Film criticism is in a scary position right now. The shift has changed from the power of the informed few to the reception of a collective. Websites like Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic because they attempt to boil down several opinions into one. Also with the power of blogs, everybody can be a movie critic. Why should people hire them anymore?
Because there is still something special about those who are truly informed. Perhaps the greatest source of movie criticism has been cancelled this month. It was a show called At the Movies. In the 80s Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert created a show where two critics simply discussing the movies of the weekend. They were not sound bites, but actual discussions and back-to-back arguments. It became a phenomenon. The thumbs up/thumbs down critique is still in the pop culture lexicon. The whole show was popular because it was intelligent but still accessible. They were unique personalities who were well trained the art of analysis and film history.
In 1999, Gene Siskel died from complications during surgery for his brain tumor. His passing is still a very sad topic to those who grew up watching these reviews. Ebert continued the show with a series of guest hosts before eventually picking Richard Roeper. This ran for several years before Roger Ebert had to leave the show because of thyroid cancer. He recovered but he completely lost the use of his voice.
Roeper continued with a series of his own guest hosts, but then Disney decided to start anew. They hired Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz to be the new hosts. This was the lowest point in the shows history. Gone were the discussions and instead it was all about trying to be “hip.” Also Ben Lyons is a complete idiot and isn’t even a film critic. After one year this was scrapped but it returned better than ever. The new hosts were two of the most respected critics in the country: Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune and A.O. Scott of the New York Times. Once again the discussions were fascinating and articulate while still being fun. These guys even went on to discuss trends and were able to focus more on other directors.
Despite the return of quality, Disney canceled At the Movies. There will continue to be episodes until the end of August. This show has been a true staple of film criticism. It was respected among snobs and pedestrians. It is a true shame the studio doesn’t think there is place for it anymore. Roger Ebert says he plans on creating his own new show with this format and these hosts. I only hope it happens soon because I know in August, this show will be sorely missed. I don’t want that balcony to be forever closed.