Ryan Michaels, a hyper-articulate, hyper-opinionated fourteen-year-old, has been reviewing movies for the Heritage West newspapers since he was eleven. His critiques appear in the Ann Arbor Journal, Dexter Leader, Chelsea Standard, Manchester Enterprise, Saline Reporter, and Milan News-Leader, plus seven other papers. He’s the only local movie critic published in Washtenaw County.

How did someone so young land his unique high-profile position? “My mom is friends with Michelle Rogers, the editor of the Heritage West papers,” Michaels explains in a baritone that belies his youth and slim frame. “She was over one day and saw my massive DVD collection, upwards of four hundred, and she asked if I’d ever written any movie reviews.”

Had he ever. “Ryan was already doing movie reviews and sending them to Target to be posted on their site,” recalls his mother, Debbie Michaels. “He loved movies, and he loved being quizzed … He [knew] when it was made, who directed, produced, and starred in it … what awards it won. He had spreadsheets full of this stuff.”

His first published review, four years ago, was of Spider-Man 3. He’s since written more than 200 reviews and won Best Column honorable mentions from the Michigan Press Association in 2009 and 2010.

Michaels reviews “what appeals to me and to the average moviegoer. I like to do art films, but I also reviewed Twilight because most people my age like it. Usually I go with my mom or group of friends on Fridays. It doesn’t take long to write the review, and I always do it the same weekend … the deadline is Sunday.”

His own taste runs to more sophisticated fare. “My favorite movie is Apocalypse Now. It’s the ultimate ‘Film as Art Form’ and ‘Film as Entertainment’ because it’s a great war movie and a beautifully done art film. It feels like you’re in a dream while you’re watching it.”

Brad Pitt is Michaels’ favorite living actor. “I admire his versatility,” he says, his dark eyes flashing. “He takes on risky projects and then he’ll turn around and do animation. And he’s been in some of my favorite movies—Fight Club, Inglourious Basterds.

It’s not surprising a fourteen-year-old boy would love testosterone-charged modern movies—but who’d guess Michaels’ all-time favorite actor is Toshiro Mifune? “I liked him in Seven Samurai, of course, and Rashomon, and the Samurai trilogy,” Michaels gushes, “but High and Low is my favorite performance! I admire … the way he will totally immerse himself in his various roles. I mean seriously, the guy is chameleon-like in his versatility!”

Michaels’ favorite director is the one who directed Mifune in those movies: “Akira Kurosawa. Absolutely. Fellini is up there; 8 1/2 is my second-favorite movie of all time, but I haven’t seen enough of Fellini’s work to call him my own.” And Ingmar Bergman? “I love Wild Strawberries, but while I admire Seventh Seal, I feel it has little emotional heft.”

American movies, the Kurosawa-loving teen says, “have both gotten worse and better. The bad movies are more soul-crushing and mind-numbing than ever … yet the good stuff is as good as anything that cinema has ever produced—Inglourious Basterds, Black Swan.

Movies aimed at young adults, Michaels says, “can either be witty, soulful, and funny—Easy A and Superbad—or crude, schlocky, and calculated—I Love You Beth Cooper. It boils down to whether or not the filmmakers have a respect for their characters.”

Of course, Michaels didn’t start out loving Tarantino and Kurosawa. “Movies have been it since before he could talk,” says his mother. “He would sit

there and follow the screen. Then, when he was two, he really wanted Air Bud.

“A Disney movie about a dog that plays basketball was the first movie I really liked,” Michaels admits. Then when he was three, it was the first two Toy Story movies. “I ran through four [VHS tapes] of Toy Story and two of Toy Story 2. I played them over and over again until they wore out.”

“Ryan was a great kid, friendly, open,” remembers Rob Baumann, Michaels’ fourth-grade teacher at Ann Arbor’s Emerson School. “He always wrote movie reviews for class, and they were warm, funny, and right on target. It was amazing to see that kind of analysis in a fourth grader. And he used to write stories that were takeoffs on movies. He wrote one called Wrong Kong, and the kids loved it.”

His Heritage connection makes Michaels something of a celebrity at Ann Arbor’s Skyline High, where he completed ninth grade in June. “A lot of people come up to me at school and say ‘Good job,'” he admits, “and some girls are very impressed with my writing. But, no, I don’t date yet. I’m not against it on principle. I’ve got my whole life ahead of me, right?”

Asked about criticism that he is too young and inexperienced to understand movies, much less write about them, Michaels is typically unabashed. “I have an opinion and an outlet, so why not go for it?” he says. “It’s a way to express my feelings on something I love—and movies are the ultimate art form.”