As long as there have been films, there have been those who dedicate their lives to writing about them. It takes love, passion, and time to forge criteria and consideration towards the seventh art. Film critics and theorists have, for over a century, played a pivotal role in the cinematic world, as their words have filled movie seats (or not), birthed (or ended) careers, and became eternally bound to the films they refer to.
While some go through film school, or start as actors or in some other role in film production, some of history’s most renowned filmmakers began as critics, and through their studying and countless hours of movie-watching, eventually became creators themselves. No matter what you think about them, film critics and theorists are crucial to the development of film and of society’s consciousness towards them. These 10 critics (listed in alphabetical order) stand apart from the rest, as their influence and work is to this day precious to life and film.
What is Cinema? is still arguably the most important book about movies, and its author, André Bazin, is responsible for film criticism as it is today. The co-founder of Cahiers Du Cinema is one of the most respected names when it comes to filmmaking and film theory.
Bazin’s expansive essays on the importance of realism, and what makes films conjure so many emotions, and even influence everyday life, are keystones to film schools throughout the world. Without Bazin, there would be little critical consciousness regarding films, and thus, no film criticism as we know it today.
The dearly-missed Peter Bogdanovich not only was one of the key figures in the New Hollywood movement, but he also was one of the most important film critics and historians of all time. As a kid, he would keep a record of all the films he saw in an index card with a review of each one included, a practice he would continue for nearly 20 years.
In average, he would see nearly four hundred films a year, a passion that drove him to be part of film programming teams at institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, film critic at Cahiers Du Cinema, and writer of many important books on film history, and in-depth interviews with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock. Of course, Bogdanovich’s film career was also formidable, in which classics such as The Last Picture Show or Paper Moon stand out.
For over twenty years, The Guardian’s film section has featured the precise writings of Peter Bradshaw. After spending most of the 90s as a columnist for the Evening Standard, in 1999 he began working as chief film critic for The Guardian, and has since established himself as one of the most trusted and respected modern critics.
In an age where reviewers have received backlash by actors just for doing their job, Bradshaw is one of those raising the flag for the continuity and importance of film critics.
This celebrated critic and author is one of the chief film w riters for The New York Times and a five-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. A look at Manohla Dargis‘ best film list of each year will give you an idea of what an eclectic and interesting mind is at work here.
Her cultured and beautifully written work, has graced week in and week out the newspaper’s Arts section, taking in from underground art house cinema to mainstream Hollywood blockbusters. As an author, she has written books focusing on the role of women in cinema throughout history.
Loved, feared, and hated, his name is synonymous with film criticism. Roger Ebert is the undisputed best-known movie critic of all time. His work at the Chicago Tribune and on PBS introduced the “thumbs up/thumbs down” ranking that has become a staple of cinema, and his take would become a decisive factor on whether audiences would swarm to a theater, or wouldn’t even care to show up.
In 1975, he became the first film critic to be awarded a Pulitzer prize, and despite the relevance of his opinion, he wasn’t as tough as the mythology that has been built around his work. A staple of his, was the inclusion of witty personal anecdotes in his reviews, which also made him sympathetic to thousands of readers. His death in 2013 left a void in the film world that is felt to this very day.
No one, absolutely no one would have expected for Pauline Kael to be the subject of Quentin Tarantino’s final film, yet it feels so appropriate. Hopefully, Tarantino’s love of film and its history will make Kael a known and beloved figure for more than just the film community, for which Kael is a sacred figure as relevant as all the films she wrote about.
Her nearly autobiographical approach to criticism set her apart from the academic form of prior critics and changed the way film was written about forever. She was famous for being unapologetic, unafraid of arguing, and a champion of films often discarded by most critics, and inversely, a critic of widely beloved movies.
All-time best film critics lists hold a historical debt to female critics, who have been as good and important throughout history as men. Most only include Pauline Kael, leaving behind the legacy of critical icons such as Dilys Powell.
For over 50 years, Powell contributed to The Sunday Times and was one of the 20th century critics who was most open to societal and cultural changes. This can be indebted to her tireless traveling and hunger for understanding foreign cultures, which made her writing elaborate and incredibly knowledgeable.
The love of film is hopefully what drives someone to become engaged more closely with the art form; that love is felt in every bit of writing from Dan Sallitt, which is gorgeously translated in his film work as writer and director.
One of the world’s most underrated critics and filmmakers has been at it for more than four decades, and thankfully in recent years, his work has achieved a higher recognition by the film community. His writing has been featured on MUBI, The Village Voice, Slate, and other famous outlets, while his films, ever since 2012’s brilliant The Unspeakable Act, have appeared in several film festivals.
Paul Schrader is mostly known as a great screenwriter and director, but he is also one of the filmmakers that has acknowledged and championed the importance of film studies and criticism in the development of the art form. He became a film critic in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and published the renowned book Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer before he was even 30.
By the mid-’70s, he made the transition to scriptwriting and directing, a career that has lasted half a century (most recently with the mysterious movie Master Gardener) could have easily left critical assessment of films aside, but he’s always had it so present, to the point that to this day he continually shares his opinions on his Facebook page.
No one bridged the gap between European and American cinema quite like Francois Truffaut. He would make some of the most important films of the 20th century while still being able to understand and appreciate what made someone like Steven Spielberg make the films he did. His dedication for the seventh art was clear right from the beginning of his career through his harsh though passionate reviews for Cahiers Du Cinema in the 50s.
As a writer, he is best remembered for his 1954 call-to-arms article, “A Certain Trend in French Cinema” which is seen today as partly responsible for the ignition of the French New Wave. He is also responsible for the development of “auteur theory,” which sets the director as the major creative force behind films, for which he used Hitchcock as an example, with whom he would develop an endearing friendship. His book, Hitchcock/Truffaut, was turned into a 2015 film, it was so influential.