Movies, now more than ever

I have a list of posts I want to do for Summing-Up. I keep a messy notebook because I have messy handwriting and I moved the list of posts to a new page today. I also rubber cemented the “done” pages shut because I’m breaking ass to embrace this notebook as a part of my processes, whether creative or just intellectual. I’ve got all sorts of ideas. Well, seven of them. Some I’m scared to write about because I don’t have the research into them, specifically contrasting 2Pac with the super-predator talk from that era. And getting into my personal socialism, with its unhealthy dose of white privilege. But I also wanted to write about star rating standards. Meaning standard star ratings. It was a big deal—the star rating—when I was a teenager. People either loved star ratings for movies or hated them. I never wanted them for The Stop Button, even took them out once. When I took them out—after having added them years before—my traffic dropped fifty percent. I’m sure there were other factors, I’m sure the fifty percent I kept are better readers, but I still lost half the traffic. It was stunning to discover. In college, before I met my wife, there’d be hours long, drunken examinations of star ratings. These examinations happened before The Stop Button too, of course, because they helped me decide film criticism was part of the problem. I mean, come on, Siskel had died and Ebert was unchecked. I wasn’t wrong, as is evidenced by the lack of a replacement film critic system these days, but it was depressing to think about. Such a reductive system. Oh, and Entertainment Weekly with the letter grades in the nineties? It was hard out there for a populist, elitist film sentimentalist.

I’m getting ready to write a response to a documentary screener I got. It’s a ★★★ documentary. All documentaries should be at least ★★★. I don’t know what a ★★★★ documentary looks like. I know what a ★★★½ looks like, a ★, a ★★. It’s about varying levels of success in what it’s trying to do. Documentaries have the worst constraint of all—reality—so it’s hard for them to transcend up enough. If a documentary isn’t ★★★, there’s something significantly wrong with it.

Similarly, a TV movie—from the eighties, maybe nineties—is probably ★. Maltin didn’t give star ratings to TV movies and I’ve always thought Entertainment Weekly’s all-letter grade system (TV, movies, music, books, video releases, whatever) was because they didn’t want to make any hard calls. Letter grades assume an assignment, at least for me. You get a letter grade for meeting certain expectations, requirements, et cetera. Most TV movies are ⓏⒺⓇⓄ stars. There are some really good ones, but even really good ones usually peak at ★★½. The idea is there’s a range. If a movie sticks to this ambition or that ambition, its eventual star rating is rather predictable. Hell, I think I used to just guess them and force my friends to admit I was right after the movie.

Stop Button responses are simultaneously about justifying the star rating and ignoring it. They’ve become so archaic, I almost like them more now than ever.

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