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Criticwatch 2007 – Know Your Shit, Period!

by Erik Childress

My oh my, us critics can be a fickle bunch. Last year many took to the ink to cry out over the increase of studios hiding their films from us, neglecting the obvious data that it was business as usual, i.e. crappy movies and they know it. And those stats are on the rise for 2007. But the big outrage for this year began with a commentary by Variety’s editor-in-chief, Peter Bart, about critics being out-of-step with the public. I believe the article was originally entitled “DUH!” But when published under the less obvious headline “Film reviewers, moviegoers disagree”, the critics spoke up. From The Wall Street Journal to the message boards to virtual unknowns, everyone was a critic on the defense to prove their worth over Bart’s B.O. Honestly, who can blame them with the notion of print critics being higher up on the chopping block than gossip mongerers and horoscope scams. But if this was really going to be a serious discussion about the downfall of literate criticism, as it was shifted towards, then why did everyone choose to ignore the most obvious blights on the profession and the most serious threat to the anti-numbers approach to critical thinking? By now their names are synonymous with Criticwatch and I’m here to simplify this whole battle with the three words I hope to make synonymous with critics throughout this saddening movie landscape of ours – KNOW. YOUR. SHIT.

Going back to Bart’s article, which those without the internet should be able to find at the bottom of a parakeet’s cage, Peter draws conclusions on “the disconnect between the cinematic appetites of critics vs. those of the popcorn crowd” citing such early 2007 releases as Norbit, Ghost Rider and Wild Hogs. “The kids who storm their multiplexes to catch thergae opening of "Night at the Museum" don't give a damn what the critics think,” says Bart forgetting to add that the reverse feeling is probably mutual. As if playing to a crowd of nine year-olds are what A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis should be doing.

We’ll play Bart’s numbers game for a moment though. According to Rotten Tomatoes’ list of the Top 100 films reviewed by critics in 2006, only four of them cracked $100 million at the box office. That’d be a great number for Bart’s argument as he could cite that a large percentage of those hundred were documentaries, indies and obscure foreign jobs. Therein lies the gaping hole in that number though. 2006 saw nineteen films reach nine digits. Casino Royale, The Departed, Borat and Dreamgirls shared a ranking in the Top 19 and the Critical Top 100. Of these 19, the weakest theater count belonged to Borat with 2611 (an eventual expansion over its 837 launch.) Going back to the critic 100, we find that only one other film on that list (Inside Man) to get as wide a release as the lowest on the $100 million list. And if you leap to the argument that the other 95 are films most people never heard of, you belong to the Peter Bart school of research.

At the Oscars alone, three were nominated for Best Picture (The Queen, Little Miss Sunshine, Letters from Iwo Jima), one was named the Best Documentary of 2006 (An Inconvenient Truth) and four others received acting nods (The Last King of Scotland, Half Nelson, Notes on a Scandal, Little Children). Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men were high-profile fantasies, horror geeks had support for The Descent and Slither, families could have taken their kids to Lassie and Akeelah & the Bee and discussion didn’t get more fervent than this time last year with the opening of United 93. Rounding out this portion of the list were Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, A Prairie Home Companion and Thank You For Smoking.

Is a critical disconnect with the public to blame for not one of those films hitting $60 million in ticket sales or should studios and theater owners be taking a hit for not giving greater access of these titles to a general public who might embrace them given half the chance? Don’t answer that yet. Getting back to the nineteen which reached $103 million or higher, just how harsh were us critics on these films the public ate up with a spoon? Well, twelve of them registered as fresh on the Tomatometer (a 60% or higher rating) and a total of fifteen got more than 50% positive. 15 of the 19 $100 million grossers had a majority of the critics on their side, eight with over 70% support and another three over 90%. Call me a traditionalist, but that seems awfully connected to “the popcorn crowd” of the summer where 11 of the films came from. The four true negatives were The Da Vinci Code, Click, The Break-Up and, the aforementioned, Night at the Museum.

Jump ahead to 2007, where four films have already broached $100 million compared to only one from last year (Ice Age: The Meltdown). Here the so-called “disconnect” is of the 50/50 variety with two of the films (300, Blades of Glory) getting 60%+ support and two (Wild Hogs, Ghost Rider) getting only 44%. COMBINED! Ghost Rider didn’t even screen for critics, so most reviews didn’t hit until Friday afternoon or even Saturday. Bart says “if the established media want to stay relevant, should their critics make a passing attempt to tune in to pop culture? In short, should at least someone on the reviewing staff try to be relevant to both quadrants?” Of course he never follows up on his definition of the “established media”. Is that a shot at the onliners gaining more and more prominence or his subtle jab at a profession that is losing credibility due to fanboys and converted reviewers uneducated in film history? I won’t give him any such credit on the latter, but the question remains – what is an established critic?

From the ground up, how many writers are there for exclusive online entities compared to newspapers and magazines in the USA alone? Too many to count right now, I assure you. Bart references Variety’s Crix Pix Chart, a collection of critics (mostly from critic groups) in large markets that didn’t give Ghost Rider a single positive review. That’s something to applaud rather than scorn. I hope they’re all established. I like my Rotten Tomatoes though and if Bart is in anyway suggesting that onliners are not part of the establishment than the Tomatometer seems like just what Dr. Bart has ordered – a staff of reviewers relevant to both the old school and the fanboys buying $156 million in tickets to one of three straight Nicolas Cage films hidden from the critics, both young and old?

Even the RT gang isn’t immune to segregation though, ciphoning off a group of print critics and select high-hit-count onliners like James Berardenelli known as the “Cream of the Crop.” Could Bart make his “disconnect” case by creating a divide here? In the majority of cases the “Cream” in their little Diplomat’s Club arrives at a lower percentage than the overall score. When you do the critical math on the big grossers just this year, Bart’s argument falls apart even further at the seams. Not only do you have the balance of geeky popcorn thinking improving the numbers decreased by those deemed worthy of the established tag, but those numbers (while better) still aren’t enough to rectify a bad movie when we all see it. Even us lesser critics on the Tomatometer come to the majority opinion that Ghost Rider and Wild Hogs are shit. In fact, in the case of the last 23 in the $100 million club, only six of them had enough juice to raise the overall-vs.-“CreamCrop” statistics by over 10%. The cream may not exactly be creaming all over 300 and numbers may not lie but this is a group of critics chosen by their numbers more than respect. Case in point – perennial quote whore Peter Travers is amongst their ranks.

So here we are in a world of numbers from box office and ticket prices to percentages and opposable thumbs. Fearful of the former rising and the latter diminishing on the whims of editors and studio publicists, such well-respected critics as Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal and Glenn Kenny of Premiere wrote direct responses to Bart; mostly of the bemused variety. Who was Bart to be throwing stones at the non-Spartan body types of the average critic? I admit to skipping the week at Columbia about pumping iron between Mise en scène and Eisenstein. Charles Taylor of Salon really began to hit the nail into Bart’s head though:

These are rotten times to be a movie critic. In a bad economy, an independent voice delivering judgments on a multibillion-dollar industry that represents a tremendously lucrative source of ad revenue is likely to be perceived as a detriment. It has become increasingly common for critics to be pressured by their editors (who themselves may be under pressure from the sales department) to change their opinions. Pressure that no paper would think to bring to bear on their Op-Ed writers is routinely applied to movie critics. This has nothing to do with the quality of a critic's writing but solely with the content of their opinions, the area where a critic is supposed to be given free rein.”

The sad irony of Taylor’s truth is that many online writers are free from this kind of accepted censorship, but that freedom also causes their writing to suffer. Taylor’s on a roll though and I’m sorry to interrupt. Please, continue.

By taking the line that critics serve no purpose Bart is -- intentionally or not -- doing the bidding of the studios, which, while maintaining a blasé public attitude toward critics, would love to be rid of them. What industry chief doesn't dream about being able to market his product in an atmosphere where the public has no information save that provided by the manufacturer? That's why, whether you like us or hate us, agree with us or think we're full of bull, you as consumers need movie critics. When the editor in chief of the publication known as "the Bible of showbiz" takes this public stand against critics, it's a fair bet that Hollywood is no longer feeling shy about making its true feelings about movie critics known. That's why, as moviegoers, you should feel nervous about Bart's article.”

Bravo, Charles! But here lies the proverbial rub. Taylor wrote that in 2003. He did it in response to an earlier Bart commentary attacking critics. It’s four years later and Bart is still spewing out the same suck-a-golf-ball-through-a-garden-hose verbiage for the studios that the whores of Criticwatch are famous for. So, where’s the outrage? I don’t expect to see the names of Earl Dittman and Shawn Edwards as anything but patron saints in Bart’s view of the critical d’elite, but why were others shying away from them and putting the spotlight on those doing their best to try and preserve criticism from being a bought and paid for profession? Taylor refers to Bart’s trilogy of critical thought.

““First, there's the "pop culture is yucky" school, meaning critics who reflexively reject any movie that has found mass acceptance. Most critics file their reviews before movies open and therefore don't know whether a film will be commercially successful or not, a detail Bart neglects to address. Second is the "obscurantist" school, critics who protect their air of authority by only praising obscure movies no one else has seen. Third, there's the "I admit to brain damage school." Apparently this is the category I fall into, since I fit Bart's criterion for brain damage: I praised Brian De Palma's "Femme Fatale." But since Bart admitted that the Guy Ritchie/Madonna "Swept Away" would have been on his own 10-best list, I don't think I'll be getting that CAT scan anytime soon.”

Before Lewis Beale at The Reeler attacks star ratings and blames Siskel & Ebert for symbolizing the “precipitous dumbing down of film culture”, he offers an answer to the most important argument against Bart’s oversimplification. “The issue, however, isn't that it's OK to like junk. It's about what it means to be a critic, and what critics should be doing, but aren't. Critics are supposed to share perspective on a work, to think critically.” Beale continues, “Critics are not meant to be Masters of the Vox Populi, but people we read for intelligent, reasoned, probing analysis.” But not, apparently, on films such as Night at the Museum or Norbit which he deems “absolutely review-proof” and thereby unworthy of our attention. But how does good exist without evil? Why do we fall if not to learn how to pick ourselves back up? How can you correct mistakes if you’re only commenting on the positives? There must be a reason that The Nutty Professor is funny while Norbit isn’t. If “critics” aren’t covering them, then who is going to fill that void? The thought is more frightening than having to sit through Wild Hogs again.

Ronald Bergan. Ever heard of him? He teaches film history and theory at an American university that goes unnamed in his response to Bart entitled “What every film critic must know.” Sounds vaguely important and I’m always looking to learn something from an elder professor. Excuse me while I sit in on his class. Mr. Bergan, you have the floor.

BERGAN: “It seems that film, the most accessible and popular art form, is just not treated on the same level or with the same degree of seriousness as the other arts.”

CHILDRESS: I agree. I have no idea what music critics are talking about and those food people deserve a pie to the crotch.

BERGAN: “Unfortunately, this has led to a deterioration in film criticism, which has become primarily descriptive, anecdotal and subjectively evaluative rather than analytical. Most reviewers deal primarily with the content of a film - anybody can tell you what a film is about - rather than the style, because they do not have the necessary knowledge to do so.”

CHILDRESS: God, I hate it when a review consists of nothing but plot synopsis. Those writers suck.

BERGAN: “Learning to read films is a complex, though enjoyable, business.”

CHILDRESS: Teach me read, Mr. Bergan. (In my best Robert DeNiro “Stanley” imitation)

BERGAN: “I believe that every film critic should know, say, the difference between a pan and a dolly shot, a fill and key light, direct and reflected sound, the signified and the signifier, diegetic and non-diegetic music, and how both a tracking shot and depth of field can be ideological.”

CHILDRESS: Cool, I can do that.

BERGAN: “They should know their jidai-geki from their gendai-geki, be familiar with the Kuleshov Effect and Truffaut's "Une certain tendance du cinéma français", know what the 180-degree rule is and the meaning of "suture".

CHILDRESS: OK, I know about that editing effect with the soup and the dude and the 180-degree rule. Suture starred that President who got shot on 24, right?

BERGAN: “They should have read Sergei Eisenstein's The Film Sense and Film Form and the writings of Bela Balasz, André Bazin, Siegfried Kracauer, Roland Barthes, Christian Metz and Serge Daney. “

CHILDRESS: Wait, hold on…

BERGAN: “They should have seen Jean-Luc Godard's Histoire du Cinema, and every film by Carl Dreyer, Robert Bresson, Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel and Ingmar Bergman, as well as those of Jean-Marie Straub and Danielle Huillet, and at least one by Germaine Dulac, Marcel L'Herbier, Mrinal Sen, Marguerite Duras, Mikio Naruse, Jean Eustache and Stan Brakhage. They should be well versed in Russian constructivism, German expressionism, Italian neo-realism, Cinema Novo, La Nouvelle Vague and the Dziga Vertov group.”

CHILDRESS: How do you spell ma-rin-all, was it?

BERGAN: “These should be the minimum requirements before anyone can claim to be a film critic.”


Granted, I’m having a little fun with Bergan’s didactic requirements but how is all of that going to relate to covering a season’s worth of popcorn fare? I read The Lover in college and I see it in no way influencing my review of Spider-Man 3. Does an incomplete knowledge of French cinema affect my ability to praise or criticize Kate Winslet’s performance in Little Children? Any sort of knowledge is a positive, but the way it’s applied is equally, if not more, important. Cinema is not under a solitary blanket of scrutiny and it’s up to each critic to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses. As Beale wrote in his piece, “I mean, I love opera, but I'll be damned if I'm going to write a critique of Don Giovanni. I just don't know enough about the genre's subtleties.”

Precisely. I am vastly versed in the filmmakers I grew up with and as I discovered new ones I would go back and watch their earlier films, see how they progressed and researched as much as I could in-between watching more movies. That may not put me quite at the level of an A.O. Scott or Dargis, but I’m working at it. Take my opinion with a grain of salt if you must, but don’t dismiss it. Each genre and each film exists on its own playing field (just like each critic does) and Ty Burr of the Boston Globe, I believe, summed it up best:

If you come out of a film, and I don't care if it's "Talledega Nights" or "Rules of the Game" or "2046," and you have thoughts about it and can articulate them, then you are indulging in criticism. Bergan worries that professional film criticism has become "subjectively evaluative rather than analytical," but he forgets that A) this is how most people process art, B) that's not a bad thing, and C) objectivity is a mirage. Dig deep enough into any critical opinion and you'll hit the mother lode of value judgment. To admit to that is honesty, not a failing.”

"I ADMIT TO BRAIN DAMAGE,” signed Pete Hammond
Burr stresses the need for each critic to be able to articulate their thoughts through the power of the written word. The rise of the film “reviewer” is intrinsically linked with the amount of junket whores and Cheshire personalities on TV working in a film review between their celebrity chats. They don’t have to write. They just have to watch, smile and bullshit their way through an explanation of what they saw. Basically they are nothing but the failing student in the back of the class who cheats and kisses enough ass for the system to pass him into the next grade. “The bottom line,” according to Beale is “it’s time for some critical triage. Time to weed the crap out of the system and let it find its own level,” bringing me back to my original point – Know Your Shit.

Critics have a responsible to their readers to live up to that standard and it’s about time the public started sharing in that accountability. The studios aren’t buying into Bart’s shtick nor Beale’s “review-proof” mentality when they fail to screen a movie for critics. The same is true in 2007 as it was in 2006 as it was ever since I first saw Dann Gire use the words “caveat emptor” to explain why he didn’t review a movie that week. Say it all with me.

When a movie is not screened for critics in time for the Friday papers – THE MOVIE SUCKS!

And I mention the Friday papers as a key element since a Wednesday or Thursday screening is unacceptable. It doesn’t count. You’re hiding it. You know you’re hiding it. Just admit it because it’s embarrassing when you try to justify it. Even more embarrassing are chicken littles like Time Magazine’s Richard Corliss who want to make it more complicated when he says things like “Implicit in Bart's argument is that a popular film is a good film, and vice versa. If critics can't validate that tautology, we're useless. That's why studios screen fewer and fewer of their films early, and if they do, they invite everyone but critics.”

Bullcock! When a studio has a confidence in their film, they show it to critics early and often. Hot Fuzz and Knocked Up are two perfect examples this year and Universal is notorious for their Tuesday night/week-of-opening screenings. Occasionally, but not often, a film is held closer to its release because its still be worked on as was the case recently with Grindhouse. In the most comical of their strategies, some movies are limited to “select press” which usually includes those “cream of the crop” folk who are chosen because they supposedly have the largest readership. So basically, they are showing their mediocre (at best) films to those who will be able to spread its mediocrity to the largest masses. In Chicago, members of the CFCA were invited to an afternoon screening of Fox’s Pathfinder only to get an e-mail 15 minutes later that the screening was canceled. What many of them didn’t realize at the time was that a third e-mail was sent out soon after letting “select” members know that the screening hadn’t been canceled. The explanation provided was that Fox didn’t want radio and online folk blowing the lid on the embargo even though the one and only person ever to commit this violation (aside from the “early reviews” of a certain TV show) was in the room for the screening. Select bullshit is more like it since anyone who saw Pathfinder knew it was shit.

Even by leaving out the Da Vinci factor (named after that Code movie) of studios not screening their films until the Wednesday before opening, 2007 has had over a dozen wide releases open “cold”. What do they all have in common besides a lack of confidence by their handlers? Only one could crack the 30% barrier of positivity at Rotten Tomatoes and that was this past weekend’s Next. And only one other was higher than 25%. Wonder where Bart stands on that title actually being Ghost Rider.

In the ensuing catch-up that occurs from online writers to the second-and-third-tier print critics, many of whom probably none too happy to dish out for admission fees just to do their job, the truth comes out.

21-24% - The Hitcher, Dead Silence, The Abandoned, The Invisible, Tyler Perry’s Daddy’s Little Girls
10-15% - Slow Burn, The Messengers, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Primeval
8% - Blood and Chocolate
4% - Kickin’ It Old Skool
2% - Epic Movie

Bart would likely counter that the numbers for those titles prove his point. Seven of those films belong to the horror genre (insert Tyler Perry joke here) and his beloved Ghost Rider is a geek fest. An argument can be made that horror films usually get a predisposed bad rap from the critics, but The Host and Grindhouse were screened and well-received. You could even throw Disturbia into that category. You don't think we're prone to sequels like The Hills Have Eyes 2? Then why would the same studio screen 28 Weeks Later for us? If Ghost Rider is so not the critical cup-o-tea for objectivity then why screen Spider-Man 3 or the Pirates of the Caribbean films or any big budget blockbuster destined to be “review-proof”? Because most of us know our shit and the few serious dissenters looking to fill up that year-end worst list with “disappointments” rather than all-out suckitude aren’t going to be enough to put (at worst) mediocre films in the sub-25% range.

How many millions of dollars have been wasted on shit? Over $291 million to date just on the films listed above. America has spent over $300 million on product that the manufacturers have zero confidence in. As Americans, don’t we get ripped off enough in this country? Aren’t we lied to and sold plates of crap on a daily basis? Aren’t you tired of not knowing who has a secret agenda when they’re telling you “the truth?” If a film is withheld from the critics for any reason, JUST SAY NO! Don’t go see it. Not a matinee nor a discount house. If you’re desperate to spend that $10, give it to charity. Or give half to charity and half to rent the DVD where the film should have gone straight to in the first place.

Someone once said that “insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results.” So, maybe I’m just on the fast track to Bellevue yelling out to an unresponsive public the same shtick (as it’s been called) at hopes someone would listen. Then again, Vince Lombardi said “the big thing in being a successful team is repetition of what you’re doing, either by word of mouth, blackboard, or specifically by work on the field. You repeat, repeat, repeat as a unit.” And that’s why critics who know their shit must stick together. We must continue doing what we’re doing even in the face of ineptitude by filmmakers, the paying public and especially those who dare to care themselves our peers. Our readers can then pay greater attention to knowing and subsequently picking out the shit to avoid. They can start by identifying the brown spots in these lists.

Don’t make comparisons the film can’t possibly live up to. I recently compared Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz to Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. But I did everything I could to back it up. Can these really say the same?

“A combination of Network and The Player. “ (The TV Set) - Rex Reed
“Reminiscent of Fargo and Memento! “ (First Snow) – Jenelle Riley, Backstage
“It's Psycho Meets Saw…“ (Vacancy) - Larry Carroll, MTV News
“It’s like Rocky with air guitars! “ (Air Guitar Nation) – Ain’t It Cool News
“It’s City Slickers on bikes! “ (Wild Hogs) – Pete Hammond

“It will remind you of E.T. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Jeffrey Lyons
“Captures the moonbeam awe of E.T. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Carrie Rickey, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“One of the best sci-fi fantasy adventures since E.T. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Maria Salas
“E.T. for a new generation…“ (The Last Mimzy) - Paula Nechak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“It’s a cross between A Wrinkle In Time and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “ (The Last Mimzy) – Ty Burr
“On a par with Jaws. “ (The Host) - Harry Knowles
“It’s a dream fusion of Jaws and Little Miss Sunshine.” (The Host) - Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

This free speech costs somebody somewhere ten bucks.

“Carnahan can still fire up action and laughs like nobody’s business. “ (Smokin’ Aces) – Peter Travers
“The performances set Zodiac on fire. “ (Zodiac) – Clay Smith
“This movie is on fire! “ (Alpha Dog) – Pete Hammond

“A sleek, surprising and surefire thriller... “ (Fracture) – Pete Hammond
“A sure-fire thriller in the tradition of The Bourne Identity. “ (Shooter) – Edward Douglas
“A surefire family hit. “ (Firehouse Dog) – Susan Walker, Toronto Star

Not every thriller is worthy of Hitchcock nor are they liable to peel away or explode a portion of your body. Pick your words carefully.

“Absolutely outstanding and eye-popping!“ (Meet the Robinsons) – Bonnie Laufer
“An audacious eye-popping debut.“ (Tears of the Black Tiger) – David Fear, Time Out NY
“Prepare your eyes for popping – they just might fly out of their sockets!“ (300) – Peter Travers

“A high-energy movie with heart and the dance moves will make your jaw drop!“ (Stomp the Yard) – Rachel Smith, KVVU-TV

“Hair-raising!“ (Maxed Out) – David Edelstein
“… a twisted trek with hair-raising jolts.“ (The Number 23) – Pete Hammond
“…a hair-raising thriller!“ (Next) – Larry King

“A tough, bare-knuckle film... “ (Breach) – Rex Reed
“a ton of white-knuckle action. “ (Shooter) – Joel Siegel
“a real white-knuckler. “ (Disturbia) – Tony Toscano

“A nail-biter.“ (Disturbia) – Peter Travers
“An exceptionally suspenseful nail-biter with a shocking conclusion. “ (Fracture) – Rex Reed

“A mind-bending, nonstop mesmerizer of a movie. “ (Zodiac) – Peter Travers
“Mind-bending! “ (The Number 23) - Pete Hammond
“A mind-bending adventure. “ (Next) - Tim Estiloz, CN-8-TV
“A mind-teaser! “ (First Snow) – Stephen Holden
“Mind-warping fun!“ (Next) – Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“…Ambitious, mind-opening…“ (The Last Mimzy) - Paula Nechak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“one of the most audacious, mind-blowing characters you’ll ever meet. “ (The Hoax) – Jan Wahl, CBS
“Mind-blowing! “ (300) – Susan Wloszczyna, USA Today
“The ending will blow you away. “ (Perfect Stranger) – Kevin Steincross
“The ending will blow you away. “ (Next) - Tim Estiloz, CN-8-TV

“Filled with edge-of-your-seat action and excitement. “ (Shooter) – Chuck Thomas
“An edge-of-your-seat thriller! “ (Hannibal Rising) – Steve Chupnick, Movieweb
“It keeps you on the edge of your seat. “ (Breach) – Kelli Gillespie, FOX-TV
“A terrific thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat! “ (The Reaping) – Shawn Edwards
“...A first class thriller...It will keep you on the edge of your seat. “ (Vacancy) – Earl Dittman
"An action-packed blood-and-metal thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat." (The Hitcher) - Maria Salas
“Guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat! “ (First Snow) – Pete Hammond
“A blockbuster of suspense that will have you jumping out of your seat. “ (Disturbia) – Pete Hammond
“Packed with jump-out-of-your-seat moments. “ (The Reaping) – Dan Jewel

“Seizes you by the collar and never lets you go! “ (After the Wedding) – Darrell Hartman, The New York Sun
“…will grab you by the throat. “ (Fracture) – Pete Hammond
“…holds you captive from start to finish. “ (Breach) – Rex Reed
“Watch out or the snap ending will give you whiplash. “ (Fracture) – Joel Siegel
“Doesn't let go even after the final twist. “ (Fracture) – Gene Shalit

“The accelerating plot twists are more than just clever surprises. “ (The Lives of Others) – David Ansen
“Enough twists and turns to full four weepies.“ (After the Wedding) – Rob Nelson, The Village Voice
“Loaded with laughs, action, excitement, twists, attitude – you name it.! “ (Smokin’ Aces) – Pete Hammond
“Full of twists and turns…“ (Perfect Stranger) – Mose Persico
“Full of shocking twists and turns. “ (Premonition) – Earl Dittman
“Shooter is a thriller with a twist or two... “ (Shooter) – Joel Siegel
“An adventure with a twist that will leave you breathless. “ (Bridge to Terabithia) – Lisa Stanley

“Breathtaking! “ (Bridge to Terabithia) – Bryan Erdy, Gannett News
“Absolutely breathtaking from beginning to end! “ (Meet the Robinsons) – Mark S. Allen
“Sally Field is breathtaking. “ (Two Weeks) – Bob Rivers, CBS Radio
“It’s an excellent hold-your-breath thriller. “ (Disturbia) – Joel Siegel
“A breath of fresh air! “ (Puccini for Beginners) – HX Magazine

Are we thinking about movies or Rachael Ray?

“A delicious Robert Altman-like mosaic. The elegant, worldly movie leaves you with the satisfied glow of sharing a healthful nouvelle repast with stimulating company and topping it off with the best Champagne.” (Avenue Montaigne) - Stephen Holden
“A deliciously funny comedy! Difficult to resist!” (The Valet) - Kenneth Turan
“Deliciously smart.” (The Hoax) - David Ansen
“Deliciously bizarre!” (American Cannibal) – Helen Yun, New York Post
“A delicious movie treat.” (The Hoax) - Pete Hammond
“A bona fide cinematic treat that plays out with intelligence and wit.” (Fracture) - Claudia Puig

“A delectable, irresistibly droll film.” (Color Me Kubrick) - Owen Gleiberman
“A delectable comedy! A sinfully delicious bonbon!” (The Valet) - Stephen Holden
“A cinematic sugar rush.” (Tears of the Black Tiger) – Richard Brody, New Yorker
“A French soufflé.” (Avenue Montaigne) – Ella Taylor, Voice
“A bracing, honey of a movie.” (The Last Mimzy) - Gene Shalit
“A crackerjack cast.” (The TV Set) - Lisa Schwarzbaum
“Will Ferrell is a ferocious marshmallow.” (Blades of Glory) - Stephen Holden
“Hopkins and Gosling go at each other with relish.” (Fracture) – Peter Travers

Everyone has different tastes when it comes to men and women. But I have yet to see any film which has given me an orgasm with a notepad and pen in my hands.

“Sexy.” (Factory Girl) – Emmanuel Levy,
“A sexy slice of ‘60s cool.” (Factory Girl) – James King, Radio One
“Sienna Miller is sensationally sexy in a breakthrough performance.” (Factory Girl) – Roger Friedman
“It’s a marvelous movie-movie, with a new screen goddess Carice Van Houten.” (Black Book) - David Edelstein
“Salma Hayek embodies the ultimate femme fatale!” (Lonely Hearts) – Ronnie Scheib, Variety
“Zodiac stars a trio of beauties – Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Ruffalo – all at the top of their performance game.” (Zodiac) - Manohla Dargis
“Pleasing and often moving…Wilberforce is…a true believer, a crusader, a man of action…he’s at once pure and seductive, a dashing, romantic figure…unfailingly attractive.” (Amazing Grace) - Manohla Dargis
“A dream cast with a dashing hero!” (Amazing Grace) - Stephen Farber
“A screwball comedy of sexual confusion.” (Puccini for Beginners) – Stephen Holden

“This sexy, action-packed film is an awful lot of fun!” (Grindhouse) – Leonard Maltin
“A sexy, thoughtful, smart film.” (Breaking and Entering) – Richard Roeper
“Funny and dark, and really sexy.” (Black Snake Moan) – Richard Roeper
“…thrilling, sexy and totally mesmerizing.” (300) – Paul Fischer
“Sexy and smart…” (Disturbia) – Earl Dittman
“A smart and sexy thriller.” (Shooter) – Rachel Smith, FOX-TV
“A sexy thriller that keeps you guessing every step of the way. The ending will blow you (away).” (Perfect Stranger) – Kevin Steincross
“Pack your spandex, stuff your crotch and press on your temporary tattoos, we’re going to Finland!” (Air Guitar Nation) – High Times

“Sexually charged.” (Factory Girl) – Bill Bregoli
“…chock-full of sexy surprises!” (Boy Culture) – Clay Smith
“Rich, juicy chunks of bravado, camaraderie, sex talk and pop-culture.” (Grindhouse) – Peter Travers
“Seriously dirty. A suave and salacious new movie.” (The Exterminating Angels) - A.O. Scott
“Raunch of the most decorous kind.” (The Exterminating Angels) - Manohla Dargis
“Raw sexuality and fever-pitched emotion.” (Red Road) – James Rocchi, Cinematical
“Red-hot! Not since Basic Instinct has a modern noir gotten so playfully aroused!” (The Exterminating Angels) – Rob Nelson, Village Voice
“A surreal masturbatory fantasy!” (Wild Tigers I Have Known) - Stephen Holden
“All but bursts with outsize passions.” (After the Wedding) - Joe Morgenstern
“Mark Wahlberg is Shooter and that is a good thing.” (Shooter) - Kenneth Turan

The studios held them until the last minute and yet still got praise.

Code Name: The Cleaner
“Good-natured and funny. The ever-foxy Liu and the amusingly addled Entertainer make a solid comic team.” – Michael Ordona, Los Angeles Times

The Hitcher
“A truly twisted villain.” – Christy Lemire
"The Hitcher is an action-packed blood-and-metal thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat." - Maria Salas

Ghost Rider
“A high-energy thrill ride!” - Shawn Edwards

The Messengers
“...Eerie...Haunting...It doesn't get more terrifying than this.” - Earl Dittman
“Chilling and effective. The Messengers delivers the scares.” – Staci Wilson,

“A hair-raising thriller! Nicolas Cage is incredible!” - Larry King
“A mind-bending adventure. Smart and action-packed. The ending will blow you away. Nicolas “Cage and Jessica Biel sizzle!” - Tim Estiloz, CN-8-TV
“Mind-warping fun! Next keeps you thinking, guessing and entertained!” – Arthur Salm, The San Diego Union-Tribune
“Sensational action!” – Jack Mathews
“Exciting!” – Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
“Brilliantly executed!” – Ella Taylor, LA Weekly

You want to know how you do it when you’re really excited about a movie in the first few months? Pay attention.

“I hesitate, given the early date and the project’s modesty, to call it one of the best films of the year. I prefer to think of it as the antidote to all of the others.” (Into Great Silence) – A.O. Scott
“One of the richest and most satisfying films of the year so far.” (After the Wedding) – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“You won’t encounter many movies nearly as good this year from anywhere!” (Summer in Berlin) – Andrew Sarris
“One of the most amazing experiences you will have in a theatre this year!” (Meet the Robinsons) – Bonnie Laufer
“One of the great moviegoing experiences of the year!” (The Lives of Others) – Glenn Whipp

That’s how you do it. It’s too early to make sweeping statements like…

“One of the best movies of the year!” (Year of the Dog) – Ben Lyons
“…one of the year’s best pictures.” (Private Fears in Public Places) – Phillip Lopate, Film Comment
“The best summer movie you’ll see this year is coming out several months early.” (The Host) – David Fear, Blender
“The first great comedy of the year!” (Wild Hogs) - Ross King, KTLA-TV/Los Angeles
“The comedy event of the year!” (Wild Hogs) – Erica Land, NBC-TV/Houston

“The freshest, most surprising American movie this year.” (The Hoax) – David Ansen
“The funniest, craziest, wildest comedy of the year.” (Are We There Yet?) – Shawn Edwards
“The most fun you will have at the movies all year.” (TMNT) – Mike Sargent, WBAI Radio
“The new year’s most terrifying thriller.” (Hannibal Rising) – Pete Hammond
“The most electrifying thriller of the year” (Hannibal Rising) – Pete Hammond

And this is going a bit far, isn’t it?

“One of the darkest, creepiest and most tantalizing thrillers I have seen in years.” (Zodiac) – Rex Reed
“The most gripping suspense film in years.” (The Lookout) – Stephen Farber
“The funniest, most original comedy in years.” (Meet the Robinsons) – Greg Russell
“One of the most powerful films in years.” (Reign Over Me) – Pete Hammond
“The most sophisticated, smartest, coolest action movie in years!” (Smokin’ Aces) – Mark S. Allen
“I haven’t laughed this much in years!” (Wild Hogs) – Marian Etoile Watson, FOX-TV/New York

“One of the smartest, nastiest, funniest and most truthful send-ups of television network programming ever made.” (The TV Set) – Rex Reed
“One of the greatest monster movies ever made!” (The Host) – Logan Hill, New York Magazine
“One of the best fright films ever.” (Disturbia) – Sandra Varner, Celebrity Profiles
“One of the most fun films you’ll ever see.” (Air Guitar Nation) – Ain't It Cool News
“One of the coolest movies you’ll ever see!” (Stomp the Yard) – Shawn Edwards

“On almost every level there’s never been a monster movie like The Host.” (The Host) – Derek Elley, Variety
“300 Looks like nothing you’ve ever seen…” (300) – Lev Grossman, Time
“Unlike anything you have ever seen before.” (Bridge to Terabithia) – Clay Smith
“Unlike anything you could ever imagine!” (Meet the Robinsons) – Larry King
“Unlike anything you’ve seen on the big screen.” (Stomp the Yard) – Melanie Moon, CW-TV
“You've never seen anything like it.” (Premonition) - Michelle Fizer, WSVN/Fox-Miami

It’s time to create some new kind of by-law for critics using the “must-see” line. Sports all have their rules and penalties. Shouldn’t every critic be limited to how many times they can order their readers to drop everything and head out to the multiplex? Those who use star or letter ratings, I think can all agree, that their top rating are the ones they are the most enthusiastic about; the true “cream of the crop” that find themselves in the running for the best of the year. The average number of films competing for a spot on a year-end list is usually about fifteen. The average paying moviegoer gets out to the theaters (maybe) once every other week. That’s 26 movies a year.

How about we make a new rule then? Let’s say every critic each month gets to recommend one film that the public “must-see” and one good enough to be called “very good” and worth their ten bucks. If nothing is worthy in January (and what ever is?) you can carry over those major recommendations to February and so on down the line. BUT…said critic must use a certain amount of discretion and not waste their picks. I’ll get the ball rolling and show you how it’s done.

Everything in January sucked. Therefore my two picks for that month give me four in February. I’d say Breach was worthy of a “very good” pick for audiences. So for March I now have three Must-See’s at my discretion and two secondarys, one of which I’m happy to use on 300 and then for Grindhouse in April where I exercise my first option on what I believe is “the first must-see movie of 2007” – Hot Fuzz! With the releases of May pending, I also know I’ll be using the “must-see” tag on Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up in June.

Yeah, I know it’s a stupid and unfeasible idea but it would make for an interesting chart to guide moviegoers towards what to wisely spend their money on. Do you really want to be telling people on a fixed budget to rush out and see Fracture?

“The must-see movie of 2007!” (Bridge to Terabithia) – Susan Granger
“The first must-see film of the year.” (Amazing Grace) – Paul Fischer
“The first must-see film of 2007!” (Offside) – Michael Koresky, Interview
“The first must-see movie of 2007!” (Starter for Ten) – Scott Mantz
“Must see!” (God Grew Tired of Us) – Marie Claire
“…A must see!” (Beyond the Gates) – Baz Bamigboye, The Daily Mail
“…A must-see…” (Fracture) - Elizabeth Weitzman
“A must-see!” (Amazing Grace) – Rebecca Rothbaum, O Magazine
“A must-see!” (Wild Hogs) – Bessie Tsionis, Comcast CN8 Network/Boston
“A must-see!” (The TV Set) – Christy Lemire
“There’s nothing else like it. A must-see!” (Grindhouse) – Christy Lemire

“A must-see movie!” (Offside) – Rebecca Rothbaum, O Magazine
“A must-see movie ****.” (Freedom Writers) – Shawn Edwards
“A must-see for the entire family!” (Bridge to Terabithia) – Lisa Stanley
“A must-see for families and for kids.” (The Last Mimzy) – Joel Siegel
“A must-see laugh-out-loud comedy.” (I Think I Love My Wife) – Pat Collins, UPN9/WWOR
“Shooter is the movie to see.” (Shooter) – Chuck Thomas

“Don’t miss!” (Triad Election) – Time Out NY
“Don’t miss it.” (Factory Girl) – Roger Friedman
“…Don’t miss it!” (Perfect Stranger) – Mose Persico
“Not to be missed.” (Music and Lyrics) – Chuck Thomas
“…too important and too good to miss!” (The Situation) – Roger Friedman
“Potent and unmissable!” (The Lives of Others) – Richard Corliss
“An experience you shouldn’t miss.” (After the Wedding) – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
“You must, must, must see this movie!” (The Host) – Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Do not miss this film.” (Zodiac) – Pete Hammond
“A must-see movie.” (The Number 23) – Pete Hammond
“It’s a must-see movie!” (The TV Set) – Pete Hammond
“A movie you must see.” (Reign Over Me) – Pete Hammond
“Do yourself a big favor and put this movie at the top of your must-see list.” (Starter for 10) – Pete Hammond

You see the name on those last five quotes? Those are just five of the 24 times that this load from Maxim magazine has been quoted this year through April. For thirteen straight weeks, Hammond has been out getting his name and his publication in print, and is on pace for over 75 instances of self-promotion. Half of his quotes have been for films that have a Rotten Tomato and nearly half of those (The Number 23, Premonition, Hannibal Rising, Wild Hogs, The Condemned) have a sub-20% rating. Our 2006 Peter Travers Whore of the Year is the EVEN money favorite to repeat in ’07.

At 5-to-2 is perpetual bridesmaid Shawn Edwards is the only one with any juice right now to upset Hammond. His 10 quotes of ’07 include six below the 30% level including Ghost Rider. There's your support, Bart! A Tyler Perry movie has passed and the Wayans don’t have anything on the schedule this year, so it may be hard for Edwards to match Hammond’s score. But if a whore is good at one thing – it’s chasing down the hard – and Edwards will plant himself firmly on any studio tentpole he can find to get his name mentioned.

Also high up on the whorin’ scorin’ this year are Jim Ferguson (3-1) recommending The Reaping and Wild Hogs, two-time whore of the year recipient Earl Dittman (4-1) out there for Premonition, the Sandra Bullock stinker also hyped by Mark S. Allen (9-2) looking to get back into the Whore Top Ten. Last year’s runner-up, Jeffrey Lyons, has been quoted 12 times so far, which should get him around 40 for the year – a welcome double-digit drop from ’06.

Maybe the next time Peter Bart starts up a rant about how shitty critics are these days, hopefully he’ll turn his attention to the red-flagged names associated with Criticwatch. Cause the number one rule about knowing your shit is first being able to know where the stink is coming from.

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originally posted: 05/03/07 09:12:57
last updated: 05/05/07 02:10:26
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