The UK newspaper has compiled a nice set of features to honour one of their finest writers:
- French himself has penned a piece on watching over 14, 000 films and picked his best 50 films from the last five decades.
- You can also listen to a podcast he recorded with Jason Solomons and producer Stephen Woolley.
- Watch a video interview with Simon Hattenstone.
- Read tributes from filmmakers, critics and friends (including Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Richard Attenborough and David Puttnam
- Download 10 landmark reviews from his career, which are PDFs of the originals (including The Deer Hunter, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Pulp Fiction, Titanic and Memento)
It is a fitting tribute and a model of how online content can supplement the print edition.
But it also highlights the reasons French remains the best UK film critic, which is his ability to write about films in engaging, fair and learned manner.
His fairness means that he takes mainstream films seriously (both the good and the bad) and doesn’t feel the need to come up with a contrarian angle in order to attract attention.
Whether he likes a film or not, I get the sense he gives anything he sees a fair crack of the whip. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he reviews all the weekly releases and doesn’t farm out lesser known films to a deputy.
His learning means that his can place films in a valuable context, be it historical, political or artistic, but he manages to do so in a way that avoids the snooty academic tone that can plague highbrow criticism.
He also reminds you that there is a world outside of films, which is useful in keeping things in perspective.
If you are a critic for a media outlet, you get invited to pre-release screenings and in the case of the national press, screenings usually take place every Monday or Tuesday.
Sometimes, a mood of jaded cynicism can pervade the air (particularly if the film is a stinker) but Philip is always a notable presence because he invariably stays until the credits have finished.
For me, it is symbolic of both his professionalism and genuine love of cinema. In the UK, too many people assigned to write about about films are arts journalists plucked from the social networks that pervade the British media.
Sometimes they appear to have little love or knowledge of the medium and favour witty putdowns over genuine thought.
In recent weeks a raft of US film critics have lost their jobs and the role has been called in to question. In a post I wrote on that very subject I said that the best critics must inform, enlighten and entertain.
French does all three and remains a shining example of what a good arts journalist should be.
(Photo: Richard Saker / The Observer)