Film criticism provides evidence for Film & Digital Arts criticism assignments. This research guide distinguishes movie reviews from film criticism and provides resources that will help you find criticism and reviews. See the Articles & Databases and Web Resources sections of this research guide for a list of search tools.
The purpose of a movie review is consumer in nature. The reviewer is making a judgment about the quality of the movie with the intention of telling the reader whether or not it is worth the time, effort, and money to watch. The reviewer assumes that the reader has not seen the movie and therefore is careful to reveal no spoilers. Reviews tend to be written when the movie is released into theaters, on video or DVD, or in streaming. The quality of reviews varies greatly, ranging from a simple plot summary with a thumbs up or thumbs down to an in-depth examination informed by expertise from film schools and years of film analysis and reviews. Regardless, the purpose of a review is to make a viewing recommendation.
Examples of movie reviews of Pulp Fiction include:
The purpose of film criticism is scholarly in nature. The film scholar is also making a judgment of the quality, but is doing so with the intention of making an argument about the meaning of the film or films by providing reasoned consideration and evidence. The scholar assumes that the reader has seen the film in order to better engage the argument – spoilers are irrelevant.
Film scholars have a distinct lens that they use in interpreting films. Their arguments might be based on filmmaker intent with an auteur lens, a formalist analysis of style and aesthetics or visual narrative, or an examination of the biographical or historical context. Their arguments might disconnect and dismantle the meaning of the film from its author’s intent by making a poststructuralist, semiotic, psychoanalytic, or literary analysis from the perspective of the viewer and of society. Their arguments might be a means to social justice intending to challenge the dominant power structures and the status quo by applying ideological Marxist, feminist, postcolonial, or queer approaches. Regardless, the purpose of criticism is to make a scholarly argument.
Examples of film criticism of Pulp Fiction include (you will need to be on campus or logged in to view):
As in criticism, the purpose of film assignments tends to be making your own argument about a film or films using reasoned consideration and evidence. The nature of the evidence that will best serve your needs is criticism, not reviews. This research guide shows how to find both criticism and reviews, because the simple fact is that not all films receive critical treatment, but virtually all are reviewed. In those cases where there is no criticism available, you may use reviews as a starting point, especially if they are the more in-depth examinations informed by expertise. However, you will most likely end up making your own reasoned consideration a centerpiece of the study without providing the evidence a film criticism provides.