Critics V Filmmakers: Civil War

The relationship between filmmakers and critics has long been a complicated one. When a critic praises a filmmaker's work, their quotes are prominently placed in the film's advertising: “One of the year's best!” or “An action-packed thrill-ride!” or “Tom Hiddleston delivers a career-best performance!” A celebrity or high-profile media figure will get quoted every now and then, but the vast majority of those exclamatory blurbs are from film critics. The implication of these ads is that the critics are speaking from a place of expertise or authority: they're critics, so they know a good movie when they see one! Likewise, when critical consensus is in a film's favor, the marketing team – and frequently, even the filmmakers themselves – are quick to point to the Rotten Tomatoes score as evidence of the film's worth. It's entirely possible that some of these raves are poorly-written pieces that completely miss what the film was attempting to accomplish, but it's rare that a director actually rebuts or dismisses an enthusiastic review: everybody likes praise, insightful or otherwise.

Given all of this, I think it's fair to say that filmmakers care – to varying degrees - about the critical reaction their film receives. Maybe they care on a personal level, or maybe they only care because they know that critical consensus can seriously impact their box office performance (particularly if their movie isn't an expensive blockbuster). Whatever the case, it's clear that there's a certain level of emotional investment there.

So, when the tables turn and the reviews are largely negative, it's no surprise that a lot of filmmakers feel wounded by the response. This year, we've seen a number of instances of high-profile filmmakers lashing out at critics:

- Earlier this year, Gods of Egypt helmer Alex Proyas claimed that his critics, “fail to understand, or [choose] to pretend to not understand what this movie is, so as to serve some bizarre consensus of opinion which has nothing to do with the movie at all.” He claimed that critics are merely succumbing to peer pressure rather than actually analyzing the film for themselves: “Lock a critic in a room with a movie no one has even seen and they will not know what to make of it.” Later, he dubs critics, “a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass.”

- A few days ago, filmmaker Shannon Plumb – the wife of director Derek Cianfrance – wrote an angry essay about the way critics had greeted Cianfrance's The Light Between Oceans (a film I liked quite a bit, but that left many cold). “Critics can be like horseflies sucking blood from thoroughbreds,” she says. “If they want your blood, they're going to cling on no matter how fast you run.”

- Today, director Xavier Dolan declared that he won't be submitting his upcoming movie John F. Donovan to the Cannes film festival, and claimed that there is a, “culture of trolling, bullying and unwarranted hatred” within the realm of film criticism (it's worth pointing out that most of Dolan's movies have been well-reviewed, but his most recent effort – It's Only the End of the World – received mixed-to-negative notices).

Are these filmmakers overreacting? Probably. Are they making unfair accusations? Definitely. Still, if you put yourself in their shoes for a moment, you can sort of understand where they're coming from: they've spent years of their life working hard to create a piece of art, and now their film's reputation is being tarnished by a handful of snarky critics who seem to have no real regard for the sheer amount of effort this project took. “You think making a movie is easy, you film-illiterate dweeb? Try making some art of your own and see how easy it is. My direction is, 'flat and uninspired,' huh? Let's see you pull off that tracking shot at the 67-minute mark, asshole!”

Still, if the filmmakers responsible for these outbursts are too thin-skinned, critics as a whole are doubly so. Rather than acknowledging those tantrums as a filmmaker simply letting off a bit of steam, critics collectively decide to make a mountain out of a molehill. Almost every time, social media – the film criticism-focused corner of it, anyway – is flooded with anger, mockery and self-righteous speeches about personal integrity. Hell hath no fury like a critic accused of being irrelevant, petty or underqualified. We expect filmmakers to simply accept negative statements about their work with grace, but demonstrate precious little of that grace when the filmmakers angrily fire back. I get it: I've never written a negative review just because everyone else was writing negative reviews, and I've never written a negative review because I had a personal vendetta against a filmmaker. Charges like that are, at the very least, a little irritating. Even so, I suspect that critics – myself included - would benefit from stepping back, taking a breath and letting it go. They devoted a significant chunk of their life to making that film. We devoted a few hours of our life to reviewing it. We shouldn't claim to like films we dislike for the sake of sparing their feelings, but maybe we could let them have the last word?