Jonathan Rosenbaum – An analysis of a film crtic

By Sarra Jabbour

Jonathan Rosenbaum is an American born screen critic who is arguably best known for his long career as head critic for the Chicago Reader.  Although he is a film critic, his work is not just about films. He tends to focus on a film’s relationship to the media quite often in his pieces. He also draws on his American background by digging into American films and finding how they speak to (and about) American history, politics and life.

Rosenbaum analyses and critiques by talking about films in relation to other films. Often, he refers to films he has written about in the past and compares them in order to highlight specific characteristics, similar themes and, analyse their effectiveness in relation to each other.  This is part of what makes Rosenbaum such an influential critic. He possesses this amazing ability to see beyond what is on the screen, analyse its characteristics, and compare to films that on the surface seem to be on a completely different spectrum (and therefore almost incomparable) to the average person, or even the average film reviewer.

His style of writing is interesting in that he combines his personal and professional opinions in his work. He generally writes in a sophisticated, semi –formal manner but occasionally slots his more casual personal opinions in brackets among his pieces. Adding his personal opinions in occasionally lightens the mood of his pieces which can tend to be slightly dense at times to the average person. Of course many of Rosenbaum’s pieces were written for the Chicago Reader which is known for its more literary approach and assumes its audience is of a certain calibre of education.

Rosenbaum tries to make a point of writing about world cinema films and films that are less well known. This idea, among others, was the reason for his now famous article: “List-o-mania. Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies” in response to the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 1998 list of 100 greatest American movies. Accompanied by a copy of the AFI’s list and a list of 100 greatest American films according to Rosenbaum, the article analyses the AFI’s list and suggests that it is merely a product of the commercial film industry and its ‘dumbing down’ of film culture to increase profits the easiest way they know how- reselling familiar goods. He condemns the AFI’s list as well as other lists and commercial film organisations who share the same motives. The purpose of this article was not written solely to criticise the work of the AFI but to point out that the American film industry focuses on only commercial films and disregards non- commercial American films which has created a close-minded American film culture. Rosenbaum suggests that it is the responsibility of the film industry, especially organisations like the AFI to promote more alternative films as these are the real masterpieces of American cinema. Rosenbaum places his list and the AFI’s list side by side at the end of his article so audiences can compare. He adds that unlike the AFI’s he presented his list in alphabetical order so as to not suggest any sort of ranking because it would be like “…ranking oranges over apples and declaring cherries superior to grapes” (Rosenbaum, 1998).

One thing demonstrated by the long list of Rosenbaum’s great works is his substantial amount of knowledge and understanding for film and all its intricacies- he definitely knows what he’s talking about. More than this is his great passion and appreciation for high-quality film which comes across quite loudly in each piece of film criticism. This is something which makes his writing appealing and engaging for readers. Work like Rosenbaum’s is quite difficult to come across; screen criticism that goes against the grain of commercial American cinema.


Works Cited                                                                       

Rosenbaum, J 1998, List-o-mania. Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies, Chicago Reader, viewed 18 September 2013 <>

Rosenbaum, J 1994, Stupidity as Redemption [Forrest Gump], Chicago Reader, viewed 18th Septemnber 2013, <>

Rosenbaum, J 1997, The Human Touch [Men in Black & Contact], Chicago Reader, viewed 18th September 2013, <>

Rosenbaum, J, Jonathan Rosenbaum. Com, Viewed 18th September 2013 <>   



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