Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rating the movies


I'm a high rater.  I know this.

It's more obvious to me now on Letterboxd, which I enjoy a lot as a tool for myself, even I only occasionally do anything "social" on there at all.

But every year at year's end, I read folks like Marty McKee chime in with their yearly movie totals and it gives me a place to track mine, along with some thoughts I might have on it, although almost never anything close to a review thankfully.

I used to be a super-high rater. Now, I think I'm a more modest high rater. I still definitely tend towards higher ratings than many of peers.

Let's get out of the way now that all ratings are stupid. I have a dorky affection for them as a throwaway means to offer an impression of a movie at somewhere like Letterboxd and, of course, it's even better at something like Netflix, where it can help to recommend other movies I might enjoy.

But, in the end, the simple numerical approach to appraising one's appreciation of a work of art is certainly silly.

Therein might lie the exact reason I find low raters so confusing.

No, not low raters in themselves. I mean the people who think their low ratings prove that they're more discerning.

I'm not making this up, although it's ridiculous enough that I feel like I ought to be.

But I hear it. "Oh, I never rate anything 5 stars", all smug and full of "meaning" and "importance". All I think is, then you have a 4 star rating system with some vaguely meaningless fifth star that's reserved for some kind of hypothetical perfect movie that can't exist. It's like Warp 10 on Star Trek: The Next Generation, I explain to ensure that this blog stays properly geeky.

But so what? Let's just say I have a sixth star in my 5 star rating system I'll never use because no movie could ever reach that limit. The number of stars or points or whatever you use is arbitrary, even when you're staying firmly in some Base 10 system based on the number of fingers our species starts out with.

Me? I like the standard "Hated It", "Didn't Like It", "Liked It", "Really Liked It" and "Loved It" dynamic. I grew up with John Hartl in The Seattle Times. He used 5 stars and my recollection is that was pretty close to the language used. I base all of my ratings on that, even if I'm using another system, such as the IMDb's 10 point system. 5 out of 10 means I barely "liked it", if that, and anything below that means I "didn't like it".

(Yeah, that doesn't match up perfectly between rating systems - I tend to mean I didn't like something when I rate it 2 1/2 stars - and I think I struggle how to rate things there in the middle somewhere generally. That's ok, as I try to avoid movies I expect I'll rate in that area of my scale anyway, for reasons I've discussed to death elsewhere on this little blog.)

5 stars or a rating of 10 means I "loved it", with no pretension of any deeper meaning. I don't claim to understand what a "perfect movie" might be - It kind of sounds awful, though, doesn't it? - but I know what I love. I love imperfections really.

I love Death Race 2000, as an example. That doesn't mean I'm unable to discern its imperfections. It means I love its imperfections. I wouldn't want it to be "better".

So, I'll never be a low rater. It doesn't make any sense to me and seems a sure sign that one has lost sight of the pure joy of watching movies. That feeling of swooning joy at watching something you love with unadulterated enthusiasm. If losing that would make me a more discerning critic, I'm happy to stay a dull-witted, grinning fanboy forever.

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