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Movie Mom

Critics Critiquing Critics

posted by Nell Minow

Critics complain about having to decide how many stars to give a movie. There are times when it does feel very arbitrary to try to assign stars or letter grades to a film. And sometimes I think it creates more confusion than it dispels. My view is that you can only grade a movie within the context of its own aspirations and its intended audience. Otherwise, every review is going to begin, “Well, it’s no Citizen Kane. I also rethink my grade when the movie comes out again on DVD.
Eric Childress of CriticWatch provides his annual dissection of the worst movie critics, those who can’t write, those who don’t know anything about movies or about reviewing them, and worst of all those who will say anything (and I mean anything) about any movie (and I mean any movie) in order to get their name in an ad. I breathed a sigh of relief when the only mention of my site was a positive one but nevertheless resolved to do my best to stay away from his list of overused adjectives. (Note: some strong language, understandable under the circumstances.)

  • Wendy

    That was a very positive comment towards you and an amusing post. Thanks for the heads-up. I look to you not just to see whether the film is family appropriate (actually–not at all for that as my daughter is not yet two, but I look forward to your family oriented thoughts in the future), but because I really mesh with your taste in films. We get to movies so rarely, I want to make sure something is worth seeing, and I know your review is my best bet.

  • Alicia

    Hi, Nell. Eric Childress’s selection of bad quotes by critics is funny – I wouldn’t want to get on his bad side!
    I love your reviews of all kinds of movies, not just family-oriented movies.
    Regarding the star system (or the grade system) I rather like the star system. (I already posted about this on the “Crunchy Con” blog, and as I said there, I’ve probably spent way too much time thinking about this, but it’s fun.)
    The grade system you use is probably even better because it allows more nuance, but I’m more used to the * system because of the hours spent browsing Leonard Maltin’s movie book.
    I think the star system is useful in deciding whether to watch a movie or not. Generally, if a movie gets ** or lower, I think of that as “don’t waste your time.” ** stars is supposed to be average, but I think of it as “thorougly mediocre, with nothing special to recommend it.”
    ** 1/2 – Average, but with a little something extra, such as great production values or good performances. Two and a half stars is sort of the “damning with faint praise” category. I think of it as the “if you don’t have anything better to do, watch this” rating. Unfortunately, many well-reviewed movies fall into this category.
    *** – Good – worth seeing at least once or twice, but not exceptional. 3 stars is also a good rating for entertaining movies like “The Fugitive” or “Titanic,” that, while not great, are good “comfort movies” that can be watched many times. Good horror movies would mostly fall into this category.
    *** 1/2 – Excellent, but perhaps just misses being a classic. Lots of excellent films that can be seen more than once, but may not stand the test of time to become classics. “Michael Clayton” would be a recent example.
    **** – Classic. Movies that stand the test of time and seem to grow in stature.
    Thanks for letting me ramble on – but this is a subject I love thinking and writing about.
    Happy Friday!

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