About a year ago, I met a movie critic from the local news station. The first time we talked, he asked me my opinion on a variety of movies, to which I learned that there is a lot more than a simple “I liked it” or “I hated it.” Since then, I’ve written a variety of articles about the movies, and learned a lot about what I like and don’t like about a movie. As a result, my ability to critique film has fostered in me a passion for the movies, allowing to make more accurate judgments on which movies to recommend when asked. I’ve seen more movies than I can count, sat in a variety of upholstered chairs, built memories. But criticizing film isn’t just about the movie itself. I’ve managed to view the world through a different lens and discover people who share my interests.
One of my favorite kind of movies is the biopic. Much like a biography, a biopic is based on a person’s life, albeit at times more embellished for the screen. Details may or may not be left out or changed according to the director’s vision. Nonetheless, it is not only a study of the person, but also of the times. That’s one of the biggest reasons why I love watching them. Sure, they aren’t flawless, but they provide a look into a period that I may not be aware of. I can learn about Steve Jobs before the iMac, Alan Turing and the Enigma machine, Stephen Hawking and his theory of everything. I am more aware of the issues during the time of all of those individuals, allowing me to gain a richer understanding of the past.
However, that’s just what you can get from watching the movie. Critiquing the films adds another layer of depth to the movie that I might not have noticed if I was just looking to have a good time. By looking for the nuance, the reasons behind the director’s portrayal of the character, I can better understand and grasp the subject at hand. Alan Turing built the Enigma machine and had trouble with his sexuality. But analyzing at how Cumberbatch acts, skillfully creating a character that is both extremely intelligent, but incredibly awkward, gives me a deeper appreciation for Cumberbatch for one, but also the eclectic nature of Turing. His sexuality, which is marginalized most of the movie, becomes something I want to read more about in order to make a valid opinion on the film’s choices. As I learn more about Britain and Turing himself to determine if my criticisms are valid, I learn more about British policy at the time. There’s a wealth of insight that’s available if you look.
I guess what makes a biopic such a great tool for learning is the fact that it is largely about the person at hand. While a biopic’s topics are usually historical, in general, a movie that focuses on characters can make statements about the human condition far easier than your run of the mill sci-fi action blockbuster. As much as I enjoy the latter, their sacrifice of character development for plot makes them easy on the eyes and on the mind.
One of the most misunderstood things about film criticism is that it doesn’t have to be formal. There isn’t a mandate to write an essay after every movie you see. There isn’t a requirement that you need a college degree to have an opinion. And it isn’t just about looking for the things that you liked and what you didn’t. Just noticing how the actors do things to convey the overarching ideas behind their characters highlights characteristics that you might not have noticed before. Noticing how the setting is set up, what the characters are wearing, even reading what other critics say about the movie, can give you the aforementioned insight. A write up isn’t necessary, although I enjoy doing it. It’s nice to just spew ideas on to a piece of paper.
In the end, film criticism isn’t as daunting as it sounds. It’s also for people other then old men who hate everything. I’ve met a ton of interesting people through a shared passion for the movies (trust me, none of them are embittered cynics who believe the cinema is dead). So go catch a movie or two. If you look for more than entertainment, you might just get much more than you bargained for.