It can be tricky writing about film, when your views don’t seem to fit the hive mind: a few thoughts, not least on how to find some self-belief.

I have a pretty tight rule when writing pieces for Film Stories that I try not to do snarky, punch-down writing. I’m happy to pull the leg of a few things of course, but there’s not anything nasty behind it. That’s the same with this piece, which I hope comes across is about one thing, but really, it’s about another. That little caveat is here at the start of the article because I’m going to be talking about a recent piece of work I had problems with.

I think anyone writing about film, or putting their thoughts out into the public domain to a degree, does so at some point with some degree of self-doubt. I certainly get it: am I the right person to review a film? I look at two films that came out last week in UK cinemas for instance – Save The Cinema and The Tragedy Of Macbeth – and it was the former that got the sniffy reviews, the latter that got the great ones. For me, I watched them both, and hugely enjoyed the former, and was non-plussed – with caveats – by the latter.


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But that puts me at odds with many of the brilliant professional movie critics, who have more experience, and more insight than me. I hugely respect film critics, and in truth never consider myself one. I always feel I’m one step away from being found out, and live with a generous dose of imposter syndrome. And I know in my heart of hearts that technically, The Tragedy Of Macbeth is a more impressive piece of film than Save The Cinema. I also know that I’m expected to like it more. But I don’t, and I’m a terrible liar.

It wasn’t always so. In a much earlier part of my life, I reviewed videogames. I spent ages on the reviews, but I confess I’d take a look at what the other reviews had said too once I’d written mine up. If there was a moment – and it happened once or twice – where my view was widely apart from everyone else’s, I’d panic. Because this is how the human brain likes to tease us, right? By making us think that everyone else is right, and we’re wrong?

It took some time before I could be entirely honest, and by myself in my writing. I found that groove in my time at Den Of Geek, and I can’t go back now. But I also know – and this isn’t me cutting myself off at the kneecaps – that I can’t do what the likes of newspaper critics do. I can’t formulate rounded thoughts on every release every week. There are too many films I see where I’m simply not sure where to begin. And that’s before we get to the fact that I had a meeting at the British Film Institute once, and asked the (lovely) people there didn’t they just fancy watching Con Air at night sometimes?

But every now and then, something happens in the film industry that makes me think I’m not always wrong. And it reminds me that we’re all human, that to a degree we’re all just reading things the best we can. That we have human brains, not computers, and imperfections not only come with that, but are valid and interesting.

Samantha Morton in Save The Cinema

Save The Cinema

Which brings me on to the film House Of Gucci, and Jared Leto’s already-infamous supporting performance in the film. Just to be clear on my position: it’s a long, long time since I saw a performance in a major Hollywood movie that I found so jarring and out of sorts. It didn’t just take me slightly out of the film, it may as well have sawn a hole around my seat and dropped me into a singalong screening of Frozen playing downstairs. To my eyes and ears, it was, well, not Jared Leto’s finest work.

Over the past week though, I’ve been reading that it’s a performance which has landed on the longlist for the BAFTA Best Supporting Actor award. That Leto has been nominated too for a Screen Actors Guild award, a Critics’ Choice Movie award and a Satellite Award for his work in House Of Gucci. As we reported yesterday, Leto is keen to revisit the role too.

Take the Screen Actors Guild gongs. These are voted for by primarily actors, as you’d expect. They see something in that performance that I couldn’t spot with a pair of extremely powerful binoculars. This respected Guild has nominated some terrific performances this year – I still applaud Troy Kotsur’s work in CODA, 12 months after I first saw it – and again, I admire that.

But also, there’s nothing I’ve read or seen that leaves me thinking the specific performance being discussed was anything other than over the top pantomime. And it’s grounding moments like that I find genuinely quite useful. With something like The Tragedy Of Macbeth, I lose my grounding: I must be doing something wrong, not to get out of the film what everyone else seems to be getting out of it? But with something like Leto’s nomination – again, fully respecting that others see this differently – it feels so bizarre, I can’t help but feel reassured. To think there’s a bit of Emperor’s New beautifully designed Clothes about it all. And realise, you know what? I don’t have to agree, and it doesn’t make me less good at what I do for thinking he wasn’t very good in the film.

It’s a curious path to an obvious conclusion. That I think what we need is less hive mind, more individuality in writing. A willingness – and boy, did it take me a long, long time to realise this – to trust our own brains and thoughts a little more. Self-confidence is a hell of a battle sometimes, especially when putting words and thoughts out to be read and responded to online. The hostility that can sometimes greet those words when you go against the norm even though in your heart of hearts you know you’re being true to yourself can be quite offputting. But still: if you prefer the film others aren’t championing, find a way to champion it. If you see something clearly in your eyes, then find a way to constructively express that. And don’t necessarily be lulled by the feeling that everybody else knows what they’re doing, and you don’t.

I never thought I’d say it as I watched the credits for House Of Gucci roll, but: thanks Jared.

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