Wednesday, October 5, 2011

System 1

The first system I've formulated to evaluate a movie is straightforward 8 yes-or-no questions arranged in order of importance. The questions are as follows:
  1. Would you watch this movie again?
  2. Did you feel the emotional impact that you think the film intended?
  3. Do you think the movie satisfies what you consider to be the goals of cinema?
  4. Do you think it satisfies what you consider to be the goals of art?
  5. Do you think the film's artistic intentions are interesting?
  6. Do you think the film properly execute its artistic intentions?
  7. Do you think the film's technical intentions are interesting?
  8. Do you think the film properly execute its technical intentions?
Each answer is a boolean (true or false, on or off, yes or no) value. Each boolean value represents a bit in an 8-bit number, so each question's answer is translated into part of that numeric value. If you answer yes to all of them, you get binary 11111111, or 255 in regular base 10. All no's gives you 00000000, or 0. If you answer yes to all but the first, you get 01111111, or 127 - that is, even if there's nothing you can find wrong with a film, if you don't feel like you'd watch it again it loses half of its points.

In order to calibrate my system, I'm going to pick a sample of movies and rate them all. I will choose only films I have seen multiple times so that I may more fairly assess them, and I will choose only films by the Coen Brothers because it will be easier to subjectively compare movies that share stylistic and thematic concerns, which is most likely to be found when we restrict ourselves to a single directors. I chose the Coen Brothers because I've seen more of their work than any other single director.
  • Blood Simple: 255, or 11111111
  • Raising Arizona: 183, or 10110111
  • Miller's Crossing: 251, or 11111011
  • Barton Fink: 254, or 11111110
  • The Big Lebowski: 253, or 11111101
  • No Country for Old Men: 255, or 11111111
  • A Serious Man: 255, or 11111111
  • True Grit: 153, or 10011001
When I write a full review of a movie, I will include justifications for my answers to all of these questions, and I intend on going back through each of these films at some point and giving them a fresh evaluation and justification. For now, remember that these questions and the ratings they produce are meant to be a subjective standard for comparing film. I'm not saying that No Country is objectively better than Lebowski. Perhaps you disagree. Perhaps I disagree, and the scale needs adjustment. Remember what the Dude says: "Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, your opinion, man."

Since this comparison is intended to "test the scale," per se, I think the scale holds up reasonably well. A Serious Man is without a doubt my favorite Coen Brothers movie (and on my list of all-time favorites), so it receiving a perfect score makes sense. I would say that the progression of A Serious Man > Barton Fink > Lebowski > Miller's Corssing seems to correctly represent my opinions, though I'm not sure No Country should be above Barton (and almost certain that Blood Simple should be a little lower), so the scale may need some fine-tuning at the lower end. I'm comfortable for now with how far behind Raising Arizona is (though it's still not low), but not quite so for True Grit. Perhaps I just have a headache, but I struggled a lot with the "goals of cinema" and "goals of art" questions, specifically with what exactly those goals would be for me. (Since I'm not writing an actual review, I don't need to talk about that debate, which of course means I haven't really come up with an answer, but I'll stand by my yes-or-no responses for now.)

Before I go, remember: this is a subjective scale. Please feel free to answer the questions yourself and create your own ratings for each of these movies, and post your results and how accurately you feel they reflect your opinions. You may learn more about your opinions, and you may find flaws in the scale. The more people who test this scale, the better. (For the purpose of evaluating the scale itself, please stick to the same guidelines I have: only Coen Brothers movies you've seen more than once.)

(Note: To those who saw a previous version of this post, I apologize. I intended that to be the final one, but I unfortunately attempted to use Google's Blogger app for the iPhone to add a few words to this post, with disastrous results. I have since excised the offending app from my cellular device, but I could only recover the opening paragraph and the list of questions. I had to reconstruct my ratings from memory, which mostly worked, but when it didn't I had to actually reconstruct them from the questions, which in a few cases has yielded different results from the answers I originally posted. These should be considered my "final" answers, in so far as none of these ratings are in any way official or final in the first place.)


  1. 9. Are motherfuckers owned?
    10. Does shit blow up real good?

  2. Your name is unknown, yet I feel like I've known you all my life. Where have you been all these years?