Oct 22, 2011

Where my A+ grades go

I never used to give grades when I reviewed movies professionally, possessed of a young man's unwillingness to tabulate his passions, plus a desire to signal my disdain for my editor's unhealthy precoccupation with the chicken-sexing aspect of the job, as opposed to its pearlescent-prose-writing aspect. I didn't issue grade point averages to my girlfriends ("Susie's attendence is good, her concentration levels continue to improve but she must resist the temptation to issue her teachers with assignments") so why would I do the same to movies? But age is a numbers game, and the older you get the more statistically-inclined your grow. When I started this blog, I started handing out grades, a little guiltily at first, then accompanied by increasingly knotted bouts of deliberation, and finally a certain camp-scholastic enjoyment. (Scholasticism is camp, I think: just look at all the silly gowns and hats). As some readers noticed, my rankings had a tendency to shift a little over time, not so much a consequence of me changing my mind about a film, and more to do with the relational realignments that happened when I looked back at a given year and thought "can Inception really beat Animal Kingdom?" I think of it a little like building subsidence, all the bricks and mortar of those individual judgments having shift a little before locking down into adamantine, lasting judgment. I didn't want to be one of those graders that hands out A+s as if they were candy — giving, say, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind too high a mark and leaving no room for Chinatown to stretch. I wanted a grading system that encompassed the weekly hustle and flow of my on-the-ground enthusiasms and also the films, released in my lifetime, that I think of as classics. Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Blue Velvet were going to have to duke it out against one another, by the same metric, and to hell with what that did to Bueller's chances. But nor did I want it miserish, spiritually parched, or mooning over some lost era of cinematic greatness — an endemic problem with film critics who tend to plucked from the same gene pool as the connoisseurs of historical ruins. I feel the same way about nostalgia as I do about deep vein thrombosis — a regrettable, if inevitable, human frailty.

Anyway, I just finished the retroactive bit of the assignment. The pictures that received A grades were as follows:—
The Wild Bunch, Klute, The French Connection, The Godfather Part II, Mean Streets, Shampoo, Taxi Driver, Star Wars, Halloween, Alien, The Elephant Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, Aliens, Dangerous Liaisons, The Double Life of Veronique, Pulp Fiction, Before Sunrise, Kundun, The English Patient, The Piano Teacher, Catch Me If You Can, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Hurt Locker, Toy Story 3, The Social Network.
So, in the course of my lifetime, 27 films have transported me — solid-gone, nape-of-the-neck, what's-my-name-again transports of delight.

An A+ grade, meanwhile, went to the following:—
Badlands, Chinatown, Jaws, Blue Velvet, Goodfellas, The Last of the Mohicans, Brokeback Mountain.
So now I know. Near mystical reverence — honest bafflement as to how such a miracle could come to pass, closely followed by the urge to get down on my knees and pray that the rest of my cinemagoing life will not be downhill from here — is reserved for just seven films. Three from the seventies, one from the eighties, two from the nineties and one from the 2000s. That feels about right. Which means that somewhere in there is may favorite film (released in my lifetime). I'm not ready to work that out just yet.


  1. Didn't you used to have "10 best" lists for earlier decades or years, too? Are they just harder to find? This connoisseur of historical ruins misses them.

  2. I'll get there. I'll have the whole century down eventually...