My Life in Film Criticism: Why I Love It

When I was a little girl my sister and I would fill up the boring hours of the day creating our own little newspapers. These would include all parts of a newspaper: current events, comics, weather reports, and of course movie reviews. The movie reviews were naturally my favorite.

young Rachel blogger
Ready to report for duty!

Growing up my parents weren’t big fans of any media. My Mother preferred books and my father was working 90 hour weeks and wanted to be outdoors whenever he could get away from supporting our family.  However, what my parents were and are great at is encouraging an atmosphere of questioning, analysis and critique. My Mother especially hated the idea of consuming entertainment mindlessly. This is why we weren’t allowed to watch something like Saved By the Bell. It’s not that my Mother was opposed to it morally. She just thought it was stupid and did nothing to stimulate our growing intellects. I can think of so many times where my Mother would challenge me about a film or television show I enjoyed (we didn’t have TV for most of my childhood so it was predominantly movies). We would then have a discussion about the themes, filming choices and anything else that impressed me. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized this type of analysis was unusual and often unwanted by my peers who just wanted to enjoy the entertainment without critical analysis (I learned to keep my mouth shut).

Once I got to high school I joined the paper and wrote movie and television reviews among other articles. I remember my teacher, a very religious man, chastising me for not capitalizing the ‘He’ when referring to Jesus or God (I think in a review of The Prince of Egypt). I don’t even know if it is a true grammatical rule but I’ve always done it since then. I don’t want to make Mr Christensen upset!

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Me in High School

This whole time I always loved reading and watching criticism. Where other people dreamed of becoming an actor or sports star my pipe dream was to become a critic. It may seem hard to believe in this day and age of toxic fandom but I loved reading long winded defenses of something I disliked or frustrated essays on the flaws of a particular property I enjoyed. They wouldn’t normally change my opinion but I always found the experience enlightening.

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It probably goes without saying that the Siskel and Ebert program was a huge influence on my life (and after the show, Ebert’s blogging and writing). The way they challenged each other was captivating and even if I had no plans of seeing the films they were debating, I found the experience of them talking incredible. And there were others like Leonard Maltin’s books reviewing feature films and TV movies (the movie bibles of their day).  Gene Shalit with his crazy mustache on the Today Show was always fun to listen to. Pauline Kael I discovered as an adult. I would give just about anything to write about film the way she did.

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I’m not sure why but despite my interest I never really considered film criticism or journalism as a realistic career choice. (Some critics would probably say this was a wise decision on my part). I didn’t decide against it in favor of something more practical. I literally never even considered it as a plausible option. I just kept going to movies and sharing my opinions with friends and family.

Then in 2007 I quit a job which had made me miserable and determined to find happiness again I started this very blog. It is perhaps no surprise then my second post was all about the changes in my life through the lens of You’ve Got Mail. I also did early posts on music, theater, and movies I loved. I love this early post on the experience of attending the movies alone for the first time. I saw Mamma Mia alone and said:

“While I am not saying that I wish to experience life alone. Believe me, I prefer anything with a friend; however, I now also see that I can have a good time with just me. This realization makes me feel strong and truly independent. It feels good! Yeah for movies alone!”

With this realization I started attending the movies more often and would occasionally post reviews on this blog such as reviews of Frozen and The Lego Movie.

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In 2013 I got my dream job working in marketing and then in 2014 I tore the MCL in my knee making me bedridden for months. This was devastating at the time because I was very active in the local open water swimming community. Honestly I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been so I could probably work in more of that back into my life but times and seasons for everything!

Anyway, I decided to make the best of a bad situation and fulfill a lifelong dream of watching/reviewing the entire Disney Canon. That’s why my film blog is called 54disneyreviews. At the time there were 54 films leading up to Big Hero 6 and that was going to be the end of my movie blogging but it turns out I really enjoyed writing about film! The more I wrote the more I was reminded of those old days of talking movies with my Mom and writing for the school paper.

My next step was to start my youtube channel and it was unprofessional and simple but I loved sharing my opinion. One early memorable post was my rant on how much I hated the finale of How I Met Your Mother (it wasn’t pretty. There were tears).

In 2016 I got my first taste at interviewing when Morgan Stradling asked me to interview the creators of a film called Snowtime at the Sundance Film Festival (first time at Sundance) for rotoscopers.com. Since then I have written many articles for rotoscopers and interviewed countless people including Nick Park, the creator of Wallace and Gromit.

Over the years my blog and channel kind of morphed into the podcast with Rachel’s Reviews starting in 2015 and Hallmarkies in 2017. Now the podcasts consume nearly all of my free time, and I’m glad they do. I have made so many friends from around the globe, and I love talking to them about film/television. I love the preparation of a podcast (even if the editing afterwards isn’t my favorite). I love crafting an argument and trying to defend it as best as I can.

I know twitter can be a mess, but I really do love it (probably to an unhealthy degree)! I LOVE live tweeting programs and it all goes back to that experience talking movies with my Mother in our kitchen or listening to Siskel and Ebert quarrel.

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Then out of the blue I get added as a critic on rottentomatoes and I find myself for the first time thinking- could I actually do this for a living? Could I make this work? It’s been pretty overwhelming to be honest, but I’m doing my best to take advantage of every opportunity that has come my way.

Recently I was doing a podcast with my friend Tom on the show Star Trek Discovery. It was an episode I didn’t really care for because I find the klingons to be off-putting and kind of gross. With a little reticence on my part, we sat down to discuss it and by the end of the episode my opinion had changed.  Well, not really my opinion, because I still didn’t love the episode, but I felt enlightened by the discussion of why I didn’t like it instead of just experiencing frustration. This is why I love criticism! It can take something I don’t  like and through the analysis of said property make it enlightening! This is what true criticism and not just nitpicking or trolling does! This is why it is exciting and wonderful!

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I once heard someone decry film critics as a ridiculous profession where “people are paid to state their opinion”. This is perhaps because the dichotomy of rotten tomatoes (as much as I love them) has reduced their analysis to a good or bad score. That may be a helpful quick guide but it is not the job of a critic. A critic should get you thinking about what you like and why you like it, and that process should make you a better person.

A good critic should inspire you to watch something you’d never watch on your own. He or she should wade through the huge amount of offerings and find the gems. They should explain what is special about a property so that you, the reader, can then find the words to explain what you find special. Hopefully the conversation keeps growing, and we all develop a passion for art and the experience of loving things (even if it is all loving different stuff!).

I realize what I described is a bit of a pipe dream, but I’ve seen it happen in my own sphere of influence. Whether it is begging all my friends to watch Your Name or interviewing a cool writer they might not have noticed otherwise, it can be a wonderful, enriching experience. Regardless, I hope I am a positive influence for good, and can show my love of film and film criticism to all who will listen. It’s an honor and privilege and I’m so excited for whatever comes in my future!

What about you? What do you gain from film, art, food or any other kind of criticism? Do you have any favorites? How do you think critical analysis helps you to enjoy the media we consume more? I would love to hear your insight. Sure love ya!

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8 thoughts on “My Life in Film Criticism: Why I Love It

  1. Oh man. I loved reading about how you had a passion for critique since childhood–and movies no less! What a fun story to share with us. I can’t wait to see how far you take this, because you really are an exceptional critic. You do your homework, you look at multiple aspects of production, and you have a great balance between high-brow taste and things that are just dang enjoyable. I’m so proud of you and what you’re building.

    Also, I had no idea you had such strong opinions about HIMYM. We need to talk. I watched several seasons a year or so ago before suspecting that the ending wasn’t going to add up…I went to Wikipedia and read about the finale. I was so irritated and disappointed I haven’t watched it since. So yeah. We should talk.

    1. Thanks so much! You were so fortunate to have gotten a warning. I think what made it especially frustrating was I had stuck with the show for years when it was pretty lame but I was so sure they’d end it well. It’s a show so built on a narrative that the ending really did matter (as opposed to Seinfeld for instance which the lame finale could be a throw-away episode). The finale of HIMYM kind of ruined every character and all the little lessons Ted and Barney had learned along the way to be better people were undone. It was the worst and it honestly made me hesitant to invest in television that long ever again. So sad…(But that video is really good!).

  2. wow such a great post there’s a clear passion not only for film but all forms of art here and i wouldn’t always say that critical analysis helps me enjoy movies more since there are some movies which are just going to be dumb fun movies but there have been times were i’ve seen a review be it in blog form on youtube and it’s made me see a movie differently.

    1. Thanks! I have fun movies too but often those experiences are more shared expressions of glee than analysis but that passion is all part of the experience of film. Thanks for reading

  3. It’s great to read about how you got to be where you are now. You’ve certainly encouraged me to see films that I wouldn’t have done otherwise, such as Your Name and Gallipoli.

    Obviously film criticism helps me judge whether I should see a film or not if I’m unsure, but if it’s a film I’ve already seen, a good review will make me think about it in ways I didn’t necessarily consider when I was watching it. Since I started my blog, I’ve tried to learn more about filmmaking so I can appreciate the different levels better and hopefully carry that over into my own reviews. Sometimes I find reviews entertaining to read on their own, particularly negative reviews as Anton Ego says in Ratatouille; Eric D Snider’s more negative reviews can be very funny, for example.

  4. This was such a well-written post! From reading your articles to watching your videos on Youtube, I can tell that you are very passionate about the things that you care about, which, in this case, are movies, tv shows, etc. On my blog, I always try to talk about things that other people might overlook in order to help those things get the “standing ovation” I think they deserve (yes, that quote from Wonder was intentional). Like you, I also want to use my influence as a blogger for good and help make a positive difference! By the way, I’m planning on hosting a blogathon this fall that has to do with Siskel and Ebert (more details will come in either April or May)! Since you mentioned that you’re a fan of the famous film critics, I thought I’d share this wonderful news!

    1. That’s awesome! Way to plan ahead. I admire that and definitely count me in. Thank you for your kind words. It’s crazy how far my life has come since I started my blog in 2008. Cheers!

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