Willis: Everyone is a Critic – How to Look at Movies Properly

Movies. We love them. We hate them. We obsess about them. We fight about them. We argue about them. Movies.

Let me note I am extremely picky about movies. I have not always been super picky. I have been getting more and more picky as I get older. I am like Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino but on fast forward. I am going to be so crabby when I am older…

Back on topic Brad… And as I am asked to give my opinion on films recently, I have noticed that pickiness and have been trying to hold back. Why? Because I want people to form their own opinions.

As with all art, movies are subjective. There may be some aspects that are close to being objective/universal, but the key word is close. Therefore, while we may all agree that Forest Gump is a great movie, we could argue that aspects of it are not great. Some may even hate the movie. Subjective. Exactly. And if one is too picky, and they give a negative opinion of a film, they may accidentally prevent someone from viewing a film they may love.

So, I wanted to try and examine myself as a movie critic. And I thought I would share it with y’all, my readers, my brothers and sisters. So, let me start in the negative first…

Movies like Peter Rabbit and The Emoji Movie are absolutely hot trash. Trash. Why? Because they do not need to exist. It hurts me to even know they exist. Disgustingly bad movies. They do not tell a story that has any meaning. They do not reflect real life. They do not present a biblical reality. But a movie like Hostiles (2017) shows human depravity, loyalty, courage, death, horrors of war, and honor.

“But Brad!” my wife would say, “You can’t compare those movies! Peter Rabbit is to be cute, it’s fun, a family film for everyone. Hostiles is for adults only and is upsetting.”

And my wife would be right. And that is where I realize the oppression of opinion. In our society, especially within the last four years for sure, we have become Rotten Tomatoes. What do I mean? I mean we are so dependent on what the critics say, and what Rotten Tomatoes rates a movie, that it actually affects box office success, and companies are even posting Rotten Tomatoes scores on box art…

And though I do not participate with Rotten Tomatoes, I am very expressive and open about my opinions on films. And I’m realizing… I am in the wrong. I am part of the problem.

So, I have been trying to reevaluate how we look at movies. And I think I have developed a perspective that can help us communicate as a society in terms of evaluating and reviewing movies.

First, we need to ask: What is the goal of the movie? Was it to make art? Was it to entertain? Was it to make people happy? Was it to make money? This is the prime alpha category.

If the movie succeeds in this way, the movie is good or bad. It is a basic starting point. It is also the most basic way one can view films on any level.

But let’s use Peter Rabbit as an example… (And I will try and maintain myself here without throwing up in my mouth.)

Peter Rabbit’s goal was to be a movie that families could enjoy together, to laugh and be cute. In this way it accomplishes it’s goal. This can be supported by the fact that it made $320 million. On a budget of $50 million, that is a success. The movie was able to attract an audience; therefore, it was able to achieve it’s basic goal, reach families, and make them happy.

Now I ask myself: what if the movie had flopped and made $20 million? Then no, Peter Rabbit would not have been a success. How? Because it was not able to attract enough people to share itself with. In this ad hoc, it would not have made any more money than it cost to make, which costs people jobs, thus failing to even make those families happy… Ha! That seems like a stretch, eh? Maybe.

Back to the point. So, if we can answer the basic question if the movie achieves its goal in the positive, then we can at least say the movie is good in a certain way. So, while I may hate Peter Rabbit with a passion internally, I can in this way say the movie is good in some way. “Brad, what do you think of Peter Rabbit?” One may ask. I respond, “It’s a good family film that has aspects designed for everyone in the family.”

Then there is the prime beta category. This category is very similar to the alpha, but instead of asking what the movie is trying to accomplish, one asks who the target audience of the movie is. Is it everyone? Is it comic book fans? Is it adults? If the movie is successful in appealing to this category and the alpha category, then the movie is able to call itself good (or at least decent).

Where it gets complicated is when one considers other aspects, the secondary categories:

  • Costumes. Were the costumes appropriate for the film? Believable? Accurately made? Etc.
  • Acting. Did the actors portray their characters believably? Naturally? Etc. 
  • Cinematography. Were the shots in the movie shot well? Were they beautiful? Natural? Etc. 
  • Morality. Did the movie show the world as it is? Reflect reality? Provide moral enlightenment?
  • Heritage. Would the movie communicate its message forward and backwards? Connect to all generations? Was it sensible?
  • Unique. Did the movie tell a story in a way that was unexpected or at least attempted to be original?

There are more subcategories, but I feel these are the most important. If a movie can be positive in all of these categories, a movie can go from good to great or even fantastic. Or a movie can go from good to terrible.

Here is where Peter Rabbit comes back. The Costumes were good; it would have been hard to mess that up. The Acting was over the top in a way that was unnatural even for the movie. The Cinematography was good, well lit, and the CGI was okay enough. The Morality was… questionable. The movie has no heritage I am not very sorry to say. The movie was not Unique in plot, at least to me (creeping into full subjective territory again…).

In these ways, Peter Rabbit is below average, perhaps average if I try to be more kind.

Using these secondary categories, along with the primary category, we can at least come to a more common understanding of films. It also allows us to get close to a degree of universality. I won’t say objectivity, because it is honestly and absolutely impossible when it comes to art… well, maybe…

I hope this piece helps people look at films differently, and see that even some good can be found in terrible films—terrible films like Peter Rabbit...

(Notice that I didn’t even use an image of a famous movie critic. Why? I don’t know. I just feel that the critic from Ratatouille is super scary and is the kind of critic I am going to discuss here.)

Post Script

I would love to hear what people think about this, but I would rather show my children a movie like Hostiles than show them Peter Rabbit or The Emoji Movie. Why? I think movies that show the light and dark in people are more like the Bible than films that make light of issues. Hostiles is not any more or less terrible than stories of war and violence in the Bible. And it really touches on deep philosophical topics that I think are important… I don’t know… Maybe I am crazy…

Let me know what you guys think.

(I realize this is going to not have a lot of support and that many likely did not see Hostiles.)

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