If you believe the hype, film criticism faces extinction. Indiewire sees it differently: Provocative voices steeped in knowledge and enthusiasm for every strain of movie experience never went away. It just got harder to find them.
Media cutbacks mean fewer critics are dedicated to a single publication — but there are hundreds of voices contributing insightful commentary across the web. And some of the best daily film criticism, at least according to many readers, appears on Twitter feeds.
Meanwhile, the reviews themselves are often treated as merely the swiftest path to consensus. Rotten Tomatoes tapped into a need to aggregate the countless reviews available each week, but discussing whether a movie is rotten or fresh makes the process sound more like grocery shopping rather than intelligent conversation.
Once upon a time, Pauline Kael could champion "Bonnie and Clyde" and propel it to the top of the cultural landscape. In the '60s, it took a group of French critics to recognize the artistry of Jerry Lewis. These days, it's harder to pull that kind of weight. While you can still find a lot of terrific criticism in familiar outlets, individual voices have spread far and wide.
We're trying to change that with tomorrow's launch of Criticwire, a new blog that covers the best criticism online and in print. It shares a name with our network of more than 300 critics who regularly submit grades and share their reviews with us throughout the year, but the Criticwire blog will look everywhere for insight, analysis and aggregation.
That's a lot of voices to track, so we've found a terrific guide with a unique voice of his own to sort through it all: Matt Singer, our newly anointed Criticwire blogger.
Matt's a Webby Award-winning writer, podcaster, critic and television host whose work has appeared on IFC, MTV, At the Movies and in print in The Village Voice, Spin Magazine and Time Out New York. We've known Matt for years and always admired his versatility: One minute, he's trading barbs with a celebrity at some red-carpet affair, the next he's delving into detailed analysis of a movie of the moment or a discovery from the film festival world.
Every week, Matt will work with me and trusty Criticwire assistant editor Steve Greene to develop a blog that provides readers with a resource for the best reviews and other critical discussions. We're aiming to provide a neat combination of aggregation and insight, partly modeled on the short, snappy news digestion typified by media blogger extraordinaire Jim Romenesko while tipping our hat to the work of MUBI's talented Dave Hudson, who virtually invented the movie roundup game with the original iteration of Greencine Daily.
This blog also sets the stage for a much more dynamic version of the Criticwire network, which we're launching later this year. We're very grateful that hundreds of critics share their grades with us on a regular basis and we want to open the process to other discussions. Last year, the critical divide on movies like "The Tree of Life" (masterpiece or symbolic mess?) and "The Help" (heartfelt or outdated?) was a persistently engaging experience. We're hoping to make room for opinion and consensus alike, starting with this blog.
We also want Criticwire to reflect 21st-century viewing habits. For all the talk of VOD and other alternative release strategies, most reviews still appear when movies hit theaters, even though that's not where millions of viewers will see them. If a movie lands on cable or a streaming site first, that's when we'll start talking about it.
For years, Indiewire's lifeblood has been its coverage of the film festival world. But we can't see or write about everything, especially now that that there are literally thousands of festivals worthy of some attention. Criticwire will help us address this by honing in on the movies that begin their public lives on the festival circuit before moving into wider release. We'll find the good reviews as soon as they appear and keep track of them further down the road.
Criticwire won't focus exclusively on new movies. Blogathons, retrospectives and a vast on-demand market mean critics constantly write about older films on a regular basis. We'll also bring these items into the fold, while also paying heed to a first-rate Criterion release or — if critics really want to go there — the latest "Star Wars" sequel to get a 3-D re-release.
We're interested in anything compelling that critics have to say, including particularly fine-tuned vitriol for the latest "Transformers" sequel — or, say, the palpable dread for the upcoming "John Carter" adaptation. At the same time, we prioritize some of the best international cinema on the festival circuit or championed in retrospectives.
The goal here is to sift through the voices and make sure they get heard. If you know about a critic worth our time or an insightful new site we should write about on Criticwire, please don't hesitate to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.