June 6, 2008

Best year ever, or inflated reviews? Part II

Last October, I had to briefly defend my string of positive reviews of 2007 movies. Well, it turns out that last year almost did end up being the best year ever, so I was vindicated.

Recently, a different friend called me out again for giving too many positive reviews. Now I wouldn't call either of these friends "movie buffs" or even movie-goers in any traditional sense, but hey, they're friends, and it's a valid point that other readers may also be holding me to.

Taking this claim seriously, I did a simple breakdown of my grades for 2008 movies to date:
  • 16 A's
  • 12 B's
  • 11 C's
  • 0 D's
  • 2 F's
Turns out that yes, my reviews have been more positive than negative. I didn't need the numbers to know this, of course, since it's been clear to me that I have seen some truly excellent movies so far this year, including several at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. But yet the question remains: am I afraid to be critical? I still don't think so.

The easiest explanation is that, like I said then, I generally try to avoid bad movies. I didn't see 10,000 B.C. or The Hottie and the Nottie or Strange Wilderness or Meet the Spartans. That's the nice part about not doing this professionally. And still, there are some that I've seen this year, like Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay, that I haven't bothered to review.

I might also point out that documentaries generally don't receive a grade lower than a "B," and I see a lot of documentaries. See more about reviewing them at The Documentary Blog. Take away my '08 documentary reviews, and you take away a combined nine grades of A's or B's from the above totals.

Next, I would submit that 2008's early offerings have actually been pretty decent. One could argue there have already been as many solid movies this year as there were at the same point last year, even though the same trend may not hold true through Oscar season. In fact, I'd be surprised if it did.

Lastly, I would offer this shocking defense: It's all relative! If there weren't mind-bogglingly different opinions on every movie, Getafilm and the other 4,355,678 movie blogs wouldn't exist. Actually that doesn't really explain my reviews, but my point is that some people only give negative reviews.

Anybody have thoughts on the movies/reviews of 2008?

(While I have the floor (and when don't I?), I'd like to brag on something else. Two of the songs I selected for last year's missing soundtrack have already been featured in movies this year. Ryan Shaw's "We Got Love" in My Blueberry Nights, and M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" in (at the least trailer for) Pineapple Express. Though the scenes haven't been what I had in mind, I still find it kind of awesome.)


  1. Well, I have been giving awful ratings this year, I have given only two A+ ratings (for Paranoid Park and My Blueberry Nights), and I have become so much more harsh on cinema this year than ever before, and it is actually making me feel physically ill.

    So inflated or not, I love the fact that you give a lot of high ratings, besides the fact hat you have seen so many good films. In addition, your particular rating system allows you more freedom to really give points to films that deserve them, like if the music is really good, the film would get a higher rating than one that had crappy music, right?

    Keep it up mate, I think your reviews/ratings, whatever, are awesome.

    No justification necessary.

  2. Thanks, sir. I think you've definitely been able to show your critical side recently, but you've also had some pretty nasty experiences, like 88 Minutes. *shudder*

    And you're right, my weird rating system does take into account some different factors, including one (societal significance) that has nothing to do with the quality of the movie, only with its motive/purpose/application to life (see: my passion for movies in the first place). So that can mess things up a bit, including the upper skewing of docs. But it can also hurt some "good" movies.

    Anyway, sometimes I have to justify things to myself, too!

  3. Your point about generally avoiding bad movies says it all. I'm the same way. I don't go to a movie if I don't think I'll like it and that cuts out a ton of bad reviews.

    Also, early on I decided I didn't want to be one of those snarky reviewers that hates everything. I admit that writing a bad review is fun and it's often easier and less dangerous, but it would get old after awhile. The only thing to do is be choosy and then call them like you see them.

    I've never had the sense that you're over-generous. As long as you can explain your opinion, and you do, the rest is not really debatable.

    As for how the year is shaping up, there have been some unexpected surprises and very few movies that I've absolutely hated. Not bad for what is normally the slow half of the year.

  4. Yep, Craig's got the point.

    I had the same thought about my ratings just a few months after I started BC. It's the main reason why I started my unique film rating scale - I was tired of seeing scores all above 70 (it was a 100 point scale). I figured pictures wouldn't annoy me (or anyone else) as much, and I added a spin and voila.

    I'm not saying you should do any of these things, just relating to your feelings here. In the end, you can't apologize for having good taste. :) Like you said - it's not as if we're paid to do this, and as such, we're spared much of the crap (should we choose to).

  5. You beat me to it! I was considering writing a similar post and I come over her to discover that you've already done it!

    I, like you, try to avoid the bad films, but often I can't help it, especially when the paper prefers me to review mainstream films as opposed to foreign or independent films. I've seen 54 2008 films so far, and of that 54, I've given out 3 4-star ratings, 15 3.5 star ratings, 6 2-star ratings, 5 1.5-star ratings, and 1 0-star rating. Everything else falls somewhere in between, so so far I don't think that 2008 is particularly out of the ordinary, and especially not as good yet as 2007.

    The best films I have seen so far are "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days," "The Band's Visit," and "XXY," with special nods to "Reprise," "The Year My Parents Went on Vacation," and "Beaufort."

    I could list several more very good films, but for the purposes of this reply that's enough for now.

    From the looks of it we have some fine films coming up, but the mainstream summer fare is kinda ho-hum so far. Not extremely bad but not spectacular either.

  6. This is what I don't understand.

    This is a sincere attempt at expressing an opinion. I am NOT trying to offend anyone - and hopefully I DON'T.

    Danny, I don't know why you don't have more confidence. You're a thoughtful, intelligent guy. We rarely disagree. But even when we do you are able to assert yourself and lay claim to your point of view in a polite, respectful manner. It is an absolute joy to come to Getafilm or to have you over at CP, where we can have these stimulating discussions in public.

    Very grateful for them and I wouldn't have missed them for the world.


    This is your site - your gig, you home, your place...the area on the net that defines you as a person.

    So why does it matter what anyone else thinks? If anyone had a problem with the way that you rate or critique films, they wouldn't be coming over here. Many of us do and I imagine there will be many more readers making the trip over time.

    If you want to give everything C+s across the board, solid As or consistent Fs, YOU CAN DO THAT. It's your right and your prerogative. No one will tell you no and I don't think your reader stats will drop either. People arrive here with the knowledge that they will be getting your personal take. That's why they come in the first place.

    Your writing skills are well developed. Your reviews are genuinely involving and even sometimes astoundingly heartfelt.

    Am I missing something? Why the need to second guess or ask for feedback? What does it matter?

    I think Getafilm is a genuine success and doing very well on every level imaginable.

    So why are you inquiring? I would think that your own view on these matters would be far more important and carry a lot more weight than anyone else's.

    I think it SHOULD. Just curious...

  7. Miranda - I think the idea of people "complaining" about high ratings is actually just an interesting sort of Siskel & Ebert debate. I remember seeing an A rating Daniel gave and thinking, did we see the same movie? It's good grounds for discussion, just as my review of The Fall influenced how Daniel viewed the parts of the film that he wasn't so crazy about. It gives all of us a chance to rethink and revisit a film, and maybe change our minds. I know that sometimes I'll see a film on DVD or cable and not like it so much, then have a chance to see it again on a big screen and be blown away. Movie reviews are snapshots in time and time can change everything.

    I agree with everyone here that I try not to see bad films. I'm not a paid reviewer, so I have that luxury of not being assigned Norbit. I also don't go see a lot of new movies. Most of my "at the movies" experiences are film festivals, where the range of films I can see is much larger than at the local multiplex. I also trust people I trust, like Daniel and Ed Howard, to clue me in on films I might not have considered. It's important to have other perspectives. I find it makes me a better viewer and critic.

    Finally, I don't have a rating system, nor do I make lists. First, I wouldn't know how to approach the task of quantifying a visceral and subjective experience and feel uncomfortable trying to lock my opinion in this way. I just try to give my honest and considered reactions - including the mood I was in that day that could affect my experience - and hope that can be interpreted by my readers. Lists are meaningless to me because my favorites may not have even been made yet! And because I see so few new releases, my lists wouldn't match up with anyone else's. I used to participate in an online version of the Oscars and found my choices weren't seen by most of my fellow posters. Awards don't mean anything if you don't have a measurable accomplishment (like the Nobel Prize for Chemistry) and a very large and representative sample size. (See the science geek in me?)

    That said, Daniel, I think your rating system helps me understand exactly what you saw in the film (love/like/loathe), and whether I agree with your rating, I always learn something about what you took away from the film. Thanks!

  8. Thanks a lot, everybody. Wow. I'm ever fascinated to hear how people go about doing this kind of thing, especially when we (all blog owners, incidentally) have a healthy range of opinions and insights.

    Seems we all agree that avoiding a number of widely released movies greatly cuts down on negative reviews. That's just plain logic and it makes sense to us, but I would guess that I'm not alone in being asked, "You see everything, don't you!??!" This misconception helps explain in large part the way readers see our reviews. Too bad for Matthew, hehe - the more "established" you are, the more bad movies you're required to see. And yes, Craig, while it was kind of fun to review Jumper in Feb, I have the feeling I would start to just say the same nasty things about every movie after a while.

    Fletch, your rating system is both unique and well-defined, and I think you clearly explain your thoughts well before I get to the actually "rating".

    Miranda, I always appreciate your encouragement and compliments (and comments). Looking at how I phrased things above I can see that it might have looked like I was looking for validation or acceptance of some sort, but it was more just me thinking aloud and wondering what other people's experiences were. I feel confident in a number of the writing I've thrown out here over the past 9-10 months, but I've found it helpful and interesting to step outside of the "theater" occasionally and see what people think about this weird new media we're all into. Hopefully I've provided an opportunity for all of us to reflect on it a little bit. Thanks for all that you said...

    Thanks for your thoughtful insight, Marilyn. What you said is especially interesting to me since you don't rate/score/grade movies in your reviews, and I do understand why. All of the numbers I award in each "category" are subjective, anyway, so it's not like I have some amazing review formula or anything. As I wrote when I first started this, I just felt like I wanted to be able to explain my reviews to myself in a way - "Was this movie really good or did it just seem like it? How can I compare? What did I like/not like, and why?" I've already found it helpful going back to a movie from 6 months ago to see what my thoughts were. Of course, as you correctly state, sometimes they change. Anyway, I think most critics use "grades" like that in a similar way. The great ones often never used "stars" because they were able to dissect everything within their writing. A talent that you seem to share. Then there are those, like Ebert (and everybody else here), who can do both.

    Quickly, on the '08 movies to date. The documentaries have been VERY impressive to me so far, and might be the reason I think this year is well on its way. Otherwise I enjoyed My Blueberry Nights, The Visitor, OSS 117, Priceless, and City of Men, The Fall, and even Stop-Loss. I never know where to put "old/new" releases like 4 Months, The Band's Visit, even Reprise. Pesky distribution schedules...

  9. OK. I think I may have misinterpreted to a degree. So I'll just backtrack here for a moment.

    Marilyn, I think I understand what you're saying. You have a gorgeous site BTW. (The pink is extraordinarily picturesque and very relaxing to the senses.) Any time I have visited I've been enormously impressed by the content and the quality of your writing.

    Danny, I just thought that - to some degree at least - that you may have been looking for positive feedback. But if you're more confident in your abilities and expertise then I'm ecstatic. You, Nicky and Craig are all so VERY talented - and sometimes it makes me sad that y'all seem oblivious to the fact that you are all extremely gifted guys with unique voices of your own.

    But any time ANY of you need a boost or some encouragement I shall come sweeping by on my white steed. We are, of course, THE FANTASTIC FOUR - and they don't call us that for nothing.

    As to this year, I can't see it shaping up like last year. 2007 was a virtual miracle in terms of quality and style. But you never know...

    My current #1 movie for this year is (as many of you know) MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS. Other four star favourites were THE VISITOR and IN BRUGES. Those are the best films of 2008 (so far) in my opinion...

    But I also loved a lot of flicks in my three star section: among them YOUNG@HEART, THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL and SEX & DEATH 101. I couldn't give MISS PETTIGREW LIVES FOR A DAY three stars in good consciences so it stays at two. But (after three screenings) I must admit it has a fizzy, light hearted charm that is almost addictive - and it also possesses LEE PACE, of course.

    So, we'll see. But up against the films that I gave five stars to last year BEFORE I started blogging (ATONEMENT & THERE WILL BE BLOOD) and the some of the fabulous films that I awarded four stars to (SLEUTH, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, 3:10 TO YUMA, THE BRAVE ONE, JUNO, ZODIAC, LA VIE EN ROSE, THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD, ONCE...) I'd say that 2008 has a ton of catching up to do.

  10. Thanks so much, Miranda. Rod and I really appreciate the praised.

    I was just tinkering with redesigning the site. I'll keep your preference for my color palette in mind.

  11. Oops, I meant to put this link in my last comment. Those interested in rating systems as they relate to the idea of a film canon should read Paul Schrader's long article on the subject, which Kimberly Lindbergs wrote about on Cinebeats. Here's the link:


  12. Miranda. :-D

    Yes, you've listed off some real classics from last year. It would be insane (and as you say, miraculous) if '08 could live up to it.

    Thanks for that link, Marilyn. I've now seen his list mentioned at some other places as well. Great for reference.

  13. Daniel, I asked myself the same question when my one year/100th post rolled around. At the time I was doing letter grades and 37% of the films I'd reviewed had A's. But I don't just run to a theater to watch anything, hence avoiding a ton of generic crap from Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Mike Myers.

    Don't be afraid of choosing great cinema, as it's something that helps you stand apart from a majority a those other 4,355,678 movie bloggers.

  14. Thanks, Rachel. I do remember you discussing the same thing at your place and deciding that wasn't a problem. It really shouldn't be that much of an issue in the first place. Nobody's taking our grade to the bank. As has been discussed, most of us are doing this as a personal movie log/journal or just to stimulate conversation about certain movies.

  15. Some blogs end up being more PERSONAL than FILM, like mine, but then you get yours Dan as well as Craig’s and Matt's, which are some of the best movie blogs around, no matter what.

    I totally wish I was in your position, being able to give all those high ratings, I wish I had seen half the stuff you have seen this year, I have really seen mostly crap, and it sucks.

    I don't want to be like all the MILLIONS of other movie blogs out there, but the SA film circuit leaves me little choice.

  16. All in due time, Nicholas. You've already seen half of the summer's new releases before me! Plus you're already getting all friendly with the studios...which is cool, don't get me wrong...

  17. "The easiest explanation is that, like I said then, I generally try to avoid bad movies. I didn't see 10,000 B.C. or The Hottie and the Nottie or Strange Wilderness or Meet the Spartans. That's the nice part about not doing this professionally."

    It's like you crawled into my movie-loving heart and just wrote this paragraph from inside the left ventricle.

    I love your reviews. Didn't you get a Lammy for your rating system? Quit being so hard on yourself.

  18. Nothing new to add here Daniel, just a general agreement with the interesting comments, and a special shout-out of agreement with Miranda's first comment. As you know, I tend to speak first and think later, so for better or worse passion takes place over prudence: my initial reaction to your post was just "Go with the flow, bro, and go with your heart." But having read the nuanced response comments now, it just confirmed that I respectfully find your readers as interesting as your reviews sometimes, and the fact that your forum here continues to attract any of them makes it worthwhile. So keep on keeping on!

  19. Haha, glad you felt that, Nayana, and thanks as always. The Lammy actually (and deservedly) went to Fletch for his clever ratings. You were thinking of experimenting with one, weren't you?

    Thanks, Josh. I couldn't agree more. As much as I enjoy doing this in a vacuum, it's a lot more interesting for me to read people's comments than to read my own writing - that's not to say I don't appreciate the people who are reading and not commenting. But the more the merrier...

  20. I was flirting with the idea, but ultimately decided against it. I thought maybe it would prevent people from reading my reviews all the way through. And anyway, I usually rate movies on Flixster, so anyone can see what I thought if they really feel like it.

  21. Hmm, the old "peek at the grade and run". Yeah I suppose that happens. I like yours how they are anyway - short, personal, and to the point. I should check out Flixster.


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