Christopher Nolan was awarded the best director prize this year from the New York Film Critics Circle thanks to his blockbuster “Oppenheimer,” and he used his acceptance speech to wax poetic on his appreciation for film criticism. He alluded to the fact that his love for the profession has only deepened in recent years as the rise of social media and other outlets have turned every casual moviegoer into a critic with a platform to express his or her opinion.
“Directors have a complex emotional relationship with critics and criticism,” he told the audience during the Jan. 4 ceremony at New York City’s Tao Downtown. “A question we’re always asked is: do we read reviews? Let’s start with the fact that I’m British. A typical family gathering will involve relatives saying to me, ‘You know, Christopher. You probably shouldn’t open The Guardian today.’”
Nolan summed up his appreciation for film criticism by telling a story about how he was once using his Peloton for a workout class only to have the instructor pan one of his movies. The Oscar nominee did not disclose which film it was, but clearly the Peloton instructor had no idea Nolan was in his virtual class that day.
“I was on my Peloton. I’m dying. And the instructor started talking about one of my films and said, ‘Did anyone see this? That’s a couple hours of my life I’ll never get back again!’” Nolan said. “When [film critic] Rex Reed takes a shit on your film he doesn’t ask you to work out! In today’s world, where opinions are everywhere, there is a sort of idea that film criticism is being democratized, but I for one think the critical appreciation of films shouldn’t be an instinct but it should be a profession.”
“What we have here tonight is a group of professionals who attempt objectivity,” Nolan continued, addressing the professional film critics in the room. “Obviously writing about cinema objectively is a paradox, but the aspirations of objectivity is what makes criticism vital and timeless and useful to filmmakers and the filmmaking community”
Nolan said that he knew while making “Oppenheimer” that he would “have to make choices that risk misinterpretation” (he didn’t specifically mention his decision not to show the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but such a choice generated backlash when “Oppenheimer” released), and said that it’s often up to film critics to provide context and meaning to viewers.
“In today’s world, as filmmakers you can’t hide behind authorial intent,” Nolan concluded. “You cant say, ‘This is what I intended.’ We live in a world where the person receiving the story has the right to say what it means to them. I for one love that. It means the work should speak for itself. It’s not about what I say it is. It’s about what you receive it to be. In that world, the role of the professional critic, or the interpreter and the person who tries to give context for the reader…it’s incredibly important. I’ve never been so grateful for careful, considered and thoughtful writing about one of my films as I was for ‘Oppenheimer.’”
“Oppenheimer” earned some of the best reviews of Nolan’s career (it has a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes from more than 400 reviews and 89 score on Metacritic), and it turned into a bonafide smash at the box office with $954 million. It’s the highest-grossing biographical drama of all time.
“Oppenheimer” is now available to rent and own on VOD and digital platforms.