Inside Story: Cannes critics

As the world's biggest film festival gets underway, Compton Miller assesses the journalists who, from the comfort of a screening room, can make or break a new movie


1. THE SUNDAY TIMES

Cosmo Landesman, 51, Wapping's answer to Kenneth Tynan

He relishes his street-fighting reputation, boldly attacking schlock films while pricking the pretensions of art movies. "I'm not a film critic," Cosmo declares. "I'm a journalist who writes about films." He shuns the Cannes Film Festival and Baftas because he hates "the back-slapping luvvie part of the film business". So who could argue with this description: "Landesman is the critic least likely to bore the pants off you with obscure references to films you've never heard of and [the most likely] to write a review that sounds like an intelligent best mate telling it like it is."

Classification: 18
Education: Holloway Comprehensive.
Review: "A pointless film that should have gone straight to video. No star." (I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, 2003)
Favourite movie: Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

2. SUNDAY EXPRESS

Henry Fitzherbert, 33, preview-theatre Adonis

Film PRs can usually count on him to provide friendly reviews of most Hollywood blockbusters. But he occasionally reveals venomous tendencies. He described Hugh Grant's latest film American Dreamz as "this awful satire (which) will go down as one of the clunkers of the year". Married to a child psychiatrist, Fitz began as a Daily Express trainee.

Classification: 12A
Education: Ampleforth and St Peter's College, Oxford
Review: "This sequel remains about as sexy as wet socks." (Basic Instinct 2, 2006)
Favourite movie: The Sound of Music (1965)

3. THE INDEPENDENT

Anthony Quinn, 42, the film critics' critic

He believes that to be a successful critic, whether of restaurants or films, the writing is more important than the subject. "You should entertain, amuse and touch people." Quinn began as a film critic on Marie Claire and The Mail on Sunday before joining The Independent eight years ago. He combines his film role with literary reviews and is currently a Man Booker Prize judge.

Classification: 18
Education: St Francis Xavier's College, Liverpool and Pembroke College, Oxford
Review: " Another British comedy for the slab." (Alien Autopsy, 2006)
Favourite movie: All About Eve (1950)

4. THE MAIL ON SUNDAY

Matthew Bond, 45, Cary Grant with a dagger

Showbiz is in Matt's blood. No, not James, but his sisters, Samantha Bond (007's Miss Moneypenny) and casting agent Abigail Bond, actor father Philip Bond (The Onedin Line) and late mother, The Bill producer Pat Sandys. Bond's old schoolmate is Hugh Grant, but that didn't stop him from monstering Grant's latest film, American Dreamz ("isn't quite funny or biting enough to make an impact").

Classification: 18
Education: Latymer Upper School and Wadham College, Oxford
Review: "It's gross, wretchedly unfunny and at barely 80 minutes long will leave those unfortunate enough to see it feeling as shortchanged as they are unamused." (Date Movie, 2006)
Favourite movie: Gregory's Girl (1980)

5. THE GUARDIAN

Peter Bradshaw, 43, Simon Carr with claws

Bradshaw spoofed the late Tory MP Alan Clark's "diaries" in the Evening Standard and was sued for "passing off". Life is much calmer on the Guardian millpond where he has been film critic since 1999. With a Cambridge First and PhD, he could turn his savagery to anything. Study his fiction (Lucky Baby Jesus and Dr Sweet and His Daughter) for the deepest wounds.

Classification: 15
Education: Haberdashers' Aske's School and Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Review: "Sam Shepard, an actor of increasingly bimbo-ish narcissism, gives another tiresome, cowboy-hat-wearing performance in a monumentally boring and conceited film." (Don't Come Knocking, 2006).
Favourite movie: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

6. FINANCIAL TIMES

Nigel Andrews, 59, Britain's answer to André Bazin, co-founder of Cahiers du Cinéma

Cerebral and stimulating, his writing has an uncanny feel for the tenor and weight of a movie. Yet Andrews' exalted status does not prevent him from writing potboilers such as The Life and Times of Arnold Schwarzenegger and a John Travolta biography. Andrews' first job was at the British Film Institute editing its Cinema One book series. He began reviewing on Sight and Sound, and joined the FT as film critic in 1973. He can be prone to the cardinal sin of revealing a film's ending.

Classification: 18
Education: Lancing College and Jesus College, Cambridge
Review: "The best Andrei Tarkovsky film Tarkovsky never made. First-time Mexican film-maker Carlos Reygadas lays before us 137 minutes of mesmerising cinema." (Japon, 2002)
Favourite movie: Spirited Away (2001)

7. THE SUN

Johnny Vaughan, 39, would-be Jonathan Ross

Fellow critics rarely meet this larky TV and radio personality at film screenings. His 1993 TV debut was presenting Channel 4's Moviewatch and, after making his name onThe Big Breakfast, he fronted The Johnny Vaughan Film Show. This former Rutland Herald reporter nearly self-destructed in 1988 when he received a four-year prison sentence for attempting to sell drugs to detectives at an M1 motel. The Sun's three million-plus readers deserve better than a critic who paraphrases the synopsis and makes cheap jokes.

Classification: U
Education: Uppingham School and HM Stocken Prison, Lincolnshire
Review: "Any way you look at it, this little puppy is a stinker of Catwoman proportions." (Aeon Flux, 2006)
Favourite movie: The Searchers (1956)

8. THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

Jonathan Romney, 48, master of the cast list

Fellow critics were surprised that the eminently readable, unpretentious Romney failed to land the Guardian film job when Derek Malcolm retired in 1997. He had been Malcolm's deputy and had written for Sight and Sound, City Limits and the New Statesman. Instead, he joined The Independent on Sunday in 2000. With a doctorate in French 19th-century literature Romney, not surprisingly, majors in French cinema. "The danger for today's film critic is that, with 12 to 14 new releases a week, the bad films can eat away your brain before you see the good ones." Fortunately this solicitor's son needs to review only one film a week.

Classification: 18
Education: City of London School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge
Review: "Without a doubt this is the most eerie, enigmatic, downright inspired French art film ever to be influenced by the works of Enid Blyton." (Innocence, 2005)
Favourite movie: Hellzapoppin' (1941)

9. DAILY MAIL

Chris Tookey, 56, the joker in the pack

Behind the tabloid "Tookey's Turkey" swagger is an upmarket critic with the lid on. Before joining the Mail in 1993, he was the Sunday Telegraph's film and TV critic. He also writes for Prospect magazine, appears on Radio 4's Back Row, lectures at the British American Film Academy and publishes Tookey's film guide on the net. This former president of the Oxford Union is the only critic to have written, directed and produced a West End stage musical, Hard Times. What will Paul Dacre make of his latest venture, Suddenly, a stage musical set in a mid-market tabloid's newsroom?

Classification: 15
Education: Tonbridge School and Exeter College, Oxford
Review: "In 20 years as a critic I have never seen a film so utterly abhorrent." (Hostel, 2006).
Favourite movie: too many

10. THE OBSERVER

Philip French, 72, Alex Walker with a lisp

This former paratrooper and Booker Prize judge wins respect across the board as a journalist, broadcaster and author. Urbane and generous-spirited, he is one of only three British critics to have sat on the Cannes Film Festival jury. A lifetime admirer of westerns, his reviews can be surprisingly perverse.He described Roberto Benigni's award-winning Life Is Beautiful as "truly terrible".

Classification: 18
Education: Bristol Grammar School and Exeter College, Oxford
Review: "Like an exquisite Swiss watch powered by a Mediterranean heart. " (Talk to Her, 2003)
Favourite movie: Singin' in the Rain (1952)

11. THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

Sukhdev Sandhu, 35, Ben Kingsley with a PhD

In a cabal of mainly male Caucasians he provides a refreshing alternative view. "I wish there were more British Asian films I could rave about, but they'll come in time," he muses. Currently Critic of the Year, this factory-worker's son integrates academia with journalism. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at New York University before beating rivals to replace the Telegraph's disillusioned critic Andrew O'Hagan in 2002.

Classification: 12A
Education: Sir Thomas Rich's grammar school, Gloucester, and Brasenose College, Oxford
Review: " Steve Martin gives autopilots a bad name." (The Pink Panther, 2006).
Favourite movie: The Third Man (1949)

12. EVENING STANDARD

Derek Malcolm, 74, Lord of the Reels

Derek toes the critical line without being fawning, even though he admits that about half of the 10 to 12 films he sees each week are "complete crap". In his autobiography Family Secrets he writes: "No film I ever saw was any more dramatic than the story of my parents, whose marriage was so soon overtaken by a tragedy that received huge publicity and effectively destroyed the happiness of both." His father, Lieutenant Douglas Malcolm, murdered his mother's lover but was acquitted because the judge dubbed it a crime passionnel.

Classification: 18
Education: Eton and Merton College, Oxford
Review: "Exceptional works of art like this are seldom flawless but ... even when you are bored you feel it's a fault of concentration and not what is actually up there on the screen." (The Sacrifice, 1986)
Favourite movie: Tokyo Story (1953)

13. NEWS OF THE WORLD

Polly Graham, 33, the Joan Collins of the film pack

Polly is a rare female film critic. She began as a Daily Express graduate trainee, reported for the Daily Mail and became a founder 3am Girl on the Daily Mirror in 2000. She claims to be the only critic to have been a film star. ("Well, I was an extra in Spiceworld in 1997!").

Classification: 15
Education: Norwood Comprehensive, south London, and the University of East Anglia
Review: "No need to cross your legs and think of Michael Douglas in this sequel. It's just not remotely sexy. Basically it stinks." (Basic Instinct 2, 2006)
Favourite movie: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

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