Metacritic scrutinizes the ‘Social Network’ critics

Posted by · 6:26 am · October 7th, 2010

Confession: since their utterly senseless redesign, Metacritic has gone from a daily (many times daily, often) stop on my web rounds to a place I barely visit. “It’s like walking through my old high school,” wrote my friend Nick, echoing my thoughts precisely. “I used to live here, now I can’t even find the bathroom.”

It’s all for the best, probably: the less brain space I devote to the numerical quantification of critical opinion that, for some folks, now seems to stand in the place of critical opinion itself, the better for my sanity. I know which critics I like and/or which ones matter, and I can just as easily visit them in their own online living rooms.

That said, I remain fascinated by how the advent of review-scoring has made the media (the new media, in particular) unprecedentedly obsessed with the role of critics — at a time when their opinion seemingly couldn’t have less influence on the paying public. This year alone, we’ve already seen flare-ups on the blogosphere over the critics who dared to sully the Rotten Tomatoes scores for “Toy Story 3” or “Inception”; the notoriously hard-to-please Armond White has become the critic that everyone claims not to care about, yet the arrival of one of his against-consensus pans is now greeted with mass re-Tweeting.

The latest film to get the web excitedly crunching the (impressively high) numbers is, of course, current water-cooler topic and de facto Oscar frontrunner “The Social Network” (which I finally see tonight, by the way). A Metacritic score of 95 is supposedly something you can’t argue with — unless, of course, you don’t likethe film that much, in which case you must face the wrath of the occasional fan or blogger who takes such figures as fact.

It was ever thus, yet Metacritic is sufficiently jazzed about “The Social Network”‘s score to have drawn up a bewilderingly elaborate analysis of the polled critics’ analyses, breaking matters down further into positive/negative balances of individual factors such as the story and characters, screenplay and dialogue, directing and performance. The astonishing results prove that critics can find one aspect of a film more praiseworthy than another and that — gasp — “not every reviewer found ‘The Social Network’ to be a perfect movie.”

The bit that truly makes my head hurt, however, is the chart they’ve drawn up to determine how certain critics have responded to “The Social Network” relative to Fincher and Sorkin’s previous efforts:

The gist of the chart is that the film managed to convince even a number of previous Fincher and/or Sorkin detractors (though not, you have have heard, Mr. White), a finding that is only surprising if you find yourself responding to all their (or any other filmmaker’s) films equally.

“What changed between past works and the new film to bring these reviewers round?” Metacritic writer Jason Dietz asks, without any clear sense of irony. Oh, I don’t know — the fact that he made a different film? The fact that filmmakers and critics alike age and shift and have different moods on different days? What changed between “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and “Miral” to ensure such differing critical receptions for Julian Schnabel? Why do some Clint Eastwood films earn critical valentines and Oscars while others get thrown to the dogs? Why does art have to change, dammit?

Okay, I’m being facetious. But even with their best intentions, Metacritic is attempting the impossible with this feature: critical thought can’t be dissected and fashioned into formulas any more scientifically than it can be ascribed scores out of 100. On balance, as sites like Metacritic helpfully demonstrate, “The Social Network” is an undeniable critical success; I’m as excited about that as anybody, but it’s enough to let the reviews — good, bad and somewhere in between — speak for themselves.

[Graphic: Metacritic]
[Photo: Columbia Pictures]

→ 19 Comments Tags: , , , , | Filed in: Daily

19 responses so far

  • 1 10-07-2010 at 6:47 am

    Kane said...

    Everything about your first sentence on this post I completely agree with and relate to. I went there a bunch of times a day and now I can barely figure it out. I understand trying to update and keep things fresh, but when you’re unable to navigate a site that never needed to be more complex it’s too tiresome to pursue.

  • 2 10-07-2010 at 7:27 am

    Nick Davis said...

    It’s like we’re getting two great “Long Shot” columns for the price of one! Since I think what’s wrong with a lot of Oscar discourse is basically what’s wrong with the Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic obsession.

  • 3 10-07-2010 at 7:36 am

    JJ1 said...

    Metacritic stinks now, wholeheartedly agree.

  • 4 10-07-2010 at 7:36 am

    Graysmith said...

    Sort of on-topic/off-topic: Isn’t it just amazing how awful the major movie-related websites are? Rotten Tomatoes looks the same as it has for 5+ years and as such very out of date, Metacritic just redesigned itself to hell and I won’t even get started about IMDb. Most of the larger film blogs aren’t particularly eye-catching either. Kind of amazing for such a popular form of entertainment to be so poorly represented on the web.

  • 5 10-07-2010 at 8:01 am

    Andrew F said...

    Oh, the suicide of Metacritic. At first I was saddened, but like you, Guy, I feel a sense of liberation now. I no longer pore over these numbers or rush every Thursday night to see how the scores are shaping.

    I’d be curious to see how much their hits have fallen after the re-design…

  • 6 10-07-2010 at 8:16 am

    James D. said...

    Yeah, I have to join the chorus about the demise of Metacritic being readable. Same goes for IMDb.

  • 7 10-07-2010 at 8:40 am

    Formula said...

    Quantifying art whether it’s by the money it makes,the reviews it gets or the award it gets works on the same underlying principles:

    a)My favorite is better than yours and i can prove it by stating the number of awards/money/acclaim it got.

    b)I enjoyed the particular movie so much,i wish it has all the success in the world possible.

    Either way,if you loved a certain movie,none of these things will either make you like the movie more or less…it’s basically caring for other peoples opinions about your taste:

    The Academy’s for oscars
    The critics for reviews
    The general public for box office

    Some people take this way too seriously.

  • 8 10-07-2010 at 8:47 am

    Joe said...

    I’m glad you guys feel the same way I do about IMDb. It used to be so easy; now I can’t find anything! Why is it when things are upgraded, they only get worse? (I’m looking at you, Windows 2007!)

  • 9 10-07-2010 at 9:10 am

    pilfering monk said...

    Interested in your comment about which critics you like, and which ones matter. Would you care to elaborate? Which critics opinions hold the most weight in your mind? Is the reason you value these particular critics opinions because their tastes in film tend to match up more with your own, or is it based on the caliber of their writing, and/or their knowledge of film, or some other reasons?

    I do think review-scoring sites serve a purpose, though I do agree that the designs of such sites like Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes could be greatly improved. As much as I might like to, I usually don’t have quite enough online time each day to browse this critic or that ones sites, so having one place where you can go to get a more general consensus is a real time saver for someone like myself. I do think that most film critics consider themselves to be celebrities of a sort (even if its merely on a subconscious level), since they mingle regularly with all the famous people in the industry. As a result, most seem a little full of themselves (as far as how much weight they think their opinions carry with the general public). It’s obvious by looking at the weekly box office numbers that the majority of folks tend to turn a deaf ear on what the critics have to say anyway. So do “individual” critics really matter anymore, or just the overall consensus of their varied opinions? I think that’s why several critics I’ve heard (including Roger Ebert) tend to dislike sites like Metacritic. They don’t like the idea of their opinion being lumped in with everyone elses, because it makes them feel less significant individually. Their opinion just becomes a mere fresh or rotten tomato tabulation.

  • 10 10-07-2010 at 9:25 am

    the other mike said...

    this isnt the 1st time i’ve seen Guy be somewhat sympathetic to Armond White. He might be playing with fire. like Kanye said, Runaway, Guy quick, b4 they start calling you a troll lover.

    in all seriousness yep, loved Metacritic, it was fun morethan anything but I never took their numbers seriously anyway, they were not consistent in their criteria for how a film is rated.

    and now its pointless. its like chinese arithmetic tryna navigate that place now.

  • 11 10-07-2010 at 9:31 am

    the other mike said...

    c/s pilfering monk, would be interested in seeing which critics Guy reads/rates. I cant say who i rate highly just who i read most consistently.

    AO Scott, Manohla Dargis, Ebert, and yes Armond.

    I respect Armond on certain subject matter more than others, like his review of Notorious, the Biggie Smalls movie. I feel like he took it more seriously that ya average critic who probably saw it as just another biopic. Ultimately he panned it but I felt he took it seriously and was in depth about it. cant make him out a lot of other times though.

  • 12 10-07-2010 at 11:11 am

    Jeremy said...

    I’ve always loathed Metacritic, regardless of its site design. The notion that a critic can levy a quantitative score on a work of art is facile enough, but that the score can be assigned by someone WHO DIDN’T WRITE THE REVIEW is downright offensive. I’m O.K. with Rotten Tomatoes because I respect the demarcation of movies into a good/bad dichotomy (although things can still get dicey with middle-of-the-road reviews), but Metacritic is a ludicrous enterprise. I’m disappointed it’s still in business.

  • 13 10-07-2010 at 11:54 am

    Eli said...

    “Confession: since their utterly senseless redesign, Metacritic has gone from a daily (many times daily, often) stop on my web rounds to a place I barely visit.”
    This EXACTLY describes how I feel.

  • 14 10-07-2010 at 12:42 pm

    Filmoholic said...

    For those who don’t know, you can change IMDB back to its original interface by going to your account and updating the site preferences. Just check the box next to “Show previous title.”

    As for Metacritic, I’ve never been a regular use anyway, so I’m not that saddened by its redesign.

  • 15 10-07-2010 at 2:24 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    Is it fair to say I’m not fond of Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, but I’m also not fond of certain critics gaming the system to sink films they determine are overrated? Though, I think those are tied together, in that that phenomenon shows why Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes aren’t worth anything anymore. Critics are all too aware of them, and often eager to game the system one way or the other. And the system obligates other critics to compromise their evaluation of films with arbitrary gradings.

  • 16 10-07-2010 at 4:08 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Pilfering Monk and Other Mike: The critics I most value aren’t necessarily the ones I always agree with — it’s the ones whose writing most interestingly tests and challenges my own response to a film. (Reviews are of more use to me after I’ve seen a film than before.) Writers like Manohla Dargis, J. Hoberman, Amy Taubin and Jonathan Romney all do that for me more often than not.

    I used the “and/or” because there a number of high-quality critics whose writing doesn’t resonate as much with me personally, but I still find it essential to know what they think. Roger Ebert sort of falls into that camp for me; so, for quite different reasons, does Armond White.

    (Meanwhile, several of my favourite critics and film writers are also good friends of mine — I don’t mention them here so as not to sound like a sop, but a personal acquaintance does add an extra dimension to the critical conversation.)

  • 17 10-07-2010 at 4:21 pm

    adelutza said...

    I don ‘t quite get it how these scores are computed. How do you get an 89 versus a 92? Also, I’d really like to know what critics “matter” when it comes to Oscars and what critics don’t? I can understand having some kind of affinity with a critic in terms of likes and dislikes but, for critics that have a platform on the web and are actually being read by people, why some of them count and other don’t?

  • 18 10-07-2010 at 10:04 pm

    Patriotsfan said...

    There definitely seems to be a tendency to over-analyze things these days. Trying to break down something as intangible as an opinion of a movie in a scientific manner is an impossible and foolish task. On the other hand though, as long as nobody takes this stuff too seriously and just has fun with it, it doesn’t need to be a negative thing.

  • 19 10-08-2010 at 5:33 am

    Glenn said...

    Quite indicatively of the Internet these days, Metacritic now seems to put as much focus on the user ratings. You know what, I don’t care what “chui_greens” thinks of The Social Network. Not at all.