Whine On You Crazy Diamond – Why ratings are a nonsense

Firstly, welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a regular weekly column. I’m a big fan of delusions of grandeur (especially Nicolas Cage’s acting career), and the opportunity to grant myself a weekly editorial has finally proven too much.

I thoroughly enjoy the weekly recording of the Failed Critics Podcasts (so much so that I have started guesting regularly on the Born Offside podcast as well), but those chats are usually focussed on specific films or genres. Sometimes I just want to talk about the film industry, or film criticism, in a more general fashion. I plan to share these thoughts with you here, rather than boring my poor family any more than I already do.

Seriously, at the moment unless I’m talking to my daughter in a ropey (and I think possibly racist) Sebastian from The Little Mermaid  accent, she’s just not interested.

I must also thank @jook from Twitter for coming up with the name for the column – after my rather piss-poor first efforts (that included ‘Diamond in the Rough Cut’ and ‘Bloody Diamond’).

What I want to talk about this week is ratings. Not the kind of ratings that get fantastic shows like Community or Arrested Development  axed (more about those shows on this week’s Failed Critics Review TV Special) – but the stars, marks out-of-ten, and thumbs-up/down that allow lazy/time-pressed readers to quickly decide which films to spend their hard-earned money/download limits on.

What got me thinking about this is a discussion I had with someone online about Looper. I enjoyed the film, and pressed for time and characters online I said I’d give it 8/10. My friend was stunned, and said he thought it was a 6/10 film, or a 7/10 “at a push”. After a little discussion, it appeared that we actually held very similar views – it’s just that, like my favourite teachers at school, I am a more generous marker.

The fact is ratings are almost useless. Not only will the differ from person to person due to the subjective reaction they’ll have to the film, but each critic is also marking from a completely different set of marking criteria – and this is especially true in the brave new world of free online ‘journalism’ where any old chump (such as yours truly) can set themselves up as a film reviewer.

Having spoken to a few of my online colleagues I have discovered vastly different marking criteria used to rate a film. Personally, I operate on a system of awarding 10 at the start of the film, and taking away marks as things annoy, disappoint, and plain disgust me. Just to add a little more complexity to my system, I will only award a film a maximum of 8 out of 10 for execution – a perfect genre piece like Dredd 3D for example did absolutely everything I hoped it would, but I couldn’t award it any more as there was barely a shred of originality to it (which would have lifted it to a possible 9), or that magic, intangible something that makes a film a 10/10 delight (for example Goodfellas is a classic 9/10 for me, while The Godfather just has that something extra that makes it a 10/10).

Other people I have spoken to would regard 6/10 as a pretty good mark – I would regard that as the mark of an exceedingly average film that added nothing new to the canon of cinema and was just about a pleasant-enough distraction for 2 hours. Someone else I spoke to said that there is no such thing as a 10/10 film, as they could only award 10/10 for perfection.

Basically ratings are useless. Even if you haven’t time to read a full review in a rush, without the context of ‘critical baggage’ the number of stars at the end of their considered thoughts might as well be hieroglyphics, or a picture of a badger. If you’ve not got time to read and compare one or two reviews, you’ll probably have more success if you choose a film at random and watch it without reading anyone else’s opinions beforehand. Try it.

What to watch this week:

DVD – Of this week’s new releases I have only seen Dark Shadows which I would urge everyone to avoid at all costs. You can find out why in more detail here. However after a manufacturing error which resulted in all the Blu-rays suffering from viewing problems, you can now find the self-referencing horror homage Cabin in the Woods back on shelves from today.

TV – The Man Who Knew Too Much. Film 4 on Fri 19 Oct at 4.45pm. James Stewart and Doris Day star in Alfred Hitchcock’s tale of an innocent man (surprise, surprise) on the run from mysterious forces. Lovely stuff.

Lovefilm Instant  – Candyman (1992). Recently added to Lovefilm Instant, this tale of the vengeful spirit of a former slave brutally murdering the residents of a Chicago housing project is the perfect warm-up for the release this week of Paranormal Activity 4, and the slew of horror films that will be filling our screens for the next fortnight. Go on, say Candyman five times in the nearest mirror*

*Failed Critics will not be held responsible for the appearance of supernatural killers, or your subsequent wrongful arrest for their crimes.

Netflix UK – From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Relatively new to the UK catalogue, this is the archetypal ‘film of two halves’. Robert Rodriguez directs a ‘fresh-from ER’ George Clooney alongside Harvey Keitel, Julliette Lewis, Salma Hayek, and Quentin Tarantino. One part frontier heist-gone-wrong film, one part blood-soaked Vampire apocalypse film.

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2 responses to “Whine On You Crazy Diamond – Why ratings are a nonsense

  1. I totally agree with the general premise that marks out of 10 is useless, that is of course unless you have a rigid and quantifiable scoring methology across numerous aspects of the movie such as effects, sound, style and goodness knows what else… stuff many of us aren’t really qualified to review in granular detail.

    One thing however… without scoring we’d have no IMDB top 250!

  2. I agree – it’s only really relative to the viewer, I tend to score my films on 4 elements, Overall entertainment, Direction, Script and Score out of 10. But I am now expert on these things I just say it from the heart and go into every film wanting it to be great.

    On letterboxd I just 1/2 my entertainment score. But sometimes I fly off and give a film a high score, and it may be on reflection I think of it’s weaker points and sometimes I do lower my score.

    10/10 doesn’t have to be perfect, I love looper and gave it 9/10, it does have a lot of flaws but I just loved it. The First time I watched Skyfall, I thought it was 10/10 but not good enough to knock avengers (10/10) off my top spot for the year. But the more I watched Skyfall (7 times in all) I loved it more each time and it became my number 1 film of the year!

    My Average score for 176 films is 7.45, my worst films include 3 horror films (which is my favourite genre) and I don’t really have many films under 5. 5 for me is average!

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