Stars, numbers and pineapples. SHOULD movies be RATED?

Is it possible to rate your own experiences using a numerical scale?

Jan Brzozowski

12 July 2023

You are going to the cinema for a movie. You enter the room, sit comfortably in the armchair and watch the commercials. Finally, the screening begins, lasting about an hour and a half, maybe two hours (it is neither Lav Diaz nor Béla Tarr). You have a nice time immersing yourself in the fictional world, and when the lights start to come on after the allotted time, you slowly get up, leave the cinema and head home. In a warm and cozy apartment, you make yourself a cup of tea and start your laptop. You want to rate a video you just watched. You hesitate between 6 and 7. Finally, after a dozen or so minutes of intense digressions, you decide on the latter – you had fun and relaxed properly, so let’s make it seven. Officially: the movie was good.

I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through a similar process. I spent far too long wondering what rating I should give to a given film (sometimes my dilemmas began in the cinema hall, during the screening!), as if it really mattered, as if my voice was so important that the director himself was waiting for him, hidden somewhere in a cramped room with the whole crew, biting his fingernails nervously. Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like that and never will. Let’s face the brutal truth – our grades are probably important only to us, or possibly, if we are quite liked, to a group of our friends. So why do we spend so much time thinking about the number of stars, tomatoes or, as Woody Allen once put it in a short anecdote, pineapples? Why do we attach so much importance to ratings and, perhaps most importantly, can we do any justice to a film, a project involving hundreds, if not thousands, of people?

I do not intend to deal with the first two questions in this text (I leave these issues to suitably qualified persons), while as far as the third, most important, is concerned, I tend to give a negative answer. Making a film is often a gigantic undertaking involving a whole host of specialists of all kinds, and reducing the final effect to a few stars, how many percents or one number, larger or smaller, does not seem to be a fair solution. Because how could we add up the efforts of the director, screenwriter, actors, cinematographer and his assistants, composer, set designer, casting director, lighting technician, sound engineer, editor, etc., and then give a clear verdict? I have met those who have tried, taking the whole issue very seriously. They created tables in Excel, in which they wrote down the most important components of the film in their opinion (plot, direction, music, acting, etc.) and placed an appropriate rating next to each of the columns. Then, of course, they summed everything up and took the average – and voilà a fair note issued. But are you sure?

I have never considered this approach appropriate. Somewhere between the columns in Excel, what was most valuable, the most valuable in cinema – emotions. Can they be reduced to a number and then added together with the direction, screenplay, acting and music? It was emotions that made the film so naive and simple, directed properly, but not with any panache or artistry, as I have considered It’s a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra for years as a masterpiece. I can’t help the fact that every time during the ending my body shivers and tears start to slowly flow from my eyes. Maybe it’s maudlin, maybe it’s damn sentimental, but it works, it just works, and I’m glad that I can experience such wonderful emotions while watching the movie. Could I express it with one number or with several asterisks? Is it possible to rate your own experiences using a numerical scale?

You can, of course, try. Judging movies primarily on the basis of emotions experienced in the cinema or in front of a laptop or TV seems to be a much better, healthier solution (I have been practicing something like this for some time). We perceive works of art, and therefore films (at least some of them – this is a topic for another column), we perceive very subjectively, often through the prism of individual memories and experiences. In this case, it seems an idiotic solution to strive for the greatest possible objectification of one’s own impressions, meticulously analyzing what we have just seen from every possible angle, in order to issue a “fair” verdict after a dozen or so minutes.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t mind analyzing movies (I’ve written some pretty extensive analyzes myself). I simply believe that good cinema does not end with directing, screenplay or acting, nor is it the sum of all these things. Looking at movies and evaluating them in this way, we are only skimming over the surface – another thing is that in some cases there is nothing of value under the surface. However, the most outstanding (master) works always bring something more, triggering in the viewers, sometimes hidden very deeply, huge layers of emotions. Emotions that can cover technical shortcomings and make a film imperfect in various respects transform into something beautiful and unique before our very eyes. It is the experiences that are the greatest in cinema and we cannot let the stars and numbers ever push them into the background.

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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