A password will be e-mailed to you.

If you browsed Netflix in the past couple days, you probably saw a splashy trailer for Velvet Buzzsaw. The film is a bizarre thriller/comedy hybrid about the modern art world. It is too scatterbrained to be successful, so the only part of the film that leaves an impression is Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. He plays Morf Vandewalt, a snooty art critic who slowly realizes that art is literally enacting revenge on the people who commodify it. He may seem like a unique character, a snob whose preening manner hides a strong aesthetic/moral compass. But Morf is one of many critic characters who have graced the screen over the years. Some of them are more memorable than others, and in that spirit, here is a ranked list of the best critic characters from television and film:

1. Anton Ego, Ratatouille
Portrayed by:
Peter O’Toole
Type of critic:
food
Memorable line: “There are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”

Brad Bird must have known that the final minutes of Ratatouille would win over critics everywhere. Yes, the story of a rat who becomes a chef is a charming one, but Anton Ego’s lengthy voiceover elegantly summarizes why critics are sometimes useful. Peter O’Toole played Ego, which only added to the film’s flattery over the profession.  Even without the brownnosing, this character’s mannerisms and intelligence serve as both a cliché and a gold standard of what a critic can be.

Image result for ratatouille critic gif

2. Steven Schwimmer, Game 6
Portrayed by:
Robert Downey Jr
Type of critic:
theater
Memorable line: “People who write the truth are the outcasts of society. I can’t live openly. I can’t live in a nice door-man building, with my name on the mailbox, because they’d come after me in packs!”

Long before Birdman, there was another movie where Michael Keaton is a playwright whose latest is about to open on Broadway, and he’s worried about one critic ruining his entire career. That film is Game 6, a terrific comedy written by the novelist Don DeLillo. RDJ plays a theater critic who is so brutally honest that he attends plays in disguise, and armed. Nowadays there can be a reluctance for critics to give their honest opinion, as there are fewer barriers between the critic and the artist. Game 6 is a thoughtful reminder that brutal honesty can be a kind of respect, instead of just being mean for its own sake.

3. Unknown, This Is Spinal Tap
Portrayed by:
N/A
Type of critic: music
Memorable line: “Shit sandwich.”

This two word review is the entirety of the Spinal Tap album Shark Sandwich. It is the sort of review that critics can only get away with once or twice. Sometimes you see a modern incarnation of it, like when Pitchfork published an album review that was simply a photograph of two frowning pugs. The truth is that every critic, even this one, sometimes wishes they could do away with 800ish word reviews and simply write “Fuck this dumb movie” over and over again. The anonymous Spinal Tap critic is a secret hero to the critic community, the sort of unapologetic dickhead who’s grown tired with an overabundance of mediocrity.

Related image

4. Addison DeWitt, All About Eve
Portrayed by:
George Sanders
Type of critic: theater
Memorable line: “Why not read my column to pass the time? The minutes will fly like hours.”

You may recall that Addison DeWitt is not just an important character in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s classic. He’s also the narrator. He stands outside the action for most of the film, providing commentary and voice over like a gossip who just might be your new best friend. To be a critic is to feel like Addison: smart, cynical, self-deprecating, and above all detached. Of course, he eventually gets involved in the action, but no critic nowadays would have the gall to blackmail an up-and-coming actor out of righteous spite. Thanks for nothing, social media.

5. Archie Hicox, Inglourious Basterds
Portrayed by:
Michael Fassbender
Type of critic: film
Memorable line: “Why do you have your Walther pointed at my testicles?”

Hicox’s vocation is almost incidental to Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino’s crazed reimagining of World War 2. Hicox is a film critic who specializes in German cinema, but his true asset is his fluent German, which comes in handy during the daring Operation Kino. His big scene involves the pretense of a casual drink with Nazis – Hicox is posing as an officer – but his real swansong is when he shows snooty grace under pressure, even when death is certain. Most critics would have shit their pants before they even had a chance to sit down.

6. Morf Vandewalt, Velvet Buzzsaw
Portrayed by: Jake Gyllenhaal
Type of critic: fine art
Memorable line: “Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining.”

On some level, I bet every critic out there wishes they were more like Morf. He is incredibly handsome and fit, for one thing, and he leaves in a chic postmodern Los Angeles condo that virtually no critic could ever afford. Aside from all that, Morf is a fun critic because he’s both bitchy and honest. He likes hobnobbing with the industry his critiquing – a somewhat common ethical lapse – and yet he understands his place in the community, as well as his relationship with his readers. At one point in Velvet Buzzsaw, an art curator whines to Morf about a bad review he wrote. His reply? He seethes, “I am NOT your mouthpiece.” Amen, Morf. Amen.

7. Lester Bangs, Almost Famous
Portrayed by:
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Type of critic: music
Memorable line: “The Doors? Jim Morrison? He’s a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.”

On some level, I bet every critic sees a bit of themselves in PSH’s portrayal of Lester Bangs. He’s overweight, he’s a blowhard, and he doesn’t have any friends. He spends his free time drinking alone and listening to records. This is much closer to a critic’s life than Morf’s in Velvet Buzzsaw. I should also add that technically this critic shouldn’t be here: Lester Bangs was an actual flesh-and-blood person. Still, this is a fictionalized version of Bangs, and thanks in part to PSH’s great portrayal, his influence can still be felt to this day. Because of Bangs’ devotion to The Stooges and The Velvet Underground, pretty every much every book about punk rock includes liberal quoting of Bangs’ work. Some of his antics are legendary: he once sent a review of an MC5 album to Rolling Stone, with the note, “Look, fuckheads, I’m as good as any writer you’ve got in there. You’d better print this or give me the reason why!” They printed it. His advice to William Miller, the young hero of Almost Famous, echoes his desperate need to tell his truth: “Be honest, and unmerciful.”

Image result for almost famous lester bangs not your friends gif

8. Jay Sherman, The Critic
Portrayed by:
Jon Lovitz
Type of critic: film
Memorable line: “And that’s why Goldie Hawn should be shot!”

In the middle of the 1990s, back when networks were experimenting with adult cartoons that could be alternatives to The Simpsons, the show The Critic was an opportunity to lampoon pop culture with ease. Jay Sherman was clearly modeled after Roger Ebert, with Sherman’s catchphrase “It stinks” replacing the proverbial thumbs. One of the show’s running jokes was that Sherman was not a good critic. He was lazy, irritable, and bored. He hated everything, except for art house classics like Citizen Kane and Ingmar Bergman movies. When most folks imagine a critic in their mind, they probably looks and sounds a little like Sherman, and they’re more correct than I would care to admit.

Image result for the critic it stinks gif

9. Tabitha Dickinson, Birdman
Portrayed by:
Lindsay Duncan
Type of critic: theater
Memorable line: “It doesn’t matter. I’m going to destroy your play.”

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the director and co-writer of Birdman, has a dim view of critics. In the above scene I quoted, the theater critic meets the star of the show she’s about to review. She is defiantly unethical, promising to kill the play because she sees the play as an affront to everything she values in the theater. Few critics are actually like this: this is a competitive job that does not pay well, so for many of us, our integrity is the one thing we have that we can be proud of. The irony of Birdman is that Tabitha ultimately writes a rave of the play, sort of like Anton Ego’s review in Ratatouille. But that she could even think of violating her most essential job duty is what puts her so low on this list.

10. Allan Felix, Play It Again, Sam
Portrayed by:
Woody Allen
Type of critic: film
Memorable line: “I’m short enough and ugly enough to succeed on my own.”

As with most Woody Allen scripts, a character’s profession is incidental to what happens in the film. Allan Felix, the hero in this film, spends little time actually talking or thinking about the movies. When he does, it is only as a reflection of his romantic and sexual insecurities. Play It Again, Sam is based on an Allen play – he did not actually direct it – and its conceit is stagey: Felix imagines Humphrey Bogart giving him advice throughout the film. None of the advice is any good because, well, real life is not like the movies, and Bogart’s version of masculinity was always an exaggerated fantasy. But the real reason this critic falls at the bottom – aside from the film in question being dated/terrible – is that Felix is utterly incurious about the world, unless it reflects on him in some way. Sure, any good critic is as self-involved as the next person, but at least they have professional wherewithal to dial it back when it matters.

X
X