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The Best Movie Reviews We’ve Ever Written — IndieWire Critics Survey

65 established and emerging film critics reflect on the best things they've written, and on what they hope to accomplish with their work.

“Ratatouille”

Christy Lemire (@christylemire), RogerEbert.com, What the Flick?!

I’m not sure it’s necessarily my best work ever, but here’s one that seems to have resonated with a lot of people recently: my review of “Call Me By Your Name” for RogerEbert.com. It was my favorite movie of last year and it moved me deeply, and I suspect that a lot of people responded to the review because they felt the same way while watching it. After doing this for nearly 20 years, I’ve reached a point where I’m not afraid of opening up and making myself vulnerable in my writing. Perhaps folks responded to that:

Kristen Lopez (@Journeys_Film), Freelance for The Young Folks, Culturess, Spectrum Culture

“Breathe”

The funny thing is my review of “Breathe” isn’t particularly complimentary (it isn’t), but it’s one of the pieces I’m proud to have written as a disabled critic. You don’t often get people with disabilities actually reviewing movies about disability, advocating about the problems with them in the hopes of letting mass audiences understand ableism. This review summed up a lot of long-standing issues I’ve had with films about disability and it led to some great conversations about the nature of biopic and disabled representation.

Caroline Madden (@crolinss), Freelance for Screen Queens

I wrote “The Limits of Lisa in Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Anomalisa’” for Screen Queens in September of 2017 and it remains one of my favorite pieces. What I love the most about this piece is that it combines my favorite film criticism subjects: soundtrack and female representation. Overall, I feel there is a lack of film writing on the soundtrack even though it remains one of the most integral directorial devices. Lyrics, sound, and even a song’s history in popular culture informs so much about the characters and narrative. Soundtrack from popular prerecorded music can completely transform the mood and body of a scene. Furthermore, a well-placed song is often the one thing I remember the most about a movie I see.

My piece analyzes the “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” scene that Lisa sings in “Anomalisa”. I examine the lyrics and feminist history of Cyndi Lauper’s anthem, including the music video, to demonstrate how Lisa’s relationship with the misogynistic Michael is at odds with the song’s ethos. I look at how the scarred Lisa longs to emulate Lauper’s independence and confidence. Lisa is a girl who just wants to have fun, break free of her timid nature and make a genuine emotional connection, but Kaufman absorbs the audience in Michael’s myopic view of the world and we ultimately see her as an object no different than the Japanese sex doll Michael purchases. I had seen little to no writing on what Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” meant to “Anomalisa” and Lisa’s character, so I was very proud to point out those connections. I love to write about soundtrack moments in film and am always looking to continue that work.

Clara Mae (@ubeempress), Freelance for Ms En Scene

I really like this piece I wrote about Netflix’s “Altered Carbon” because for me it’s a growth piece; it references and adds nuance to something I wrote years ago, back when I was just starting out as a freelancer and wasn’t quite confident in my voice yet.

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“Altered Carbon” is a show with layers, and writing about it allowed me to parse out thoughts that are often on my mind in regards to diversity and representation in media. What does it mean when we use the term “whitewashing,” and when does that term break down? How are the women of color portrayed, and did the story do a disservice to them? How does having a woman director potentially change the optics of a story?

Sarah Marrs (@Cinesnark), LaineyGossip.com

(L-R) Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton in the film, BOOK CLUB, by Paramount Pictures

“Book Club”

Melinda Sue Gordon

I started in comedy, and every truly terrible movie is always an opportunity for comedy, so the temptation to choose a negative review is strong. But what I really love is giving people a reason to take a chance on something they might not otherwise watch. To that end, the review that sticks out for me recently is “Book Club”. It’s the kind of movie that is easy to dismiss, by which I mean it’s light-hearted and corny and made for women, so it might take some convincing to get someone to give it a shot. A film review is basically one side of a debate, and the reviews I most enjoy writing are the ones that require actual persuasion. No one needs to be convinced to see the next Marvel movie, but something like “Book Club” requires a prepared argument for why it’s worth two hours of your life, and I love arguing. If I’m good at anything as a critic, it’s articulating an argument for a movie that deserves your time. And also writing jokes about all the ways bad movies make you want to die. But mostly the first thing.

Joel Mayward (@joelmayward), Cinemayward.com, Freelance

I’m doing my PhD on the masterful cinematic parables of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, so my review of their underrated film, “The Unknown Girl,” comes to mind. But the piece of film criticism most personal to me is the longform essay I wrote for Bright Wall/Dark Room on John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and the experience of having a child endure a life-threatening medical condition, as well as being a parent responsible for tiny people in our semi-dystopian world.

Artist Brianna Ashby (@brianna_ashby) painted a beautiful, haunting picture of Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee to accompany the essay; I purchased it and had the painting framed. “The Road”–both novel and film–captures a paradoxical combination of horror and hope in deeply affecting ways, one which feels authentic to parenthood. Sometimes I’ll revisit what I wrote two years ago and it reminds me to keep carrying the fire.

Anne McCarthy (@annemitchmcc), Bonjour Paris, Teen Vogue, Ms. Magazine

“Frances Ha”

My favorite piece of film criticism I’ve written is my review of the 2013 film “Frances Ha.” This review is especially meaningful to me because it was one of my first film reviews (and in re-reading it now, I can see I was trying to sound more confident as a critic than I actually felt). I loved this film for how real and authentic it was; in my critique, I tried to have my words reflect the authenticity I saw onscreen, not shying away from the parts that were uncomfortable or cringe-y. This film stands out to me because I feel like it’s emblematic of the insecurity and the sense of “what-the-f**k-am-I-doing-with-my-life”-ness that one often feels in their 20s. At the time I saw the film, parts of my own life mirrored Frances’ life; it was comforting to see that. I appreciated that the film didn’t try to sugarcoat the often-turbulent time of coming into adulthood, as some films are wont to do. This film also stands out to me because of the beautiful black and white cinematography, which I love. I find that the use of black and white film can lead to the audience subconsciously paying more attention to the dialogue, giving the words more weight than they might otherwise have in a standard color film. And, as a writer, I like for words to have weight.

Mike McGranaghan (@AisleSeat), The Aisle Seat, Screen Rant

If the point of film criticism is to provide a service to readers, then I’d have to pick my review of “Call Me By Your Name” as a favorite. The film was, of course, one of the most acclaimed of 2017, earning near-rapturous praise. In my review, I pointed out that it was well-made and skillfully acted. I also went into the fact that the story’s depiction of a sexual relationship between an adult and a teenager felt dishonest to me. The film portrays it as nothing but beautiful and positive. I’ve known a few people who were in such relationships, and they don’t describe it in those terms at all. In my eyes, the movie utterly ignored the exploitation factor that comes with an adult wanting to have sex with a minor, as well as the damage these flings can cause.

I received a ton of email as a result of that review. One or two readers told me to “lighten up,” and one guy emailed me again and again, trying to convince me that adults having sexual relationships with teenagers was no big deal. (He did not succeed.) By and large, though, readers thanked me for addressing the issue. Several pointed out that I was one of the few critics to even bring it up in a review.

Some people will still disagree with me, I’m sure. But the fact that I was able to offer a perspective many readers found useful, and which went a little bit against the grain within the critical community, was pleasing.

Sean Mulvihill (@MessEnScene), FanboyNation.com

“Citizen Kane”

I think I’m not too different than many of my other fellow writers in being somewhat insecure about my writing. If I had to pick one piece that I’m most proud of, I’d pick a piece I did for RogerEbert.com, “Four Films That Explain the Rise of Donald Trump.” For me it was an opportunity to use three classic movies (and a mediocre one) to examine the political firestorm that was on the horizon. The idea was apparently so good that The Guardian basically repurposed my piece.

The four films I selected weren’t exactly deep cuts. “Citizen Kane” was at the top of the list because of the wealth, arrogance, media manipulation, and political aspirations of Charles Foster Kane. “Network” and “A Face in the Crowd” were chosen for their ominous warnings about how easily mass communication can become weaponized for political purposes, a confluence between news and reality television that warps the very nature of the truth.

Many others have brought these comparisons to the ascension of Trump, but what I’m most proud of including in my piece was Joel Schumacher’s “Falling Down.” The Michael Douglas-led drama is just a highly dramatized version of so many thinkpieces about the white working class who feel they’ve been abandoned by modernity. Sure, Schumacher didn’t intend for his film to be a borderline racist screed against diversity, but Douglas’ William Foster sure uses his armed rampage through the streets of Los Angeles to terrorize those he considered have wronged him – an Asian convenience store owner, Mexican gang members, and fast food workers, to name a few. If “Falling Down” were a person, the New York Times would dispatch reporters on a monthly basis to see why the movie still supports Donald Trump.

If there’s one thing I wish I could change about the piece, it’d be the confidence I had at the end of Trump’s failure – though I’m not alone in thinking that there was just no way a half-literate habitual liar overflowing with undiluted megalomania could ascend to the presidency. But here we are.

Aaron Neuwirth (@AaronsPS4), We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu

While the negative regard towards certain superhero films and the rise of Rotten Tomatoes has led to a skewed understanding of critics when everyone is not in agreement, the nature of fandom has also evolved.

It’s why I look perhaps most favorably at my review for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” For a film that became so controversial among the fans of the series and even casual moviegoers, I was happy to put forward exactly what this latest chapter in the popular saga did for me. For all the ambitious moves towards subverting expectations, while keeping in mind the universal appeal that “Star Wars” is supposed to have, it felt important for me to emphasize how great a job director Rian Johnson had done and express why, however minor my addition may be to the global conversation still being had. I could similarly say the same for “Black Panther,” another film in a time when modern issues and audience perception of what a critic is for seems to be a more significant factor than the words expressed in an article, beyond the headline. None of this takes away from the simple fact that I’m still often just as excited to write about a good majority of the films I see as I was in seeing them in the first place.

Christina Newland (@christinalefou), Freelance for Sight & Sound, The Guardian, Little White Lies

I loved exploring Bob Fosse’s final film, “Star 80,” for RogerEbert.com. The film is all about the murder of Playboy playmate Dorothy Stratten, and it’s one of the most haunting works I’ve ever seen on the subject of male rage. Unfortunately, now as ever, that feels pretty relevant. Here’s the piece.

On a totally different (and less depressing) note, I wrote a biographical deep-dive of a forgotten ’40s Hollywood producer named Virginia Van Upp. She was one of only four women film executives in Golden Age Hollywood. That’s over at Hazlitt. I loved this because it was niche, deeply-researched longform on women’s film history, which is very much my thing and utterly not of-the-moment.

Emmanuel Noisette (@EmansReviews), Freelance for TheMovieBlog, E-Man’s Movie Reviews

“Black Panther”

Marvel

Easily one of my favorite pieces to produce was my review for “Black Panther”. This review is especially important to me because it exemplifies why I got into film criticism to begin with. This was the type of film that I wanted to hear a black voice, or perspective, in terms of a review. The very nature of “Black Panther” is to be an unapologetically black film that can still be enjoyed by all. Furthermore, “Black Panther” is the type of film that won’t resonate 100% with non-black audiences. That is simply to say that if you weren’t black, you could like the movie just fine, but some elements in the film were going to hit closer to home for African Americans.

So with this review, I got a chance to voice some of those elements. More specifically, I got to expound on the “The Obama Effect” and how it corresponds to “Black Panther”. I know many other film critics choose to focus primarily on the internal factors of this film, however, I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to expand that perspective to the external cultural impact that the film brought along with it. Because at the end of the day, film is still art. While we can dissect the technical aspects of a film to death, but gauging the social impact of a movie like “Black Panther” can equally be as significant, in my opinion. Feel free to either read or watch my review.

Megan Purdy (@themeganpurdy), Freelance for Ms En Scene, CBR

In the winter I wrote an essay I wrote on “My Friend Dahmer”. It’s a piece I spent a lot of time on–months of organizing my thoughts–and one that I still return to. The film is personal for me, because I’ve seen a dangerous man grow and thrive from childhood to an adulthood where he killed. Eventually I realized that was the only way for me to approach the film. Talking about what it made me feel was a quicker way to the heart of the film, and what made it effective, than pretending at objectivity. And it was the angle that would produce the most true piece of criticism I could create in response to the film. Beyond the technical, so much of our analyses is feeling, whether some critics would like to admit it or not. The personal is political is critical, and what I’m most interested in exploring in my own writing and reading from others, is contextualized subjectivity. I want to know how the film made you feel and why, and where it sits in your world.

Christina Radish (@ChristinaRadish), Collider

“Hours”

I’ve been writing about film and TV since 1994 and I’ve interviewed hundreds of people, in front of and behind the camera, over the years. While sometimes you get the feeling that the person you’re chatting with is just going through the motions of promoting the project that they’re obligated to try to get people interested in, other times you have the opportunity to get really in-depth with someone who genuinely cares and is passionate about what they do, and you just have a very real conversation.

On November 14, 2013, I met up with Paul Walker to chat about “Hours,” an indie drama about a father who struggles to keep his newborn daughter alive in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Granted, it’s not a movie that will likely be on the top of the list of movies that people remember him for (especially since it doesn’t have “Fast” and “Furious” in the title), but since I was his last interview of the day, our interview ended up being a nearly 45-minute conversation about his desire to do things with merit and significance, and to be a good father to his then 15-year-old daughter. He was so gracious and honest that I left the interview feeling like I had a good sense of who he was, apart from the movie star persona, and he likely would have made a lasting impression on me, for that reason alone. But then, a car crash ended his life on November 30, and the time I spent with him became something that I would never forget.

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