December 15, 2009

Rating movies, movie reviews and the search for the 'perfect' movie

Screenshot of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine...Image via Wikipedia

My good friend and fellow blogger Algo rants and raves about numerous topics over at his Wall Shadows blog, but mostly he reviews movies he has seen. He has developed a method of rating movies on a scale of 0 to 10. If you check out his site you’ll see that he has ratings for upwards of 120 movies (most of which have reviews attached to them) The ratings include the whole range of numbers (as you would expect) but with most of them playing in a '3' to '8' range.

But there are a number of movies that are rated at '10'. For example Billy Wilder’s ‘The Apartment’ is rated at a 10. As are ‘Metropolis’, ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘The Dark Knight’. Algo and I have a running debate about these ratings (If you follow some of the comments you'll understand why).

Obviously Algo is perfectly entitled to rate his movies however he wishes (and it isn’t my intention to defame either his ratings, his site or his methodology), but it did get me thinking about what sort of a rating system I would put together and whether - in my rating system - there could be such a thing as a perfect movie, let alone 4 of them.

There are a series of questions I would have to ask myself if using a similar rating system. For example:

“Are ratings date dependent?” If I rate a movie as, say, 6/10 when I see it and then - in light of subsequent movies I watch - decide that this rating is inappropriate, can I go back and re-rate this movie? For me, for example, Donnie Darko was a fairly obscure and lowly rated movie (probably a 6/10) when I first saw it. Having re-watched it recently, and in light of watching subsequent disappointing movies by the same director, would I change the rating? Probably. I think it's now worth a 7 or an 8. What about remakes? Psycho (1960) vs Psycho (1998) are ostensibly the same movie shot-for-shot. So would they rate the same? Difficult to say. Probably not - the remake looses marks for originality. But if that is the case, what about the upcoming remake of ‘Clash of The Titans’? It is based on the same story as the 1981 movie, but the script is different (much different!). There is an amount of nostalgia for the first one but - from the footage I’ve seen of the remake (and I’ve seen about 10 minutes of roughly edited footage) - this will be a completely different movie. How would it rate against the original? That depends on your view of the original. I didn’t particularly like it and I welcome the remake, but others have the opposing view.

Do they rate proportional to ALL movies or just similar movies in the genre? I went to see a school production of 'Les Miserables' the other day. In the great pantheon of theatre productions it probably rated about  4 or a 5 out of 10. But as a school production it was easily the best, most ambitious and complex production I have ever seen and would easily rate as a 9/10 (or maybe even a 10/10). Would the same hold true for movies? For example would, say, a 9/10 for the original X-men indicate that this is a great movie by any measure possible, or would it indicate that this is a great comic-book adaptation movie? Does a 9/10 for a comic book movie meet the same criteria for a 9/10 horror movie?

What about other movies by the same director (Terry Gilliam, for example?) Are movies being rated with a view to whether they are the best movies per se, or the best movies by a given director? Let’s take Terry Gilliam. Would I rate, say, ‘The Fisher King’ as a 9/10 knowing that ‘Brazil’ is probably a better Terry Gilliam movie? Or would I be influenced by the fact that ‘Brazil’ had such a difficult gestation with all the Sid Sheinberg interference and the re-editing to create an unauthorised US version (“The Happy Ever After Ending”)? I’ve already mentioned the ‘Donnie Darko’ example above. Subsequent movies by Richard Kelly have proven to be a disappointment. Does this make ‘Donnie Darko’ an even better movie? What about David Lynch movies? He has some pretty weird flicks on the go. ‘Mulholland Drive’ is very watchable if a tad confusing, but Inland Empire is virtually unwatchable by all accounts. (Algo rated it ‘pigs/10’ and couldn’t get his head around it on first watching, although he did like it). How would these rate against each other?

Is there such a thing as a perfect movie? Perfection is something that can only be aspired to. Algo’s description of a 10/10 movie is “There are no perfect films. This is as close as you'll get.”. So should there be more than 1 perfect movie? Of course. If we are working on the basis that a 10/10 is ‘as close to perfection as can be achieved’ then there are obviously movies which achieve that in different peoples opinions. I love ‘The Dark Knight’ for example, but do I think it is perfect? No. Is it close to perfect? No. Is it good? Absolutely, but there are too many plot holes and inconsistencies in it for me to rate it that high. (See this video for a few examples). I would rate The Godfather as a 10/10 because it is a consummate piece of movie making with a great story, great acting and a technical proficiency that was unsurpassed at the time. So is Toy Story. Are their sequels as good as the original? Probably. Do the sequels rate a 10/10? No, because they were lacking the originality factor of the first movies. Of course perfection (or the approximation of perfection) is a very subjective thing. It is like the appreciation of beauty in a women. There are a number of people who are deemed to be ‘pretty’ according to popular opinion but who just leave me cold. (Scarlett Johanssen, Uma Thurman, Julie Roberts, for example). It is the same with movies. Looking at Billy Wilder’s movies, I don’t think he actually made a bad one. But comparing ‘Sunset Boulevard’ with ‘The Apartment’ with ‘Some Like it Hot’ is purely a matter of personal opinion. For the record I would rank them 1) Some like it Hot, 2) Sunset Boulevard 3) The Apartment. Are they 10/10 movies? No. But they are close.

The only thing to say about movie ratings is that they are, by definition, subjective. I used to say - back in the old days of watching Barry Norman on Film 72 to 98 - that if Barry rated a movie highly I would be sure to avoid it. His taste in movie was almost diametrically opposed to mine. However now that Jonathon Ross is sitting in the presenters seat I find that his views align more with mine than Barry’s did (although it could be said that his views are not radically different to Barry Norman’s, but my tastes have changed as I have aged). So it is with movie ratings. Algo has a set of ratings, and a world view, that differs from mine. It doesn’t make any of his ratings incorrect. It just makes them different.

And we love and cherish the difference. If everyone thought the same it would make the world very boring - although it would make movie marketing a lot easier.

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