Okay, so you might not have a clue who Christopher Null is, but neither did I before I bought this book on Amazon. Turns out, he’s the guy who created the now defunct filmcritic.com, which has been taken over by AMC and incorporated into their movie guide website. It also turns out that he’s a pretty nifty writer and his book, Five Stars!, is a useful tool for any wannabe movie critic.
Five Stars! covers the subject of reviewing films from top to bottom. There an abundance of tips ranging from choosing how to grade movies, starting a website, editing other critics, getting access to advance screenings, and even a chapter dedicated to celebrity interviews. I’m not sure how useful the latter will be to most budding writers, but hey, it’s always there if you somehow manage to score an interview with a Tinseltown superstar.
Of course, there are also the basics: how to review a film. Null, a man who created an overwhelmingly successful movie review website, has a wealth of advice to give and it’s all crammed into this practical guide. If you’ve ever wondered what you should be looking for when watching and reviewing a film, Null gives you the answers (some of them, at least) and walks you through the process.
Five Stars! provides plenty of useful tips for judging a movie’s directing, acting, story structure, cinematography, editing, and more. The book supplies the reader with a number of basic questions and principles a critic should be thinking about when watching a film, and answering when reviewing one. If reviewing films doesn’t come naturally to you (which I’m assuming is the case if you intend on buying this book) then Five Stars! should be at the top of your reading list.
Be warned, however, as there is one big limitation to the effectiveness of Null’s guide. It’s most unlikely that anyone who feels the need to read this book will end up being the next Ebert, Kauffmann, or Scott. Yet some of the chapters, such as “Getting Access”, “Film Critic Etiquette”, and, of course, “Celebrity Interviews” are only useful if you’ve already made it as a movie critic, or at least on the verge of doing so. And if you were, then it’s even more unlikely that you’ll be reading the book in the first place. A good hundred pages of the book are therefore utterly useless to the casual reviewer. Nevertheless, if you did ever make it to the big leagues at least you’ll have something to guide you through the initial anxiety of mingling with the big stars.
In the end, Five Stars! isn’t going to get you into the papers, magazines, or certified on Rotten Tomatoes—that would be down to one’s writing, something this book can’t help you with. Null’s book can, however, help you with everything that comes before and after you write.