

Edited by John Drew

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paeng   

I cannot watch everything, so I rely on ratings from others. In this case, I prefer the 1- to 4-star rating or lists of recommended films, and preferably from professional reviewers. I read the written reviews if it's an often-mentioned film.

Side note: it's similar for TV shows, radio plays, etc. In general, the star ratings in IMDB are helpful and the same in fan sites for certain shows.

 

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