Film Criticism, Objectivity, Life and the Dreaded 7/10 Review Score
Why I love movies, and why movies love me.
For weeks I have had a rough draft of an article sitting unattended. Lonely, it cried for the attention I was giving to the other written pieces that have appeared on Flickmetic. This rough draft included nothing more than the words, “there’s very little objectivity in film criticism.”
I didn’t write it until now because it wasn’t clear how I should proceed, or even if it was an endeavour worth investing the time into. Maybe it was something that should have popped up when the website first launched, because it is basically just a manifesto of why I started it.
Then I was tormented–okay, I’m exaggerating–by two things. The first is a post from a few years ago on a deceased blog that my friend Justin (free advertising is up, buddy, start paying me now) made about why he’s a film critic. The second is the dread 7/10 rating that appears to cause a lot of hostility when it has the nerve to show up to the party and declare something as merely good. On second thought, I’m tormented by my friend but the 7/10 rating is manageable.
It became obvious that in order to proceed I needed to tackle the idea of film criticism and the reactions to film criticism. If it comes across like I’m parroting some of my friend’s article, that’s not intentional imitation (contrary to what he’ll want to believe); it’s because in a lot of ways he and I share a similar backstory when it comes to likin’ flicks and
not getting chicks likin’ film criticism.
But in order to understand, we need to go back to the beginning. And like any good origin story, it starts with video games.
Mario and Nintendo in general helped raise me. I have great parents but what parent could contend with Super Mario Bros. 3? I’ll answer that for you: none. But the real question is, why am I discussing video games when I’m supposed to be talking about cinema?
I have loved video games for thirty years. When I had sleepovers with another friend he would sometimes attempt to rent a movie for us but I’d ask, “why get a movie when we can get a game?” So if I’m being truthful, I can’t pretend that film is my first love.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always liked movies. As a kid I would watch my fair share but the intense adoration was not yet there. I didn’t realize this at the time but movies were impacting my life in such a way that it wasn’t even visual yet. That’s because Bambi, and specifically Thumper, made me love bunnies.
That love for bunnies lead me to getting my own many years later, which lead me to plastering his image all over this very website–which gives me a slightly unique presentation among the plethora of movie websites. So because of movies I got my mascot, I just didn’t realize it at the time.
The actual obsession with the art form didn’t begin until many years later, when I got my first job. Before I even made a cent I had discovered the Rocky franchise and became obsessed with that, but that didn’t balloon into an interest in the entire medium for a few more years.
When I could afford to go to the theatre on a regular basis I did so. I soaked up whatever mainstream flick was playing. I watched a lot of great movies and the theatre experience became one I would cherish for years to come. It was a good opportunity for another friend and I to spend time together.
It was around this time that a group of movies entered my life. I will now give these movies a clever name collectively: Movies That Influened Me and Helped Kickstart My Movie Fandom. Genius, I don’t know how I do it. The three that come to mind are Donnie Darko, American Beauty and Fight Club. While these are far from underground, they were important because they were serious films in their own right. Fight Club remains a favourite to this day, and while my reverence towards the other two has waned slightly since, there’s no denying how important they were to my development and how I approach criticism and the filmmaking process.
From that point on I would go on to watch films from a variety of different styles. Sometimes these would be conventional but brilliantly told stories, but occasionally I would watch something that would shatter my expectations about what film could be. Harmony Korine became my favourite director and one of the only artists that I would consider an idol.
Around that time my friend Justin, who I mentioned above, started going to movies with me. What blossomed was a regular trip to the theatre together and many hours spent discussing and breaking down the film outside afterward. That lead to a couple attempts at Youtube channels that weren’t entirely focused on movies but definitely went to bed with them on more than one occasion. But most importantly, that lead to the Justin and Tyler Movie Awards.
The Justin and Tyler Movie Awards has existed in some form or another for a decade. We haven’t always done the awards together, although we have many of those years. Even if we did our own awards, omitting each other, we still did an awards show–and the genesis of that was us going to see movies together.
The awards don’t get a lot of views because we aren’t famous. They are longform, don’t have the best production values–but they’re full of personality and good conversation. We do it knowing that they won’t do solid business because we love spending the couple days together and discussing our consensus favourite past time. Plus they have a banging theme song from Kevin MacLeod that brings joy to my dead heart.
At the end of the year I will do a lengthy dive into 2020 movies. Unless COVID-19 makes it impossible, I will also collaborate with Justin–on his Youtube channel–for another edition of the annual Justin and Tyler Awards. I will post the links to them here when they are done, as well.
So now you know how I got here and if you’re confused as to what this has to do with anything, you need to know that I just love conversing about movies. And that matters because…
A Personal Story Is Essential Because Fundamentally Film Criticism Is Personal
I spend a lot of time dissecting the difference of opinion between fans and critics in the Fans vs Critics weekly series and I spend time diving into how fans interact with one another in the Fandom Wars series.
I do this in part because I love discussion about movies with anybody and because I find it curious when people say they either always disagree with critics or agree with critics. I also see videos and editorials about this issue, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading both positive and negative responses to reviews. Hell, I have spent over a decade on Criticker, a website where I’ve rated over 2500 movies and read many mini-reviews.
There’s very little objectivity in film criticism. Roughly a thousand words in and we finally circle back to the thesis. If there was objectivity you wouldn’t want to read it anyway. It would be a boring account of the technical aspects of any given film that wouldn’t tell you anything about the quality.
So you shouldn’t expect objectivity. You should expect that a critic be concise and honest with their opinions. They don’t have to be correct because there is no correct response to whether a flick is good or not. You can delve into the many genres of film from the many places in the world that produce them and gain a deeper understanding of different styles, feels, outlooks and themes, but this doesn’t mean you’re smarter than someone more casual. It means you approach it in a different way.
What you should demand from a critic is an attempt to eliminate biases, which many outlets try to do by allowing select individuals to review any given product based on their own preferences. But a critic should also acknowledge their biases. It doesn’t matter how serious you are as a film-goer, there are genres you like less than others. I love action movies but rarely see musicals, for example. If I review a musical it will be important to filter my opinions through my own bias and make that known.
Even the best critics have serious drawbacks, if you can call it that. I will refer to my favourite film critic of all-time and arguably the greatest, Roger Ebert. You may have heard of him. I’m paraphrasing but once he said that if a movie has boobs in them he will be more inclined to give a positive review. Is that really what a serious critic should be doing? Yes! First of all they are awesome but second of all, that’s his preference.
Ebert gave Fight Club a pretty middling review. He began it with, “Fight Club is the most frankly and cheerfully fascist big-star movie since Death Wish, a celebration of violence in which the heroes write themselves a license to drink, smoke, screw and beat one another up.”
Some will agree with him while some of us think he missed the satire. But do I care? No. Is it because I believe that you shouldn’t care about people taking a dump on the movies you love? Also no. It’s completely reasonable to take offense to a review because art is personal, but it’s not okay to lash out like a petulant child at the reviewer. I didn’t care because he was a damn good writer. So even though I didn’t agree with what he said, I enjoyed how he said it. I could see his point and could pinpoint the consistency in his argument.
I’m not trying to tell you that you need to act a certain way. Unless you’re vicious and send death threats then you’re probably fine with how you react. I’m mainly just trying to tell you that if rating movies based on how many boobs there are is good for Ebert, it’s good for me.
7 Out of 10? More Like Die Right Now…Out of 10
With the final act we must now contemplate the dreaded 7/10. This is a final score that is so reckless, so insidious, that it has crumbled society and destroyed culture. The people who give these–like Jim Sterling when he dropped one on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild–are truly terrible humans.
If you can’t understand the obvious and frankly, sub-par, sarcasm here then let me just lay it out plainly. I said it earlier but it is worth repeating: a seven, by most scales, means that something is good. Not great, but not bad. Good, meaning worth your time.
I have sympathy for people who don’t seek out anything rated a seven. A good rule of thumb is to watch whatever film peaks your interest, but given that life is busy and sometimes you need an advisor to help you moderate how you spend your time, avoiding sevens is understandable. Life is too short to indulge something that may only be good when there is so much great. On the flip side, that seven could be a nine to you if you’d give it a chance. So you gamble either way.
But again, being annoyed that someone gives something you love a seven is also understandable. It’s personal to you and if you rated it higher then obviously it impacted your life in some meaningful way. Say you disagree with the critic (or friend) but be intelligent–or funny–about it. We love art because of the way it touches us deeply, sometimes subconsciously. Movies made me love bunnies and lead me down a certain road.
Yet the real reason why I wanted to deliberate on that score is because I find it fascinating how it can cause such offense while being so integral to how we are as a culture.
I went to IMDB–which I know has its own caveats that you can ponder–and downloaded their dataset. It can’t tell us the whole story but it can tell us some of it. There have been some other analyses done about IMDB that I strongly recommend viewing, but for my own purposes I made these charts:
IMDB average ratings of movies since 1890. The dotted line is the average rating combined..
Any analysis I’ve seen shows that the average rating of all the movies included in the IMDB dataset is between six and seven, sometimes going a little over seven, as we will see. This isn’t technically a seven so you may think that my argument doesn’t hold any weight, but it’s pretty close is it not?
It becomes more complicated when you consider that since the 1960s the average rating has ultimately increased slightly. For a few decades it dipped but in the 2000s it inched its way up to a 6.83, which for all intents and purposes is basically a seven. In the 2010s the flirting stopped and the relationship began, becoming a–you guessed it–seven.
IMDB average ratings over the last two decades.
It’s too early to tell how the 2020s will go but I included it to show that we are trending upward. The 2010s had an average rating of 7.06 and as you can see, if we include 2020 then the average is 7.13. It could increase or decrease but it’s unlikely that it will decrease drastically if it does at all.
There’s no denying that the internet became the dominant force over the last couple decades. It would only make sense that a large percentage of the movies rated would be new, so to see the average rating become a seven is an alluring observation.
As a society of movie fans we’ve hovered in the six-to-seven range for decades. This could be because of the quality of the films themselves, but that argument isn’t entirely convincing to me because some people say that older movies are better while some swear by recent releases. It can also be swayed by a variety of obstacles.
Regardless of the reasons why, we rate movies close to a seven on average and yet it’s not a suitable number to a group of people. Again, this is fine; it’s just humorous that the most common average rating might even be more offensive than a legitimately horrible score. Must be a lot of annoyed people.
Of course, this is all contextual. Perhaps the outrage stems mostly from movies that get high praise or no praise, so the seven seems especially unearned either way. Without a proper breakdown of the numbers it’s hard to tell, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that like the bell curve indicates, a lot of the extreme actions happen on the tail ends. It’s not the people who rate sevens that are offended by sevens, it’s the people who expected more or less.
One thing is for certain: there will always be people who get mad when the property they love is disrespected.
So I covered a lot of ground today. We laughed, we cried, we got bored with statistics. Maybe I didn’t make my point as clear as I had planned but I hope you got something out of it.
In closing, movies are special. We feel strongly about them so it makes sense that a 7/10 rating is not pleasing to the eye, despite it being a relatively common rating. But we should not lash out like kids would and send death threats to people. Let’s keep the conversation alive about movies we love and hate, and all of those in between. Talk movies with me.
Watch movies with this guy.