How to Write Movie Reviews: Film Criticism the Mr. Cranky Way
As the co-creator of Mr. Cranky Rates the Movies, I hope I know a little bit about making one's writing stand out. While this hub addresses movie reviews only, some of the lessons here can apply to any kind of writing. Ultimately, the message is that making your writing unique pays off.
How to Write a Mean (see: Interesting) Movie Review
If there’s anything that the Internet proves beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s that any goofball can write a movie review. There are tons of movie review sites with tons of goofballs all under the mistaken impression that their opinion is worth more than some other goofball’s opinion.
Make your movie reviews stand out or be banished into the dustbin of the Internet
While your opinion may not be worth more than some other writer’s opinion, there is a difference between an entertaining movie review and a junk movie review. Junk movie reviews tend to rehash plot details. The writers of junk movie reviews also tend to convey vanilla opinions and basically fall into line with the rest of the world. Oh, Jennifer Aniston is so beautiful. Oh, George Clooney is so talented. Oh, shut up. This, in and of itself, provides an excellent idea for writing entertaining movie reviews: try to have a strong opinion and not write what everyone else is writing.
As far as I'm concerned, the movie reviewer should ask “what’s wrong with this movie” not “what’s right about this movie”. We're called movie critics, not movie psychophants, right? The answer to the question “What’s right about this movie?” is the question every other movie reviewer is asking, so why ask that same question? It’s boring. It’s common. It’s a waste of time. Being a movie review site like every other movie review site is pointless. Being a critic means criticizing, not licking the behind of some ad executive because you’re so thankful she invited you to a free screening and gave you a hat. You can either be like everybody else (you know what they say about opinions) or be unique. People will read your reviews if they are unique.
Most film reviewers write boring reviews because they get caught up in the process of writing the review. Don’t worry about the process. Write! Your movie review will be immeasurably better if you write in thought bursts as opposed to trying to form the review as you go so that you have an introductory paragraph, plot summary, closing paragraph, and so on. Writing movie reviews is not brain surgery and frankly, it doesn’t require much talent. If something in a movie strikes you as wrong or funny or stupid, write it down and riff on it. Didn’t think the last Angelina Jolie movie worked because she looks like Skeletor? Write that down. In fact, if any celebrity’s celebrity status makes it impossible for the viewer to believe their performance, that’s good fodder for part of a critique. Basically, if you simply list your five main problems with a movie then riff for a paragraph on each, you’ll be able to rearrange those riffs into a workable movie review with minimal editing required. The best thing you can do is be specific.
Somewhere in the movie review you should be telling the reader what the movie is about. Some plot summary is required, but it should be kept short and it’s best to provide the plot in the context of a critique of some sort rather than simply listing plot points. And speaking of plot, most movies give their entire plot away in the trailer, so don't worry so much about rehashing what's going on.
When referencing directors and actors, it’s always good if you insert one of their lame movies in the middle of their name, like Melanie (“Milk Money”) Griffith. It shows that you don’t have the reverence for the actor that all those other lame critics have. Sometimes it’s necessary to put in an actor’s most well-known credit if you think most people don’t know who you’re talking about, but with the big name actors, it’s better to make fun of them. After all, they’re rich, famous, and having sex with beautiful people. Hopefully they'll recover from the joke.
If you’re up to it, clever movie references are always a good idea. In my experience writing for mainstream publications, editors will almost always cut out clever movie references using the excuse: “I don’t think most people will get it.” Who cares about most people? That’s why most mainstream movie reviews are so lame – they’ve been dulled down so that everyone gets them. If you know a lot about movies and can make impressive references, do it.
If it’s relevant, feel free to talk about other lame movies that make the experience of the current lame movie more relevant. This leads to a more general point: if you can’t write funny, write smart. When discussing an actor’s performance, feel free to string together a series of their performances to illustrate a point. Adam Sandler is pretty much the same in every movie he’s in. Point it out. Again, be specific.
Who's Your Favorite Film Critic?
Finally, here are a few things I've done on a regular basis that you can incorporate into your own movie reviews: observe people in the audience and comment on what they do during the movie, especially if you’re bored (see, the whole concept of discussing the audience's reaction conveys boredom because you clearly weren't watching the movie). Write down the ideas that go through your head as certain things happen on screen. For instance, I’ve written about the weird shape of Kate Winslet’s areolas. Breasts on screen are good, but when the areola looks like a map of Venezuela, that’s distracting. If the movie is especially bad, you may think about hurting yourself or other activities that you would prefer doing instead of watching the movie. It’s okay to mention any of those activities. Jabbing your eye with a straw, for instance.
The best thing you can do for your movie review is to rewrite it. Try getting a first draft done in one sitting, but then leave the review for at least 24 hours so you can approach it again with fresh eyes. It also doesn’t hurt to have somebody read your review and give you some feedback. You should encourage brutal honesty and you might as well since odds are good there will be plenty of readers on the Internet who aren't going to like you, your opinion, or your writing. Get used to it. You are not your writing anyway, so who cares?
Start watching movies, taking notes, writing, and have fun. Publish your movie reviews and make your writing the best it can be. Just like people want to be entertained at the movie, they want to be entertained when they read a movie review. Ultimately, it can be more important than what you actually say.
- Walter Chaw Movie Reviews & Previews - Rotten Tomatoes
This is a fairly comprehensive list of reviews from a friend of mine, Walter Chaw. He is, in my opinion, one of the best movie critics out there. His reviews are so literary and informed, it almost hurts to read.