This day had to come, and now it has: The New York Times is no longer reviewing every movie that opens in New York City. The news comes via Variety, who obtained an email sent by co-chief critic A.O. Scott to distributors. Although Variety presented this as a new policy, Scott said on Twitter that it’s been in place for some time. (Criticwire has contacted Scott for comment, and will update this post with his response.)
It’s been suggested, not least by Scott’s co-critic Manohla Dargis, that the market is flooded with too many new releases: Mike d’Angelo, who has kept track of New York openings for years, lists 17 movies opening this week, 22 the week before. As I pointed out in a post (somewhat bluntly) titled “Memo to the New York Times: Quit Reviewing Every Movie,” that presents a tremendous strain on both the paper’s budget and its newshole, resulting in a weekly avalanche of cursory mini-reviews that do little beyond potentially furnishing the movie with a nice quote for its website. As Variety pointed out, the change in policy has ramifications beyond films getting less press: The Oscars’ documentary branch requires that submissions have been reviewed by the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times.
Naturally, this policy will overwhelmingly affect the kinds of marginal releases that often open via a “four-wall” agreement, renting out a theater instead of obtaining a traditional booking, which is why figures like Magnolia’s Eamonn Bowles, quoted in the Variety piece, aren’t especially worried. But to reiterate the suggestion I made before, if the Times is no longer reviewing every movie, then everything should be on the table, from microindies to “San Andreas.” After all, which of them needs a review more? While we’re at it, why not devote some of the newly freed-up space to movies that are only available on streaming platforms, where more and more Americans, especially outside of New York, are getting their content? Not being chained to theatrical releases is a great first step. Now let’s take the next one.