Since Roger Ebert was one of the people whose online presence I paid the most attention to, I suppose it is fitting that my first entry be about movies. This post is humbly dedicated to the late Roger Ebert, the only movie critic I may ever trust.
If you’re looking at the length of this entry and deciding whether to read it or not, I can go ahead and tell you that it averages a 64% from online votes.
Mr. Ebert was the main movie critic I ever paid any attention to for a few reasons. For one, it was clear that he loved movies, and I believe (with a few exceptions, perhaps) he went in wanting to like the movie. Secondly, it seems to me that he didn’t feel the need to have 100% agreement between his star rating and his comments, so both were always worth looking at. He found things to like in movies that he thought were objectively not very good, and he pointed out flaws in movies that he rated highly. It was fun to see how his views compared with mine, and when I found that I agreed with him about four out of five times, I started using him to decide when to see movies (at least when to shell out to see them in the theatre). While this might have made me wait for a few movies he blasted to come out on DVD to see them, overall it made me see many more movies, and ones that I may not have chosen to see otherwise. Since he died, I haven’t found anyone that is capable of writing as well as him or that I agree with anywhere close to as much as I did him. I think that is a good thing, though. Since Roger Ebert died, I find myself making up my own mind about movies more. Like a great professor, I still can hear what he might say about a movie. I see films through more informed, or at least more inquisitive, eyes.
I was in line to go see a movie the other day, Lone Ranger, of all things, which I actually enjoyed. I heard the people behind me discussing the “Tomato-meter” in regards to Grown Ups 2. Their conversation was innocuous enough… the young man was just pointing out the difference between the critic’s 7% and the public’s 83%. The simple fact that the “Tomato-meter” was a valuable measurement to him at all got me thinking, though. When I hear people use rottentomatoes.com when deciding whether or not to see a movie, it makes me want to scream. Not to be over-dramatic, but everyone with that mentality is very actively contributing to the watering down of Hollywood and the art of cinema. Ok fine, to be over-dramatic. By depending on a aggregate number on a stupid website to decide whether to go to a movie, and then often allowing it to influence your opinion about the movie, is allowing the consensus of a bunch of strangers take the place of what should actually be a very personal reaction to a movie. If you find that you identify with a critic in some way (as I and millions of others did with Ebert), it is great to compare notes with them, and even to look to them for guidance sometimes, but depending on what is by definition an average to absolutely rule out even giving someone else’s work of art a chance is foolishness. Art where the creator takes significant risks is much more likely to create strong reactions, so sometimes you will see a group of reviews that are half stellar, half horrendous. The best example in the past year that I can think of is Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables. If one depended on the “Tomato-Meter” to decide whether they were going to see that movie, they would see that it rated a very middling 69% and likely decide not to go. If they did, they would quite possibly have low expectations, which all too often turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Half of those people who didn’t go may have hated the movie, but to the other half, or maybe just 25%, or maybe just 1 person, that may have been a life changing experience.
Great movies are still being made: I have seen so many unique and interesting movies in the past year it’s hard to count. Just in this calendar year I’ve seen films like “Before Midnight,” “Kings of Summer,” “Mud,” “Upstream Color,” “Spring Breakers,” “Dans la maison,” and “Kon tiki (in English),” just to name a few. Some were great, some were less memorable for me, but I’m still glad I saw them all. In a world where we use Yelp! to decide which filling station has the cleanest bathrooms and look up “best way to look up gas stations” on eHow before doing that, it’s awfully nice to have one area of life where one is open to new experiences and not afraid to take a few risks.