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Is Film Criticism Ever Objective? Can Disliking a Film Ever Be Wrong?

Toy Story 3 seems to be pretty much universally loved. I say ‘pretty much’, because there are currently two negative reviews on-line about it. To put that in context, that’s two negative reviews out of nearly one-hundred-and-fifty on Rotten Tomatoes. As always happens with this sort of thing – reviewers expressing a ridiculously unpopular opinions – this has prompted a bit of a reaction on-line:

They rail against anyone who likes it, happily sitting alone on their bitter, hate-filled island. An island of wrong. Hundreds of film critics have proclaimed their love for Toy Story over the course of three movies and the two baldies who hate it can’t really tell us why. Most of the time film is subjective. This time it’s not.

So, is film criticism ever objective? Can an opinion ever be wrong?

Can you believe the Buzz about this film?

In fairness, White has kinda brought this on himself, in a long stream of reviews which seem to exist purely to offer a counter perspective. Critics hate Transformers II? He loves it. Everyone adores Wall-E? He’s sneaking up on the poor little guy with a crow bar. And his criticisms have drawn a fair amount of criticism in turn:

Everyone knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time before film criticism’s reigning anti- anti- anti- king, Mr. Counterintuitive himself, chimed in. He’s “a troll,” in the words of Roger Ebert, who once tried to defend Armond White, this peculiar man, only to take it all back. He’s “smart and knowing,” sure, but he hates Toy Story 3. He was the first one to write a negative review, and it’s unsurprisingly backwards coming from the man who loves Mr. 3000. Hate fun, fine, but parts of this review are total bullshit.

He’s drawn a fair amount of fire for his views. As mentioned above, even Roger Ebert can’t synch up his views:

 It is baffling to me that a critic could praise Transformers 2 but not Synecdoche, NY. Or Death Race but not There Will be Blood. I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll. A smart and knowing one, but a troll.

If you’re wondering about the “troll” part of that statement, it comes from the way that trolls on message boards draw attention to themselves by stating completely ridiculous thing. And some have been quick to daw conclusions from the facts:

It’s suspicious that they’ve waited until the last minute to publish their reviews. Rotten Tomatoes orders review links based on when they’re posted. So the longer you wait to publish your review, the more likely it is that it’ll be at the top and viewed by thousands. What does it mean when the only two negative reviews of a film are intentionally posted late? To me it says someone’s gaming the system.

However, if we ignore the more cynical suggestion that White is simply seeking (and succeeding) to draw attention to himself, and we assume that he is indeed sincere (of which, I will concede, I am not certain), is it ever possible to argue that a person is quite simply just “wrong” in their opinion of a film?

Be a doll...

The temptation is easy. Particularly when it’s a hugely popular or massively iconic film – the kinda film that you might even like less than everybody else, even though you like it. I can’t help think of that scene from Family Guy as the Griffins are drowning and Peter decides to share some home truths. Well, a single home truth. “I did not care for The Godfather,” he confesses. Of course, such iconic films naturally draw critical attention and discussion – in fact, the status of the film as one of those films that constantly tops public votes for the best film of all time practically assures that there are more than a few people waiting to take the film down a notch if needed. So there’s probably some reasonably convincing argument somewhere out there that The Godfather isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The other potentially “untouchable” films are arguably those that have a personal connection to a large number of us, perhaps through annual screening. Those movies that were always on at Christmas when you were off school, for example, like The Wizard of Oz or It’s a Wonderful Life. Those films which reached most of us before we were properly critical and thus hold a special place in our hearts. Understandably these draw a great deal of protection – and anyone picking on them seems like a sort of film bully. There aren’t necessarily constructive points which undermine any criticism, apart from the school of “oh, c’mon!”

I don’t believe that an opinion on a film can be wrong. Film is inherently subjective, that’s what makes it wonderful. I think a lot of us realise that, we just state our opinions like fact because we don’t want to type “I think” or “in my opinion” at the start of every sentence. Sometimes, we even recognise that a point of view is so near-universally accepted that we think it even comes close to being a fact (for example, that Michael Bay is a terrible director). However, I think we’re all aware that it isn’t a fact, no matter how close it may be and I don’t think anyone can be “wrong” for stating an opinion. What was that nonsense they used to feed us in English class? Oh yes, an opinion is never wrong – as long as you can back it up.

We can argue the back-and-forth of White’s particular points – whether the movie “strictly celebrates consumerism” – but the bottom line seems to be that he doesn’t like the film. I don’t think he needs a reason not to like a film, however unconvincing I can find the logic he articulates in the article – likes and dislikes aren’t always coldly rational and aren’t always based upon facts which can be objectively verified as right or wrong. The fact that I find his arguments unconvincing might suggest to me that he is a poor critic, but not that he is “wrong”.

I don’t know. What do you think? Can you ever be wrong for liking or disliking a film?

18 Responses

  1. Well I suggested to Red a couple nights ago that he should write a review for Toy Story 3 and give it a C- just so we would get flooded with thousands of visits. The offer is still out there if anyone wants to do it 😉

    Like and dislike are by definition something completely subjective. There is nothing wrong with liking or disliking a highly popular movie. However, if you are going to make claims or attack a movie, you better be able to back it up with a reasonable argument. On the other hand, I find it sad that people must take offense to reviews that go against their opinion as if someone personally attacked them. White might be a troll but all those people attacking him are no better.

    • I’d be glad to contribute to that flood, sir.

    • Yep, that would have generated traffic. Look at Rotten Tomatoes and check the reviews of any overwhelmingly loved movies. The negative reviews always attract far more attention than the positive ones.

  2. Man, I can’t stand Armond White. Why even offer your opinion if you’re just gonna be That Guy who shits on things for the sake of shitting on things. I just have no tolerance for people who wallow in their own self-indulgent world of complaints, who always have some absurd issue with something that either isn’t there or doesn’t matter. Ugh, reading his stuff is exhausting, and his reviews are insanely wordy. One my top three least favorite critics.

    • Yep, but it’s not even that he complains about things everyone likes, he actively promotes utter dross above it. I think he’s the only person who thinks that the Wayans are genius incarnate.

  3. I can empathise with Aiden to a degree, I don’t like contrariness seemingly for its’ own sake. Having said that, there really is no accounting for taste and people are entitled to express their opinion, so I don’t think that a society that critisizes can be surprised that it breeds a culture of critcs. Even one as antagonistic as Armond White.

    • Yep. Maybe we are just too critical. I don’t know – it always just amazes me the reaction that White gets, despite the fact he does it consistently. I’m surprised that it still generates a reaction, and we don’t just treat him like a really mean Statler and Waldorf.

  4. It’s one thing to disagree for argument’s sake, and another thing to disagree with public opinion about a movie simply because something about the film makes you think contrariwise. I really enjoyed Toy Story3 and rated it 10/10, but I couldn’t stand Get Him to the Greek or Splice…and I have seen several reviews from those that loved the film. The whole thing about reviewing movies is that one needs to stay true to their own thoughts and not worry about what others think when writing a review. IMO anyways.

  5. But we don’t know if it’s just contrariness for the sake of it, maybe he just doesn’t like it. I didn’t like a whole lot of the loved films last year (Basterds, Up in the Air, Precious, Antichrist, lukewarm about Up) and liked the hated ones (The Lovely Bones, Nine, Cheri)…I’m probably just not as antagonistic as White. If he was being antagonistic saying Toy Story III is the best movie ever and everyone who hates it should “f**** off” no one would bat an eye.

    • Good point. I think that it certainly would have garnered less attention had he been equally aggressive and in favour of Toy Story III, but I think it still might have seemed antagonistic. I do think though, that his aggressiveness towards the films provokes a bit of the backlash – he though Transformers 2 did the same things better, which is just fanboy-baiting.

  6. White is an attention-whore, plain and simple. Nothing any of us can really do except ignore his incoherent postings (unless of course you enjoy reading them) and hope that people stop taking Rotten Tomatoes seriously.

    • I don’t. I grew bored with it two years ago. I’ve found our blogsphere a much better place to find respectable reviewing.

    • Yep, but I think Rotten Tomatoes is handy for our information-byte culture. Who cares what anybody actually thought of a movie? Here’s a perfectly generated metric of what percentage people thought it was more good than bad! It’s fascinating as an example of how our culture loves to break things down, even if it’s not entirely relevant to the quality of a movie.

  7. It’s a dodgy subject because we are all entitled to our opinions and able to voice them, that’s the point of blogs and websites. I’ve had near death threats on my site for lists or reviews that are quite in turn with movie bloggers or critics alike. And I’ve had people send me emails saying they wish they were more like me. Extremes are universal everywhere. To not be tolerant of others makes us just as bad, if not worse than them………of course if that opinion or shared thought is coming from a good place.

    This guy on the other hand sounds like an epic douche. It’s not just Toy Story. He’s manipulating a system to increase his own celebrity and boost his own ego at the price of credibility. That is utter slime. If these are his true thoughts (which I likely think are not due to his obvious trends in reviewage) he’s still a douche. But then, that’s my opinion.

    • Really? Death threats? I’m glad I live below the radar. But then that’s GIFT for you – anonymity + forum to voice your opinion = asshole-ish-ness.

      But yes, he seems like an ass. And I’m not hiding behind anonymity. He knows where he can find me.

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