Cinema on the Web
The internet is a socio-cultural phenomenon that has blown away the barriers that once segregated national art movements and audiences. Nowadays, artists ply their trade on a global platform, unimpeded by marketing restraints, a lack of distribution, censorship, and legal technicalities. Perhaps the most telling effect of the impact of the internet on the arts world is the thriving international culture of cinephilia.
There has never been a better time to be a film enthusiast, thanks to the seemingly limitless resources of the internet. With a few clicks, one can access films that are unavailable in local markets. Watching films, however, is not the only the reason why serious film fans revere the internet. It is the wealth of information on films and people who make films, and the abundance of discussion forums populated with likeminded souls on the internet that completes this most wonderful equation.
It is this article’s design to highlight the websites where one can learn in-depth about a film and its history, as well as those that provide critical guidance for discovering great cinema – in no particular rank or order.
Let us begin with a website that every movie buff knows of, the Internet Movie Database. As the name suggests, this website primarily functions as the most comprehensive catalogue of films in the world. It is an invaluable reference tool, with detailed filmographies and links to movie reviews and news. It has a popularity gauge for every film – a public rating system out of ten – which is often unreliable when it comes to arthouse cinema. Nevertheless, it is possibly the most visited film site on the planet, and one that comes in handy for fans of all kinds of films.
Metacritic covers new releases in film, television, music, and video games, with an overwhelming emphasis on Hollywood in its film section. The format is structured on the basis of numerous professional reviews in leading American magazines and newspapers. All new releases, as well as older films, are rated on a scale of hundred, which is an aggregate score based on how favourably critics responded to the film. I find the Metacritic score to be a more reliable indicator for seeking out new Hollywood films than the IMDB popularity vote, although there isn’t much functionality to Metacritic other than the critical scoresheet. Still, it is a worthy site because not only does it help one choose which new films to watch and which to avoid, it also helps in keeping a tab on upcoming releases. I’d like to add that though this site is similar to the more popular Rotten Tomatoes; I prefer Metacritic because it has a better format and is easier to navigate.
MUBI is where film viewing and discussion finally unite on a single platform. It is fundamentally an online theatre that also promotes a social networking aspect through user discussions about the films presented on the website. Users can sign up for a free account, which includes a personal page where they can rate and review films as well as interact with other users. The website utilises a stylish and modern design, with an attractive grey and green colour scheme. At its core, it is a site that makes great films from festivals around the world accessible to anyone through high-definition video streaming.
MUBI was created with the idea that just because a film is popular doesn’t mean it is necessarily worth watching; while placing a special emphasis on auteur cinema. Interestingly, most of its users prefer arthouse and world cinema over conventional American studio films. This is a great place to get familiar with the cinematic underground, and is highly recommended for cinema lovers who want to move out of their comfort zone and discover lesser known masterpieces from around the world. The interactive and reactive aspects of the site make MUBI an essential stopover for film lovers.
We now approach an altogether different breed of critic than Ebert, one whose paramount objective is to illuminate those films that are overlooked in the mainstream press. Jonathan Rosenbaum is one of the most respected critics in art film circles, and has written for some of the leading film publications in the world. With a forty year history in film criticism and over a dozen books to his name, he is a seasoned writer whose style of prose could be described as lucid, elegant and distinct. His analysis of film substance and structure is revealing and educational, and Rosenbaum is highly perceptive in his interpretations. Even one of the greatest directors of all times, Jean-Luc Godard, has praised Rosenbaum, singling him out as the pre-eminent critic working today.
Rosenbaum’s website is a collection of his various essays and long reviews on films and directors from all over the world. Although his website has a rudimentary structure with an underdeveloped search function, the wealth of superior criticism in the form of his lengthy articles and detailed essays more than makes up for these deficiencies.
The well-known film critic, Roger Ebert has been reviewing films for over forty years. He is the first film critic to win a Pulitzer Prize for criticism, as well as being the only professional film critic to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He focuses on American cinema, though he enumerates prominent films from the rest of the world, as well. His reviews are enjoyable and easy to read, and most casual film fans will find Ebert to be sufficiently reliable.
His site has all new films conveniently reviewed on the main page, a search box for older reviews, and a noteworthy best films feature. It’s hard to go wrong with Ebert.
Dave Kehr is an American film critic with an astute sensibility and a free-flowing writing style. His reviews are penetrating and well written. Kehr’s website will especially appeal to those with an interest in the golden period of Hollywood.
David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson
This blog, entitled ‘Observations on film art’, is maintained by a film historian and theorist couple, David Bordwell and his wife Kristin Thompson. Film theory is a refreshing attitude towards the art of cinema, as Bordwell and Thompson carefully display in their essays. They are not interested in praising certain films over others, but rather concerned with the inner mechanics of filmic style and narrative structure. They use a methodological approach, neoformalism, based on the observations first made by the literary theorists known as the Russian formalists. It makes for a highly engaging blog, offering its readers a range of ideas and philosophies.
Senses of Cinema
Senses of Cinema (SOC) is an online film journal committed to the serious and eclectic discussion of film art. It publishes work by many notable film critics, as well as interviews with and essays by some of today’s leading filmmakers. It has an excellent section on directors, acknowledging their achievements from an auteurist’s point of view. It also boasts a massive top ten lists section, submitted by hundreds of film students and academics. SOC is a site that is a lot of fun to peruse, providing hours of entertaining reading material.
In their own words, Reverse Shot is ‘an outlet for the next generation of film writers.’ This is a quarterly, independently published online film journal that is host to a slew of intelligent young writers with a clear passion for cinema. Their coverage is finely balanced between Hollywood and World Cinema, offering stable arguments for their strong opinions. The end of the year list is a bonus for cineholics.
They Shoot Pictures Don’t They
TSPDT serves a fantastic purpose: it aims to gather every best film list ever published and assimilate their votes into one single poll. This, in turn, devises a ranking system that truly reflects critical consensus through the site’s greatest films list, that places the most acclaimed films in the highest positions. Their section on directors is also comprehensive and offers valuable information.