(originaly from 2014)
All film criticism is subjective. We all watch movies from different places and experiences. What is meaningful to one person isn’t necessarily meaningful to another. Except “Shogun Assassin”, we all come out of that movie feeling the same way — exhausted, a bit freaked out, but also excited about the baby cart that shoots daggers.
That is why I came up with the Perfect Movie/Perfect Film grading system. In it, I posit that there are two kinds of cinema — a movie and a film. A movie is the turn off the brain, just go along for the ride type of entertainment. A film is the engage the brain, invest yourself in the craft and art type of theater experience.
To qualify as a Perfect Movie the rewatchability has to be pretty strong — it has to work in any setting for any amount of time. You can tune in at any place during the run time and something cool is going on, and you can turn away without worrying too much that you will miss anything. An example would be the Zack Snyder remake of “Dawn of the Dead”. I absolutely love that movie. It doesn’t matter where I turn it on, something cool and awesome is happening. I can feast on it or snack on it, and I am happy. Is it great cinema? No, not really. It is just a rich serving of Pop Pablum well executed. And that makes for a Perfect Movie.
A couple of other examples of Perfect Movies for me are: “The Replacements”, “Joe vs the Volcano”, “Flash Gordon”, and “This is Spinal Tap”.
To qualify as a Perfect Film is a whole different set of criteria. A Perfect Film, within the structure of this philosophy, is a film with which there are no craft or artistic decisions that I can second guess. The casting is perfect, the structure is perfect, the direction is perfect, the scoring is perfect, etc. An example of a perfect film would be “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. Going into that movie, I expected it to be a massive train wreck, mainly because it had Jim Carrey in the lead. In a dramatic film, with romantic and science fiction-y overtones. But he worked. And Winslet worked. And the direction was perfectly executed for the story being told. The film was perfect. If I watch it, I have to watch it from beginning to end. And if I have any criticisms, when it comes to a Perfect Film, they would fall under the “I don’t like dog stories, so I don’t like this” variety, which we all know is not real criticism at all.
A couple of other examples of a Perfect Film for me are: “Blade Runner” (the original release version because it is the first one I saw and I fell in love with it, narration and all), “O Brother Where Art Thou”, “Godfather 2”, “A Mighty Wind”, and “Once”.
When I rank the movies for others, I generally score them on a percentage basis. On a Perfect Movie score, it is pretty straight forward. It generally boils down to a straight percentage of the amount of joy any given film has given me. For instance, “Cloud Atlas” gets a kinda flat 59% Perfect Movie score since the reviewability is really low. I count 8 big things that really pulled me out of the experience (though I have to admit I find a bit of entertainment value in them, but not in a good or positive way): Tom Hanks as creepy old ship doctor, Tom Hanks as 70s era whistle blower, the terrible Halle Berry performance (ranks up there with her Storm in X-Men), the horrible make up job on Doona Bae to put her in white face, the clunky pacing, the overly earnest dialogue, and the sense that the filmmakers feel like they are trying to tell you something but are too smart to just come out and tell you.
On the Perfect Film score, I form a more nuanced opinion based on every creative or aesthetic decision that I agree or disagree with — for “Cloud Atlas” this gives me a score of 85% — I don’t think Halle Berry is a good actress and I think she was just not up to the challenge of this film as much as the other actors were, I am okay with the transracial casting but I think that the make-up was clunky and disagreeable looking in every single instance it was used. I think the ultimate story was more simplistic than the filmmakers did and thus left me feeling a bit sold short, however, the film is beautifully crafted technically, the score is wonderful, and there were certain scenes that were flat out wonderfully executed — and those things made up for a lot of the negatives, but not enough to get it very close to a Perfect Film status.
These two different scores together create a combined rating of 59/85. You can tell quickly that as pure entertainment “Cloud Atlas” struggles greatly, but as film art, it really strives to be something more.
Here is a quick look at releases from this past year and my Perfect Movie/Perfect Film ratings for each:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — 65/93
The Lego Movie — 78/56
Noah — 53/96
Amazing Spider-Man 2–41/67
Bad Words — 88/96
Knights of Badassdom — 66/43
X-Men: Days of Future Past — 84/62
Captain America: Winter Soldier — 89/86
My list of actual Perfect Movies/Perfect Films is pretty small. Yours will obviously be completely different
She’s Having a Baby — 100/100
Step Brothers — 100/100
The Thing — 100/100
It is not a perfect system, but I like the ability to sum up both the artistic merit of a film as well as the entertainment value quickly and separately, leaving more time to watch more movies.