Sunday, January 20, 2013

My Feeble Attempt at Defining Star Ratings for Film Reviews

After some feedback from readers, I decided to implement star ratings in my film reviews.  I even went back to all the films I reviewed for Collective Publishing in 2012 and added a star rating.  It has been slightly less painful than doing my own dentistry with a rusty screwdriver.  I decided to go that way, because not only am I a kind and generous person willing to do what it take to appease my small pack of readers, but I also realize it is one of the easiest ways to rate a particular creative work.  I don't always feel it is very accurate, since sometimes it nothing more than throwing out a number, but reviews really aren't much more than one's opinion anyway.  It does allow for an easy measuring of a film up against others, and then allows the reader to decide if it is something they want to take a chance on.

I debated for a few weeks over if I even wanted to add star ratings.  I wasn't really sure if I was capable of designating a star rating that would properly convey how I felt about a particular film.  I decided that it really isn't a flawless way to convey my opinion, but it was worth using due to its popularity among readers.

The ratings would not necessarily mean that the film I gave 2 stars to back in October was exactly worse than the film I gave 2.5 stars in December.  It just meant at that moment that I felt that specific film warranted that specific rating.  If that makes you feel less of me as a film critic than I apologize for shattering your hope in me.

My other debate was just how I create a rating system of any value.  Most of the respected critics give a rating out of 4 stars.  I tried it, but felt it causes too many different films to end up with the exact same rating.  I then thought about rating it out of 10, but felt it was far too broad of a rating.  I feared there was more chance of error by such a high rating.  I voted for 5 stars, because I find it easier to rank something with an odd number being the peak and also felt it was about the right scale.

Then I had to decide exactly how I was going to base my ratings.  I felt it was best to take the Roger Ebert style of ratings.  This meant that I would be rating a film based off its particular genre rather than how it fit among all the films in history.  I'd be rating This is 40 against other comedies rather than against Argo.  The 3 out of 5 star rating for that film isn't being compared against a 4.75 star review of Argo but rather against Knocked Up or Uncle Buck.  This also means that I may not feel that This is 40 and Killing Them Softly are the same quality film despite both being rated 3 stars, because they're also in entirely different genres that are going after very different audiences.

A star rating doesn't really tell you anything.  This is also why I decided to include a quick synopsis by my ratings.  I don't think a rating alone gives a reader a proper interpretation of how I view a film.  In an attempt to assist, I'm going to let you know what a rating actually means to me.  Now, this may change over time.  I am still getting a hang of this star rating business.  This also means that I may change my star ratings of a specific film as time goes on.  Hell, my opinion of a film may change over time, because that is my right as a film critic (I just gave it to myself).

Actually, I'd love your feedback on this.  You can let me know if this system totally sucks or give me advice on how to tweak and improve.  For now, this is how I see each star rating.

0 stars:  A completely steaming pile of garbage with absolutely no artistic merit.  This is rating is almost as hard to get as a 5 star movie.

.5-1 star: A dreadful movie, but at least it resembles something we can call cinema.

1.5 - 2 stars: Not a good movie by any means, but usually there is at least one redeemable thing about the film.

2.5-3 stars:  A decent to good movie that either is hampered by being very generic and formulaic (but doing it well) or being an original film that is hampered by a major flaw.

3.5:  A really good film that brings real value to the cinematic landscape.  But it lacks something truly innovative to stand out.

4 stars:  A legitimate contender for the best picture of the year.  It is a memorable and unique film, and something I'll want to rewatch over and over.

5 stars:  A legendary film that creates its very own genre and will be remembered for a lifetime.  I'll try to make this a very rare rating, and rather opt for 4.75 for most truly excellent films.

I realize most film critics rate out of four, and give several films four stars in one year.  I haven't decided if that approach is better or not.  For now, I like having an almost elusive rating that really shows a film is spectacular.

This is my criteria for the ratings at this point.  I'm open for any suggestions and advice on refining them.     


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