How do you make a film critic scream? Tell them what a great job they have, getting paid “just” to sit and watch movies. It’s that J-word that gets us every time. Certainly, being a film critic is the best job in the world if we’re talking First Man, Three Billboards, or the new Mission: Impossible. Everybody loves the good times. But where were you when we were up to our oxters in Adam Sandler and Eddie Murphy? When Sex Lives of the Potato Men, Fifty Shades and Norbit had to be endured, sober?

As any critic will tell you, while adopting a 500-yard stare straight out of Apocalypse Now, sometimes it can be hell out there in the free seats. But yes, it can also be heaven, which is one reason why the budding film critic in your family or class should enter The Herald and IntoFilm’s young film critic competition. Winners will have their reviews published in The Herald and receive a film goodie bag.

There have been film critics as long as there have been films. Rumour has it when the first feature film, The Story of the Kelly Gang, arrived in 1906, there was a critic on hand to welcome it into the world with a sneer and two stars. The form’s heyday was the 1970s. This was the era of the critic as opinion former, the maker or breaker of movies. Roger Ebert (who won a Pulitzer in 1975), Pauline Kael, and Philip French, all sadly departed, were among those who made the job respectable, and covetable.

Today, the business has changed out of all recognition. It is still about watching films, but getting to see them is more difficult, and there are far fewer paying jobs around.

Half the battle, oddly enough, is seeing films. In London critics have three days of screenings every week, plus extra, long-lead screenings in the evenings. In Scotland, we have one day a fortnight. Some distributors, such as Fox, are very good at screening their titles. It is no coincidence that Fox is the only major distributor with a dedicated Scottish PR based in Edinburgh. Smaller distributors generally make their titles available via a password-locked internet link.

To see films, particularly the turkeys the distributors would rather slip into cinemas without comment, a critic has to become like those tornado chasers who track storms across America’s weather badlands. I’ve travelled to Inverness in the middle of winter to catch a midnight screening in a car park. Round trips of 800 miles to London, depart 4.30am, back on the sleeper, are not uncommon. Many a Sunday morning and a weekday evening is spent going to preview screenings set up by magazines and credit card companies. Little wonder that when the Glasgow and Edinburgh film festivals come along critics will gorge from morning till midnight, storing away those future releases like so much food for winter.

Scottish film critics keep doing it because, without sounding too sappy about it, we believe Scottish readers should have the chance to read reviews of films when they are released in Scotland (movies out in London can take weeks to come here), by local reviewers attuned to their audiences’ sensibilities. Which is one of many, many reasons you will never see a Johnny English movie with a five star review in Scotland.

Newspapers worth the cover price think so, too, hence why major titles such as The Herald have always had their own dedicated critic. BBC Radio Scotland gives a similar importance to film with a one hour review show every week. STV used to be of similar mind, but it jettisoned the hugely popular Moviejuice, despite it pulling in bigger audiences in Scotland than EastEnders. Given the popularity of cinema going in Scotland, it is extremely disappointing that the new BBC channel does not have its own film programme, or general arts review show.

As for paid gigs, the internet has cut a swathe through the ranks of professional movie reviewers. Today, anyone with an internet connection can host a blog and play movie reviewer. They come, they go, studios love them because they are more fan-boys than critics. Professional critics will be there week after week. Readers develop a relationship with them and vice versa, and it is a bond built on trust. The reader has to trust that the critic is giving their honest opinion, right or wrong. After that, it is up to the reader. There is nothing more satisfying for a critic than to hear someone took a chance on a film on your recommendation and loved it.

Equally, a paid critic can steer readers away from the awful and the boring without fear or favour. A good critic never forgets that their first duty is to the reader; it’s your precious night out, your money at stake, so if a film sucks like Dracula, we’ll say so. We answer to you and our editors, not the film companies.

Okay, then, you got me. Strictly between us, being a film critic is a wonderful life. It is a job I’ve had the privilege of doing for 12 years now. I hope I only stop doing it if I ever fall out of love with the movies. So far it is a love that has lasted a lifetime and does not look like going anywhere any time soon.

Five tips for writing a film review

  1. Have an intro that grabs the attention.
  2. Follow with a brief summary of what the film is about and your general take on it. No spoilers.
  3. Elaborate and comment on performances, direction, music
  4. Don’t forget the stars: many critics hate the bluntness, but it focuses the mind and is a useful summary for readers.
  5. Sum up your verdict

Do your worst

The only good thing about a bad movie for a critic is slaughtering it afterwards. Here are some of the finest takedowns:

Roger Ebert on North (1994)

“I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.”

Rita Kempley on Battlefield Earth (2000)

"A million monkeys with a million crayons would be hard-pressed in a million years to create anything as cretinous as Battlefield Earth." Washington Post

Anthony Lane on Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

“It marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion." The New Yorker

How to enter

Ask your teacher, youth group leader or home educator to visit to see what is showing near you.

Send your review, which should be a maximum of 300 words, to, or post free to FREEPOST RTAE-BAZG-CSZZ, FILMCLUB Damasco House, 31 Islington Green, London N1 8DU.