Kyle Smith doesn't mind if you hate his movie reviews.
The veteran NY Post critic shares his “best” hate mail via his blog, but he’s impossible to write off as a journalist who gleefully feeds his trolls. Smith’s critical takedowns are legendary. He is that rare scribe who views pop culture from a conservative perspective, yet he refuses to give right-of-center films a pass.
It’s why HiT reached out to Smith to get his take on critical groupthink and the perks of his gig.
In what ways is film criticism different from when you first started reviewing movies? Are these changes for the better … or worse?
Kyle Smith: There is certainly a lot more of it. It has become more democratic, more Yelp-ified with the advent of the mega review agglomeration industry. I guess it’s for the better to get a range of viewpoints.
Do you think your fellow critics see their own biases when reviewing politically charged content?
KS: Nah. They live in a bubble. The only arguments they ever get in are about whether Obama is far enough to the left.
You take delight in sharing nasty feedback. Has your skin always been so thick? Should that be a prerequisite for the gig?
KS: Oh, yes. If you can dish it out, you ought to be able to take it. It’s all part of the fun and games.
Print is suffering, veteran film critics are losing their jobs and anyone with a blogger account and a movie ticket stub can be a published critic. Is there room for optimism in the profession given these forces in play?
KS: I don’t think considering it a “profession” is very accurate. Thoracic surgery is a profession. Film reviewing is a fun hobby. If you can find someone to pay you anything for it, be grateful. How many of your fellow citizens get paid to have fun?
What is the most common question people ask you when they learn what you do for a living?
KS: They want to know what’s a good movie that’s out there. And I usually freeze because I’ve just seen five bad movies in the last 36 hours. Also they want to know where and how I see the movies.
Most people would say, “you’re so lucky to review films.” What’s the best perk of the gig that people wouldn’t suspect, beyond getting to see films first for free?
KS: The lavish salary? Gotta be that or the way the starlets throw themselves at me.
You’re one of the least predictable film critics working today. Do you think there’s a touch of groupthink when it comes to certain films, the sense that critics need to embrace X or Y based on the talent behind the camera, its themes or its Oscar buzz? Consider a recent article in IndieWire singling out critics who dare to find fault with “Boyhood.”
KS: I suppose there is a groupthink. I noticed when I was editing music reviews at People magazine that rock critics seem to write exclusively for other rock critics, using the same arcane references and lionizing the same obscure bands. I don’t want to sound like a bunch of other film critics so I generally don’t read them. I especially don’t read the pretentious ones because I don’t want it to rub off on me.
Which critics do you read regularly, and why?
KS: I read Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal and my colleagues in The Post and occasionally some of the ones in England like Camilla Long in The Sunday Times. I like Joe because he’s got common sense and doesn’t try to snowball you with erudition and the same is true of the other Post writers. Camilla I read because she’s hilarious and doesn’t care about sounding like she just emerged from 6 years in a Ph.D. program or a Jean-Luc Godard seminar.
But I don’t usually go out of my way to read film reviews and I never read a review of a film before I write a review of the same film because I don’t want my review to be a response to someone else’s response.
Has reader feedback ever impacted how you review a film, or made you reconsider a position you previously felt strongly about?
KS: I am frequently mystified by other people’s reactions to films (for instance, I just don’t get how anyone could find ‘Guardians of the Galaxy” funny since I laughed zero times at it), but my opinion is my opinion, I’m pretty much stuck with it.
Name one film you know you should hate but just can’t help loving …
KS: I guess I don’t really relate to the “should.” But there are lots of movies I loved that many others hated. “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” for instance, was a really wicked satire. I’m afraid the audience today is too young to remember the 1960s Westerns it spoofs, though.