08/20/2010 09:15 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Real Critic's Choice

You usually hear the phrase "critic's choice" referring to something that a critic is recommending.

But I confronted a real critic's choice recently, one that more accurately reflects the odd dichotomy of this job.

It was a recent weekday morning and I had to choose between two screenings, both happening at the same time, both having what I thought was their final showing before they opened.

One was Lottery Ticket, a comedy starring Bow Wow, Ice Cube, Keith David and the dreaded Mike Epps, the unfunniest man in movies. It opens today in wide release.

The other was A Film Unfinished, a Holocaust-themed documentary about a Nazi-produced propaganda film about the Warsaw Ghetto that had been mistaken for a real documentary when it was discovered in a Nazi archive. It opened Wednesday in limited release.

That seems like a no-brainer, right? A serious critic goes to see the doc. Yet the demands of this job are such that I had to pause and weigh my options.

Why would I even consider Lottery Ticket? Well, for a couple of reasons.

For starters, I write for a couple of different publications, whose general audience would be interested in Lottery Ticket. And that's part of this job: seeing the big movies and writing about them, no matter how terrible they look.

The diligent critic sets aside preconceived notions and goes in with a blank slate, judging the film on its merits. You never know whether Lottery Ticket could turn out to be another House Party, another seemingly teen-centric film that had more to offer than cheap laughs (no such luck with Lottery Ticket, as it turns out). I also do reviews on the radio each Friday, talking about the week's big releases. Lottery Ticket definitely qualifies.

On the other hand, A Film Unfinished was being released in only a couple of theaters, eventually to roll out to arthouses in a trickle. And did I mention that it was a Holocaust documentary?

Still, that meant that, if it was good, my review could potentially bring it to the attention of a larger audience. It's a film with no advertising or marketing budget (few docs do), which is almost the same as not being released at all. Millions of people are aware of Lottery Ticket from the TV campaign; it seems doubtful that anyone outside the narrow world of film critics, film festivals and Jewish arts organizations could tell you what A Film Unfinished is about.

I finally opted for A Film Unfinished, which turned out to be fascinating and which will be seen by, hopefully, thousands of people (I'm a realist). And I wrote a review.

As it turned out, there was a subsequent screening of Lottery Ticket, which I wound up attending. It was no House Party. It was barely Friday, which is setting the bar pretty low.

But choosing between the two? That was surprisingly fraught with variables.

Oh well, it could have been worse: They might both have been available on the same day but at different times. Which would have meant seeing both in the same day. Talk about cognitive dissonance.

Click here: Find more reviews, interviews and commentary on my website.