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Everyone's a critic ... but are they any good?

by Tom Hasslinger
| June 18, 2010 9:00 PM

COEUR d’ALENE — If the point of critiquing is to improve films, then all theatergoers benefit from movie critics.

But if those critics disappeared, would the movie industry begin cutting corners?

Probably, said a group of highly recognized area film critics. And it will get worse before it gets better, since published critics, like many in the printed media, are becoming harder and harder to find.

“I think we’re the last of a dying breed,” said Robert Glatzer, whose film critiques appear in magazines, on KREM news, Spokane Public Radio and on “Morning Edition,” among others. “We call ourselves more or less professional film critics, but these days with Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sources of information about films, most people don’t look to the critics for any kind of insight into the films.”

Glatzer talked shop recently with fellow critics Barbara Williamson, Leonard Oakland and Press contributor Tyler Wilson about movies, those who critique them, and the state of film at a luncheon hosted by KNIFVES, a network of film professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

Hollywood, unfortunately, keeps catering to the blockbuster, the panel said.

And with more media outlets — such as the website Rotten Tomatoes — allowing anyone to post a quick opinion about the shows with the explosions, that might not be changing anytime soon.

“Professional criticism is in fact dying,” said Wilson, who has written movie reviews and opinion columns for The Press for several years. “To see it turn to blurbs on Rotten Tomatoes is sad to me. There are a lot of people who are intelligent and talk about it, but nowadays it seems to be harder to get people to read beyond that blurb.”

So audiences might continue to suffer. So, too, the small filmmaker.

“We do play a role on smaller films,” said Williamson, who teaches film and literature at Spokane Falls Community College, adding that underdogs can leap in the Oscar race when their films gain critical acclaim. “Buzz often starts with critics.”

The third annual critics lunch also gave members of KNIFVES — Kootenai and North Idaho Film and Video Entertainment Society — a chance to pick the critics’ minds for their favorite movies.

The panel agreed “The Godfather” was near the top of the American movie list, and offered some other films people aren’t seeing but should be.

Those included: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a Swedish film based on the popular book series; “The Runaways,” a biopic of the 1970s punk band led by Joan Jett; “The Elevator Shift” and “The Imaginarium of Dr.Parnassus.”

Wilson offered up “Get Him to the Greek” for people looking for a mainstream pick, and “The Room” for people who want to have a laugh at his opinion for the worst film ever made.

Valuable insight from a group of professional critics, still slicing and dicing cinema even as other professional critics fall by the wayside and bloggers blurb quick, easy paragraphs.

“I don’t know if (published film review) is going to go on, or for very long,” said Oakland, who has taught film at Whitworth University for 33 years, has an annual film festival named after him there, and is an original member of the public radio show “Movies 101.”

And independent films might take a hit from the loss, he said.

“I think we’re going to have the New York Times with us,” he said “But I don’t know if the local ones are going to be published.”

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