Posted by: ckckred | June 29, 2014

What Qualifies As Movie Criticism?

In a recent Q&A with the AV Club, TV critic Todd VanDerWerff talked about the proper qualifications for film criticism, drawing the line between reviews and picking out the flaws of a movie.  He declared that:

The spread of the “Cinema Sins” style of YouTube criticism might seem innocuous to many, but underneath it all there’s this pernicious belief that criticism is applied not to the whole of a work but to its bits and pieces. These videos often seem to confuse “pointing out continuity errors and logical inconsistencies” with offering insightful thoughts on a work. Don’t get me wrong: A great, scathing review is one of the best pleasures in life. But these are not assembled via the anal-retentive means these videos apply.

The rise of the Internet over the last twenty or so years has certainly encouraged the growth of online criticism, but I agree with VanDerWerff that simply riffing a picture doesn’t make it proper film criticism.  Real criticism focuses on the development of the picture, examining the story, judging the actor, and the visual and allegorical techniques the director is using among many more things.  While like VanDerWerff I love Mystery Science Theater 3000 as well as its follow-up RiffTrax, they’re different than say a review by J. Hoberman or Jonathan Rosenbaum.

But what do you think?



  1. I agree. You can’t just look for things to make fun of in a movie if you want to critique it. You have to actually…critique it, damn it.

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Yeah. I find a lot of those YouTube video-style critiques (CinemaSins, Nostalgia Critic) to be quite irritating and unsubstantial. They’re finding easy things to make fun of instead of analyzing the picture.

  2. I definitely agree! In order to criticise a film, you don’t simply bash it, it’s more about how all the elements come together. After all, in many cases even if there are errors and inconsistencies, looking at the whole picture will make it apparent why it still works… or not.

    • A lot of the Internet stuff I find just picks out easily mockable parts for jokes, not real criticism. The creators mistake riffing for analysis.

  3. I had a discussion (or argument, if you’re being less charitable) along these lines on Twitter yesterday; a film being inconsistent, or having plot holes doesn’t necessarily make it bad, so I’ve never quite understood the argument that listing off ten “problems” with the film is valid criticism. It can be humorous and interesting, of course, but it’s hardly criticism in any meaningful sense of the word.

    • The “CinemaSins” style of critiquing is pretty shallow, naming off obvious faults that most viewers could easily spot. They’re not deep or poignant criticisms.

  4. I hate those sorts of video clips that talk about how such and such a film isn’t “plausible” or the “everything that’s wrong with _____ in 10 minutes” type crap. It just reveals that the authors have no clue how to talk about film.

    • I dislike much of that stuff as well. Some videos can be funny, but none of them are proper criticisms of the picture.

  5. As an optimist, I prefer focusing on what went right with film rather than pointing out what was wrong. Perfect films are rare and should be. For me, it’s about telling the story well with interesting techniques and decent dialogue. Do you think about the film days after watching it? It’s a good one, then. Great question.

    • Thanks! That’s what a lot of these YouTube videos ignore unfortunately.

  6. I agree with your assessment. Things like “cinema sins” aren’t film criticisms, and in fact, there’s been a number of those videos where I could easy rebut a number of the “errors” they point out. Not that they should be taken too seriously, mind you, but yeah, no, riffing bits and pieces isn’t criticism, that’s being nit-picky. Taking on a film as a whole and breaking down WHY something does or doesn’t work altogether is true criticism.

    • CinemaSins can be funny, but I think they’re mocking a lot of obvious points that viewers can easily spot themselves. Like you said, breaking down a movie and explaining the particular faults and strengths in detail is true criticism.

  7. Agreed. Though I enjoy the HISHE’s and What’s Wrong With… vids from time-to-time for entertainment, and sometimes nailing what bothered me about the film, it’s only a sliver of the film criticism I enjoy reading, and learning from.

    • I find some of the CinemaSins videos to be funny, but, at least for me, they’re a novelty at best. They’re not true film criticisms and only lead viewers into thinking that naming plot and logical errors equals a valid review.

  8. I love the Cinema sins and Honest trailers, their funny because they are making fun of the stupid little things that are in each and every film. They have gone at some of my favourite films and to be honest they are my favourite videos.

    Its a very modern version of the Comedy Roast.

    • I do enjoy Honest Trailers and from time to time Cinema Sins. They are funny but I wish they were more in-depth with their criticisms.

  9. Too many bad ‘reviews’ simply spout what the plot is and then conclude by saying it’s good or bad without qualifying that conclusion with an arguement. To criticise something requires the ability to weigh up the positives and negatives and put that forward. The best critics do just that. Nice piece mate.

    • Thanks! I agree, a review has to examine why a movie is good or bad not only by listing the faults or strengths but analyzing how they impact the picture.

  10. So lets me get this straight, we’re critiquing a critque? It’s all a bit too meta for me. lol

    P.S. For what it’s worth I think there’s room for everyone and just read what you enjoy.

    • I feel that for a lot of these online videos, the creators mistake listing movie plot-holes and flaws as criticism, confusing viewers that’s all what’s qualified for analyzing a picture.

  11. I think it’s easier to say what was wrong with a film than what was right with it. Or at least it’s easier to waffle on about anyway! In my eyes a review is an opinion whilst a critique is from a neutral standpoint saying what worked and what didn’t I guess that’s still a review of sorts but more even handed.

    • Nice point. I have a similar standpoint of the differences between critiques and reviews, but I think both need to have specific and detailed analysis to show how the author’s argument is valid.

  12. I think these videos focus on the errors in such an extreme way as to make ’em entertaining. I think those Honest Trailers do that and I do find ’em to be hilarious, but I don’t necessarily see ’em as a genuine film criticism. It’s always easy to rip things to shred but it’s another to really analyze something critically but also subjectively. I don’t think these people who made the videos have the discernment to know the difference.

    • Ooops I meant analyze things ‘objectively’ not ‘subjectively’. Well, you know what I mean 🙂

  13. People pay their money to see a movie and even if they only use one expletive to describe their opinion it that does not make their opinion any less valid, the rest is just intellectual banter.

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