Part of it is the dumping-ground time of year. Part of it is just the changing times. But here in Utah, film critics are finding less and less to write about for opening day. ---
The trend has been expanding for a few years now. It was always unlikely that horror films, teen comedies or films targeting black audiences would get press screenings. But whether it's scaled-back marketing budgets, or a desire for tighter control over word of mouth, or simply the perception that critics don't matter any more (if they ever did), films that often seemed to be locks for screenings of some kind are getting no screenings at all, or screenings too late for the deadlines of weekly papers. Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island was generally screened last Wednesday, two days before it opened. There will be no local screening for Cop Out, or the 2009 Sundance drama Brooklyn's Finest. Alice in Wonderland will make it's token screening appearance next Tuesday in most markets, also too late for weekly reviews.
There are plenty of ways to react to such a development if you write for a weekly paper. Sean Burns of Philadelphia Weekly went the snarky route regarding the Shutter Island situation. Some publications (including this one) turn to out-of-market freelances when there are no local options. As with virtually everything relating to 21st-century journalism, you learn to adapt or you prepare for a long, dusty stay on the ashheap of history.
Personally, the self-serving insistence that film criticism matters feels a bit like toddler foot-stamping. No studio owes me the earliest possible look, or any look at all, if they don't think it's in their studio's interest to do so. Readership will let us know if they care about critical writing about film. And if they do, we're still going to be here to help sort cinematic wheat from chaff. But you'll need to keep visiting CityWeekly.net for after-deadline updates for your weekend viewing. In particular, keep your eyes on our Flick Clique page for our up-to-the-moment guide to your movie-viewing information. They can't keep us from buying a ticket, after all.