Know Your Critic

Know Your Critic: Clint Worthington, Founder of The Spool and Senior Writer at Consequence

Worthington recaps his favorite releases of 2022, discusses the challenges of choosing what to watch with family, and wishes audiences knew that critics “aren’t here to yuck your yum.”

by | December 21, 2022 | Comments

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

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

Clint Worthington is a critic and journalist based out of Chicago. As a writer, he’s contributed to, Vulture, and Consequence (formerly Consequence of Sound). But he’s also created his own platform, The Spool, and transformed it into a space for rising voices in the industry as well.

The Spool publishes retrospectives on titles from the archives, incisive reviews of the latest releases, and essays that offer personal or academic angles on film and television. Where many outlets seek to be the first to publish, The Spool’s articles and podcasts are often more meditative.

“I feel like reviews are very imperfect things,” Worthington said in an interview with Rotten Tomatoes. “You can never write something perfect – you never have the time, you never have the knowledge, especially given the turnarounds you have to have.”

Worthington, like many of his colleagues in criticism, feels there’s a misconception that critics are, either by instinct or by definition, determined to be negative about movies that “the audience” (as though critics aren’t in the audience themselves) loves.

“We got into this business because we love movies,” Worthington said. “We want to see them, we want to find the cool stuff, and we want to show that to you. We want to share it with others.”

Throughout the holidays, he is particularly cognizant of his eclectic tastes as a cinephile.

“One thing in the back of your mind, especially as the end of the year comes up and you know you’re going to spend time with family is: What movies could I recommend that I think are cool, that they might like that are also good, but won’t alienate them?”

He laughed: “I’m not going to tell dear old gam-gam to watch Murina. I’m not going to show my dad We’re All Going to the World’s Fair.

If you have family members who don’t actively seek out movies, but are receptive to when you give them that stuff, you also have to find a way to talk about it that doesn’t sound pretentious or stuffy or that you’re being a snob or anything else like that.”

Clint Worthington is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of The Spool, as well as a Senior Writer at Consequence. He has contributed to Vulture, IndieWire, Mediaversity, and Find him on Twitter: @clintworthing.

What’s your favorite movie of the year?

If I were to have my druthers, it would probably have to be Banshees of Inisherin. I’ve been a big fan of Martin McDonagh. He’s had his highs and lows with things like Three Billboards, and I wasn’t all that hot on Seven Psychopaths, but with Banshees of Inisherin, it is just this incredible portrait of fractured friendship.

There’s this tale of wounded masculinity that happens there – that push and pull between being of worth and being nice. It’s also, of course, buoyed by these incredible performances, set amongst this idyllic backdrop where these horrific things happen to people who have otherwise done nothing wrong.

McDonagh knows how to draw these cosmic fables out of the everyday, and to do that for an inciting incident as simple as “I don’t want to be friends anymore because I think you’re boring,” and the subtext being, “Hanging out with you makes me wonder if I’m boring too.” That’s a very relatable impulse to me… Not to mention the fact that it’s hilarious as hell!

What are you watching on television right now?

I’m actually currently enjoying a lot of the newer Star Treks on Paramount+. The new era of Star Trek has gotten off to a really rocky start… I think the secret weapon is Star Trek: Prodigy, the Nickelodeon co-produced animated one that hews a little more towards children, kind of.

What I appreciate about it is it does the same thing that Galaxy Quest does, where it explores the utopian values of a show like Star Trek through the lens of characters who are getting introduced to those values within the auspices of the show. It’s a bunch of misfits who have never heard of [Starfleet]… They’re not just escaping persecution, they’re learning how to be a team, how to espouse the values that Starfleet holds dear like teamwork, cooperation, empathy. And so, through those characters you are rediscovering what made Star Trek great in the first place.

What are you most excited for that’s being released in 2023?

I may specifically be excited to find out the context for that image of Magazine Dreams – greased-up Jonathan Majors, abs glistening in the spotlight. I want to know what that is and I want to see that image in motion.

Maybe more seriously, I just watched the trailer for Infinity Pool, Brandon Cronenberg‘s newest, and as someone who enjoyed Possessor while being cognizant of some of its problems, I think he’s growing into a really interesting filmmaker that is at once following into in the tradition of dear old dad, but I think he’s finding new, darker, weirder corners of that sci-fi/body horror milieu to explore. And putting Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth together in a movie… It’s a match made in heaven and I can’t wait to see it.

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

What do you think is the biggest misconception about critics?

I think the big misconception of critics is that we’re there to tear down something you like… We’re not here to yuck your yum!

A review is the opening in a conversation. If you’re reading a negative review of something you liked, it’s just our way of opening up the conversation of, “Hey, but what did you think about this element? This element didn’t work for me.”

In a perfect world, I would love for people to read criticism and take us at our word that we’re not trying to make you feel like a bad person. We’re not trying to make you feel like a Philistine or someone with bad taste. We just have these opinions because we watch a lot of movies and we have our very specific peccadilloes about what we like when we don’t like, and it should be a conversation.

What for you personally makes a “good movie?” Is there some quality that you seek when you’re watching something?

So much of it comes down to taste, right? If I were to as close to objectively evaluate a movie as “good,” I think the major thing is intention and a point of view. Even if I don’t like something, I will respect it for having a perspective that it is trying to show me.

Whether I am rejecting the perspective or not, or rejecting the way they’re telling it – things that resonate with me a lot more are things that don’t feel cynical, things that don’t feel like they are just trying to jingle keys in front of your face – I will respect something much more when it’s like, “Oh, this person wanted to say something about this issue or wanted to tell this story for a particular reason,” or in the case of Jackass Forever, which is one of my favorite movies of the year, just inviting you in and in revisiting the same frat boy antics that they did in their 20s and 30s when they’re much older. They are, whether consciously or subconsciously, saying something about aging and about different forms of masculinity, but also just wanting to show you a good time.

What is your favorite classic film?

I appreciate 12 Angry Men for its command of script and performance. I love the way Sidney Lumet manages to carve this entire universe out of this little jury room, and we don’t even know these people’s names, but we know everything about them just through the way they carry themselves and through the ways they are reflected in this case that they are meant to preside over. And in so doing, we see all 12 different views on the American experience.

What is your favorite Rotten thing?

Michael Bay‘s 2013 opus Pain & Gain, a movie that I do think we’re looking back on with greater fondness as we start softening up to Michael Bay as an auteur of his own unique caliber.

He’s always been dismissed in the past as this frat bro vulgarian who represented everything we film critics hated about big dumb blockbuster filmmaking. But in an age of franchises and glossed digital sameness, it’s almost quaint to look back on those movies – the singular kinetic vision that he’s capable of, “the Bay-hem effect.” He has such an incredible command of camera and he knows how to build excitement within a frame and it feels real, even when the CGI is weird.

It’s from the screenwriters of the Captain America movies and the Avengers movies. It’s his version of Fargo basically where it’s these morons, these juiced-up morons who represent the apex of toxic American masculinity. I think he’s unapologetic about those things. He uses the very same tools we deride as being retrograde or misanthropic or sexist and points to these people and he’s like, “Yeah, these people are that. These are ugly people doing ugly things and you’re enjoying it. I’m making you enjoy this and therefore I’m implicating you, the audience member, in it,” and I found it very interesting.

I think it’s genuinely funny! It has one of The Rock‘s best performances and I think it functions really well alongside the other movies in 2013 that explored similar issues because it was the year of greed. We had that in Spring Breakers, we had Wolf of Wall Street, we had Bling Ring, and I think those four movies, they felt like products of the recession.

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

When was the first time that you saw yourself on-screen, and what was it about that movie or story that you connected with?

Well, in a very real way, I see myself in 99% of movies that are made because I’m a cis white guy.

But I will say as a bisexual lad… I’ve often said that it’s hard to convey bisexuality in movies, because the nature of narrative storytelling involves an A-to-Z story – especially when it’s love stories where either you are falling in love with a woman or you’re falling in love with a man. Within those auspices, you can write those off as straight or gay stories. And sometimes when you try to explore the idea of people being attracted to more than one gender, they then become stories about polygamy. That can also be a difficult needle to thread.

Kevin Kline‘s In & Out was a very early movie that I watched where I got to see someone who had been socialized into a very heterosexual, white American tradition slowly start to realize that they were attracted to, let’s say, more than that. And even though it is a gay story – a story about a man explicitly coming out as gay – as someone who’s bisexual, it resonated with me, that journey resonated with me… his first steps towards exploring his queerness, about breaking out of those boundaries in very conservative, small town white America.

I found those things very gratifying in ways that I would not become fully cognizant of until decades after I watched it, because I came out very late – I was very closeted until probably my mid-to-late 20s, frankly. I somehow always come back to that movie as being a mainstream rom-com that was allowed, for lack of a better term, to be a cultural factor of some kind in the flyover states in the ’90s, early 2000s that gave me that first glimpse.

Even though it did treat homosexuality as a joke sometimes, it got to show what was possible for people who felt trapped in those confines. And for that reason, that is a movie in which I feel seen.

I love that answer so much and completely agree that it’s so multiplicitous, the bi experience, and it’s portrayed so narrowly.

Absolutely, and speaking to that, the very fact that we have to talk about it like this, inadvertently they play into… I feel like the pervading bi stereotype is that we always have to mention that we’re bisexual, to the point where we’re annoying about it.

One thing that I at once felt seen and insulted by is Billy Eichner‘s Bros, the bisexual character in that. His prevailing characteristic is, “As a bisexual person,” and it annoys everybody. But the very nature of our bisexuality, especially in contexts where we’re in monogamous relationships or relationships with someone of the opposite sex and we otherwise don’t read as queer, we do feel invisible. And so, we have no other choice but to say it out loud.

The fact that, before we’ve had a chance to really make ourselves seen, the very fact that we’re speaking out becomes an annoying stereotype. I bristle against that a little bit.

I absolutely agree, and I think that’s part of the challenge of translating bi experiences to the screen: So much of bisexuality is label-less and exploratory in a way that’s not “a phase,” but a way that’s perpetually like, “this fluidity is just naturally a part of me.” And portraying that, translating that is really difficult without, exactly like you said, labeling it explicitly.

There is an element to which I do feel like, to a certain extent, bi women on cinema have been explored more frequently, but that’s mostly as a function of the male gaze because it’s so much easier for male filmmakers in Hollywood to be attracted to bi women as like, “Ooh, they want to f–k me, but also I can watch them make out with this other lady” – the “Wild Things effect,” as I like to call it.

I don’t see it quite as often with stories about bi men, unless it’s these secret coming out stories in which someone has to surrender a traditional form of masculinity to embrace their true self, that kind of thing.

Statistically, you’re right about that – bisexual men are underrepresented in film and television.

Even cinematically, like I said, with bi women in cinema, that is still a very consumable image for a male filmmaker in a male image. The fact that a female character is bisexual isn’t for that female character, it is for the male watching it or the male making it to fulfill a fantasy. Even what crumbs of representation bi women get are sometimes complicated by that context.

(Photo by Paramount Pictures)

What is your favorite film or TV show from your childhood?

I grew up on a farm in downstate Illinois, and my dad is a very traditional sort of guy, very meat-and-potatoes, and he didn’t watch a lot of fantastical stuff, but through various family members and whatnot, we really bonded in my youth over Star Trek. That was something he would watch with me, and obviously I would watch The Next Generation on syndication, like a random episode.

Deep Space Nine was the first show that I was dedicated to watching every episode from front-to-back. In the early days of DVD, that was when I was a teenager, I would save up my paychecks from my small town grocery store that I worked at to buy season DVD sets of Deep Space Nine.

I connected so much to the characters and – taking it full circle, this is something I’ve been lucky enough to write about – the relationship between Captain Sisko in that show and his son really modeled a kind of a loving parent-child dynamic that I always wanted. My father and I are on good terms, but we are very different people. That kind of relationship was something that I always just treasured.

What are you most proud of in your career as a critic so far?

I still consider myself – even at the budding young age of 37 – I still feel very much like a nascent, a neophyte. I’m still finding my footing. I’ll still go through ebbs and flows of my own confidence in my critical voice, but I feel pretty proud of being able to write for places like Consequence and, and even Vulture. I appreciate that outlets that I read and follow and whose critics I love and admire trust me with their byline.

I do have to say my ultimate victory as a critic has to be creating The Spool and something that is so much a labor of love for not just myself, but the people who work so tirelessly for a little website that we just decided to make together. It’s very flattering and gratifying to have people who trust me enough to write for me and to trust my instincts, and to feel trusted in return.

Who are the critics that you have read that inspire your own analysis and your work?

In terms of folks I like and follow now, Matt Zoller Seitz is, I still think, a tremendous crafter of prose, and I think his and my tastes align in really interesting and gratifying ways, right down to I’m pretty sure we’re the only two people who like M. Night Shyamalan‘s After Earth.

Roxana Hadadi is such an incredible critical mind. She has such unique thoughts, she’s so confident, and so assured in her prose. I read her stuff and I’m like, “How can I possibly be in the same league as her?”

And Juan Barquin I think is a really bold voice. I think they celebrate the abject and the undersung and the outsider in art and the deeply, deeply queer and horny in ways that I just could only ever hope to approximate. Reading their stuff always enriches me

And Marya Gates – more like Marya “Greats,” am I right? Just an incredibly rigorous film historian and I really appreciate and respect when critics our age and even younger are taking such an active scholarly interest in classic cinema and keeping those traditions alive in an age where so many movie-going people will look at something that was made before 1980 and be like, “Oh, that old movie.”

And of course, Angelica Bastién is just a titan.

Who is an up-and-coming critic that you are hoping people will check out?

[B.L. Panther] started writing for me at The Spool and has now had the year of a lifetime. In 2022, they won the Rotten Tomatoes Emerging Critics Grant here in Chicago. They are an incredibly strong, unique voice in film criticism. They tackle all kinds of issues from queerness to colonialism to capitalism in ways that have this academic rigor and a deep bench of cinematic history.

They’re absolutely my best friend and I learn from them every single day I talk to them. I’m so proud of them, and I will feel really, really lucky to be in that orbit.

What is the hardest review that you have written so far?

They’re all hard, to be honest. The hardest reviews I have to write are times when I’m assigned a film or I tackle a film and I realize that I need a deeper bench of cinematic knowledge than I have at the time. One of my very first professional reviews for Consequence was for Hou Hsiao-Hsien‘s The Assassin, and I remember that being a particular challenge because I think the other review that I had written up to that point was some direct-to-video Nic Cage thing.

There’s so much more cinematic history I have to learn. I’d seen some wuxia movies at that point, but I was still a very young critic. I wasn’t as versed in it as I should be, and especially on Taiwanese filmmakers like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who does very slow, very deliberate observational works, and to see a wuxia movie filtered through that slower lens, I immediately froze up because I was like, “I don’t know how to write about this.” And so, I just had to breathe through it.

Clint Worthington is the Editor-in-Chief and founder of The Spool, as well as a Senior Writer at Consequence. He has contributed to Vulture, IndieWire, Mediaversity, and Find him on Twitter: @clintworthing.