In which Bloom attempts to explain how he pins value judgements on motion pictures.
Reviewing a film is a hopelessly subjective matter, depending on, amongst other things, taste, one’s frame of mind at the time of viewing, and an inevitably incomplete frame of reference; nobody’s seen every movie, after all. Therefore, giving a film an absolute ‘score’ as a measure of its quality is a reckless thing to do; but I do it nonetheless, since it provides the shortest of shorthands as to how brilliant or execrable I believe each movie to be.
To answer the easy question first: why a score out of 20? Simply put, the commonest method of scoring films, with a ranking out of 5 stars/clapperboards/bulldogs etc., doesn’t seem to offer enough differentiation between the very worst films, those that are mediocre, average and satisfactory, and the all-time classics; while a score out of 100 would imply a set of criteria or a scientific approach which absolutely isn’t the case. Although 10 would appear to be ideal, I often fall between two stools and think ‘that’s better than a 6, but not worth a 7’ – so, to avoid having half marks all over the place, it makes sense to double up and give a score out of twenty. I believe it allows for plenty of nuance, and when you have thousands, make that tens of thousands, of films to sift through, a little nuance doesn’t go amiss.
The second point comes from my experience of reading computer/console game reviews, where there appear to be two schools of thought in respect of scoring. The first says that the lowest score you can give a decent, but not outstanding, game is 7 (out of 10); an 8 is respectable without being very exciting, whilst anything over 9 is ‘AAA’, a gold-plated hit. Anything below 7, on this reckoning, is considered a failure, the amount below not mattering too much. The other school of thought considers the true score for an average game to be 5; this gives a much wider freedom to grade highly at the top end, though the games’ publishers would inevitably feel insulted by a score of 5 or 6 – it doesn’t look very good on the posters or box art. My scoring is very much based on the latter method, so a WFTB score of 10/20 is not poor by any means. For example, 10/20 (as you will soon get to read) will bring up a host of perfectly decent films such as Bound, Men In Black, the first Star Trek and three of the Harry Potter films.
As stated above, I don’t score on the basis of totting up individual criteria (eg. script, acting, cinematography), nor do I start every film at 10 and move negatively or positively as the film progresses, in the manner of political pollsters tracking speeches. What I actually do is this:
Imagine that every film you have ever seen is lined up in a row. Now imagine that you are restricted to watching movies from that row for the rest of your life – which could be one day, could be a year, who knows? The films I would want to watch first are those which represent the absolute pinnacle of the medium or those I love beyond measure. Films that are good but not great would have to wait their turn, while the dross would languish unloved for a long, long time.
Every new film I watch is slotted somewhere into the hypothetical rack of movies, the films I would gladly never watch again given 1 and the must-sees 20 – at the time of writing, Casablanca, This is Spinal Tap and Fight Club, with the likes of Taxi Driver and The Godfather (Part 1) not far behind. Naturally, the vast majority fall somewhere in between, so I have to make a judgement as to where to slot them in, and this depends not only on my instinctive reaction but also an element of critical discernment. For example, although I wasn’t particularly engaged by The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I recognised that it was a lovely piece of cinema; on the other hand, whilst there was something undeniably entertaining about (for example) Nic Cage’s Knowing, the score had to reflect the fact that it was ultimately derivative pap. Part of the job of the full review is to explain the reason for the score, and I hope that I’ve managed to do this whenever the score appears at odds with the tone of the review. If you’re particularly vexed about anything I’ve said in a review, why not tell me and I’ll do my best to explain.
I do, of course, reserve the right to be wrong. Or if not wrong, to re-assess or refine the exact correctness of my former opinion. This could happen for two reasons: firstly, one film may alter my perceptions of another, either because I watch a movie which shows one I’ve already scored to be inferior or plagiaristic, or because it makes giving the same score as another film ridiculous (the so-called Showgirls Effect). Alternatively, I may re-watch a film that I’ve reviewed and find in it something that I missed previously, for better or worse. Nothing is ever set in stone, though I don’t continually re-visit my reviews to make sure that I’m continually content with how I’ve scored them.
So, in summary, pinning a score on a film is a matter of totting up how much I instinctively enjoy or dislike it, how much it contains or lacks in terms of originality, ingenuity and cinematic style, and how much it adds to the medium as a whole, insofar as I’m qualified to give an opinion. In the end, that’s for you the reader to decide, but I hope my scores and reviews will continue to inform you for years to come – whether you agree with them or not!