Giving Movies the Grade

As most of you know, I started doing movie reviews a few years ago on Facebook.  Since then, my reviewing has grown into this REEL BRIEF website and publications for media outlets.  With over 100 movie reviews, I thought it would be a good time to look at my grading criteria–to give you an idea of how I determine the ‘Hits’ from the ‘Misses’ on the big screen.

Lets look inside the numbers at a few of my grades…

During my first 100 movie reviews I’ve given out exactly five A+ grades (for 5%).  Just five.  Here are those movies that got perfection.

‘Waiting for Superman’ (2010)

‘Secretariat’ (2010)

‘Moneyball’ (2011)

‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ (2012)

‘Dallas Buyers Club’ (2013)

Likewise, the lowest grade I’ve given to a movie over the years has been a “D” (4%).  Here are those four “D” graded culprits:

‘Trouble With the Curve’ (2012)

‘Django Unchained’ (2012)

‘August: Osage County’ (2013)

‘Single Moms Club’ (2014)

That list of “D” rated movies does not including the “D+” variety–which I did assign to the Robert Redford film ‘All Is Lost’ (2013).

Below is a short-list of the things I look for in a movie that affects my theater experience and its assigned grade:

1.  Entertainment Value. The telltale indicator of a movie’s accomphishment or not is whether I look at my watch during the film. If I do check the time it also doesn’t necessarily mean bad news every time.  In fact, it can be a good sign…movies that I’m enjoying and really hate to see end, often cause me to want to see how much running time is remaining.

2.  Did the ending surprise me, and make sense?  The end of a movie is as important as the first 2+ hour journey to get there.  A director that can tie up loose ends, send viewers home shocked, or feeling good, and make the finish believable earn high marks.  I sense this overall feeling for a film, based upon its finale, even before I get to the theater’s parking lot.

3.  As I leave the movie theater, do I feel cheated by the film?  Did I get my money’s worth from the film?  Many times, particularly with sequels and trilogies, I sense that the director and screenplay writers “mailed in their work” after the original movie or don’t do their due diligence to continue to put excellence on-screen.  Instead, they just check the box and expect viewers to want to keep coming back for more–but expecting less.  I expect more AND better with each sequel or series addition.  Are you listening Marvel and ‘Planet of the Apes’ writers?

4.  Character Development.  Does the film take the time to fully and appropriately tell the story.  And the main ingredient to storytelling is filling in the blanks with realistic characters that we can relate to and understand.  A director that skips character development fails to fully invest audiences into his or her story.  This makes the picture less effective.

5.  Solid acting.  Exceptional performances–especially from the leading characters–is a must for a film to warrant an “A” letter grade. Outstanding acting in a movie can overcome many of the film’s other flaws–but not to the point of making it an A+ movie.

6.  Presentation.  Over emphasis on special effects (re: Michael Bay, ‘Transformers’) can stymie on-screen performances and distract viewers from the story itself.  Cinematography is also a wonderful thing.  It brings us, the moviegoers, into the scene to watch the film lucidly right before our very eyes.  Computer generated imagery (CGI) can be very effective if introduced in the right places for the right amount of screen time.

7.  Heartfelt.  Did a movie grab me and want to talk about it immediately with those I’m with? Or leave me wanting to call someone to discuss it?  Happy, sad, thrilling, edge-of-theater-seat suspenseful, informative–all of these emotions and thoughts play an important part in a movie’s success and grade.  A film doesn’t have to make me happy as long as it’s believable and creates an emotional connection to viewers.

8.  Did the movie have an ending?  A movie must have an ending.  Period. Now, the director may want to have a character walk off into the sunset and leave it to moviegoers to make their own conclusions on the future’s trappings..but there must be a walk into the sunset. Remember the ending to ‘Castaway’ with Tom Hanks’ character?  Perfect.  He meets a woman in a truck and the rest is history–whatever each of us believes takes place in Hanks’ life after the credits roll.

9.  Good writing.  A script is the most important part of a successful film–it takes the story and the director’s touch and puts it down on paper. The screenplay and script are the foundation of a house.  The best actors and actresses can deliver their lines with an Academy Award performance.  But if the script doesn’t tell the story in an effective and realistic manner, than all is lost. Seriously. See Robert Redford’s experience in ‘All Is Lost’ for example.

10.  Direction.  The plot and way the story is told must make sense and be understood to viewers in a believable way.  Excellent direction makes storytelling come alive.  Every director would love to make 6 hour films.  Unfortunately, they only get 2-3 hours max.  Stuff must be cut out from the final product.  Great directors can still take us on an adventure within 150 minutes. There’s a reason that most Oscar nominated movies also have their directors up for Best Director.

What do you look for in a movie?  How do you determine if you got your money’s worth at the theater?  Does a movie need to tie up loose ends at the end to be good?

TAG – Between Showtimes

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"Patrick, you are my go-to guy when it comes to the box office".   - Judy O.

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