While I was covering SIFF this year, it was my first real experience covering film so at times I felt a little beyond my range. Whenever I was unsure of something, I usually asked myself "what would Pauline Kael do?". WWPKD became my mantra for the 3+ weeks. One thing I wondered about, and thought more about lately, was whether or not film criticism is necessary. I was never sure – although I do really love reading Kael and Roger Ebert and Imaginary Embracey an awful lot.
I know wine critics are powerful – I just read a book about The Wine Advocate's Robert Parker, who is so influential that a recommendation from him could either rescue or destroy a chateau.
Music critics are at the other end of the spectrum. Miley Cyrus is going to go platinum several times over and there is nothing Robert Christgau can do to stop it. One thing we can do, though, is select smaller bands we think are worthwhile use the little clout we have (which is equal to how big our readership is) to help them find an audience.
With film, it was mightily frustrating going to interviews with filmmakers during SIFF (all seeking distribution for excellent films) and passing posters for The Love Guru and whatever the hell that movie is with Adam Sandler as an Israeli hairdresser but hope is not all lost. As Slate explains in a very fascinating article:
While the gross numbers can be depressing (we spent half a billion dollars on the likes of Norbit, Good Luck Chuck, and Bratz?), the averages are not. Critically acclaimed films average about $2,000 more per screen than critically lambasted films.
The numbers are starkest with limited-release films (fewer than 2,000 screens). Art-house films that critics loved, such as Away From Her and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, averaged $3,113 per screen, while arthouse films critics were iffy about, such as Interview and Margot at the Wedding, didn't even do half as well, averaging only $1,322 per screen. Some people are paying attention.
Percentagewise, the critic effect is less pronounced for the supposedly critic-proof blockbusters, but it's still there. On average, the "fresh" blockbusters, such as Harry Potter and I Am Legend outperform the "rotten" blockbusters, such as Wild Hogs and Bee Movie, by more than $500 per screen. Almost any way you slice it, if a majority of critics like a movie, chances are it will do better at the box office than a similar film the majority of critics don't like. Far from being elitist, movie critics are actually a pretty good barometer of popular taste.
What do you guys think? Do critics play any role in what films you see?
* This should be common knowledge, but if not: "fresh" movies are ones recommended by 60% or more film critics on the invaluable RottenTomatoes.com and "rotten" movies rank below that 60% line.