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Hollywood Critiques the Critics

Film critics seem to have all the fun, dishing out catchy blurbs and influencing the fate of the latest Hollywood offerings with a tilt of the thumb, while powerless actors, directors and producers have no recourse but to curse them from afar. But today, Hollywood has the last word.

Daily Variety surveyed four dozen filmmakers for their opinions on the nations’ top movie reviewers and — surprise! — they’re pretty darn critical of the critics. So critical, in fact, that almost nobody was willing to let their names be published in the trade newspaper’s article, lest they incur the printed wrath of any pundit they decided to diss.

Variety didn’t rank the critics from best to worst, nor did it give marks to individual critics for their (perceived) strengths and weaknesses. But the catty comments of those unidentified Hollywood types who took part in the survey revealed that: (a) critics from the print medium (newspapers, magazines) were regarded fairly positively, while (b) blurbmeisters working on TV are, well, not.

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According to the survey, the Hollywood players consider Anthony Lane of the New Yorker magazine the doyen of movie writers, thanks to his “film literacy, reliability, verisimilitude and quality of writing.” Roger Ebert and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times were also well respected as being passionate and informed, even if some consider them pompous.

David Denby of the New Yorker and David Ansen of Newsweek also seemed to be generally well regarded; Kevin Thomas, a longtime critic for the Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, “took a drubbing from filmmakers of all ages and disciplines,” according to Variety.

But what’s really interesting is how much dirt the filmmakers dished about the broadcast critics, ranging from the guys on local newscasts to the network morning news programs to entertainment news shows.

An unidentified Oscar-nominated actor said, “I cannot abide David Sheehan. Gene Shalit’s not a dope, but he goes for the gag. And I cannot abide Joel Siegel. I can develop a real hatred for critics as I talk about these people!”

Sheehan is the perennial, I-like-everything critic for KCBS-TV in Los Angeles; Shalit, of course, is a resident of NBC’s “Today” show. (Vocabulary lesson for today: “Abide” is synonymous with “tolerate.”)

Another missive was fired by a director (also unnamed, natch), who called TV critics “the people who absolutely aggravate me. One guy who’s very uneven and goes into ecstasy over mediocre pictures is Joel Siegel (of ABC’s “Good Morning America” fame).”

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But how reliable is Variety’s survey, if no quantitative methodology, at least none that is apparent, was used? Is four dozen people enough of a survey to gauge prevailing Hollywood opinions? How thorough can it be, when it mentions that that Hollywood insiders consider Variety’s own chief film critic, Todd McCarthy, to be “the only one contributing something worth listening to” but (tellingly) no mention is made of The Hollywood Reporter’s Kirk Honeycutt?

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