Ms. Crist eschewed pretension, but never explanation. Though she had disagreements with Pauline Kael of The New Yorker, she generally avoided the kind of intellectual dueling that Ms. Kael engaged in with Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice. Her job, she said, was to expand on the “Wow!” or the “Yuck!” a moviegoer might utter on leaving the theater. The author and editor Richard R. Lingeman, writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1968, said her “level of discourse” was more that of Consumer Reports than of Partisan Review.
Her enthusiasm for film cut across all genres. In a 1985 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, she insisted that a true movie fan takes James Bond as seriously as “the grand auteurism of Bergman.”
Yet many of her largest bouquets went to the most individualistic of directors, auteurs like Truffaut, Bergman, Fellini, Kurosawa, Satyajit Ray and David Lean. Her American favorites included Stanley Kubrick, Mel Brooks, John Cassavetes and Robert Altman.
Her enthusiasm for some films was not always shared by other critics. Many questioned her list of the 10 best films of all time, which included Mr. Spielberg’s first feature, “Sugarland Express,” a 1974 prison-escape story in which a fleeing couple become folk heroes, and Mr. Pollack’s early film “The Scalphunters” (1968), a Western comedy.
Her knife could cut both ways. In reviewing “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” Stanley Kubrick’s satirical 1964 masterpiece, she called Kubrick a “boy genius.” But four years later she said his film “2001: A Space Odyssey” would be “pithy and potent” — if it were cut in half.
Ms. Crist’s acidity provoked the director Billy Wilder to say, “Inviting her to review one of your pictures is like inviting the Boston Strangler to massage your neck.”
Judith Klein was born in Manhattan on May 22, 1922. Her family moved to Montreal when she was an infant, and she spent her first 12 years there before moving back to New York.
Her father, Solomon Klein, had business interests in furs and jewelry but lost everything in the Depression. He became a traveling salesmen and invented things, including a dry-cleaning machine, according to an essay she wrote in Time magazine in 2008. Her mother, the former Helen Schoenberg, was a librarian and translator Ms. Crist was 5 when she saw her first movie, “7th Heaven,” a silent film with an Oscar-winning performance by Janet Gaynor. But she became a “movie nut,” she said, when she saw Charlie Chaplin’s “Gold Rush” (1925). She began sneaking out to the movies, telling her mother that she was swimming at the Y or studying at the library. And she began reading about them; an early influence, she said, was James Agee’s film criticism for The Nation.
Ms. Crist said she might have made Phi Beta Kappa at Hunter College in Manhattan had she not cut class so many times to go to the movies.
She went on to do graduate work in 18th-century English literature at Columbia, teach at Washington State University, become a civilian English instructor for the Air Force and attend the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia, graduating in 1945.