04 April 2015

Movie Reviews

Do you find movie reviews useful? If so, what kind - other than one's you agree with, of course?

I've given up reading about movies before watching them. Started the process some time ago and have completely given up. I prefer to watch a movie as 'cold' as possible. Yes, the heat is on or I'm under a blanket. By 'cold' I mean with virtually no knowledge of the film. I know the name, might know actors or director, and often know some general buzz about the film.

Okay, what's general buzz? For example, I know that Interstellar takes place in space. But that's
from http://www.jonathanmoya.net/2014/09/18/phase-2-of-poster-posse-interstellar-tribute/
really all I can tell you about it. Oh, other than it's on a number of lists, either as a best or most popular film.

And this is where I now get 99.99% of my film recommendations. For years I've been working through such well-known lists as the IMDb Top 250, the National Film Registry (US), Ebert's Great Movies, Empire 500, the Criterion Collection and FilmMovement catalogs. But since I've seen so many of the titles on these lists, I continued to search for other lists until I came across I Check Movies. As of today, they have 162 Official Lists and thousands of others, compiled by members of the site.

While some of the Official Lists might seem obscure, say Amos Vogel's Film as a Subversive Art or Yle News' Best Finnish Films of All Time, especially if you're not in art house cinema or from Europe, and maybe even if you are - or are based on someone's opinion, Spike Lee's Essential Film List or Halliwell's Top 1000, all can be argued as having a rationale for inclusion or exclusion of a given title. One might not agree that Movie X is one of the Top 1000 movies of all time, but really, like most art, qualifying cinema is quite subjective.

And this brings me back to why I don't pay any attention to reviews. I mentioned the late Roger Ebert earlier. While I occasionally disagreed with him, his opinions were reasoned, based less on emotion, and he had decades in the film industry, most of which was spent reviewing films for the Chicago Sun Times or on the syndicated TV show At The Movies. There are others, and thanks to the wonder of the Internet, we can actually see what Jonathan Rosenbaum or AO Scott thought of a given film they reviewed back when. But do you really look up reviews before adding a movie to your Netflix cue? (I don't use Netflix - I prefer my local library.)

No, most people either rely on one of three things:
  • Word of Mouth - "Hey, you have to see the latest Sandra Bullock picture." Um, need I say more? Unless I agree with this person that Sandra Bullock is the greatest actor working in Hollywood, chances are I'm going to be quite disappointed - not always, some of her work is worthwhile.
  • Current Reviews - These are largely found in various media outlets and may range in quality from serious critical commentary to sharing of studio press releases. These tend to be most helpful when one is trying to decide which of the sixteen movies to see at the local cinerama googaplex. Quality varies greatly and may depend on who owns the media outlet or how much advertising they buy.
  • Peer Review - What you find on something like IMDb. Needless to say, I find this a very mixed bag. So many reviews proclaimed The Lego Movie Oscar worthy. Ugh!
So just sorting through reviews takes time. Time I don't find very well spent. Occasionally I might read reviews after seeing a movie (sometimes even while watching it) to see if others have reacted in a similar fashion. Other than that, I don't find them useful at all.

What's a casual movie viewer to do?

Depends. If you think your time and money are being well-spent finding movies using your current method, keep doing it.

If not, then may I suggest finding a list of films that jibes with your interests. Like Martial Arts films? Check out Sohu.com's 100 Classic Martial Arts Films. Or maybe Cult movies are you thing. Try 500 Essential Cult Movies from the book by Jennifer Eiss et al or The New Cult Canon by Scott Tobias at the AV Club. There are probably almost as many lists of films as there are movies available online and on DVD.

Give a list a try.

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