Movie Critics - who do you trust?
March 4, 2006 11:52 PM   Subscribe

Name some movie reviewers you trust.

What makes a good film critic? To me, the quality movie review is NOT just describing what takes place, and then commenting upon it. That method gets you into spoiler territory pretty quick. There's a guy on public radio named Bob Mondello -- this is the only method he knows, and he's infuriating -- I turn him off immediately I hear his voice. Of course, some description is necessary; it's the scene-by-scene detail I'm railing against here. Critics I like include Roger Ebert, David Edelstein, Elvis Mitchell -- and Anthony Lane in the New Yorker is fantastic.

Another common characteristic of esp. Hollywood print reviews I dislike is putting the actor's previous films in parantheses between his first and last name -- if that data's required, visit the IMDb.

Needless to say, now that the distinctions between criticism and promotion are so blurry, some pre-screening research is vital before buying that movie ticket.
posted by Rash to Media & Arts (59 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I like the critics at the Onion A.V. Club, who aren't afraid to pan a movie (or praise one) when mainstream critics do the opposite en masse. They're also pretty concise, which I consider a virtue.
posted by anjamu at 11:59 PM on March 4, 2006

I trust Ebert in that I know if he pans it, its not worth considering. He tends to look for redeeming qualities in marginal movies. If he can't find something to like, I won't either.
posted by Manjusri at 12:02 AM on March 5, 2006

I came here to say what anjamu said.

I used to trust Ebert, but he has been wildly off the mark too many times, either hating a movie I love, or recommending a movie I find quite bad. In most of those cases the Onion AV Club is right on the mark with their review.
posted by agropyron at 12:08 AM on March 5, 2006

The guys at the Village Voice (including J. Hoberman and Ed Park) are (from where I stand) smart, well-versed in film, and always willing to be iconoclastic.

I've had respect for them ever since they had the courage to give the only mainstream positive review to Dude, Where's My Car?

And, if it makes a difference, I like the critics you mentioned as well (although I prefer David Denby over Anthony Lane, frankly).
posted by maxreax at 12:26 AM on March 5, 2006

Also, I'm going to be the first to say that I don't particularly like Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. She and I tend to disagree on a lot of films, and she seems to use the same set of standards for evaluating every film, regardless of its intent.
posted by anjamu at 12:33 AM on March 5, 2006

I wish I could go back in time and condense my posts in this thread.

But if you don't use it already, MetaCritic gives you a fast overall read of what critics are saying about a film.
posted by anjamu at 12:34 AM on March 5, 2006

I lurve Stephen Hunter, who writes reviews for the Washington Post and, I think, the Baltimore Sun. He also does the occasional color story for the Style section, e.g., l'affaire Cheney.

I'm too lazy to find it, but in a review of Blade II he said something to the effect that it's a film for those with IQ's under 50 or over 150, which is to say, he has a really good handle on both the high-brow and the schlock. He approaches all films with an open mind, and is not afraid to call bullshit on overly pretentious work, nor to cry "stay away" from the usual fair. I think he's really great--I love reading him when he hates a film, because he's so good at articulating what I can't.

(He also writes novels. I like the ones I've read. Pulpy, gun-heavy, but historically accurate.)

And with anjamu, another vote for MetaCritic in general.
posted by bardic at 12:43 AM on March 5, 2006

Michael J. Nelson, Tom Servo, & Crow T. Robot
posted by Dreamghost at 12:53 AM on March 5, 2006

I agree with A.V. Club, enjoy Ebert, and consult Metacritic. When available, I also usually read
Strictly Film School, which is insightful, and helpful when trying to understand some of the more oblique works (like pointing out the cigarette symbolism in Aki Kaurismäki's films); and Ruthless Reviews (just that, as well as smart and entertaining).
posted by unmake at 1:32 AM on March 5, 2006

I found the New York Times movie reviews consistently well written, perceptive and generally on the money.
posted by vac2003 at 1:43 AM on March 5, 2006

I agree with Ebert about 80% of the time (sidekick Roeper I pretty much ignore). With Cinecast's Adam Kempenaar and Sam Hallgren it's about 95% of the time.
posted by blueberry at 2:00 AM on March 5, 2006

Jonathan Ross is good. Mark Kermode is knowledgeable, but a bit pompous.
posted by the cuban at 2:06 AM on March 5, 2006

Scott Foundas
posted by thebigpoop at 2:12 AM on March 5, 2006

Jonathan Ross is good. Mark Kermode is knowledgeable, but a bit pompous.

I like Ross too. He's a big champion of Asian cinema on this side of the pond, but he's also a sucker for sentimentality, which is where our tastes differ. Kermode is alright -- he may be pompous yet he's a straight talker -- however he does have a hard-on for David Lynch.
posted by macdara at 3:03 AM on March 5, 2006

David Edelstein

Roger Ebert (even though he recommended Fear dot com!)

John Hoberman

Stephen Holden

Stephen Hunter

Rex Reed
posted by dgaicun at 3:26 AM on March 5, 2006

Berardinelli is good. Rotten Tomatoes can give an overall feel for popularity & critical reception too.
posted by polyglot at 3:38 AM on March 5, 2006

I second fullysic's suggestions. When I read this question the first name that came to mind was Margaret Pomeranz.
posted by teem at 3:43 AM on March 5, 2006

Melissa Anderson at Time Out New York (she also used to write for the Village Voice) is insightful, careful, and a fabulous writer.
posted by yellowcandy at 3:52 AM on March 5, 2006

posted by public at 3:54 AM on March 5, 2006


posted by public at 3:54 AM on March 5, 2006

I'm a fan of Rotten Tomatoes. Why rely on one critic when you can see the thoughts of many? After a while you'll likely notice a few names whose taste matches yours.
posted by geekyguy at 5:32 AM on March 5, 2006

My friends who like movies that I usually do.
posted by ruwan at 5:36 AM on March 5, 2006

Peter Travers from Rolling Stone is horrrrible.
I do not have the docket of evidence handy this sunday morning to present against him, but his blurbs have always been a beacon of a movie's sucktasticness. If there is payola going on , he's got to be the top leg spreader in the industry.
posted by stavx at 5:39 AM on March 5, 2006

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian
posted by dance at 5:51 AM on March 5, 2006


I generally agree with his pans. On the positive reviews, if I don't find the subject interesting, then I usuallly won't like the film no matter how Ebert raves about it.
posted by The Deej at 5:52 AM on March 5, 2006

FilmThreat was an amazing magazine, and the website still has some of the most insightful reviews around, including lots of indy films you might not otherwise hear about.

As fas as the Ebert comments, the guy is all over the map, but I really respect the fact that the year "Natural Born Killers" was released, he put it in his top 10 for the year, and was one of the only critics who actually seemed to understand that the film was all about.
posted by dbiedny at 6:52 AM on March 5, 2006

"far", not "fas". I seem to have spelng prblms 2day.
posted by dbiedny at 6:55 AM on March 5, 2006

Jonathan Rosenbaum.
posted by smich at 6:56 AM on March 5, 2006

I can't believe no one has mentioned Carina Chocano, who I feel like is one of the few big-league critics with vim and vigor and sass and spice. Her trashing of Rent alone makes her a hero:
"Rent" is commodified faux bohemia on a platter, eliciting the same kind of numbing soul-sadness as children's beauty pageants, tiny dogs in expensive boots, Mahatma Gandhi in Apple ads. It's about art, activism and counterculture in the same way that a poster of a kitten hanging from a tree branch ("Hang in There!") is about commitment and heroic perseverance. It represents everything the people it pretends to stand for hate. And it doesn't even know it. Watching it feels sort of like watching "Touched by an Angel" with your grandmother and realizing that although you're clearly looking at the same thing, you're seeing something entirely different. It's awkward to behold.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:42 AM on March 5, 2006

I second Jonathan Rosenbaum. He is one of the few critics I've read who really understands what's going on with Wong Kar-Wai or Hou Hsiao-Hsien or even Richard Linklater. It's a damn shame that most of his reviews that come up in Metacritic are such short blurbs.

David Edelstein is also usually spot-on, though I'm not too impressed when he injects his politics in his reviews.

Armond White is an interesting read, even though I'll never have a chance to see 3/4 of the movies he reviews. And the fact that he's contrarian to the point of being batshitinsane at times.
posted by alidarbac at 7:42 AM on March 5, 2006

What stavx said. Peter Travers is the easiest lay in the Film Critics' Circle and an anti-bellwether for me.

Another vote for Anthony Lane and half a vote for David Denby.
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:48 AM on March 5, 2006

My wife (who is a film critic) and Metacritic, in that order.
Having said that, I'm not a fan of most US film reviewers as they harp on petty details and the reviewers' preconceptions about what they think the movie should have been like, and seem much too enamored of their (the reviewers') cute little puns and wordplay, rather than actually analyzing the film on its own merits and internal structure.
I'm a fan of El Amante (the online version of an Argentinian film magazine), which offers insightful commentary rather than 'reviews'.
posted by signal at 7:59 AM on March 5, 2006

Ebert is AWFUL. One example - he gave a good review (as mentioned above), but completely dismissed Wolf Creek (which I thought was a truly scary, well made horror film in every way) - going so far as to say something like "If you know someone who likes this film, you should stay away from them - OMG!" Ugh.

Anthony Lane (New Yorker) is a dolt - Denby's better... The Onion AV Club is pretty good. A.O. Scott is pretty bad. Although I didn't always agree with him, I found Elvis Mitchell's reviews well written - what's he doing since he left the NY Times?
posted by sluggo at 8:01 AM on March 5, 2006

Pajiba is good, in the same vein as the A.V. Club, although they occasionally bend over backwards trying to buck conventional wisdom.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:29 AM on March 5, 2006

I go to rotton tomatoes and metacritic...

But a single reviewer? A.O. Scott of the NY Times.
posted by filmgeek at 8:50 AM on March 5, 2006

Armond White (New York Press) and Mark Palermo (The Coast - Halifax's Weekly). I have been checking out Ebert and Roeper more since it is available in a podcast, but they are usually predictable.
posted by boost ventilator at 8:55 AM on March 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Stanley Kaufmann, in The New Republic. A fantastic film critic. In my opinion his virtues are exactly what you crave in a critic--no scene-by-scene descriptions, but rather, perceptive analysis that gets right to the point about what is interesting about a particular film or filmmaker.

The first link I found in a Google search is a case in point, his review of David Mamet's The Spartan.
posted by jayder at 9:11 AM on March 5, 2006

Sorry, I just noticed that my link to Kaufmann's review of The Spartan brings up only an abbreviated version of the review and an invitation to subscribe.

The Google search seems to bring up the full review.
posted by jayder at 9:14 AM on March 5, 2006

Dave White -- A regular contributor to MSNBC, the Advocate and a few other places -- is probably the only movie critic that I really trust.

...Though I did have a soft spot for Pauline Kael back in the day.
posted by kaseijin at 9:43 AM on March 5, 2006

I find Ebert pretty reliable in that his taste seems to coincide with mine maybe 80% of the time. There's also a guy I sometimes find via - James Kendrick, I think his name is. I agree with him perhaps 90% of the time.

But what makes them "good"? I think they both read the filmmaker's intentions well. They're willing to praise a film that subjectively they didn't like so much, because they're willing to look beyond a simple personal taste reaction. They also manage to avoid too many heavy spoilers: Ebert in particular often says things like, "at this point I'll refrain from describing the events which follow because you need to see them for yourself."

However, my most reliable critic for determining whether I will enjoy or hate a movie is Armond White of the New York Press. He's a reverse touchstone. If he praises something, I will hate it. Always. If he slags something off, I'll like it. Always. For example, he thinks Spielberg is a genius. That pretty much says it all.
posted by Decani at 9:46 AM on March 5, 2006

Metacritic is what Rotten Tomatoes wants to be when it grows up.
posted by jjg at 9:54 AM on March 5, 2006

I'm not sure about this whole "finding a critic to trust" thing. To me, it's more important to find several critics whose reviews you read on a regular basis. No critic is every going to be perfectly aligned to your tasts, beliefs, and backgrounds, but if you find two or three you read regularly, you can learn what they like and what they don't like.

I read Ebert and Lane. I've learned over twenty years what little things Ebert likes that I just don't give a damn about. For example, he's a sucker for visual extravaganza. He'll always give extra marks to a film like the recent King Kong or a Star Wars movie simply because of the visual effects. I find effects-heavy films tedious. I know that Ebert and I have divergent tastes here, and I take it into account when reading him. On the other hand, he and I both like quirky little character pieces and strong writing. If he raves about Junebug, for example, I can be sure that I'm going to like it. (It just came from Netflix yesterday, in fact, and we plan to watch it later today.)

I haven't learned Lane's quirks yet; I've only been reading him for a few months. He seems cynical and jaded so far, but with a biting wit.

Believe it or not, knowing where a critic is coming from makes it possible to derive value from nearly anyone. I know people loathe and mock the CAP Alert guy, and I admit he's a religious nutcase, but his reviews are bedrock consistent, and it's possible for me to read them and derive useful information from them because I know his perspective.

It's much more difficult for me to derive value from a critic I don't read often, or from a critic who always gives everything four stars, or from a critic who only wants to comment on the lead actor's personal life, or from a critic who has an axe to grind.

I agree that most good critics know the movies well, not just recent films, but film history. This is one reason I love Ebert so much. He may often be a putz, but damn if he doesn't have encyclopedic knowledge about film. It's been great growing up with him as an omnipresent film source, somebody to teach me about film and to guide me through the treacherous shoals of modern cinema. (Because most of it is just crap.)
posted by jdroth at 10:25 AM on March 5, 2006

Even though I no longer live in Austin, I find the Austin Chronicle reviews to be good.
Added bonus, they keep all their reviews in Archives (scroll down to the bottom of the page). Great for picking out DVDs before you go to the store.
posted by j at 10:59 AM on March 5, 2006

Years ago, I used to love reading Dave Kehr in Chicago Magazine, and then later in the Chicago Tribune. I think he has a serious case of Pauline-Kael-envy and wrote about movies more like an academic than a print-based movie critic, but he looked at movies differently than nearly any other critic I read regularly.

Now days he appears to review DVD releases for NYT. He apparently wanted to stay on with the Trib after he moved to NYC some time in the late 80's or early 90's, but the trib insisted on someone local.
posted by hwestiii at 11:27 AM on March 5, 2006

Response by poster: To me, it's more important to find several critics whose reviews you read on a regular basis.

Absolutely. A couple other details to add to my original question: I used to love reading Joel Siegel's reviews in th DC City Paper. Not that Joel Siegel, this one. And one other point about Hollywood, it used to really frustrate me, the critics in the LA Times -- their reviews were always more about who made the movie than the film itself. But then I realized where that newspaper's coming from, who the bulk of its audience is.
posted by Rash at 11:54 AM on March 5, 2006

For me, a good critic isn't necessarily someone whose tastes in movies match mine, but a writer who can bring out a smart, unexpected reading of any movie. Someone whose analysis makes the moviegoing experience richer.

I'm a bigger fan of Manohla Dargis every day.

I'm going to counter anjamu and say I like Salon's Stephanie Zacharek a lot.

Also James Berardinelli.

For deciding whether or not to see a movie, I use only MetaCritic, accept no substitutes.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 12:10 PM on March 5, 2006

I'm pretty much with you, Rash, in my choice of critics. My heuristic for deciding if a movie is worth seeing is usually as follows:

First, check metacritic; ignore the metascore and the user reviews, except that if the movie is scoring in the 'teens it's probably not worth watching. Metacritc is mainly good as a quick way to scan your favorite critics' assesments. Then I read half a dozen of my favorite critics to get a feeling for WHY they think a movie is good, and see if what they are saying sounds like what I like about movies.

My more trusted critics are:

New Yorker's Anthony Lane (clever writer and funny and quite intellectual sometimes), Stephen Hunter (good at picking both highbrow and good lowbrow flicks, as someone said above). Also, there's usually an INVERSE relationship between a movie's quality and the judgement of Desson Thompson, the other Washpost reviewer: ie if Thompson likes it, it's probably awful.
Also, I like Slate's Edelstein, although I have occasional violent disagreements with him; sometimes he dislikes a great movie for intellectual reasons (21 Grams...) and lets that get in the way of his judgement. Morgenstern at the Wall Street Journal is one of the better critics, although I think he's slipped a bit. Finally, there is Ebert; incontornable, but not entirely trustworthy. I think he has a feel for truly great movies (and his writing about them is worth reading), but his reviews don't really sort out the well made crap from the great ones; sometimes it's hard to tell if he's giving a movie four stars for well made schlock or for timeless greatness.

Like I said above though, there's kind of a feeling you get for whether you will like a movie which is based more on the kind of praise the critics are giving than the fact of the praise.

Last year, I could tell I was going to hate Collateral (which I for some reason watched anyway), based on the sort of universal praise it was getting from the bottom feeders and bad critics, even though most of the people I trust liked it too.
posted by jackbrown at 1:14 PM on March 5, 2006

ps - RJ Reynolds- thanks for introducing me to Carina Chocano. You're right, she's great. I hadn't even looked at any LA Times reviewers (or reviews) in years.
posted by jackbrown at 1:19 PM on March 5, 2006

David Stratton. fullysic already provided a link.
posted by lucien at 2:19 PM on March 5, 2006

Oooh, I forgot all about Carina Chocano. I think she used to do culture crit for Salon some time ago and I really liked her then. I'll be reading her more often now.
posted by anjamu at 2:21 PM on March 5, 2006

I second or third or whatever Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton.
Its always good to have two people who are up for debating the merits of a movie. I often find the movies that are most interesting are the ones that these two argue about the most.
For the same reason is good for deciding if its forth the effort to go see the flick.
posted by phyle at 5:21 PM on March 5, 2006

Lamar, the peoples movie critic is my personal favorite. He's a redneck movie reviewer that likes movies. He's honest about it all, and almost always spot on with what an average person would appreciate. Sidenote, check out the Bob and Sheri webcast, it's pretty much the funniest thing ever put on the radio.
posted by tumble at 6:47 PM on March 5, 2006

Ruthless Reviews (just that, as well as smart and entertaining)...

For my imaginary internet money, Matt Cale's reviews are the jewels in the Ruthless crown - misanthropic, hilarious, cutting... well, ruthless. And as good as he is at tearing down pretentious tripe and brainless fluff(Which is often), he's even better when he reviews movies he actually enjoys.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:08 PM on March 5, 2006

Ebert is still good; I've been watching him since the PBS days (and reading the Chicago papers), and I'm fairly well attuned to when his sensibility and mine differ, so I'm not often "misled" by one of his reviews even if I may disagree.

I like Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune (he's more or less Siskel's replacement -- and I've been reading him since he was in Madison's Isthmus), although he's a bit of a snob and tries too hard sometimes with the more popular fare, and quite often I just don't get where he's coming from at all.

Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader is a most excellent intellectual film critic; although I often disagree with him, his insights are generally valuable.

I like Berardinelli (been reading him since he was only published on USENET), though I frequently disagree with him. There's a few more from that crop -- Steve Rhodes, for instance.

Liz Penn wasn't bad, but she's gone for now.

The best critic for pop culture movies right now, though, may be Ain't It Cool's Moriarty. Just avoid the comments section -- and Harry.

I often like Desson Howe at the WaPo. I kinda rooted for him, Joyce Kulhawik or David Poland to get the second seat on Ebert's show.

I really, really dislike Roeper's movie reviews. Ebert surely decided that his friendship with the man would allow them to create an entertaining faux-combat atmosphere, but it took years before Roeper even seemed to halfway know what he was talking about. Even today he rarely seems a bit deeper than whether or not he liked the movie's characters. The man does do an entertaining newspaper column, though.
posted by dhartung at 7:14 PM on March 5, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for everybody's responses -- I'll defintely be looking up Carina Chocano, and paying a lot more attention to MetaCritic. As for Usenet, forgot to mention, I also trust Steve Rhodes, as well as Mark Leeper. Don't read them at the source but always go to their articles when checking the 'newsgroup reviews' section of the IMDb.
posted by Rash at 9:15 PM on March 5, 2006

I like Berardinelli as well. He's the one I check most often. I don't always agree with his choices but I can usually tell if I'll like a movie based on his review.
posted by 6550 at 9:53 PM on March 5, 2006

I'm late to this thread, I guess, but I recommend the reviews of Steven Greydanus at Decent Films. It gives a Christian perspective that is very good, especially if you are considering a movie for the whole family. Not every film is covered, but there's enough to help you out.
posted by genefinder at 6:09 AM on March 6, 2006

Anthony Lane and David Denby at the New Yorker have incredible taste and are almost always right on. You can trust them not to buy into hype or pretention and to tell you simply whether the story is good enough to be worth watching. It was refreshing to see them trash the latest star wars movie, which was beyond awful.
posted by petsounds at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2006

« Older What to do in Santa Clara when you're not coding   |   What is the name of this Australian Film? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.