These are the people I make sure to read!
I love to read film criticism, I love to read great discussions and opinion pieces about film. There have been a lot of film critics, reviewers, and historians throughout my time spent reading as much as I can about film that have made an impact on me. Then there are those who presently impact me, give me more food for thought than should be possible, and help to shape and mold the way I look at films. These ten writers, for this article I’m limiting it to those who speak through the written word, are the current crop of critics, professional and amateur, who I always take the time to read and whose opinions and thoughts I seek out. Maybe you read some of them already, maybe you don’t, but in no order whatsoever these are ten critics you should absolutely read whenever you get the chance.
This one is a no brainer for anyone who has spent any time reading my work. I think it’s as clear as day that my writing style is heavily influenced by Mr. Ebert. For years now I have been reading his criticism, and I never tire of his thoughts. He’s not the most in-depth film critic one will find, but he presents his thoughts in a way that anyone can easily relate to. I don’t always agree with his opinion, his take on genre film in general is maddening, but I enjoy his artistry with prose and the way in which he relates his experiences with film to his experiences in life. Mr. Ebert brings an emotionality to his work, something I find lacking in a lot of film criticism. When you take the tact that all of art is subjective as I do emotions play a large role in the way we break down and react to movies. Most critics take a clinically cold approach to discussing film, but Mr. Ebert wears his emotions on his sleeve and I greatly respect that. Millions, maybe even billions, of people all over the world look to Roger Ebert for their film criticism, and I am proud to count myself as a devout reader of his work.
The indie darling of critics, at least that’s the way I think of Mr. Singer in my head. A large problem I have with modern day criticism is that so many critics are closed off in their approach to film. Mr. Singer is the exact opposite, he’s simply looking for a good time watching movies. He likes bad movies that are so bad they are awesome just as much as he likes a well put together art house film. He’s also a complete geek, and I mean that in the best possible way. Mr. Singer has fun when he writes about movies, and when he geeks out over a movie it’s infectious. I can get burned out by the formal approach of criticism at times, but then I read a piece by Mr. Singer and I am immediately reminded of how fun movies can be. Mr. Singer is smart, he is open to films that most critics wouldn’t think of watching, let alone liking, and he’s a funny guy who knows how to write. When it comes to film criticism Mr. Singer may just be the best of the new guard, if such a guard even exists.
My first non-professional entry, but trust me Miss Tamminga can hang with any professional writing today. She doesn’t write often, and anyone who has read her work knows that is a shame. She comes from a literary background, she’s an English professor by trade, and that definitely shines through in her work. When the well would run dry for most critics she is still pulling at themes and making connections to other film and literary works. Her writing is also very warm, the way she turns her phrases and constructs her arguments create a welcoming vibe to her work. Miss Tamminga’s writing is very smart and is most learned, but it’s also accessible. Some critics take their journalist or literary background and use it to create a distance between themselves and their readers. The opposite is true with Miss Tamminga who uses her breadth of knowledge regarding the English language to draw her readers deeper into her reviews and give them even more to think about. The only complaint that I can levy against Miss Tamminga is that she’s an amateur, she deserves to be paid for what she writes, she’s that good.
What can I say, I love me some horror. I also love me some quality writing on the horror genre. There’s no other person currently writing, nor has there probably ever been, about horror with the wit, humor, and thoughtfulness of Kim Newman. Mr. Newman is another critic who I tend to disagree with a lot. However, that doesn’t change how much I love his writing. Unlike other critics who often try to fit the horror genre neatly into the rest of the cinematic world Mr. Newman accepts the peculiarities of horror. Most importantly Mr. Newman gives horror the time of day, he never feels the need to justify horror. He presents horror as it is, just another form of cinema that has its share of great and horrible films.
It’s sad that Elvis Mitchell is a product of the current downturn in work for great movie critics. He still gets his views out there with his immensely delightful radio show and podcast The Treatment. However, Mr. Mitchell has not been with a steady publication or website since the middle of 2011. Maybe that makes my inclusion of him a cheat, but I feel it’s only a matter of time before he is writing again for some publication or website. Why do I feel it’s a matter of time, because his jazz lounge writing style gives him too distinct of a voice to not be writing somewhere. Mr. Mitchell’s work is like being transported to a smoky Chicago jazz club. All the cool cats hang out there and you’re just as likely to have a conversation about what was for lunch as you are the deep philosophical meaning of John Coltrane’s work. This element makes Mr. Mitchell’s work an oddity, I can honestly say I have never encountered another critic like him. He’s able to weave pop culture, social awareness and film knowledge into one long saxophone note of a package.
I wasn’t always a fan of A.O. Scott. I can’t even remember what the first couple of reviews were that I read from him, but I know that I didn’t care for them. There’s a chance that they were of movies I liked, that he didn’t, and I dismissed Mr. Scott for petulant reasons. I came across Mr. Scott again when he was a co-host of the old At The Movies, which is now the most likely defunct Ebert Presents At The Movies. Either way, I found myself digging Mr. Scott much more the second time around. In a recurring theme I don’t often agree with Mr. Scott, but I really enjoy the way he discusses film. Like Miss Tamminga he approaches film from a literary background. While he never reaches the heights of prose or intertextualization that Miss Tamminga does, Mr. Scott comes awfully close. Most of all Mr. Scott is very good at contextualizing what he does or doesn’t like about a film structurally. I appreciate the way Mr. Scott looks at the structure of a movie, I just plain appreciate reading what Mr. Scott has to say.
There something very fresh about the criticism of Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. I was first exposed to him via the aforementioned Ebert Presents At The Movies, and I was immediately surprised by his positivity. Don’t get me wrong, he dislikes movies, he will tell his readers why certain movies aren’t worth their time. But, he also has an aspect to his criticism where he finds the good nuggets in any movie. He’s not a negative critic, even in movies that he doesn’t think are good, instead Mr. Vishnevetsky makes sure to extol what a film does well. His writing speaks to someone who is educated beyond his years, he’s able to reference films in a way that adds to the conversation instead of distracting from the film he was originally commenting on. Mr. Vishnevetsky is another member of the new breed of film critic, someone who has made his name online and someone who sees as many movies as possible to build his film knowledge. There’s also a self-effacing humor to Mr. Vishnevetsky’s writing, which helps to make his critiques just as fun to read as they are educational.
The third Illinoisan to appear on this list, Michael Phillips is just another example of the amazing film community that is present in the Chicagoland area. Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Mr. Phillips has spent years helping to guide my trek through the world of film. What initially drew me to Mr. Phillips was his openness to the world of animation. Mr. Phillips has no qualm proclaiming an animated film to be among the best of the year, or all time for that matter. Being a huge animation fan myself, and a cinephile who is constantly irked by the ugly stepchild treatment animation receives when it comes to the majority of serious criticism, I welcomed the thoughts of Mr. Phillips into my cinematic brain. Beyond his affinity for animation (and don’t confuse said affinity for a love of all animation, when he doesn’t like an animated movie Mr. Phillips voices that opinion as well) Mr. Phillips continually impresses me with his measured and well written pieces, he has an open mind and presents his thoughts in such a manner that I am always willing to read what he has to say.
The second amateur on my list, the second woman on my list. Seema should be paid for what she writes, and she’s also a great female voice in what is traditionally a male dominated field. I first met Miss Seema on a message board I used to frequent, and while I am no longer a member of that board I am happy to still be friends with her and to still be privy to her wonderful way of writing and thinking about film. My tastes aren’t always in alignment with hers, but when I read a piece by Miss Seema I am always struck by the bursting at the seems nature of her thoughts. There’s clearly a lot going on in Miss Seema’s cinematic mind, yet she manages to corral all of her thoughts and deliver them in a way that is easy to digest. At the same time her thoughts help to spark my own cinematic thoughts, when I’m having trouble expressing myself about a certain film I know that I can always turn to Miss Seema’s writing to help me out. My only complaint is that I wish she would write more, but I’ve been assured, from the source no less, that she will be writing a lot more in the coming months.
I saved Armond White for last for what I believe are obvious reasons. I don’t think there is a more volatile voice in all of film criticism. He’s been accused of being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian, and for being an asshole in general. I don’t know Mr. White personally so I can’t speak to his actions outside of the world of film criticism. What I can say is that I love reading what Mr. White has to say. I do not believe he is contrarian just to be contrarian, he simply has views that differ from the majority. He always backs up his more insane opinions with well written reasoning. Sure, Mr. White could tone down on that antagonistic aspect of his writing, but that aspect of his criticism doesn’t bother me all that much. I almost never agree with what Mr. White has to say, but I always seek out his work because it is great food for thought. Mr. White is willing to dig deep into the subjective nature of film and I appreciate that. I know that I would be considered a hack by Mr. White, he considers all bloggers to be hacks, but that doesn’t effect me much. At the end of the day I know that I love reading what Mr. White has to say, and that’s what matters most to me in the world of film criticism.
Bill! Thank-you so much! What an honor to be named among these greats – yes, I even love that you’ve included White here. 🙂 I love your choices, and there are a couple of these critics whom I’ve been meaning to read more of, so I’m glad for your reminder here. Love that you’ve given Seema her deserved shout-out, too!
A rec for you: I wonder if you are familiar with Adrian Martin, the Australian writer/professor/film critic? (http://www.lolajournal.com/) He writes wonderful, amazingly insightful stuff and is also a warm presence on Twitter (@AdrianMartin25), very down to earth and lovely. Would love you to check him out if you’ve not done so already. I loved his review of We Need to Talk About Kevin: http://cinentransit.com/tenemos-que-hablar-de-kevin/#dos
You lost me on Armond. Fuck that guy.
Have to agree with Steven’s assessment, Armond White is the hack. I also have grown cool to Ebert’s reviews in the years since Gene Siskel passed away. When Siskel was alive, I tended to think of him as a pompous film critic, and Ebert was the voice of the common moviegoer. But since Siskel’s death, I’ve come to believe that Siskel was the better reviewer in the first place. Ebert can very inconsistent in his reviewing, and now, a little desperate to please.
Melissa- Never heard of Adrian Martin, I’ll have to give him a try sometime soon. 🙂
Steven- I like you, you know that, but I expect something more constructive than a simple dismissal. And haven’t you said in the past that you don’t even read White? I do hope you’re not judging the work of someone whom you don’t read.
Antares- What makes Armond White a hack? His has different opinions yes, and sure in his personal life he’s a dick. But, his opinions are his and he does back them up in well written pieces. Having different opinions does not make someone a hack, at least not in my eyes.
As for Ebert, I disagree with him a lot, but I still love his work. He’s a very emotional writer and that’s something I can relate to. I enjoyed Siskel on At The Movies, but sadly none of his written work has been saved so I can’t speak to his skills as a published critic.
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