Patrick Goldstein has written an interesting piece about the demise of the film critic in newspapers across the country. He admits that our hideous economy is playing a part but there is also something else going on – a generation raised to distrust voices of authority in the media because those voices are altered, often, by the corporations who sponsor them. Whether this is true or not, that is the perception. This is probably why a movie that is panned by critics can still do well at the box office. There is only one area in film where the critics’ voice still matters – awards season. The klusterkluge between September and February very much depends upon what critics think. The Oscars themselves, aging dinosaurs in our age, seem to be the last place where people still care about quality in filmmaking. The crowdpleasers and the awards movies continue to live on different islands lately. Film critics used to be not so important to Oscar voters but now, there is only a small group of films that pass the critics’ test for voters to choose from – there is bound to be crossover.
The best critics have always done exactly the opposite. As the late critic Kingsley Amis put it: “If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing.” Whether critics are irritants or masters of elucidation, opinions still matter. But no one is respected simply because of the authority of the institution they write for. The Web isn’t the enemy of critical thinking. The land of a million blogs is a medium brimming with opinion. What’s different is the reader gets to decide whose opinion matters the most. It’s a big adjustment, but maybe it’s time critics, like many artists, realize they should pay more attention to their audience.