I’ve received some requests to elaborate on my categorical ratings in reviews, as well as the significance of the numbers. I suppose I’ll leave this here for curious readers who want further insight regarding my process.
For Story, it’s about the progression of events through the film. It’s not the initial premise, but rather, how interesting the film is persistently. Some movies have great ideas but just don’t keep me especially engaged. I’d say most action movies are like this; incidentally, I rated Deadpool’s story poorly, because virtually everything story-related in that movie is atrociously generic. I didn’t care about Deadpool’s love interest, or his general actions within the narrative. Yet, it’s still a hilarious movie and it’s full of crazy random jokes that show a real ingenuity. So, the story is terrible, but it doesn’t weigh the film down much.
In contrast, Wind River and Murder on the Orient Express are, initially, fairly simplistic murder mystery films. However, the twists and turns, coupled with the specific events from the murder to the solving of the mystery, in each of these films, is fascinating and astonishing. A slightly older example of this would be Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River, which is profoundly unique despite being another film entirely revolving around the murder of a single person. Actually, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri also focuses on the murder of a young girl, but it’s a sort of backdrop for an intimate character study that comprises the best movie of 2017.
Anyway, my Story category reflects narrative structure and intrigue. If I really wanted to know what would happen next, in every scene, the story could be 10/10. A 5/10 story is average, inoffensive but perhaps somewhat uninteresting. A 0/10 story is horrendous and makes me hate the characters I am apparently supposed to like, and I probably want the movie to end quickly because I don’t want to see any more of the film’s world.
Acting is simple, I think. This refers to the people on-screen, or, in a performance that is not live-action, the voices of the actors. This relates to the idea of actors being able to convince me of their performance; it’s an issue of how genuine an actor seems to be. An extremely talented actor such as Daniel Day-Lewis, Sam Rockwell, or Anthony Hopkins could really force focus on their immaculate acting, yielding a 10/10 rating. Also, many actors are underrated in this regard, such as Radha Mitchell or Robert Pattinson (go watch Good Time, or perhaps Cosmopolis. He’s quite talented despite his reputation.)
5/10 in Acting would represent barely passable performances wherein the actors are basically competent in their roles, but there is absolutely nothing standing out about them, and they seem essentially interchangeable with any other actor of similar mediocrity. Most actors who consistently perform so mundanely are very forgettable. There are some actors, such as Ed Helms and Kristen Stewart, who have never been able to deliver an enjoyable performance, always appearing bland, emotionless, monotonous, and sometimes laughably ridiculous. If every actor in a film seems to have this problem, Acting is probably 0/10.
Now, Cinematography is very purely about the way the film is presented through the camera. For an animated movie, it’s the implied camera; despite not actually existing, there’s still a visual representation similar to a live-action film. Some movies will have peculiar and fascinating camerawork, using interesting techniques including various types of tracking shots and zooms. Low-angle shots and remarkable camera movements are often a boon, especially when they add to the scene. For instance, very fast and slightly jarring tracking shots can help represent tension in a film, and constant close-up shots of the characters can help add a sense of claustrophobia to the scenes. Films with great Cinematography give the viewer a proper understanding of space within a room, and the positioning of objects and characters, while still utilizing more than plain, bland still shots.
Movies with constantly engaging and imaginative uses of the camera, especially with regard to what we’re shown (and, subsequently, what isn’t shown but is known to be outside the frame) may achieve a 10/10 in Cinematography. Blade Runner 2049 had certainly the best cinematography of 2017; it employed a great deal of incredible imagery, some of the most inventive action scenes I’ve seen in years in terms of camerawork, and persistently gave a great impression of what was going on in the film. Movies that decently represent the scene through the camera, yet fail to do anything special or inventive, resulting in largely unmemorable Cinematography, might earn a 5/10.
Movies that use basic shot/reverse shot patterns will net a rating around there. However, if a film is an incomprehensible mess in terms of visual presentation, and has constant cuts, forcing the viewer to arbitrarily guess at where the characters and surrounding objects are in relation to the rest of the scene, can be given a 0/10. My highly negative Into The Woods review lists an extremely low Cinematography rating partially due to the characters within that film being anywhere or nowhere at any given time. They are apparently ‘in the woods’ but there’s no understanding given through camerawork even within a single scene, so it’s just a bland mess of trees and the occasional human. Also, infamously, the last fight scene in Alex Cross has constant cuts and a violently shaken camera, which is disorienting and frustrating as a viewer. Note to aspiring filmmakers: do not arbitrarily shake the camera when people are being hurt. There is no excuse for that.
Special Effects refer to mostly to the visual design of the scenes, and the extra efforts that go into this. I’m including CGI and practical effects, and really anything relating to the crafting of the scene itself, as opposed to the camerawork; Cinematography gives us “what is shown, and how” while the Special Effects give us “the specific details of what we see.” It’s difficult to rate especially old movies in this category, as, unlike the rest, this could be improved with modern technology. That said, the Lord of the Rings movies from the early 2000s have excellent Special Effects with amazing design, but much of the practical work was replaced by pure CGI for the Hobbit movies, which was not nearly as impressive or aesthetically appealing.
However, a movie like Annihilation may combine practical effects with CGI and general design choices to paint an incredible picture for the audience, yielding an easy 10/10 for Special Effects. 5/10 could be an issue of apparent errors in visual design, or generally unpleasant effects sequences. Movies that utilize CGI to represent everything on the screen will probably yield a 5/10 rating from me. Earning a solid 0/10 in Special Effects is difficult; the effects would have to be so poorly designed or so daftly implemented that I am pulled from my immersion purely due to the absurdity of it. Although I enjoyed watching the infamous Sharknado, its special effects were a horrible mess 100% of the time. There were attempts at practical effects as well as the CGI ‘sharknadoes’, and they were all reprehensible. It’s still a fun movie, but only because of how terrible it is.
With Soundtrack… it’s probably the most subjective of the bunch. I’m a fan of saxophones, guitars, and pianos, and a film with great use of such instruments for the background music will excite me. That said, films such as the aforementioned Annihilation and Blade Runner 2049 have music that’s irrefutably weird, in ways that simply prove effective for me as a viewer. Sometimes even the slowest and most ambient music is successful in eliciting an emotional response, or improving the apparent message and tone of a scene, due to its brilliance of composition.
At the same time, a properly crafted soundtrack could have sparse use of noise and basically throw a talented guitarist or pianist at your ears in the perfect moment. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri accomplished this perfectly, being the absolute acme of film soundtracks by giving me music I would love outside of the film that still fits every scene as if the film might have been made for the music, and not vice versa. (Although, sometimes, as with last year’s Baby Driver, that might actually be the case, in a way.) A 10/10 soundtrack is something I remember well weeks or months after seeing the film, because of its quality. More than that, I’ll recall the scenes in which the music played by hearing the sound.
Sadly, it’s rare for a movie to be so remarkable in its sound, hence the fact that, as of early 2018, only a handful of my reviews have a Soundtrack rating above 6.5/10. I hope this will change for the future, but a 5/10 Soundtrack would be a very basic and monotonous score which could be swapped for another score in a totally different genre of music and not be noticed. My common ratings of slightly above 5/10 represent my acknowledgement of music that is just fine, that might work well for a couple of scenes, but that I wouldn’t care to hear again in any case. 0/10 Soundtrack would be…well, it’s tough to describe. Imagine trying to enjoy a movie during a quiet scene and having somebody let off an air horn next to your head.
Consider the possibility of music so poorly implemented that a reasonable viewer might wish it were not in the film at all. I recently gave the soundtrack to A Quiet Place a very low Soundtrack rating, not just because its music was boring and unnecessary, but because it actually didn’t belong in the scenes in which it was used. Such a film would have benefited more from a very limited score and a small amount of sound, or perhaps a sparingly used soundtrack with great and complex music over scenes with excellent visual storytelling. Isle of Dogs does something like this, playing nice music loudly over otherwise silent scenes with characters traveling, and it was wonderful. So, for Soundtrack, it’s not just about the exact music used, but also, the choice of when the music is used.
Now we have Writing. Admittedly, this somewhat goes hand in hand with Story, or rather, they are both essentially part of the script. Still, I felt a need to keep them separate because, for me, writing mostly represents the actual dialogue of the film. The lines of each character are paramount to a well-made and entertaining movie. This is especially true for comedy films. One of my favorites is What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbara Streisand. It’s full of wonderfully witty banter between characters, often with visual gags sprinkled in. Airplane! is also a great example of this, although the comedy is a bit different in style.
In a drama film, the lines of the actors should be sufficiently realistic and also complex in order to convey emotion. Also, Writing must represent the actions that each character must take, with respect to the script. I suppose this may relate to Story too much, but some movies, such as Deadpool, may have great writing with a terrible Story. Also, plenty of movies have an excellent Story because the events are fascinating and memorable, while the Writing for the characters is less pleasing.
One of my favorite drama films, Meet Joe Black, has an amazing and quick speech near the end of the film (which is over 3 hours long, by the way). I won’t quote it here, but it’s very memorable for me, as is much of the dialogue in that movie. That’s what represents 10/10 writing; inventive and focused dialogue, while still being somewhat grounded and believable, can be amazing and quotable. 5/10 Writing is simple and basic, with little ingenuity, and a general disregard for the material. If a film seems to have dialogue solely to move the Story forward, without the characters saying enough (or saying much of note) so as to be relatively boring, there’s a 5/10 in Writing.
0/10 in Writing is horrendously unfunny comedy and often abhorrently uninteresting dialogue. Villains who only ever say something about killing the protagonists, or love interest characters who say little aside from the way they feel about their love interests, could get a very low score here. I’d say 0/10 is mostly reserved for unbearably cringe-worthy and worthless Writing, as if the people in charge of the script wrote the whole thing whilst drunk at four in the morning. I think that might be unfair to drunkards. Incidentally, the worst comedy film I have ever seen is likely Cedar Rapids, which also stars the aforementioned Ed Helms, who is eternally awful. The jokes are exclusively either boring or hideously offensive. It’s a very aggressively unfunny film, actually. I haven’t reviewed it here, and I do not plan to do so, but it’d get 0/10 Writing in a heartbeat.
Finally, we have Creativity. This is a sort of comprehensive category representing how inventive and surprising the film is. When I watch a Spielberg movie, or an Oliver Stone movie, or a (probably bad) Roland Emmerich movie, I probably know what I’m getting into. Many films might be competent in all these categories, but at the end of the day, still be remembered vaguely as “that film by that guy” or “the one with that lead actor” because there wasn’t enough that made the film stand out. This isn’t so direct like the other categories, because it’s an all-encompassing idea of my surprise at the film’s craft. I think a lot of films might be a solid 7/10 while still being almost identical to other films I have seen which are still around that overall score.
Now, my favorite director is David Fincher, and he has enough patterns in his film-making style that giving one of his movies 10/10 in Creativity could be difficult, in theory…..but even if the colors and shots are similar, he’ll find ways inevitably of blowing me away in several categories. Seven is a commonplace movie in many of its ideas and even some of its presentation, but I adore it for the creative choices in everything from the script to the camerawork. I can recall scenes from all of his movies which represent this idea, even his first and worst feature, Alien 3. Alien 3 isn’t a very good movie overall, but it’s set apart from similar monster movies in enough ways that it’s not terrible. Besides, I doubt any of the problems were Fincher’s fault, considering the fact that he made Seven, The Game, and Fight Club in the next few years. Hell, Fincher managed to make Panic Room, which is strangely great, despite an incredibly simplistic premise, and the presence of Kristen Stewart, who somehow managed to refrain from bringing down the film too much.
Outside of these, I occasionally add extra categories, but those are really just for jokes. They don’t generally affect the total score of the film much, and you, dear reader, need not pay them mind.
Now, I’d like to talk about overall scores, which are technically created automatically through an average of each category. As a result, I technically don’t choose them myself, but they still represent the quality of the film with respect to all categories. So, I’ll do a quick breakdown of what 0 through 10 represent for me as ratings for a film:
10: Absolute masterpieces of cinema. These are perfect or nearly so. I have virtually no complaints about anything in such a movie, and could watch it repeatedly while still enjoying myself immensely. Some films approaching this would be The Witch, Three Billboards, There Will Be Blood, Mulholland Drive, Meet Joe Black, Fight Club, Blood Diamond, Annihilation, The Truman Show, and Grand Budapest Hotel.
9: Amazing and highly praiseworthy films that don’t quite match up to a 10. It’s still incredibly enjoyable for many reasons, and should probably be shared with friends and family as much as possible. Ratings at 9.0 or above are listed as Salient in my reviews. Examples might include Wind River, The Usual Suspects, It Follows, A Ghost Story, Hot Fuzz, Birdman, District 9 (District 10 would get a higher rating of course), and The Last Samurai.
8: Still pretty good and worthy of watching again. Films at this rating are great enough to be positively remembered and kept in mind, but I might not seek them out consistently. Such films are worth seeing at least once, but not necessary or imperative for viewership. Movies scoring 8/10 or higher generally result in me keeping track of the filmmakers behind it, wondering what they will do next. Films around here include The Game, The Descent, Life of Pi, Bone Tomahawk, Edward Scissorhands, Mothman Prophecies, The Help, Secondhand Lions, and Gladiator.
7: Enjoyable with notable flaws. These films have some issues, and seem unfortunately brought down by problems they could have fixed, because some elements are very good. Also, such films may be worthy of seeing multiple times, but little effort would be put into doing so. Movies at 7/10 or above are probably worth the ticket price at a theater, but you don’t need to rush out to see it while it’s there. Ratings between 7.0 and 9.0 are listed as Wondrous in my reviews. Examples could include Titanic, Black Panther, Public Enemies, Under The Skin, Juno, Chicago, Man On Fire, Hotel Rwanda, and Jackie Brown.
6: Passable, and not terrible, but also not noteworthy. Movies with a 6/10 probably have plot holes and inconsistencies that detract substantially from the experience, while still having some good qualities. Still, if I saw such a movie in the theater, I would be disappointed after spending my money on it. These films have good qualities worth mentioning on some level, but might not be worth seeing ever again. At this point, we get into the forgettable movies. Notably, if I predict that a film will be 6/10 or lower for me, I would avoid seeing it in the theater. I’d look at it if it’s on at a party, and that’s all. Movies here could include A Quiet Place, Insidious, Elysium, Interstellar, and The Internship.
5: Mediocre but not totally worthless. A 5/10 is boring and aimless, lacking in quality but not so much that I would demand to stop watching. This is a decent thing to have in the background to which you pay little attention. These films are bland enough that, in order to list examples for thought, I had to look up movies from a bunch of years to find the ones for which I can say “Yeah I saw that. It was fine, I suppose, but really not worth talking about.” Ratings between 5.0 and 7.0 are listed as Satisfactory in my reviews. Examples include Due Date, Shanghai Knights, Flags of our Fathers, Avatar, It Comes at Night, and Red Lights.
4: Really incompetent or otherwise just unpleasant. We’re getting into the bad ones. These are movies I wouldn’t want to watch again. I would probably avoid them, unless there’s some sort of purpose, or I want to laugh at them with friends. These movies might have a couple of good merits, but those can’t outweigh the problems. Examples include 2012, 10,000 B.C., White House Down, The Day After Tomorrow….Okay so almost everything Roland Emmerich has done actually comes to mind as a solid 4/10 movie. I’ve seen Day After Tomorrow 3 or 4 times due to other people watching it near me, and I always just wish something better was on. He only makes messes. I could rant about 4/10 movies a bit, even though they could have some redeeming qualities. More examples would be Mother!, The Lovely Bones, Pacific Rim, The Butterfly Effect, Rumor Has It, and Let Me In(the Swedish original film is great though).
3: Terrible and frustrating to experience. At this point, I would argue with people over the low quality of the films. I definitely do not want to watch a 3/10, and at this point it’s unfortunate anybody has seen these movies. I find that many movies I would put here are beloved by some, but in my experience, they are not good at all. Ratings between 3.0 and 5.0 are listed as Objectionable in my reviews. Also, anything under 3.0 is listed as Egregious in my reviews. Examples might include Gravity, The Grey, The Village, The Lightning Thief, Clash of the Titans, The Hangover, and Saw 2.
2: Films which elicit a groaning malediction from an intelligent audience. These are the movies which truly deserve Razzie awards. I am disturbed when somebody calls anything 2/10 or below a good movie, or recommends them in a serious capacity. At the same time, many such films might be “so bad they are funny” and I can still appreciate that experience. Examples include Battlefield Earth, Catwoman, Transformers, Transformers 2, Transformers 3 (I don’t know why I ended up seeing these) and The Happening.
1: This rating is symbolic of true hatred. If a film is rated so low, I am genuinely surprised to see anybody attached to it in a great film. These movies are, laughably or not, exceedingly awful. It’s the sort of thing you can’t quite imagine having been made until you see it. Examples include Into The Woods, Wicker Man (2006), Ballistic, Sharknado, Alone in the Dark, Say It Isn’t So, The Room, Speed 2: Cruise Control, and Gigli.
0: Defies explanation or proper description. Words do not exist to fittingly convey the negativity with which I regard these movies. This rating fits movies that cannot do anything that isn’t detestable. Their existence is automatic defilement of the industry. Examples include Babel, The Last Airbender, Splice, and Sucker Punch.
That’s all for now. I hope this has been informative, dear reader.