(Photo by Lisa Jane Persky; Paramount Pictures; Cinecom Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection; Kerry Hayes/TM & © Fox Searchlight Pictures/All Rights Reserved/Courtesy Everett Collection)
“Know Your Critic” is a column in which we interview Tomatometer-approved critics about their screening and reviewing habits, pet peeves, and personal favorites.
Alonso Duralde is Film Reviews Editor at TheWrap. He has contributed to The Village Voice, Movieline, The Advocate, and MSNBC. He’s also a podcast host and an author. And he really hopes you’re not taking his – and other critics’ – Fresh/Rotten designations at face value.
“I think Rotten Tomatoes is a great resource for providing links and a look at critical consensus,” he told Rotten Tomatoes in an interview late last year. “I hope that people take the time to click on individual reviews and get to know the work of individual critics, because we have more to say than ‘up or down.’“
Duralde is the author of 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men and Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. His latest book, I’ll Be Home For Christmas Movies (co-authored with Brandon Gray, Daniel Pandolph, and Daniel Thompson), published last year, is yet another definitive guide.
With all his expertise in cinematic cheer, what’s Duralde’s favorite holiday movie?
“Look, I’m an American – I have to say It’s a Wonderful Life because it is indeed our national Christmas movie,” Duralde said. “It is the closest that we’ve ever come to creating our own version of A Christmas Carol, and it is genuinely a great movie. I mean, not just a great Christmas movie, but a great movie. It’s one that I re-watch every year and am constantly marveling at everything it contains.”
In Rotten Tomatoes’ first Know Your Critic interview of the New Year, Duralde shared more of his favorites – the Rotten, the Fresh, and the classics – and expertise in film criticism.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about critics?
People think we hate movies. And if we did, then we really picked the wrong profession. You have to really love movies to be a critic.
I think that people will read reviews that are negative and just decide that means that we hate everything. And really, what it is, is disappointment. Because I think that every critic walks into every movie, at least with a glimmer of hope that we’re going to see something that’s going to knock us out, that’s going to be something that we’ve never seen before, that’s going to change the way we look at film – the way we look at the world. And when we see movies that fall short of that, we call them out for it.
What’s the last movie to made you feel that way?
In the film Until the End of the World, people become obsessed with downloading their own dreams into a device and spending all day watching them on a screen. His movies to me feel the closest like entering into a dream-state and being projected dreams by someone. His movies almost bypass big parts of your brain and just go right into your subconscious.
What do you think makes a good movie?
Huh. Good movie? I mean, it’s funny. Really, I think this probably happens to a lot of us. Whenever we write a bad review of a popcorn movie – of an action film or a comedy – invariably, some whiner on the internet will be like, “Well, not everything has to be an Oscar-winning drama.” Which, A) Oscar-winning dramas often are super boring. And B) There are good popcorn movies and there are bad popcorn movies.
So, I think whatever the genre is – whether you are trying to make an important piece of art, whether you want to make people laugh, whether you want to just punch the sort of dopamine centers of viewers’ brains – I think effort is what makes a good movie. And I think not being cynical about it – that you’re not creating product, you’re actually creating a film. I think that’s the difference, and you can tell the difference.
What has been your favorite film of the year?
I’ve been going back and forth, but I suspect that my favorite of this year is going to wind up being Licorice Pizza. That’s a movie that really put me into a time and place. And I mean, I was six in 1973, but the director was three.
I felt like I was revisiting a world that I was vaguely familiar with, and I didn’t want to leave. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I sat through the credits, not thinking that I was going to get a button or a clue of what the next Marvel movie was going to be. I just didn’t want to get up out of the theater yet.
I love that feeling.
It’s like sitting in the car in the driveway to hear the rest of the song.
(Photo by Kerry Hayes/TM & © Fox Searchlight Pictures. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Everett Collection.)
When you’re planning to review something, do you go in cold? Like, no trailers, no articles, no nothing?
Ideally, yes. I don’t watch trailers. Sometimes people goof on me about that! But my favorite thing is getting to walk into a movie as tabula rasa as possible. And it’s hard to do, if you’re on Twitter or whatever.
The thing that I love about festivals is when a movie’s screening for the first time and no one has seen it, and I’ve managed to avoid seeing the trailer. I’ve gotten to see movies like The Shape of Water with absolutely no idea what they were even about.
That’s the best example of a movie to go into without context.
When you are reviewing, do you read other people’s reviews before writing your own?
Oh, God, never. Never, never, never. I don’t like to talk to other critics after a movie’s over about the movie we just saw. I never read other people’s reviews. I mean, I’ll read them later, for critics that I like to read, to see where we differ and where we agree on things. But before I write a review, I can’t be exposed to anybody else’s, because it’s very easy, even if you’re not conscious of it, to get swayed.
Who are some fellow critics whose work you admire?
Oh, man, a lot. Manohla Dargis, obviously – I always say she’s who I want to be when I grow up. Monica Castillo and Clint Worthington and Jason Bailey. And Matt Zoller Seitz – we’ve been friends for a long time and his insights always blow me away, even though we disagree with some frequency. That’s part of the fun of all of this.
Is there an up-and-coming critic that you want people to check out?
I am going to brag on Carlos Aguilar, just because he’s one of my writers at TheWrap – although he obviously is writing for the LA Times and New York Times and a lot of other venues who are lucky enough to have him. I think that he brings a lot to the table as a Latinx writer who is a Dreamer, but I think also just as somebody who really understands film.
So often I think what we’re looking for with critics is not just a Fresh, Rotten, thumbs up, thumbs down, but why. Like, walk me through your process. “Show your work,” as your math teacher used to say. And with Carlos, I always feel like I understand why he is talking about things the way he’s talking about them, why he responds to things or doesn’t respond to things.
(Photo by Paramount Pictures. Courtesy Everett Collection.)
What is your favorite thing that is Rotten on the Tomatometer?
There’s quite a few out there, but I love to give it up in the hopes of one day creating a cult, for Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. I think is a wildly misunderstood movie, and I think it’s really charming. I love a kid’s film about death, and I’m not being ironic when I say that. I love the sort of visual wildness to it.
One of my favorite movies of all time is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and I think this movie has that same sense of creating this world that you dream of as a child that feels tangible and realistic and occupied by real people. And I think it’s a movie that is due for reexamination.
What’s your favorite film from your childhood?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably the movie I’ve seen more times than any other film that I’ve ever watched. It’s a movie that I loved as a kid and then rediscovered in college and truly came to appreciate how completely dark it is. I just think it’s so smart, and that Gene Wilder performance is one for the ages. If it’s showing on a plane, that’s one of the options, I will watch it again happily.
What’s something that you consider “required viewing”?
I would say that F.W. Murnau’s 1927 Sunrise. If you’ve never seen a silent movie, prepare to have your mind blown. And if you know silent film, but have never seen Sunrise, again, prepare to have your mind blown.
It’s a film that was made… It’s funny, it was the first year of the Academy Awards and the last year before talkies really took over. And he’s doing such incredible things with the camera to tell the story.
It’s been said often that that if talkies had come a year or two later, the visual language of cinema would’ve gone so much further before everything got anchored to the microphone, basically.
It’s a visually beautiful film. It’s emotionally moving. And I think if people haven’t seen it, they’re missing out on a great movie.
(Photo by ©Cinecom Pictures. Courtesy Everett Collection.)
What were you watching the first time you saw yourself on screen and what did you relate to about that character or that story?
I mean, there have been different versions along the years of facets of myself that I’ve seen in movies. One that always comes to mind is: There’s an early queer indie from the 1980s called Parting Glances. I saw it not long after I was in my first relationship.
There were just specific moments about the two lead characters and their life at home and what their cohabitation looked like and what their sort of easy physicality looked like that I recognized. And it was this sort of jolt of like, “Oh, okay. So this is what relationships look like. This is what my relationship looks like, and I’m seeing in a movie for the first time.”
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I’ve been doing a podcast (@linoleumcast) with my husband for 11 years now, and that’s been a really rewarding experience. He’s also a film critic. And so, I love getting to have an appointment to talk with him about new movies every week. And I love the audience that we’ve managed to grow over that time. It’s not the most gigantic, but I would venture to say that they’re one of the more connected ones. We hear from them a lot – they respond to us, we get great letters from them, and we hear from them on social media.
I think a lot of podcasts tend to come and go because people move on to other stuff, or they lose interest. And so, the fact that we’ve been steadily doing this thing for more than a decade now, I really feel like we’ve built something.
Is there someone in your life who isn’t a critic whose opinion you seek out on movies?
I love talking to people in my life who aren’t film critics about things that aren’t movies. So not exactly. Although I will say that my oldest brother, who is a retired physician, is part of the reason that I became obsessed with movies as a kid. He came home from college with all of these books about Alfred Hitchcock and Greta Garbo and MGM’s glory years and that kind of thing, and that’s what really set me down this path of my life.
What is the hardest review that you have ever written?
It’s hard to think of one single one. I will say the hardest reviews to write in general are movies that you really, really love because you have to figure out something to say about them where you don’t sound like you’re doing The Chris Farley Show: “That was great,” you know?
And also, you want to do it justice and you want to inspire people to see it. That’s a lot to shoulder, so you have to really kind of unpack what it is that you responded to, and why you think it’s so great, and convey that in a way that is clearly understandable and that will ideally make other people want to check it out as well.