Sizing-Up the Art of Criticizing

In another (failed) attempt to determine why no person I know (and especially no professionals) are capable of acting as my film umpire...I began—on the winter solstice of last year—to screen about one film a day and to rate every one I watched.  Four months and more than 100 films later...I've learned that the five-star rating system doesn't work (and little else).

Under the commonly used 5-point system, 1 is the lowest rating available, (for painfully terrible movies) 5 is the highest, (for unique and wonderful works of genius) and 3 is given to average middle-of-the-road films.  3's are routinely forgettable.  The best way to decide if a film is a 3 is if—immediately after viewing—you know it wasn't a 1 or a 5...wait a week...and if you can no longer recall the film, it's a solid 3.  That leaves 2 for the movies with too many flaws, and 4 for the films you like.

A good rating system, right?  I thought so too, until I learned the uber-majority were huddled invisibly under never-remember-land's umbrella.  When the best thing I could say about 6.5 out of 10 of them was:  They're not bad enough to dislike, I knew I "needed a bigger boat" (needed to fix the 3s).  But first, why are there so many 3s? 

I determined there were a few over-looked intricacies to both the film-watching and film-rating process:

The Rob Schneider Truism:  Film watchers rarely intentionally watch films they believe, based on previous experience, will be forgettable-to-terrible (3 or lower).  Accordingly, there are not many 1s on anyone's list.
 
The Pixar Truism:  Film watchers rarely love every aspect of a film to such an extent that they say it is amazing, timeless, and best-ever.  People are stingy with their highest rating, which results in a low number of 5s on most people's list.

The 'That-One-Guy' Truism:  The overwhelming majority of films are an unfortunate combination of not good enough to remember and not bad enough to remember, which poses a significant problem if you are ever asked to recommend a movie.  Even if you aren't a professional critic and are just some idiot who watches a rabidly massive shitload of films—eventually—someone you know is going to ask, "Hey, Avatar wasn't a 3, was it?"  [Yes]  "Should I see it anyway?"  [Yes]  "Why?"  [It's pretty and was uniquely made].

To solve my "3-problem" I decided to add qualifiers.  With a 3- and a 3+ it's possible to diminish the mediocre middle.  Unfortunately, sometimes—still—there is nothing more to say about a film than it was "solidly forgettable"...and, therefore, there are still some 3s.  But the majority are now identified as 3+ (some memorable accomplishments) or 3- (a few memorable errors).

The Never Listen to a Jaw-less Critic Truism:  Back when he could talk, Roger Ebert's "default" was solidly in the center, and he normally called them like he saw them.  Now, his default is 'thumbs up.'   It's as if every forgettable film gets a one-point bump because he's glad he still isn't dead.  And then there are his inexcusable exceptions.  He gave his lowest rating to 'Kick Ass' not because the film contained flawed editing or poor acting or a terrible script...but because he didn't find humor when an 11-year-old girl cussed and slaughtered baddies.

"Hey, Kick Ass wasn't a 3, was it?"  [No, a 4]  "But Ebert gave it a 1!"  [Grampy's sense of humor must have been removed with his tongue]  "Didn't he give Avatar his highest rating?"  [Simplistic template-driven action movies are perfect for the immature and the aged].

Title (linked)     Director, year      Theater / Home      Genre      Rating
Avatar - James Cameron, 2009 - T - Fantasy/SF - 3+
London to Brighton - Paul Andrew Williams, 2006 - H - Crime Drama - 3-
Bottle Shock - Randall Miller, 2008 - H - PPBOTS - 3-
Step Brothers - Adam McKay, 2008 - H - Comedy - 1
Up in the Air - Jason Reitman, 2009 - T - Comedy - 3+
Rudo y Cursi - Carlos Cuarón, 2008 - H - Drama - 3-
The Last Supper - Stacey Title, 1996 - H - Drama - 2
Blood Simple - Coen brothers, 1984 - H - Crime Thriller - 4
Once Upon a Time in the West - Sergio Leone, 1968 - H - Western - 3
A Sound of Thunder - Peter Hyams, 2005 - H - SF - 2
The Hangover (unrated) - Todd Phillips, 2009 - H - Comedy - 4 (2dX)
Sherlock Holmes - Guy Ritchie, 2009 - T - Suspense/Thriller - 3+
Solyaris - Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972 - H - SF - 3-
Lilja 4-ever - Lukas Moodysson, 2002 - H - Drama - 3
May - Lucky McKee, 2002 - H - Horror - 2 (2dX)
Visioneers - Jared Drake, 2008 - H - Comedy - 2
Don't Bother to Knock - Roy Ward Baker, 1952 - H - Drama - 3+
My Man Godfrey - Gregory La Cava, 1936 - H - Comedy - 4
United States of Tara: Season 1 - Diablo Cody, 2009 - H - Comedy - 5
The Book of Eli - Hughes brothers, 2010 - T - SF Thriller - 4
The Shooting Gallery - Keoni Waxman, 2005 - Crime Drama - H - 2
The Girlfriend Experience - Steven Soderbergh, 2009 - Drama - H - 1
You, The Living - Roy Andersson, 2007 - Comedy - H - 3-
The Class - Laurent Cantet, 2008 - Drama - H - 3-
Paper Heart - Nicholas Jasenovec, 2009 - Romantic Comedy - H - 3-
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus - Terry Gilliam, 2010 - Fantasy - T - 3+
Daybreakers - Spierig brothers, 2010 - Action - T - 3+
O'Horten - Bent Hamer, 2007 - Comedy - H - 3-
In the Loop - Armando Iannucci, 2009 - Comedy - H - 2
Edge of Darkness - Martin Campbell, 2010 - Action - T - 3+
Ben X - Nic Balthazar, 2007 - Drama - H - 3-
Songs from the Second Floor - Roy Andersson, 2000 - Drama - H - 2
Body of Lies - Ridley Scott, 2008 - Action - H - 3-
Killshot - John Madden, 2008 - Crime Thriller - H - 3-
Thirst - Chan-wook Park, 2009 - Horror Drama - H - 5
Sleep Dealer - Alex Rivera, 2008 - SF - H - 3-
Surveillance - Jennifer Chambers Lynch, 2008 - Crime Thriller - H - 4
Taken - Pierre Morel, 2008 - Action - H - 3-
Max Payne - John Moore, 2008 - Action - H - 3-
Alice - Jan Svankmajer, 1988 - Animation - H - 3-
This Is England - Shane Meadows, 2006 - PPBOATS - H - 3-
La jetée - Chris Marker, 1962 - Short/SF - H - 1
From Paris with Love - Pierre Morel, 2010 - Action - T - 3-
City of Ember - Gil Kenan, 2008 - SF - H - 2
The Song of Sparrows - Majid Majidi, 2008 - Drama - H - 3+
Vidas Privadas - Fito Páez, 2001 - Drama - H - 3-
Pantaleón y las visitadoras - Francisco J. Lombardi, 2000 - Drama - H - 3-
Shutter Island - Martin Scorsese, 2010 - Psy-Thriller - T - 3-
Yi Yi - Edward Yang, 2000 - Drama - H - 3-
Baxter - Jérôme Boivin, 1989 - Horror - H - 3+
1000 Journals - Andrea Kreuzhage, 2007 - Documentary - H - 3-
Stupidity - Albert Nerenberg, 2003 - Documentary - H - 3-
The Iron Giant - Brad Bird, 1999 - Children's Animation - H - 2
911 In Plane Sight - William Lewis, 2004 - Documentary - H - 1
A Clockwork Orange - Stanley Kubrick, 1971 - SF - H - 5 (2dX)
Constantine's Sword - Oren Jacoby, 2007 - Documentary - H - 3
Breakfast with Scot - Laurie Lynd, 2007 - Drama - H - 3+
Doctor Horrible's Sing Along Blog - Joss Whedon, 2007 - Comedy - H - 2
Brief Conversations with Hideous Men - John Krasinski, 2009 - Drama - H - 4
The Taking of Pelham 123 - Tony Scott, 2009 - Action - H - 3-
The Crazies - Breck Eisner, 2010 - Horror - T - 4
Revanche - Götz Spielmann, 2008 - Crime Drama - H - 3+
Taking Woodstock - Ang Lee, 2009 - Comedy - H - 3-
The Invention of Lying - Gervais and Robinson, 2009 - Comedy - H - 3+
The End of August at the Hotel Ozone - Jan Schmidt, 1967 - SF - H - 3+
Chop Shop - Ramin Bahrani, 2007 - Drama - H - 3-
The Hunger - Tony Scott, 1983 - Horror - H - 3+
Sade - Benoît Jacquot, 2000 - Drama - H - 2
Ponyo - Hayao Miyazaki, 2008 - Anime - H - 4
Alice in Wonderland - Tim Burton, 2010 - Fantasy - T - 3+
Women in Trouble - Sebastian Gutierrez, 2009 - Drama - H - 3
Read or Die - Masunari and Lee, 2001 - Anime - H - 2
Undead - Spierig Brothers, 2003 - Horror/SF - H - 4
The Ghost Writer - Roman Polanski, 2010 - Thriller - T - 4
Sin Nombre - Cary Fukunaga, 2009 - Action Drama - H - 3-
No Impact Man - Gabbert and Schein, 2009 - Documentary - H - 3-
Hank and Mike - Matthiew Klinck, 2008 - Comedy - H - 1
The Hit - Stephen Frears, 1984 - Crime Thriller - H - 3-
The White Ribbon - Michael Haneke, 2009 - Drama - T - 3+
Fanboys - Kyle Newman, 2008 - Comedy - H - 2
Roads to Koktebel - Khlebnikov and Popogrebsky, 2003 - Drama - H - 3
$9.99 - Tatia Rosenthal, 2008 - Animation - H - 4
Changling - Clint Eastwood, 2008 - Drama - H - 3-
Final Fantasy: Advent Children - Tetsuya Nomura, 2005 - Anime - H - 1
The Botany of Desire - Michael Schwarz, 2009 - Documentary - H - 3+
Absurdistan - Veit Helmer, 2008 - Comedy - H - 3+
Encounters at the End of the World - Werner Herzog, 2007 - Documentary - H - 3
Special - Haberman and Passmore, 2006 - Comedy - H - 3-
Peter and the Wolf - Suzie Templeton, 2006 - Animation Short - H - 5
Extract - Mike Judge, 2009 - Comedy - H - 3-
Examined Life - Astra Taylor, 2008 - Documentary - H - 3
Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth - Erik Nelson, 2008 - Documentary - H - 1
Shiver - Isidro Ortiz, 2008 - Horror - H - 3
The Ring Finger - Diane Bertrand, 2005 - Drama - H - 3
Lust, Caution - Ang Lee, 2007 - Drama - H - 3+
Angels and Demons - Ron Howard, 2009 - Thriller - H - 2
2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films - Various, 2007 - Animated/Live Action - H - 4
How to Train your Dragon - DeBlois and Sanders, 2010 - Animation - T - 4
The Bank Job - Roger Donaldson, 2008 - PPBOATS - H - 3
A Perfect Getaway - David Twohy, 2009 - Thriller - H - 3
The Mother - Joon-ho Bong, 2010 - Mystery - T - 5
Chinaman - Henrik Ruben Genz, 2005 - Drama - H - 3+
Hot Tub Time Machine - Steve Pink, 2010 - Comedy - T - 3+
Black Dynamite - Scott Sanders, 2009 - Homage - H - 2
The Center of the World - Wayne Wang, 2001 - Drama - H - 2
Repulsion - Roman Polanski, 1965 - Horror - H - 4
Open Your Eyes - Alejandro Amenábar, 1997 - SF - H - 3-
Kick Ass - Matthew Vaughn, 2010 - Action - T - 4

"Hey, what's PPBOATS?"  [Period Piece Based On A True Story]  "What's the best American film you've seen in this four month period?"  [Surveillance, 2008]  "Best English language film released in 2010?"  [The Ghost Writer]  "Best of the 108?"  [The Mother]  "Any you'd be willing to excise with a blunt fork?"  [Hank and Mike, Step Brothers, and The Girl Friend Experience]  "Did you learn anything really valuable from all this?"  [Nope].

A picture lives by companionship.  It dies by the same token.  It is, therefore, risky to send it out into the world.  How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling. —  Mark Rothko

2 comments:

Romius T. said...

You gave the Last Supper a "2"? How is that possible. One of my fave movies! Really Liked it when I stumbled upon it a (I was a youngin at 26 and into the indie scene without being a douche about it) REally digged that movie though...

veach st. glines said...

Great cast. I'd been "meaning to see it"...and should have when it was fresh; it did not age well.

The Last Supper may have worked as a farce on stage, but as a film it's heavy-handed. It kicks the same spot on the dead horse over and over (the spot where many open-minded people hate closed-minded people...just enough to Arsenic and Old Lace them). It's slow, predictable, and the plot (like most farce's) can't stand up to any scrutiny.

It's a comedy without laughs and deserves the 2 it got because of its flaws.