BREAKING: The critics didn't much like these films!


Last two picture shows standing:
A few weeks ago, we were struck by a peculiar phenomenon.

The Shape of Water had been showered with 13 Oscar nominations, one of the largest numbers ever. But mainstream critics had placed it on very few top ten lists.


At the Washington Post, The Shape of Water didn't make Ann Hornaday's list of the year's ten best. At the New York Times, it didn't make A. O. Scott's top ten list—and Manohla Dargis didn't include it in her list of the year's forty best films!

To peruse all lists, click here.
(Scott included The Shape of Water along his eleven honorable mentions.)

As it turned out, this phenomenon was observed wherever mainstream lists were displayed—except in Los Angeles, where The Shape of Water appeared on the bulk of top ten lists.

This week, we watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri—the film which was, by most accounts, the next-to-last picture show standing. When we checked, we were surprised to see that Three Billboards appeared on even fewer top ten lists than The Shape of Water.

By most accounts, Three Billboards shaped up as this year's runner-up for Best Picture Oscar. It actually won the Golden Globe for Best Drama.

How little love did it get from mainstream critics? Let's take a look at the record:

At the Washington Post, Three Billboards didn't make Hornaday's top ten list. At the New York Times, it didn't make Scott's list of 21, or Dargis' list of last year's top forty.

How did it do elsewhere? At the Los Angeles Times, three different critics published top ten lists. Three Billboards didn't appear on any of the lists.

The AP published two top ten lists. It didn't make either one.

It did make USA Today's top ten list—indeed, it was ranked number 2. It made the Wall Street Journal's unranked top ten list, failed to post at the Chicago Tribune or the Christian Science Monitor.

In sum, of those dozen newspaper lists, Three Billboards made the top ten on just two. Nor did matters improve at other mainstream publications.

Three Billboards didn't make the cut at either Time or Newsweek. It didn't make The New Yorker's list of the year's top 35 films.

It failed to make the cut at Vanity Fair, Esquire, Vogue or New York magazine (two lists). It missed the cut at Slate and Salon—and at Vox, The Daily Beast and the (New York) Observer.

It failed to make either of the two lists at NPR. It missed the cut at CBS News and at the BBC.

The Atlantic rated Three Billboards as the year's third best film; Rolling Stone placed it at number 4. But of the 31 mainstream lists we checked, Three Billboards made the top ten on only four lists. That seems like an amazingly poor showing, given the love the film apparently got from within the Tinseltown guild—and from the Hollywood foreign press, which awards the Golden Globes.

Why did the last two picture shows standing do so poorly among mainstream (American) critics? We'll guess the answer has to do with the way these films relied on stereotypes which sometimes rose to the level of the creation of Monster.

(The Shape of Water's reliance on "stereotype" was mentioned by several critics. We'd say the film is more aptly said to have relied on the longing for Monster.)

Just for the record, no—this doesn't happen every year. Last year, Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar—and it appeared on virtually every mainstream top ten list, often at number 1, the highest ranking possible.

To peruse those lists, click here.

Insiders said the Oscar race came down to The Shape of Billboards. Mainstream critics withheld their love from these two films.

We'll leave you with two questions:

First, why do you think the mainstream critics didn't much love these films? But also, why hasn't this surprising pattern been discussed?

In answering that final question, please consider the way big business works, including the newspaper business. Given the shape of the newspaper business, there will sometimes be certain facts which may tend to disappear.


  1. Rex Reed's review:

    (a Loopy, Lunkheaded Load of Drivel)

  2. Huh. Moonlight was boring. Both La La Land and Manchester by the Sea I couldn't even finish. Film critics, eh?

    1. Tastes differ. For me Moonlight was the best movie I saw in the last 2 years.

    2. "Tastes differ."

      Then again, here's two trolls with no taste.

    3. More good news for the little people who have had enough, thank you very much, of the elites taking a giant shit on them:

      Mick Mulvaney's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Doesn't Do a Lot of Consumer Protecting

      Who better to police the predatory lenders than a former CEO of a predatory lender?

    4. I think David liked Moonlight in the same way that his wife is a liberal and he used to be a Democrat, and the same way that his family includes black and Jewish members. Being a troll means never having to tell the truth.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I come here for the learning; "often at number 1, the highest ranking possible." You just don't get that on any other blog. Have not seen the water monster, but thought "Three Billboards..." was like a "Saturday Night Live" sketch - it had a terrible ending.

    1. Worse, it had over-the-top acting, dreadful plot loopholes, a lackluster Woody Harrelson, and... just a dumb vehicle for Frances McDormand to chew scenery and act pissed and kick ankles/balls or lob molotov cocktails with impunity -
      seriously. Was it an Eastwood western or a modern drama? Morgan Freedman makes a cameo, but for what, God knows - I guess to give it that Million Dollar Baby blessing - seems to have worked. Meh.

  5. Shape of Water had the third highest number of first place results based on the metacritic data:

    "Get Out" with 36 (out of 48 critics);
    "Call Me By Your Name" with 31 (out of 51 critics);
    "The Shape of Water" with 25 (out of 53 critics)
    The only other movie to come close was "The Florida Project", with 24 out of 44 critics.

    For "The Shape of Water", I won't bother asking which of the 25 critics we're "mainstream" vs the other 28. That seems like a fool's errand.

    (What purpose does it serve to claim that the "Los Angeles" critics liked it more than the "mainstream critics"? Are Los Angeles critics more "elitist" or more nefarious liberals than the "mainstream" ones?)

    "Moonlight" had an unusually high consensus of critics' picks the year it won.

    When "Birdman" won in 2015, only 12 critics rated it number one, versus 72 who put "Boyhood" in first place.

    "The King's Speech" won in 2011, with only 3 critics placing it in their top 10; meanwhile, 22 critics ranked "The Social Network" at number one that same year; it was also top of the list by other scores , while The King's Speech was a dismal eighth.

    What does all this mean? That critics don't always agree with Hollywood. Somerby suggests...nay knows...that this year, 2018, it must have something to do with the evil way Hollywood elites create stereotypes of conservatives and offer them up to the dumb, unwitting liberal masses, who don't realize they are being played.

    Maybe professionals in Hollywood have other reasons than critics to like a movie.

    Or is anyone willing to fit "The King's Speech" and "Birdman" into Somerby's "theory."

    1. The King's Speech was a BBC drama, Birdman was a nice little skit about off Broadway. I watched both without realizing they were "best picture". Pleasant movies, nothing awesome. I'd hoped to like Three Billboards - it was entertaining in Gogol kind of way - all the spite and banana peels out in the open to trip over.
      But "Childhood"? How could they pick Birdman over Childhood? Okay, a few votes I understand, but to win? The system is bizarre.

    2. Maybe Childhood wasn't Gogol enough for the Academy.

    3. Maybe Boyhood didn't win for the same reason Get Out didn't win ... because it was vastly overated, boring as fuck and not that good.

      I'll tell you a good movie. What Price Hollywood.

  6. "But also, why hasn't this surprising pattern been discussed? "

    Because no one cares. And no one knows what the hell you're talking about, Bob.

    1. Does Somerby even know that the Foreign Press votes on the Golden Globes whereas the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences votes on the Oscars? Neither of those two groups includes critics.

  7. The best answer to Somerby's question about why critics judgments don't match the Oscar outcomes is that critics are not the people who vote on the Oscars. In the specific categories, such as best actor or actress, actors and actresses vote. Directors vote for best director. All of the members of the academy vote on Best Picture. That means they are a group of people contributing to films in a wide variety of ways from technical to costumes and makeup, set design, writing and producing/directing. These people all have very different perspectives on film than critics do.

    This was one of the main points of Birdman. It isn't surprising critics didn't like it, given the way critics are regarded and portrayed in the film. I thought Birdman was one of the most truly original and technically proficient, creative and innovative films in a very long time. I was ecstatic when it won. I hated La La Land and disliked The King's Speech intensely. But I'm just an audience member and a sometime member of the liberal elite, depending on how many words I write here during the day.

  8. I don't know if this is a good film, but the trailer is promising.

    1. Putin banned the film and arrested the Director - life imitating art.

    2. No, Uncle Vova has not arrested Armando Iannucci.

  9. Who listens to critics anymore? If a garbage movie features a gay theme it is practically guaranteed universal acclaim. and if it features a Christian theme it is universally panned, regardless of merit. Portrayals of non-dysfunctional families are poison as far as reviews. Critics are agenda-driven and most people know this by now.