The Unpopular Critical Vote

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As I went through my Twitter feed this afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice a high volume of angry tweets directed to film critic A.O. Scott of The New York Times for panning ‘The Avengers’. Samuel L Jackson, who plays Nick Fury in ‘The Avengers’ tweeted: “#Avengers fans, NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let’s help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!” Many other tweets included profanities and relentless name-calling at Mr.Scott. I must confess I didn’t read The New York Times review of ‘The Avengers’ (Spoiler about my methods: I refuse to read any reviews about a film until after I’ve seen the movie and written my own review). But, I am going to say the comments about A.O. Scott from comic fans and movie lovers are unfair. ‘The Avengers’ wasn’t even released at this point – these moviegoing tweeps are defending a movie they haven’t even seen, and are attacking this critic by dismissing his review as “wrong”.

Now, according to Rotten Tomatoes, ‘The Avengers’ is sitting at 92%, which would put A.O. Scott in the 8% minority. It’s not easy to write an unpopular review – the review where the writer is swimming upstream against the overwhelming tide of critical opinion. It isn’t much fun to write a minority opinion, especially when everyone thinks the film is a masterpiece, except you. The most recent example I can think of is when I panned ‘Rango’ last year. This animated film, adored by most, received an 89% critical approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and ended up taking home the Oscar for ‘Best Animated Film’ of 2011. Many friends and film followers were convinced I missed the boat on this one, and that was fine. As long as they were able to explain to me what they saw in the film that I had supposedly “missed”. The responses that irritated me were the ones that stated “’Rango’ is sitting at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, so you’re wrong.” Why am I wrong? Because I’m in the minority? Has individual expression been replaced by an aggregated critical approval score?

Isn’t this what film criticism is about though? It isn’t a science – there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” review. It’s not just about analysis – ultimately, it’s personal. It’s about how *I* responded to what was presented in front of me, and what the experience was like to me. It is about having a focal point for an argument, one that is independent of viewer and critical consensus. And I have some admiration for A.O. Scott for sticking with his guns, and writing a review which I believe expresses how he truly felt (even though I haven’t read the review myself). With the noise and argumentation of social media, I’m sure I will continue to receive a few harsh comments for some reviews. Writing about criticism requires the reporter to be accepting of it. So, I say let the lively and passionate discussions about film continue. And for the record, I am not changing my vote on ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’, or ‘The Dilemma’ – the responses I received for my endorsement of these two films from last year were….interesting.

– Jerry Nadarajah