These days I prefer to read reviews after I've seen a film or read a book. This way I'm not predisposed or prejudiced in some way, and I have to make an effort to decide what I think - not whether someone else was right, wrong or the writer/director's best friend. I decide what to see or read by scanning column inches and headlines, by recommendations, and by hearing bits and pieces on the radio. Obviously, I'm not completely in the dark about what I'm about to see or read, but I'm pretty sketchy.
I went to see Inside Llewyn Davis yesterday. We'd just watched The Man Who Wasn't There at the weekend so I was ready for more Coen Brothers' melancholy and dark humour and brilliant cinematography. Well, this has all of those things. It has great music, brilliant performances, and every frame is beautifully composed, lit and coloured. It's an intelligent film full of classical allusions and references, many patterns and plenty of subtext and it's also, I thought, incredibly sad.
But what's fantastic is that it has given rise to some seriously good, well-written reviews. I imagine film critics have to go through the motions so often (what do you say about the nth Harry Potter film?) that they must wonder if they'll ever be able to flex their writing muscles. Well, Inside Llewyn Davis has clearly given critics an opportunity to show just what they can do, and has allowed them to share depths of knowledge and analysis that many films don't inspire - or warrant. My favourite reviews for insight are in the Guardian, the Telegraph and the FT. I'm not saying read them now, but perhaps after seeing the film.
(Inside Llewyn Davis should really be seen by anyone who saw and enjoyed Frances Ha. Lots to compare and contrast there.]