Grading Scale (without grades)
This is the new, official set of categories in which I put all films I see, for recommendation and quality division purposes. Some would call this a grading scale, though I no longer give actual grades, cause I don't believe in them... I just keep track of how much I like/respect each film I see (feel free to call this hedging, because it is). Anyway, on to the scale...
"If you've never seen these, you've never really lived"
(rough equivalent: A+)
Above and beyond a masterpiece; an exceedingly rare breed. Pulls off the trick of being both deeply resonant and consistently entertaining from start to finish (or if not "entertaining," then still utterly engaging... haunting? disturbing?). Totally transporting. Endlessly rewatchable. Thoroughly lovable. Really, I can't even know what will be an A+ until it's settled into my system and the love has had time to bloom. And as it says above, if you've never seen these films, you've never really lived. Your life is incomplete without these treasures.
Examples: Thelma & Louise, Moulin Rouge!, Dancer in the Dark
"These are required viewing"
(rough equivalent: A)
A masterpiece... or, as some say, a classic. Maybe not endlessly rewatchable, but masterful nonetheless. Contains either brilliant comedy or resonant tragedy, but maybe not both at once (that'd be an A+). Feels intimate, yet large in scope. No flaws to speak of, but doesn't keep inviting you back for more the way an A+ does; you just wanna catch those few key moments and then fast-forward through the rest. Or else you DO watch it over and over, but its effect is not as deep as that of an "A+" film. But either way, still a great work of art, and a rarity. As it says above, required viewing for any true film fan.
Examples: Brokeback Mountain, A History of Violence, Mulholland Dr.
"You should really see these"
(rough equivalent: A-)
Terrific. Hugely ambitious without letting the effort show. Has a uniquely cinematic power. Might not feel totally complete, or may be somewhat flawed, but still contains moments of pure cinema. Distinguishable from a B+ in that it feels "near great" instead of merely "very good." It has that special movie magic, and casts a powerful spell. It wows and then sticks with you. As it says above, any film buff should really see these. They may not be perfect, but they're pretty essential.
Examples: Kill Bill: Volume 1, Children of Men, Volver, The Incredibles
"Highly recommended" i.e. "very good"
(rough equivalent: B+)
Top notch cinema. Not as uniquely cinematic or as powerful as an "A" film, but still "better than good." Might have magical moments or elements, but still feels, on the whole, like a "B" film. These are the kinds of films I respect more than love... or else I love them, just not in a "wham! bang! this is a great MOVIE!" kinda way. Top ten list material, but probably not best picture material (unless its a crappy year).
Examples: The Lives of Others, The Squid and the Whale, Junebug
"Moderately recommended" i.e. "good"
(rough equivalent: B)
These are good films. Not great; good. Competently made and entertaining, though not especially rewatchable in most cases. Not really "magical," but there's nothing really wrong with it either (if there is something wrong with it, then there's enough right with it to make up for it). Definitely worthwhile viewing.
Examples: Freaky Friday (2003), Casino Royale, Million Dollar Baby
"Tepidly recommended" i.e. "mostly good"
(rough equivalent: B-)
Generally good, but flawed. Recommended with reservations. Films in this category might drag in spots, feel scattered or unfocused, or just strain credibility in some way. Often I give this grade to dramas that I generally like but find overly sappy or ponderous, or comedies that are funny but sometimes degenerate into dumb attempts at canned laughs. Weaker than a solid "B," but still a good grade.
Examples: Babel, In America, Knocked Up, Scoop
"I have mixed feelings about..."
(rough equivalent: C+)
Generally mediocre, but with some great, highly watchable elements OR just highly unneven, with some things great and some awful. Not good, but not really bad either. Films in this league have as many misfires as direct hits. Frustrating. In any case, they're not what I would call good films... but they're often recommendable anyway. "Fascinating disasters" usually land here, as do other films that I just can't totally get behind but still like enough not to dismiss.
Examples: Dreamgirls, Cold Mountain, Stranger than Fiction
"I can take 'em or leave 'em"
(rough equivalent: C)
Mediocre. Not particularly ambitious or original. You feel all the the heartstrings being pulled, the thrills being engineered, the laughs being set up, the tearducts being worked; even if said techniques are successful, the effort shows. Might contain worthwhile elements, but they're trapped in the overriding tone of mediocrity. Might be enjoyable if you're into this specific genre or performer; not so much if you're not. But these films at least do what they set out to do, i.e. succeed in being mediocre. Sometimes I actually enjoy them a fair amount, but still find them overly derivative and not especially remarkable in any way.
Examples: Something's Gotta Give, The Family Stone, Bridge to Terabithia
"I was mostly annoyed by..."
(rough equivalent: C-)
Not recommended... unless it's REALLY your kinda thing. Decidedly aiming for mediocrity, but not quite successful even at that. This grade often applies to films that dramatize real world events in an inaccurate, tasteless or politically problematic way. Or to films that are pretty to look at and painless to sit through, but (when all's said and done) pretty dumb and pointless. These films may have redeeming qualities, but they still leave a bad taste in the mouth after viewing, and often sour more in the memory. But they often involve good production values, good acting, or at least something mildly engaging. Though they annoyed me, I could see how others might like them.
Examples: A Beautiful Mind, World Trade Center, X-Men: The Last Stand
"Don't bother with these" i.e. "not recommended"
(rough equivalent: D+)
Not worth your time. Just not up to snuff. Didn't manage to engage me in any significant way, despite its best efforts. It might really be trying, too... but to no avail. Just not good filmmaking. Technically incompetent, narratively incoherent, appallingly acted, or perhaps more than one of the above. But it's usually really trying to be good. I feel bad for films like this; I don't exactly hate them, but I don't like them at all either.
Example: A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
"Avoid these like the plague" i.e. "not recommended AT ALL"
(rough equivalent: D or D-)
Just not a good film at all. Verging on offensive. A chore to sit through. Could be worse, but not by much. Often outright insults the intelligence of the viewer. These films are often made worse by the fact that they could've been good if done right. Sometimes a great premise just dies a horrible death in execution. But then, sometimes the premise was crap to begin with. There are many kinds of bad films. But none are worth your time or money.
Examples: I don't usually see bad films. Nothing is coming to me...
"Find the negatives of these atrocities and burn them"
(rough equivalent: F)
In Nat Rogers' words, F is for: "Find the negatives and burn them." I usually have a problem giving films grades, especially bad ones, but for these films, an F is deserved. I rarely, if ever, find myself watching any films this bad. These are the lowest of the low. Films of this ilk don't even know how bad they are; they actually take themselves seriously, which only makes them that much worse. I have sat through part of Lady in the Water, and I think it belongs here. But alas, I gave up on it before I could be sure.
Take this grading scale for what it's worth. This is how I categorize films. I'm glad I've finally found a system that works for me, without making me feel like a tool. I know I'm basically still giving films grades, but outside of this post (which shall have a link on the sidebar), actual letter grades will not appear. Films are meant to be experienced, not graded. This scale represents my perception of the quality of each cinematic experience.
And yes, I am insane. Very much so.
Labels: grading scale