The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

My top 10 list of expressions I don’t want to see in another film review

with 40 comments


Dear fellow film fans!

To all of you who express your thoughts about movies publicly, either you’re blogging, podcasting or twittering: can I ask for your attention for a moment? There’s something I’d like to say to you.

I bet you’re busy catching up with the last few films of the year to finalize your top-of-the-year lists, so I’ll keep short and go right to the point.

The thing is: I would like all of us to step up our game when we share your thoughts about movies. I want to stop labelling the films I watch with old clichéd labels and I challenge you to do the same.

Those expressions (I think you know which ones I’m referring to, but if you don’t, I’ve listed them below) are not only worn out. They also indicate that the one who uses them is a) too lazy or talentless to come up with something more original and b) sadly dependent on what other people may think, sticking to the established jargon to be on the safe side.

I can see why we use those quick labels: it’s quick and easy. But in the long run it doesn’t make us feel proud of ourselves. It’s not enjoyable to write and even less enjoyable to read or listen to. We can do better.  Our listeners and readers deserve it.

Please note that I say “we”, because I know very well that I’ve been guilty of using some of the expressions I’m just about to list myself. But it’s never too late to change, either we’re talking about diet, exercise or writing habits.

From now on I’m going to do my very best to stop using those pesky labels and if fail at it, please don’t hesitate to point it out to me and give me the verbal spanking I deserve. It takes time to break a habit, but I’m committed to do it.

The Black List of my most hated expressions
When you use this expression you’re basically telling the world that everyone else is wrong about a movie except for you, who know a movies “true” value. There’s nothing wrong about having good self confidence, but isn’t this to bring it a little bit too far, making you a judge over every other film critic? And besides, how do you know? Have you read every film review there is, or do you base your statement on the IMDb rating? If you use this expression, the least you can do is to be precise about whose rating you’re referring to.

A better way to say the same thing could be: “I’ve seen many negative/positive reviews for this movie, but I actually liked/didn’t like it a lot”.

9. Visionary

This word doesn’t say a thing to me, apart from that you probably didn’t understand what the movie was about, but you lack the guts to say so. Use another word, please.

8. Hyped

The popularity/backlash cycles go so fast these days that many films already have been unanimously praised as well as dismissed as “hyped” before they even open.

“Hyped” is a part of the same family as “overrated” and “underrated”, where you make a snap judgment on what other people think about a film. Stop thinking so much about what other people think about a movie. Express your own feelings.

7. Snubbed

This is yet another expression where we think highly of ourselves as superior in our judgement. If you would have made a different choice than a jury of a certain film award, just say so. But snubbed? No. Getting an award is a nice bonus, it’s never a right.

FlawedThere are other opinions on this, but my view is that criticism of any art form always is more or less subjective. In the case of figure skating, it’s “less”. It’s pretty easy to see if someone did nail that quadruple jump or of they fell flat on the ice. But the points given for artistry are a different creature, much trickier. Move forward to movies and it gets even more into the territory of personal taste. “Flawed” implies that everyone in the audience actually saw the skater fall on the ice or translated to movies agreed on that the script/acting/cinematography/directing or whatever was “flawed”. But that is rarely the case. What one person loves is a pet peeve of another one. My suggestion is that you rather address the individual problems you have with the movie. Say what you liked or didn’t like about a film. “Flawed” is a flawed word that should be avoided.

5. Crowd pleaser

I know this word isn’t always used with bad intentions, but in my ears it’s insulting – to the film as well as to anyone who happens to like it. Nobody likes to think of themselves as someone in the “crowd”. In the end we experience movies as individuals. Being successful at the box office doesn’t automatically disqualify a film from holding a high artistic standard. If you didn’t like a movie that a lot of other people liked, feel free to say so. But you can do it without slapping the “crowd pleaser” label to it.

PretentiousThe p-word. Don’t use it. It achieves nothing apart from pissing off a lot of people. It’s ok not to love all the critic darlings and the festival successes. It’s fine to warn people who prefer something more easily digested from watching it. If you think a film is obscure, if it bores and alienates you, if you don’t “get it” at all, if you think it lacks substance, narrative, something to relate to – say this. Without the p-word

3. Masterpiece

I’ve written an entire blog post about my hatred for this word. In short: I think it’s arrogant and pompous.

2. Oscar bait

So the Oscar juries are easy victims to the cynical film industry? If anyone is cynical, it’s the one who uses this expression, implying conspiracies where I’m not so sure there are any. You know I actually think that people make movies about disabled persons for other reasons than to get an Academy award.

last hours backIf you truthfully react like this after watching a movie you didn’t like, you need to pick the movies you watch more carefully. Or rather: you probably shouldn’t go to the movies at all, considering how stressful life you must lead. Of course you’ve already weeded out all other time traps in your life, such as Facebook? Yeah. Thought so.

Making 2013 a better year

So this was my black list. Do you agree or disagree? Feel free to suggest additions to the list, or make your own!

Maybe we differ when it comes to what words that should be blacklisted. But let’s at least agree on one thing: that we should swap the old, tired labels for new, fresh words of our own.

Let’s make 2013 into a better year in regards of how we talk and write about movies!

Written by Jessica

December 26, 2012 at 10:38 pm

40 Responses

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  1. Hear hear! I’ve nothing to add because you’ve pretty much said it all. Also, I need a new Wednesday column now.

    James Blake Ewing

    December 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm

  2. 10,8, and 7 are my least favorite because they don’t have anything to do with the movie. Those are reviews of reviews.

    I think crowd pleaser could be a good one, if it was used as a positive. It could suggest that it has something for everyone, that it delivered what people demanded and expected. In any sane world those would be good things!


    December 26, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    • Re: Crowd pleaser: I wouldn’t rule out that it’s used that way sometimes. But in my ears it’s something negative. In any case it could be interpreted either way and therefor it’s best to avoid it if you want to make yourself clear.


      December 26, 2012 at 11:16 pm

  3. In most cases, I’d also remove the phrases “it sucks”, “I hated it”, “it’s terrible”, “it isn’t trying to be Citizen Kane”, “it’s better than Citizen Kane”, “I don’t like old movies” (even if it’s true), “I didn’t get it”, “it’s boring”, and anything relating to the phrase “chick flick”. That’s just the worst. There are exceptions where some of these do apply, but in general they’re lazy.

    Looking at your list, the one that’s been bugging me lately is “Oscar bait”. I realize there are movies that are trying to get Oscars, but in many cases, it’s the studios who are pushing that narrative. I can see a case where “underrated” is okay when you’re trying to spotlight a hidden gem or make people consider a part of a movie they might not have seen. That said, I’m totally with you on “overrated”. Not good.

    Dan Heaton

    December 26, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    • I’m actually guilty of telling people if I’m completely bored by a film to the extent that I have a hard time staying awake. But I should think if I could come up with some better way to convey this experience than using the word “bored”. Chick flick is a horrible, horrible label! I could definitely extend this list to a top 11 just to get it onto the list!


      December 26, 2012 at 11:20 pm

      • I think there are cases where terms like “boring” or “flawed” can be used well, as long as the explanation is good. In general, you could use most of these phrases if there’s another wit and style to the language. My issue is when it’s lazy writing, which brings out some of these terms.


        December 27, 2012 at 4:41 am

  4. 10.) I dislike “overrated” only because of its dismissive nature; I find “underrated” to be positive and empowering, especially in a culture that loves to kick dirt and pile on. (Besides, “I’ve seen many negative/positive reviews for this movie, but I actually liked/didn’t like it a lot” is pretty clunky.)

    09.) Or, maybe the hypothetical person in question DID know what the film was about, had the guts to say so, but wanted to compliment the film/filmmaker on its/his/her imagination and creativity.

    08.) Films are hyped all the time, whether by marketing, critics, or awards organizations. (But I do agree that this is external ephemera irrelevant to the analysis of a film.)

    07.) “Snubbed” is just too cool a word to ban from your vocabulary.

    06.) Agreed.

    05.) Funny when used ironically. “Yeah, that Lars von Trier, he’s a real crowd-pleaser.”

    04.) Agreed.

    03.) Eh, indifferent.

    02.) A term of frustration slung by the bitter and jaded…but not always incorrectly so.

    01.) Unfunny and hackneyed.


    December 27, 2012 at 12:07 am

    • I think “underrated” is much more acceptable word than “overrated”. It’s got better intentions. I still prefer if you can find other ways to say the same thing.

      Re: visionary I understand the intention but I think you can be more precise when you express it. Be as visionary as the film you’re celebrating!


      December 27, 2012 at 8:28 am

  5. Excellent post Jessica, I agree with you on most of these terms. Some of them don’t bother me as much as others, I guess only when they are used lazily. Or in arrogance. Some writers often express a “I’m right, you’re wrong” tone, and that’s unpleasant to read no matter what words are used.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    December 27, 2012 at 12:26 am

    • Thanks Bonjour Tristesse! Yes, it’s not only the words that bother me, it’s the tone they express. That snarkiness, bitterness, “I’m better than you” attitude… I’ve had enough of it.


      December 27, 2012 at 8:29 am

  6. Although I can’t remember specific instances, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of using these phrases at some time or another – I try my darndest to be more creative in my writing!!


    December 27, 2012 at 12:36 am

    • Haven’t we all? I will probably slip back in the future as well, no matter my good intentions. But at least I can try to move forward in a better direction.


      December 27, 2012 at 8:30 am

  7. I’m mostly fine with this but I would question what word you’d like used instead of flaw to discuss aspects about a film that didn’t work for you. Aren’t those by definitions the film’s flaws? Like, I used the word flaw in my Les Mis review yesterday, a review giving the film a 5/5 and giving it some of the most effusive praise I’ve given a film this year. Does it border on a suggestion that what didn’t work for me is bad in a more universal way? I suppose, I think most opinion writing that isn’t so laden with qualification as to be impossible to read is going to come off that way.


    December 27, 2012 at 1:06 am

    • There’s a difference. It’s one thing to say that you find this and that problem (or “flaws”) with the film, where you are more precise and actually adress the issues you have. It’s another thing to slap on the label “flawed” on the entire film.


      December 27, 2012 at 8:32 am

      • Yeah, I suppose flawed as a general label for a film is itself flawed because there are few if any “perfect” films. So flawed isn’t actually telling you anything about the film.


        December 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm

  8. I’m glad I came out mostly clean, I tend to avoid most of those words as well. I think the only one I use to any degree is “flawed” when I refer to a movie that I feel like I should enjoy because it has most of the elements that I enjoy, but there’s some element that doesn’t work. And I may use “underrated” on occasion to refer to a movie not because it’s disliked, but because it’s lesser known. Though I’m sure I have my own set of words that I over-use, like most of us do.


    December 27, 2012 at 1:52 am

    • Underrated isn’t as bad as the rest of the words on this list. At least it’s used with good, positive intentions.
      I’m pretty sure I’ve got a set of clichés that I use frequently that I’m not even aware of, which probably bother some readers. We all develop our habits after a while It’s like a tic.


      December 27, 2012 at 8:35 am

  9. Guilty as charged. I’m a flawed, overrated blogger who wants the last 463 posts of his blog back. 😉

    A couple of these I’ve used often, and I will make a mental note of this so as to abandon them forever. Great post Jessica. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!


    December 27, 2012 at 6:57 am

    • Thank you Tyler! You can keep using those words as much as you like Tyler as long as you get back to blogging.

      Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you to!


      December 27, 2012 at 8:37 am

  10. Somehow, your posts always seem to hit the movieblogging community right between the eyes 😉 I don’t wholly agree with you on this one and I’ll try to explain why. I feel you take the words too categorically. With perhaps the exception of your number one, all of these words can be used as a marker, _if_ you take the time to explain what you mean by using them.

    The word pretentious actually has several meanings according to SAOL and I see no problem in using it as long as you take the time to explain why you feel this way. I agree that it doesn’t say much to just scream “This movie was bloody pretentious!”, but neither will “This movie was bloody bad!”. Or “This movie was bloody good!”, for that matter.

    The whole difference lie in what you surround all these words with. If you don’t surround them with anything else, of course it will be a bare and lazy review. My point is that it all comes down to the holistics of the text, not which specific words that are used.


    December 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    • The thing is that film criticism today has become sort of snappy. Everything is said in, if not 140 letters, something just above it. I’m afraid that many don’t make the effort to explain their reasons for those labels properly. And if they did… well then they should look a second time at their writing and they’d find that they could rid themselves of the label and just use the explanation.

      I think the labels are products of the not-so-nice sides of internet culture, where people constantly feel the need to come with smart, snarky remarks, often at the expense of others. It’s lazy and there’s also something about the attitude that bugs me.


      December 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm

  11. I really wanted to find a way to use all of the words in my response (because I’m still an evil little troll at heart.) But I understand, though I do think each word has it’s uses, it’s just not how people use them. The word that’s made me cringe most lately is definitely “epic.”

    Holly Hulk (@IncorrectDigit)

    December 27, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    • Epic! Indeed. It’s a word that is overused – mostly connected to games I think, but yes, it’s too worn out for movies as well. It’s just as void as “visionary”.


      December 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm

  12. I’ve never really felt insulted by any of these words, but you make a point here – one should try to explain more specifically why he/she likes or dislikes a movie and not sound arrogant.
    However, I guess I’ve used a few of these expressions… not the first one though, because that’s something I just think you should never say or think. Even watching a “bad” movie can be a helpful or rewarding experience.


    December 27, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    • I’m not exactly insulted by them. I’m just tired of seeing them so overused and I wish more writers went out of their way to come up with some new fresher words (which we then can overuse until they too are worn out ;)).


      December 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm

  13. Nice list! I am in complete agreement with you; film reviews would all be much better if we stayed away from these 10 main offenders. Even though I’ve definitely used a couple of these, it’s always a good exercise for any writer to restrict certain phrases and try to be more specific about something. One of the ones I’ve always avoided is “mixed bag,” as that doesn’t really tell anyone anything.


    December 28, 2012 at 1:00 am

    • “Mixed bag” is another good one to avoid. I’m sure I’ve used it as I’e used several on those lists. All we can do is to strive to become better.


      December 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm

  14. Great piece, but it made my cringe because I definitely over-use some of these.

    Dave Enkosky

    December 28, 2012 at 2:21 am

    • Thanks! Cringing is good! I cringe too thinking of that I’ve used some of those words in the past. Getting aware of it is the first step towards a change.


      December 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm

  15. Well, I don’t think I used these words/phrases very often, but now I’ll think about it when I use them. I still find an occasional use of “underrated” or “masterpiece” acceptable. The other words, though, I’m happy to see go away from movie reviews.

    Steve Kimes

    December 28, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    • Underrated is one of the more innocent words on this list, though I still think it shows a bit of lack of respect for the views of others. Masterpiece is a word I never use myself; I don’t think I’m in the position to decide what is a “masterpiece” or not. Anyway: I’m glad if I can spread some awareness!


      December 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm

  16. […] My top 10 list of expressions I don’t want to see in another film review ( […]

  17. Another one that bugs me lately is “x was another character in the film,” and x is the setting, or the music, or…fill in the blank.


    December 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    • Ouch, I think I may very well have been guilty of using that cliché. But you’re right, it’s overused and should be weeded out. Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll try to avoid it.


      December 30, 2012 at 3:42 pm

  18. Being a bit of a language geek, I’m always looking for new ways to express myself in my posts and there are certain things I write that I know I’ve written several times before and are a bit cliche. With language, though, I think it’s important to be descriptive rather than prescriptive in a lot of cases and there are probably cases in which all of your examples are appropriate. ‘Hyped’, for example, I have no problem with because certain films are hyped to within an inch of their life by reviews and marketing but just as long as it’s used in context, I think it’s alright. One thing that does get to me at times, which I know I do, is name dropping other films and directors that have nothing to do with the film to describe it, such as “this film is what Citizen Kane would have been if it was made by David Lynch” or “it’s like Wes Anderson on acid.” Come to think of it, anything “on acid” is also quite annoying 🙂

    Nice post Jessica! 🙂

    Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop

    December 30, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    • Thanks! We’ve all got different hang-ups. Those things you’re mentioning hasn’t bothered me – until now. Now I might start thinking about them after you pointed them out. 🙂


      December 30, 2012 at 8:13 pm

  19. Damn Jessica! I’m guilty on occasion of a couple of these. I don’t like to use masterpiece very often but it has been known. Under/Overrated is probably a common one with me. Mainly Underrated but I’ll try to do more to omit it.

    Mark Walker

    January 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm

  20. […] My top 10 list of expressions I don’t want to see in another film review […]

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