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The Critic’s Meter for the Average Viewer

Movie critic legend Roger Ebert

The onslaught of the holidays  also brings on the avalanche of the critic’s film awards.  How much do you let your viewing habits be affected by what the critics say? Are you more likely to see a film because it made the Best Picture list on the National Board of Review?  Are you ready to give Tree of Life a chance because the Toronto Film Critics dubbed it Best Movie of the Year?

I have to be honest.   Ever since I discovered Roger Ebert’s internet goldmine of movie reviews, I’m what you call a critics’ motivated viewer.

As I’ve mentioned, I fell in love with the silver screen when I saw Pulp Fiction and Fargo for the first time.  At fourteen years old, how did I find out about these films? Certainly not from any movie trailer I’d seen, but from reading Roger Ebert’s glowing reviews.

While I do keep an eye on all current releases, especially those of the indie persuasion, I pay attention to what the critics say.  I frequent Metacritic and view the critic’s scores on the latest coming attractions.  Is that a bad thing?

Well, there’s two ways to look at it.  One point of view is that a moviegoer shouldn’t always be motivated by what other people say.   They should go see a film because they’re intrigued by its plot alone.  Ideally.

But on the flip side of the coin, think about independent film.  They have limited budgets to make the film, let alone much funding for marketing.  They don’t always get wide releases in the average movie theater.  Critics awards virtually are their marketing machines.  If one critic gives it praise, one reader of that review might see it.  If that person loves it, they’ll rave about it to their friends.  Independent film thrives on that type of word of mouth.  Living in New York City, I’m lucky to be exposed to much of the low budget film world.  But what about those that don’t live by a city center?

As I’ve written about before, I personally love silent films and would have seen The Artist without all the critic hoopla .   But would anyone really be intrigued to watch a movie without dialogue if it wasn’t for all the critics’ love?  Would people want to see a little film called Martha Macy May Marlene if they hadn’t heard about critics raving about Elizabeth Olsen’s performance?  Or would people have heard of the racy NC-17 rated Shame, a movie about sexual addiction, if critics hadn’t lavished it with praise?  I think many film fanatics are open minded, but the rest of the film watching public might need a nudge as to giving these films a chance.

I don’t always agree with critics. Nobody does. But critics’ reviews and awards  get me intrigued.  They get me watching different films.  They help give recognition to movies that might have fallen a little below the radar.   An average blockbuster movie doesn’t necessarily need extra marketing tools, but independent films always do.