Know Your Critic

Know Your Critic: Bilge Ebiri, Movie Critic at Vulture

Ebiri talks his favorite Rotten films, movies he loved as a kid, and what he thinks is the best seat in a theater.

by | May 29, 2020 | Comments

(Photo by New Line Productions)

“Know Your Critic” is a column in which we interview Tomatometer-approved critics about their screening and reviewing habits, pet peeves, and personal favorites.

Bilge Ebiri’s interest and diverse taste in film started early. He grew up watching movies that could easily be classified as “movies aimed at kids” – such as Peter Pan and Pete’s Dragon – but he also saw a number of highly stylized and psychologically weighty movies, too, from Apocalypse Now and Aliens to The Deer Hunter.

“I was watching spaghetti westerns from a very young age, I think from third or fourth grade on,” he told Rotten Tomatoes.

The movie he’s seen more than any other is A Fistful of Dollars, a Sergio Leone spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood: “For a while, every day I would come home and just watch my Betamax of A Fistful of Dollars and eat ice cream,” Ebiri says. “I was a latchkey child, so I was just at home doing this by myself while my parents were at work.”

Now, he is excited by Gina Prince-Bythewood’s films (which he believes deserve greater recognition), and intrigued by the works of Lars von Trier (“He’s certainly made bad movies, but he’s never not made an interesting movie,” he says) and Zhang Yimou, some of which Ebiri considers “eternal masterpieces” while others are “middling.”

“The legacy of auteurism is that even filmmakers who don’t necessarily always make a great film, if they’re a great filmmaker, they’ll always make an interesting film,” Ebiri says.

Bilge Ebiri is a movie critic at Vulture and former lead critic at Village Voice. His reviews have been published in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, among others.


What do you think makes a good movie?

Oh, I can’t answer that. It’s all sorts of things. Anything I say would be wrong.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all model.

There are certain things that make one movie good, and then those same things can make another movie bad. There’s no way to answer that question without talking about a specific movie.

An example, I was just talking about this with somebody the other day, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. I love the Lord of the Rings movies. I despise The Hobbit movies. A lot of the things that make the Lord of the Rings movies so special are the things that make The Hobbit movies, for me, unbearable.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about critics?

There are two misconceptions about critics and they’re slightly at odds with each other. One of them is, “Well, all you have to do is watch movies, what a cushy job you have.” And the other one is, “Do you even like movies?” Both of these misconceptions are wrong, and they’re wrong in different ways.

I think critics would love to spend all their time watching movies, but the truth is, you don’t. Often, you’re usually writing or you’re researching or dealing with publicists or dealing with all sorts of other things. And only a very small part of your day, if you’re lucky, is spent watching movies…

And as far as not enjoying movies – different critics are different obviously, but I think most critics, when they go into a film, are looking forward to it. Sometimes you can enjoy the time you have at a movie without necessarily enjoying the movie or without necessarily thinking the movie is all that great. That’s why so many of us love the theatrical experience, even after all that – because in the end, we love the experience of seeing the movie, even if the movie itself isn’t great.

Who is an up-and-coming critic that you want people to check out? “Up-and-coming” is also obviously up for interpretation.

That’s the thing that I’m struggling with because I’m 47 years old. A lot of people are up and coming to me even though they’ve been doing this for a long time…

Monica Castillo is a critic I really like and she’s a friend. And she’s been around for a while. I don’t think of her as a newbie or anything like that, but she’s younger and she’s somebody who I feel deserves to write more and be better known.


20th Century Fox

(Photo by 20th Century Fox)

What’s a Rotten movie that you love?

I find myself often in circumstances where I will love movies that get trashed. The Vacation remake from a few years ago with Ed Helms I thought was just one of the funniest films I’d ever seen, and that was just widely loathed by people. Freddy Got Fingered – everyone hated it at the time, although it has since become a classic. And now all you hear about is all the people who love it, but they were nowhere to be found back then, except I think A.O. Scott liked it.

Is there an actor or a director or a screenwriter that no matter what they make, you’re excited to see it and you tend to like their work?

I’ve yet to watch a Terrence Malick film that I didn’t love. I’ve yet to watch a Gina Prince-Bythewood film that I don’t at least like greatly.

What is your favorite childhood film?

I had different movies that I loved growing up. I was a big fan of Walt Disney’s Peter Pan. But I was a big fan of that movie before I actually got to see it because it was impossible to see in Turkey when I was growing up and I saw it later. When I was 13 years old, Aliens was my favorite movie for about a year. The Star Wars movies certainly had quite an effect on me.

My parents took me to see all sorts of totally grown-up movies when I was a kid. So I was a big fan of Apocalypse Now – saw it when I was seven, twice. I was a big fan of The Deer Hunter, which scarred me when I was nine. But I could watch those, but I could also watch children’s films.

What is your preferred seat in a movie theater?

I actually love to sit in the front row in part because I can stretch out my legs – I’m a sloucher. And if it’s one of those theaters where the front row is way too close to the screen, then I try to sit a couple of rows back. … I hate sitting in the back. I hate sitting in the balcony. I have not gone to movies simply to avoid sitting in the balcony. I hate sitting really anywhere in the rear half of the theater.

Is that because you like to have the screen take up your entire field of vision? What do you like about sitting up close?

I like having the screens take up my field of vision. I know people who go to the movies and are really devoted to going to the movies that they love to sit in the back. This seems to be completely anathema to going to the movies. My TV occupies more of my field of vision if I do that… I like to be overwhelmed by the image. I do want to be able to see it clearly. Again, that speaks to how close the screen is to the front row…

But as a critic, I will say, sitting up close, especially if you’re close enough to the screen, has another side advantage, which is you can use the light from the screen to see what’s on your notepad. I found that that’s actually very helpful.

So you take notes when you’re watching movies?

I hate taking notes, but I feel like sometimes I have to.

Do you have a record for the most movies that you’ve watched in a day?

I don’t keep score. I know I have watched more than six movies in a day at some point.


Warner Home Video

(Photo by Warner Home Video)

What do you consider required viewing?

You know what movie I’m going to say? It’s not even my favorite movie. It’s not even my favorite movie by this director. It’s not even my second favorite movie by this director, probably. But I feel like All the President’s Men is a movie that everyone should see.

It’s one of those films that is a very interestingly made movie. It’s also about an important period in American history. And it’s the kind of thing that when you watch it, you realize how much we lose by the slow death of journalism and the death of a particular kind of accountability in politics. But it’s also just a really well-made film. It’s a film where, if you watch it, you’ll walk away from it, I think, with all sorts of fascinating questions, not just about the subject matter, but also about how that film does what it does. And it’s a great time capsule.

What’s the hardest review you’ve ever written?

I don’t even know if it was ultimately a review, but writing about Jean-Luc Godard’s The Image Book at Cannes. Actually, it was funny because I had just seen the movie, and Godard is one of my favorite filmmakers. I’ve written about him plenty of times, so it wasn’t like I was intimidated by Godard. But I remember there was a certain point, it was early at Cannes, and I remember I emailed my editor and I just said, “I can’t do this. I should just leave the festival. I don’t think I’m going to be able to do this.” And he was like, “What the f–k are you talking about?”

I hadn’t been assigned anything. It wasn’t like I had to review this movie. But I felt obligated to review it. And I just couldn’t. And I thought about it and then I actually met with another critic with whom I had an interesting conversation about the film. And I did wind up writing about it and I thought the piece turned out okay. Honestly, you shouldn’t have to ever write about a film like that after just one viewing.


Bilge Ebiri is a movie critic at New York Magazine‘s Vulture. Find him on Twitter: @BilgeEbiri.

Tag Cloud

trailers OWN 99% APB witnail teaser MTV Apple TV Plus Universal 71st Emmy Awards casting MCU sitcom YouTube Premium Columbia Pictures french Super Bowl docudrama rt archives telelvision blockbusters CMT Turner Classic Movies Mary Tyler Moore Superheroes 2021 The Walt Disney Company slashers Sundance TV Lucasfilm 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards hidden camera Shudder Pride Month women revenge Quiz Biopics superman VICE child's play Sneak Peek Mudbound BBC One singing competition ABC cartoon Television Critics Association Countdown National Geographic Warner Bros. foreign tv talk Ovation criterion Vudu Film Festival ITV Family Netflix Christmas movies halloween tv zombie south america dogs Marvel Video Games cancelled TV shows The Academy 24 frames nature The Witch Comic Book doctor who blockbuster natural history BET Awards Lifetime Christmas movies politics television Syfy aliens Tubi Crunchyroll DC streaming service USA Apple TV+ BBC travel Epix japanese Premiere Dates Drama rotten adventure Amazon Studios SXSW children's TV FX Alien docuseries PlayStation james bond Starz Music Television Academy Freeform Awards Tour Bravo free movies Western ABC Signature Set visit award winner miniseries Nickelodeon toronto Pirates documentaries TV Land zero dark thirty ESPN serial killer 2017 indie halloween screen actors guild cancelled TV series indiana jones stoner reboot Elton John black Kids & Family ratings DGA movie Musicals Tomatazos Baby Yoda The Arrangement dragons TBS Paramount Network Year in Review WGN AMC comics Writers Guild of America chucky Apple werewolf TNT robots Sci-Fi Fall TV animated Hear Us Out Pet Sematary SDCC DirecTV war razzies Thanksgiving Stephen King based on movie Esquire SundanceTV CNN ID CBS All Access HBO Max Lionsgate obituary unscripted romantic comedy Marvel Television films Travel Channel HBO zombies Fox Searchlight harry potter Disney Channel video on demand comiccon hispanic GIFs LGBT discovery anthology monster movies RT History Martial Arts Funimation Disney Plus jamie lee curtis Spring TV E! Song of Ice and Fire christmas movies Country justice league Tumblr Infographic universal monsters Christmas Creative Arts Emmys CW Seed Musical Certified Fresh Disney+ Disney Plus IFC Films dc cats ViacomCBS TLC Schedule medical drama Comics on TV Interview Watching Series transformers asian-american theme song Trailer Crackle concert social media italian Shondaland 2015 political drama Britbox Black Mirror Character Guide streaming movies scorecard popular New York Comic Con boxing mutant fast and furious game of thrones Valentine's Day kids Sundance spain Comedy Central satire Netflix classics versus TCM X-Men Amazon 20th Century Fox WarnerMedia crime drama sports Tarantino LGBTQ Teen Fantasy FXX RT21 crossover reviews 45 FX on Hulu sequels Star Wars Paramount hist Red Carpet a nightmare on elm street See It Skip It Hallmark Animation Captain marvel worst Rocketman cars Fox News batman TCA australia cops psychological thriller Calendar ABC Family GoT dceu video kaiju die hard BAFTA Food Network Women's History Month El Rey series prank space TIFF comic books golden globes Turner CBS Comedy blaxploitation Cannes Peacock critics superhero Opinion boxoffice 2020 Amazon Prime Video king kong Hulu VOD Disney book mission: impossible breaking bad Avengers Rock remakes GLAAD historical drama spy thriller DC Universe Trophy Talk Spectrum Originals deadpool Marathons YouTube Star Trek Adult Swim Arrowverse Nominations independent 72 Emmy Awards The Walking Dead adaptation YA Emmys President best all-time Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Mystery green book 21st Century Fox Awards Rocky ghosts TCA Winter 2020 007 YouTube Red nbcuniversal Sony Pictures facebook stand-up comedy Rom-Com PaleyFest fresh sag awards strong female leads archives DC Comics Lifetime Chernobyl Heroines The Purge binge Acorn TV Discovery Channel Dark Horse Comics IFC latino TV renewals crime toy story name the review directors Anna Paquin sequel jurassic park Binge Guide Paramount Plus renewed TV shows mockumentary Box Office festival Spike Nat Geo diversity stop motion Legendary kong rom-coms Toys Black History Month romance A&E disaster American Society of Cinematographers thriller pirates of the caribbean parents Election Best and Worst Mindy Kaling scary movies golden globe awards Brie Larson quibi First Look talk show rotten movies we love spinoff period drama Grammys Sundance Now laika Reality Competition Extras spanish language TruTV police drama what to watch TCA 2017 Podcast Pop Holiday Oscars Classic Film composers Pixar Ellie Kemper cancelled richard e. Grant cults game show hollywood science fiction festivals 2018 venice Exclusive Video Film History PBS Superheroe Walt Disney Pictures Cosplay canceled TV shows Trivia OneApp finale godzilla comic TV psycho Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Photos Logo anime BBC America FOX spider-man Mary Poppins Returns Horror First Reviews twilight MSNBC Marvel Studios franchise Masterpiece cooking vampires worst movies screenings nfl Emmy Nominations emmy awards Reality TV One USA Network Winter TV Pop TV documentary cinemax Academy Awards elevated horror A24 canceled 2019 Winners supernatural The CW spanish 2016 crime thriller Cartoon Network technology Disney streaming service comedies BET NYCC 4/20 TCA Awards VH1 biography San Diego Comic-Con football Summer Amazon Prime NBC dark Broadway dramedy Showtime E3 joker Hallmark Christmas movies HBO Go true crime Mary poppins Action Polls and Games cancelled television Endgame news Holidays Ghostbusters