I’ve been making a list of what I’ve read and seen (and sometimes heard, etc) since 2001—after realising how little I could remember I’d seen at the movies in 2000. It’s not hard to do and the pay off can be large and unexpected—but is at least always satisfying. Last year I started incorporating a simple rating system with my list, like Mark Bernstein does.
Or did. In a footnote(?), he explains:
I’m about to bail out on my ‘rating’ system; not only is it too coarse, but there’s just no way I’m able to decide whether this is a nice little movie with a clever trick—Memento, say—or a great little movie—Manhattan, or Fried Green Tomatoes. I’ll know in a couple of years whether I want to see it again, but I don’t see a good way to judge that now. Fortunately, I can sit on the fence.
Mark’s simple rating system goes: worse…bad…good…even better…really good. Which means:
A “really good” movie might be Apocalypse Now or Casablanca or Buffy Season 3—a movie that you’re likely to want to see many times, a movie that obviously changes the way you look at movies. In some years, no new movie is “really good”—but because we’ve got many years of backlog, it’s still a useful category. A “good” movie would then be one of the best movies that appear in a year. A bad movie eats time; a movie that is worse is pernicious.
I have a simpler rating system: didn’t like…okay…liked…really liked. I have no interest in making finer judgements—I’m not even interested in having different grades for things I didn’t like! Generally I can trust myself to know what rating I’ll give a book or moving picture.
I used to give different labels to my ratings (not recommended, non-recommended, recommended, highly recommended) but I worried too much about who exactly it was I was recommending these things too. Then again, at some level I over-value my opinion and think in terms of things that are bad, classic, etc. So I do find myself thinking about the edge cases as Mark does. Dog Soldiers is structurally clever and succeeds at the very difficult task of maintaining a high level of suspense over a long period, but is it really a classic? And at least a little perspective is good: some films you come out thinking you liked, then realise they were only okay; but don’t like upon rewatching. I find some reassurance by visually lining up titles with the same rating and saying, “yeah, those are on the same level”. And I try not to worry about it too much. Time will change my opinion regardless.
Mark also questions his ratings for another reason:
This scale worked then; it doesn’t work now. I’ve seen seven consecutive “good” movies. How can this be?
I don’t have an interesting (Mac-only) authoring system like Mark, but now that I’ve got a lovely XHTML (strict) page (formatted with CSS), it’s easy to pull my stats too. I installed Brian Slesinksy’s wonderful XPath Checker Firefox extension and consulted the indespensible Zvon to work out how to ask how many movies/TV series I’ve seen this year (so far):
The answer is 98. (Down by a fair chunk on last year. Life has been busy.)
Forty-nine! I’ve really liked half the things I’ve seen (with a slight bias perhaps by rewatching some things). I liked 23, thought 19 were okay, and didn’t like seven. Wow.
But do I feel like abandoning my ratings? No. I find it hard to write much about things I’ve read and seen, even a paragraph. Next year I plan on writing nothing about anything new; it’ll be all old, all the time, here, inspired by my attempts to grapple with Babylon 5 and the Star Wars trilogies. So the least I can do, after investing time in a novel, collection, comic, book, movie, or TV series, is give it a basic grunt of approval or disapproval.