I read smart critics with a flair for prose, knowledge of the medium they're assessing, and who go beyond the common stock clichés, platitudes and ritual complaints and back up their remarks with pertinent examples. Also, the critics I prefer are pretty much a literate sort, knowledgeable of the arts in general, literature, and who have a grasp of social issues. It's not that I expect critics to deliver exhaustive dissections of films each time they write, but the ability to refer to poetry, novels, plays, music knowingly and coherently and not just other recent movies from the last 30 is an element that brings something "more" to the analysis of a film. It keeps the criticism fresh, genuine, honest, whether the judgement is positive and veering toward the negative. "That's just your opinion" is a response that doesn't cut it, really. Indeed, a critics' view is his other opinion, but that ought to go without saying. Some opinions have more value than others; I prefer the reviewers who get me thinking about what I saw.
If I come up against a well-written and knowledgeable review that challenges my opinion of a certain film--or novel, play, record album, whatever--it's my task to respond with a strong counterargument. I either shore up my position or be willing to modify my view. Mostly, I reserve the right to change my mind based on new evidence, a strong position. Time was when readers of film reviews debated the merits of what Hollywood did in frank but civil exchanges; debaters engaged each other's ideas and left personal attacks for the wallowing habits of the less perceptive in our midst. Just think of it, the glorious ebb and flow of conversation on subject you're thoroughly engaged with, trading critiques, asides, remarks, information, insights and fertile comparisons of differences with a host of others with whom you may disagree entirely or partially, but who are no less passionate about the arts than you are.
Imagine as well such knowing and exciting talk without a death threat, a misogynist aside, a racial slur and other varieties of input that demean another's humanity without purpose. It's a wearisome fact that civility seems to be a concept that no longer has utility. Where are the Duncan Shepards, the James Wolcotts, the Manny Farbers , the Paulin Kaels of this generation? Who will be our next Lester Bangs, our next Robert Christgau? Attention spans, as a function of understanding a lot of information and to have a Big Picture as to how the world is operating , a picture that can be tweaked and modified as history marches on, seem no longer able to sustain concentration on those matters that require evaluations longer than a Tweet or a Facebook meme. This shrinking concern for context and critical discussion has effected our politics, as we've become creatures moved to quick frenzies of irrational absolutism at the mention of code word, the flashing of a threatening meme, the rattling of a rubber sword in a tin foil scabbard.The point is of reviews, and the right to free speech, is to motivate us to have discussions about thing we're passionate about and perhaps learn something from someone else's point of view. But it seems we've rapidly getting to the point where these discussion threads are snake pits for anonymous character assassination. This is a damn shame, as it represents the growing refusal for many of us to take responsibility for our ideas and deeds.