Ah, the life of a movie critic is not an easy one. Watching films until your eyes are nothing but teary remnants of the glowing orbs they once were. Trying to find just the right word to explain how much you loathe the costume design of that period film. Surviving off stale, over-buttered popcorn and Coke with not enough syrup.
Of course, I’m joking with you. Anyone can be a movie critic. Want to know how? Simply watch a movie and then critique it. Bonus points if you post your opinion to social media. Extra bonus points if you spark a conversation. And triple bonus points if you use the word screenplay (doesn’t matter if you correctly use it or not).
And that’s basically the trick to being a movie critic. That is, to be a basic movie critic. You want to know how to be the best dang movie critic the world has ever seen? There are some things you need to look out for. Look out, Roger Ebert!
This is the most basic element for any movie critic to bring up. If a movie has bad casting, the whole project has already been flushed down the tubes. One has to be precise in picking the correct actor or actress for the role or it ruins the immersion of the audience. And if the audience isn’t immersed, it becomes one forgettable film.
Let me introduce to you the worst casting job I’ve ever seen in my entire life: casting John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conquerors (1956). I want to know how sane director Dick Powell was when he decided he wanted America’s favorite cowboy to play the most prolific Mongol emperor in history. Was it drugs? Perhaps a bet between friends? Maybe he’d just gone insane from having the name ‘Dick’? I don’t really care what happened — all I know is it is one of the more frightening casting choices I’ve ever seen.
The score is something everyone notices in a film. Everyone knows John Williams did the score for Star Wars and Hans Zimmer did Pirates of the Caribbean. Aside from the characters and the plot, I would argue that the score is the most important aspect of a film.
The score is something a good movie critic will reference often, using fancy words with lots of syllables to describe it. For example, if I were feeling delightfully quirky, I would call the score from BlacKkKlansman (2018) atmospheric and voguish to show the readers that I thought it was pretty cool. Or I would call the score from The Fugitive (1993) vehemently pulchritudinous to say I found it intensely beautiful.
If you are struggling to find something to comment on in a movie, I always suggest going for the score first. Everyone has their opinions on music. Now is your time to share yours. And then get in a three-hour fight over whether Linkin Park is a rap or metal group.
The next best thing to go for when you find yourself in a conversation with cinephiles is to talk about the lighting. When in doubt, go with how much you enjoyed that the darkness reflected the mood. That should work for most movies except comedies. If it’s a comedy, just say how you loved the brightness of it and how it really evoked a sense of ebullience in you and you wish to experience it again.
Of course, good lighting makes a movie. Three Kings (1999) — a movie I shall be ranting about for the next few months — had great lighting because it switched between somber dim lighting in the bunkers and pale, washed-out lighting on the Kuwaiti sands. That is good lighting. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and its decision to just use horribly dark lighting the whole way through so I couldn’t see what was going on? That was bad lighting.
Set Design/Costume Design
This may not always be applicable. I doubt anyone really paid attention to the set design or costumes (or lack of them) in 50 Shades of Grey (2015). But, then again, I don’t think anyone paid attention to much of anything but the, uh, action on screen. However, when a movie critic watches a period film, like Pride and Prejudice (2005) or Lincoln (2012), the first thing they look for is for set design and costumes.
The first rule of set and costume design is make it as accurate as possible. The second rule is to make it as elaborate as possible. And the third rule is to make it look super uncomfortable to wear so your audience remembers how much they love living in modern times. One film that I really love for its set and costume design is Beauty and the Beast (2017). Everything about the set was elaborate: the dresses were elaborate, the castle was elaborate, even the food was elaborate. It was beautiful and transported me to a land of princesses and croissants.
Cinephiles truly appreciate when you bring this topic up, as it gives them a chance to comment on all the inaccuracies they managed to find through hours of Google searches and reading in books with leather covers.
This is when we get into the big boy/girl topics. While it’s a term tossed around a lot, I don’t feel like it gets used correctly all the time, so let me just go ahead and define it. Cinematography, simply, is the art of making movies. When movie critics refer to it, they most likely are referring to how a particular scene is shot — tracking shots, zooming in and out, how fast the camera moves, whether to use a shaky cam or not, the timing of cuts.
An example of good cinematography is Saving Private Ryan (1999), rightfully earning an Academy Award for its camerawork. The shots, specifically the shots in the beginning D-Day, are all well-choreographed. The long, melancholy tracking shots are masterfully created and the shorter, combat shots are intense. Plus, great use of shaky cam — not overused or underused (something many films seem to abuse).
You really want to impress your coffee-drinking, scarf-wearing, beard-donning, sweater-clad hipster friends? Use the word cinematography in a sentence correctly and watch their indie music filled heads explode.
Alright, I think you’re ready to learn about screenplay. Keep reading at your own risk. MovieBabble’s insurance doesn’t cover blown minds.
You want to know what movie critics mean when they refer to screenplay?
That’s literally it. We’re talking about the plot, the characters, and how the characters interact with one another in the plot. We’re talking about the story.
I know you’re still reeling from that, so let me just highlight some examples of great screenplays to get your mind working again. Fight Club (1999), Memento (2000), Vertigo (1958), Zodiac (2007) — all are examples of great screenplays with well-developed characters and an intriguing storyline. Examples of horrible storylines? Batman v Superman. We will discuss no other candidates at this time because just writing that has angered me. I expected so much more from that film. All I got was Superman and Batman yelling about whose Martha was the best.
For Real Though
All jokes aside though, if you want to be a movie critic, just do what I do: give your honest opinion as simply as possible. Find your voice and express your thoughts in a reasonable manner. Sharing our values and creating a discussion is what makes discussing film so great. Tell people what you think about your favorite film! Tell people what you think about your least favorite film! Just tell people what you think!
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on these tips for being a movie critic? Comment down below!
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What movie topic should I discuss next? Whether it be old or new, the choice is up to you!