At one point in Miracle Mile, the first book-length work from Walter Chaw, the Film Freak Central critic writes about how his father's death shifted his perspective on things. Now, he tells us, "I demand that movies show me more about myself. I wonder about tidy endings—they make me angry. I don't believe them." Most cinephiles can point to a critic who left a lasting influence on them, whose words helped chart a course through the vast and mystifying expanse of a century-and-change of world cinema. When I started to realize that movies were more than a way to kill time and would indeed become a large part of my life, I was reading a lot of Chaw. In his reviews, that quality of the demand—of actively searching for what a film has to give—is one of his defining traits.
His most visible reviews, the ones that get quoted and relinked, are often the ones in which those demands aren't met. When he brutally eviscerates movies, it's not for their failure to entertain, but for the wretchedness of their ideologies, as when he recently savaged Transformers: Dark of the Moon as "good, all-American, Patriot Act and Internet-smut fun that will send your handsome white sons off to die in war, armed to the teeth with all the metal-fetish, extreme xenophobia, and sexual frustration this film can pump into them."
But even without the acid, he carries the conviction that movies aren't just singular pieces of art, but also reflections of their milieu, and that when we look at them, we're looking at the desires and neuroses and primal fears lurking in our social psyche. His writing rarely leans on the insular jargon of academia, but probably taught me more clearly than most professors that the zeitgeist is a thing and context matters.