You know that feeling when you’re cooking or fixing your car or jogging or, heck, even cleaning the house? Not that frustrated feeling when you first find out it has to be done. I mean that moment when you’re doing such a good job that you sink softly into the rhythm of it all, when you beat back some unexpected disaster and do something you had no idea you could. You’re out of half the ingredients for dinner, so you get creative and substitute, and it’s amazing. You try to tell everyone at dinner, but they’re all too busy eating to listen. You’re tired and you barely slept the night before and you reassure yourself this is your last lap, but for some reason you don’t stop jogging, and pretty soon you’ve run double the amount you’ve intended.
You nestle into a rhythm, you stop thinking about your actions and you move as if you’re one with whatever challenge is facing you. These moments are the definition of ‘sublime’. They are your moments of perfection – driving you forward to constantly improve.
Now imagine doing that with three, four…ten other people. Twenty, even! They’re all in that groove, in that rhythm. It’s an overwhelming feeling. That’s what filmmaking can be. It’s like sitting down to draw, except you’re perched on the back of your sofa directing men and women using pens, pencils, chalk, paint brushes, anything and everything. It’s your job to put yourself in all of their shoes, to understand all of their perspectives, to see how they each imagine that drawing coming together, and to make it all fuse into something seamless. That’s film. It is impossible.
And yet – somehow – all over the world, dozens, hundreds, thousands of films come out every week, every day, every hour. In the theater, on TV, on YouTube. Most are average. Some are good. A few are great. But all of them represent groups of people gathering together to tell a story they feel needs to be told – whether they’re managing it all or just hauling cords behind the guy or girl with the camera.
It was once said of our greatest film critic, who passed away earlier this year, “Roger Ebert loved movies. Except for those he hated.” Now, there will be films I dislike. There will be films I hate. There will be films I’ll warn you to avoid. But deep down, at my core, I’ll also love every one of them. And if you read enough of the man, you probably suspect Ebert felt much the same way.
Critics too often mistake criticism for a critique. I’ve never understood critics who hate so much of their chosen medium. If a film critic thinks his job is to find things to hate, he’ll train his audience to hate film. I believe a critic’s job is to find things to appreciate. It will never be my job to tell you which films, actors, or directors to hate. Even a terrible film has an audience, even a terrible actor has his fans. I’ll tell you if I don’t like something, but I’ll also do my best to let you know who might like it, and why.
What a critic really ought to celebrate is finding the screen equivalent of cooking with substituted ingredients or running those extra laps, and sharing it. Action movie, comedy, art film, indie flick – whatever it might be, teams of people are achieving those moments of perfection every day. If that doesn’t astound, if that doesn’t convince you movies are magic, that human beings are capable of coming together and doing something impossible, then I haven’t done my job. And I really look forward to doing my job.