How to evaluate a movie?

I am going to be volunteering at this years Toronto International  Film Festival and given the appropriate timing, I want write about my views about rating movies. Opposing IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes, I believe there can’t be a unifying objective scale to measure films on. That’s because everyone has their own way of evaluation and each movie has a unique impression on each of us. Taking into account all past events and the environment that have sculpted the way we look upon life, the same aspects mold our reaction to all entertainment. When you like something, then it’s a personal preference and not a definite verdict on the intrinsic value of the subject. And based on that understanding, I don’t like reviewing movies in a point system. “Whose line is it anyway” got it right – the points don’t matter.

There are some aspects that can be measured as either successful or not. Correct focus, framing, story structure, etc. But it all boils down to either skillful execution of technique or artistic choice. Sometimes a lousy execution of camera stabilizing can be an effective visual tool. And if lacking in one department, then others can even the scales. Gravity lacks of plot development, but the CGI is one of the all time best. Now how can I give it a 7/10 or 10/10 and do it justice on both parts.

If the intent of the movie is clear, either it’s made to be funny, scary, visually pleasing, nostalgic etc. and it feels like it succeeds, then I feel pleasant in the theatre. Bad experiences ensue, when a movie does not fulfill the goal it set for itself. In those cases the overall lack of direction cannot be leveled with other qualities. “Batman v Superman” tried to fixate on the philosophical clash of the two superheroes. It explained why and how the adversity began. But it fell through with its execution, because at the end, the movie just overlooked the logic. You can look “Mulholland Drive” as an example of the opposite. The intent of the movie is to be mysterious and it sometimes overlooks logic, but it doesn’t drive you away from the screen, rather makes the experience whole.

When I’m in the theatre, almost everything boils down to entertainment value. I can forgive parts of the movie being bad, if the overall experience is thrilling. You can be entertained by various sides of a movie. Mostly it’s when the movie nails some aspect. Be it acting, jokes, plot twist, action sequence etc. And being not bored is the first component of a good cinema experience. And then there are movies that stick with you.  Those are the masterpieces that entwine entertainment value with a meaningful idea.  You cannot make an all time classic just based on their societal or historical message – cinema is the perfect medium for getting an idea across by making the viewer enjoy their time.


I call it the Time Value of a Movie

But let’s get even wider. Assigning a numerical value is too superficial to be taken seriously. So when I review movies, I always try to take the film apart and analyze its parts separately. Did it stay in tune with its goal, were there any displays of significant technique, what stood out and was there anything annoying. That’s part of the entertainment value in the present. I think that the past and the future should also be taken into consideration. Namely, will the movie hold up or stay watchable only in its era e.g. the past and how re-watchable the movie is e.g. the future. Those two aspects help understand the meaningfulness of the film.

In conclusion, giving a movie a numerical grade isn’t fair. Movie making is a mixture of arts and each of those arts should be considered separately.  And the best movies are those, which stand the test of time. To get a better understanding of me, I’ll share the slam dunks in my book. In no particular order, they are: “American Psycho” that shows us the dangers of the money and appearance idolizing culture we live in. It’s mysterious and looming, full of great acting and in my opinion better than the book. The message is actual, it’s thrilling to watch the first time and Bale’s perfect acting makes it endlessly re-watchable.  “Shaun of the Dead” is a rare occasion, where a comedy can be funny and yet thought provoking. Edgar Wright’s visual style is extremely captivating and it’s full of small details, witty dialogue and Easter eggs that makes me want to watch it again and again. “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (because you rarely watch just one of them) is more of a personal pick, but still one of the greatest examples how to pull off a movie on an epic scale. It carries a message of how money and power can influence us, the characters are personal and relatable, and it has in my mind the best original soundtrack ever. And because a top3 is too convenient, “Se7en”, that offers a plot full of twists and characters so well sculpted that Pitt’s character might be one of the best examples of a character arc ever, although it doesn’t end well for the protagonist. What make it so good are the gruesome visual style and the powerful emotions that you feel at the end of the movie. It gets me every time.



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