March 7, 2010

Critical Thinking Sunday: Movies!

Wanna go to a movie or at least bulk up your Netflix list but don't want to waste time or money? You need to check out one or both of these sites if you haven't already.

Now you may not realize it from reading my blog, but I am a serious movie buff. I was this close to becoming a professional film critic, but there was a problem. I hate having to sit through crappy movies. Film festivals are just confusing masses of mostly junky movies to me. I'd rather wait a week or so and see which movies rise to the top.

Not only do I like movies, but I like reading film criticism. Yes, I like it. But I know not everyone is like me so let me save you some time. First of all: ignore all hype. Movie trailers (preview clips) are pure evil. They make every film look funny or interesting. That means nothing. Just because a boatload of money is spent promoting a film doesn't mean it's any good.

Also, ignore your friends. I know they mean well, but they (and all those Netflix reviewers) don't know diddly about movies. They think they do. Heck, everyone thinks they do (much to the chagrin of professional film critics). But they don't. If they did, then Cop Out wouldn't be making any money. And just because you like that actor or director's last film doesn't mean anything this time around.

I know what you're thinking: but if I listen to the critics I'll be watching boring documentaries and sub-titled foreign films where nothing happens.

No. I'm not saying ignore your own personal taste, just run it through one of these great critical aggregators first. How many of us thought The Lightening Thief looked like it would be relatively awesome? Good cast, action packed, great story. What's to mess up? Well, it's got a 50% (rotten) at Rotten Tomatoes and and even lowlier 47% at Metacritic.

Metacritic is usually a bit better, but either (or both) is fine. RT seems to have inflated scores when movies open. For example, a silly horror/sci-fi movie called The Crazies just opened. It's got a 71% on RT! (Blind Side only has a 70%). At Metacritic it has a more sober 55% rating (of course Blind Side only has a 53% over there). RT does have a nice "certified fresh" section though, which is a good overview of the best stuff out there at the moment.

It's important to remember, though, that you have to combine what they say with your personal taste. 47-50% on a big budget screen version of a popular children's fantasy is abysmal. 50% or so on a kung fu action flick isn't that bad if you're into kung fu action flicks. A black and white subtitled documentary on the ethical implications of modern architecture may get 100% but I'm not going to rush out to see it. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus only has a 65/66% score, but I'm a big Terry Gilliam fan and will add it to my rental queue. Avatar has a whopping 82/84% rating and I have no interest whatsoever (maybe because I've already been forced to sit through Dances With Wolves and Pocahontas so I feel like I've pretty much covered that ground.)

If these sites help you with your future picks, you might want to take the time to at least scan the names of the critics that seem to agree with your taste. Not all the same ones will every time but you will start seeing some patterns which will help you make better choices down the road. That way, when a new movie comes out you can make more informed decisions which will lead to happier movie-watching all around.