Diversity in Film Criticism: Part 3 - Leigh Monson and Courtney Howard

by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport

Rosalie Kicks continues her exploration of some of the awesome female film critics working and writing today. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

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LEIGH MONSON

Initially starting as a hobby and an escape from law school work, writing became a passion. Based in St. Paul, Minnesota Leigh Monson has found film criticism to be more than just giving opinions about the latest flicks in theaters. “If you'd asked me a few years back, I would have just said that I think I have good opinions and that I'd like to contribute them to the conversation, but something I've realized is that the conversation is the part that makes criticism worthwhile. I find that just as often as people tell me that my writing has influenced their way of engaging with films, I in turn learn something from the feedback people give me or from reading other pieces that place my thoughts in a new perspective,” states, Leigh.

Even after law school, Leigh continued to attend multiple advance film screenings a week which led to meeting some writers and, through networking, opportunities to freelance emerged. Critiquing film is not something that Leigh takes lightly. Leigh views writing about film as a way to not only influence the minds of readers, but also oneself. By writing about film, Leigh hopes to be a part of the reason the reader may view things differently when watching a film and walk away learning something new. “I find that just as often as people tell me that my writing has influenced their way of engaging with films, I, in turn, learn something from the feedback people give me or from reading other pieces that place my thoughts in a new perspective. This is progressivism at work; acting as an empathetic gateway to understanding one another better through art, and criticism is the primary way to intellectually engage with art,” says, Leigh.

At the heart of it, as human beings we all want to be accepted and have others understand us for our difference. “I usually just want people to think when they see a movie. Do I want them to think what I think? I suppose I do, but I'd rather have a persuasive conversation than a sycophantic agreement with whatever I say,” says Leigh.

Q&A with Film Critic, Leigh Monson:

RK: Who is a female reporter you admire that is portrayed in film? Fictional or historical.

LM: Maybe this is a little silly, but I really like Margot Kidder's Lois Lane in 1978's Superman. She's a really fun character, wickedly intelligent and always just on the verge of realizing the Clark-Superman connection. She's funny, sincere, and is only ever undermined because the comic book plot dictates she needs to be. She's a modern woman (by 1970s standards) in a film that feels purposely anachronistic, which is just a really neat thing to see. I wish we had more characters like her in period pieces and the like, using feminist lenses to inform the characterization of characters from periods when those types of archetypes weren't necessarily portrayed.

RK: Who's your favorite female filmmaker?

LM: I have a soft spot for Sofia Coppola, even with all her problematic white feminist baggage. She is a master at portraying feminine ennui and depression, and her best films are focused on capturing the darker side of wealth through boredom and despair. The Virgin Suicides and The Bling Ring are personal favorites. But also, big shout out to Ava Duvernay's documentary work. And A Wrinkle in Time looks awesome!

RK: Where's your favorite cinema to see a film and what's your favorite concession?

LM: I love the Uptown Theater in Minneapolis. It's a refurbished theatrical stage, and it has balcony seating that makes for a very different sort of experience. When I'm there, I usually hit the bar and get a glass of Blue Moon.

RK: What is it that you love about film? 

LM: I think I'm most fascinated with how narratives and subtext shape us as people. Particularly for those of us who are members of minority populations. The film industry often either outright disregards us or inadvertently expresses problematic perspectives about us, but every once in a while a film comes along that is worth celebrating as a step forward in public discourse. Of course, some movies are just pure silly escapism and entertainment, but even then analysis is warranted to see how a film enriches us either intellectually or emotionally.

RK: Pay it forward: Recommend a female film writer/critic/podcaster/reporter that you love to follow…

LM: Amelia Emberwing is a pop culture goddess. Follow her @BrowncoatAuror.

Find Leigh’s reviews and writings at birthmoviesdeath.com and eaganenterprise.com. Follow Leigh on Twitter: @LeighMonsonPBF

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COURTNEY HOWARD

“I think I was born with a love of film instilled in me,” says, Courtney Howard.

After a viewing of E.T. in the cinema, six-year-old Courtney knew film was not going to be just a passing interest. “It wasn’t until my pre-teens when I started watching Siskel & Ebert on lazy weekend afternoons that it occurred to me; film criticism could be my thing,” states Courtney.

However, criticism is not where her journey started. Initially, Courtney took a gig in production as a development intern at Debra Hill Productions while attending college. This led her to the possibility of joining the Directors Guild of America trainee program. Unfortunately, this turned into a dead end and after a few jobs as an assistant, she found the career was not what she had in mind. Through these experiences she decided to pursue her passion - writing about cinema. “It wasn’t until my mom’s death, where I took the leap and found the courage to really get out there with it,” explains Courtney.

Courtney not only enjoys writing critiques but she also enjoys reading other writers’ perspectives as well. She sees film criticism as a way in which we are able to learn about others and maybe try to understand something we may have missed.  “I love the communal experience of it. I love hearing, or reading, other people’s differing opinions about films. It stirs a curiosity in me. I also love when I walk away with a different opinion to share than everyone else – and that stirs people into thinking more critically about what they’ve bought into,” shares Courtney.

In the end, Courtney hopes to assist viewers in looking at film critically and to really think about the images they watch on the screen. “If I can help add my two cents to their post-viewing discussion, then I feel I’ve succeeded,” states Courtney.

Q&A with Film Critic, Courtney Howard:

RK: What is it that you love about film?

CH: It’s a powerful medium. Film can bring us together. It can unite us. It can distract us from real world problems. It can offer sanctuary to what’s currently ailing us. It can help shed light on our woes. It can also bring out an unexpected, personal response from its audience. I love trying to interpret the motivations of the filmmakers to bring a story to the big screen.

RK: Who's your favorite female filmmaker?

CH: I love Nora Ephron movies. She was so witty. She knew precisely how to blend and shift tones of comedy and drama within scenes. Ava DuVernay’s work always amazes me. It’s filled with such pressing urgency and resonance. She’s got a great eye as well. Currently I’m crushing on a few French directors: Deniz Gamze Ergüven (Mustang), Mélanie Laurent (Les Adoptes, Respire), Katell Quillévéré (Suzanne, Heal The Living), and Elodie Namer (Le Tournoi).

RK: Who is a female reporter you admire that is portrayed in film? Fictional or historical.

CH: While I think most of us would love to be seen as Rosalind Russell’s character in His Girl Friday, I think most of us feel more in tune with Holly Hunter’s character in Broadcast News – or at least I do. I’ll admit I schedule a good cry in the morning so I can get on with my day.

RK: Where’s your favorite cinema to see a film and what's your favorite concession?

CH: I gravitate towards the Arclight Hollywood as my favorite movie theater. However, since we as critics spend most of our time in screening rooms scattered all over town, my favorite screening room is the SoHo House Hollywood. The velvet seats are cushy and they’ve got cashmere blankets in the footrests! My favorite concession is Red Vines (NEVER Twizzlers).

RK: Pay it forward: Recommend a female film writer/critic/podcaster that you love to follow...

CH: Christy Lemire is one of my favorites. Her writing, of course, is fantastic, but she’s a master at conducting spirited film debates that are respectful and thoughtful. She’s whip-smart, funny and an all-around good person. Follow Christy Lemire on Twitter: @ChristyLemire

Find Courtney’s writings and work at FreshFiction.tv and SassyMamaInLA.com. Follow Courtney on Twitter: @lulamaybelle.