“When you buy a car, you ask your gearhead friends what they think — and the same should hold for movies,” says alibi.com’s Devin O’Leary. Then he makes the leap that the best movie-gearhead friends you can find these days are professional film critics. I know some folks who would dispute that.

“Film critics aren’t just opinionated gas bags (not all of us, anyway),” he continues. “A good film critic is one who knows film history, understands how films are made, has memorized the resumes of everyone involved and can play a wicked game of ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’ A professional film critic can tell you all kinds of useful information about a film, good or bad. Film critics aren’t just there to tell you thumbs up or down, see this or don’t see that, etc. They’re there to arm you with the sort of information that allows you to make up your own mind whether you want to see a movie or not.

“And then, if you do go see that movie, hopefully you’ll do so with a deeper appreciation than you would have walking in cold. Hell, do what I do — read tons of reviews after you see a film. They might give you a different perspective on what you just saw.”

O’Leary sounds like a guy trying to talk his way out of a death sentence. He’s trying to reason with the prison guards. You don’t want to put me in the gas chamber, fellas. I’m smart, polite, considerate, well educated, well-travelled, etc.

“As of March 2, 2009, the number of fully employed film critics was down to 121,” he continues. “A hundred and twenty-one film critics? I’m part of a seriously endangered species, apparently. For crying out loud, there are more white rhinos left in the world!”

Has O’Leary been living at the bottom of a mine shaft the last few years?

Reasons for the extinction of film critics, he says, “are the movie studios’ increasing desire to control publicity, the shrinking pool of daily newspapers, the explosive growth of amateur online pundits. Don’t get me wrong — it’s not that I think my opinion is more valuable than that of the average person. It’s not that I’ve ever fooled myself into thinking anyone in Hollywood has ever taken a single word I’ve written to heart.

“Still, I think film criticism serves a valuable function. It causes people to think a little more seriously about the movies they consume. Sure, movies are there primarily for entertainment. But does that mean you can’t be an educated consumer?”

The film-loving world is a much better, richer and wiser place because of the 121. Long may they continue to get paid for doing what they do! But let’s face it — the white rhino herd has collectively wandered into a huge mud pit, and many of them are stuck in the mud (or at least are convinced of same) and can’t get out. And some are just sloshing around and getting more and more fatigued for the effort, knowing deep down that they’re doomed. It’s a grim spectacle. My heart goes out. But God helps those who help themselves.