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Added by the giraffe on 16 Feb 2013 08:26
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An exploration of the giraffe's movie ratings

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General Guidelines

As I've grown older, I've embraced an approach to movies where the less I know going in, the better. I don't actively seek out previews (though I never miss them when I see a movie in the theatre), I don't read professional reviews before watching a movie (though I do look at the ratings if I'm on the fence about whether to watch one), and here on Listal I mostly look at others' ratings of films I'm curious about. Once I've seen a movie I'm all for reading reviews & others' impressions though, often before I post my thoughts so I can compare notes, see if someone saw something I missed, and that sort of thing.

As a result I tend to watch movies with little to no expectations, which tends to work out in a movie's favor. And on that first viewing I'm more focused on the storytelling & characters than any technical aspects (unless of course the technical aspects are especially impressive). I've never taken a class on film or even read a book about filmmaking, and so what I know of film is based on what I've watched over the years. I've also noticed that I tend to judge movies based on what they are, rather than what they could have been if certain things were done differently. Ah, but if I'm not enjoying a movie I'm watching then my inner critic wakes up & picks apart every aspect that's not working.

Finally, I try my best to judge films by comparing them to other films in their respective genres & those released around the same time (that I've seen of course). So a '30s film gets compared to other '30s films I've seen when I evaluate it, not against every other film I've ever seen. This is why it's hard for me to come up with my top films of all time, and why I have best-of lists for each decade.
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Here's a good example...when it comes to comedies my main concern is that I'm laughing. And the more time spent laughing, the higher the rating of the comedy. If I'm not laughing, obviously there's a problem. So things like acting talent and technical aspects really don't matter that much to me. This is why I don't care that the Marx brothers played more or less the same characters in all of their films or that Kevin Smith's films aren't visually exciting. I come for the laughs, and if I laugh my ass off then that's all that matters.

I have a low tolerance for comedies that ask me to check my brain at the door to enjoy them (Dude, Where's My Car?, everything by the Farrellys), and I don't enjoy humor derived by how quirky the characters are (Napoleon Dynamite, most of Wes Anderson's films). Also I don't find Ben Stiller funny at all so if he's involved then a film usually starts with my expectations lowered.

Here are a few films that I laugh at from start to finish, even on repeat viewings.
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Horror also tends to get a pass on the acting (unless it's just dreadful all around), but I also don't hold it up to the same standard as other films. This is why you'll see more high ratings for horror movies from me than maybe others would give, because I judge horror movies against other horror movies. If one scares me (a very rare thing especially as I get older), that earns it big points & unless the ending fails miserably it'll score a 10. On the other hand, if it's a lot of fun from start to finish that can also earn a 10. Originality and/or fresh spins on old ideas are always welcome too. Make-up and effects also factor in as they're often necessary in this genre, and if there's actually character development/investment that's appreciated.

If the characters are overly annoying(Hostel), or the dialogue is terrible (Devil's Rejects) or the story is so predictable I know in the first 30 minutes where it's going (Carnival of Souls), or a film takes itself too seriously when the premise is ridiculous (The Exorcist), my ratings will often be lower. And lower still if there's any combination of those things, of course.

Here are some examples of films that either scared me or (in the one most obvious case) excel at being a horror-comedy.
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These are my least favorite films for one simple reason: the basic plot is almost always the exact same thing. Two people meet & have some degree of attraction between them, but there's a problem they have to get past & if they can they'll end up together, happy, in love, the end. I tend to skip these types of films because I already know what's going to happen, and whenever I do decide to watch one it's usually because it's in the upper tier of the genre. And that usually means they offer new twists or fresh takes or maybe they just have actors that truly display a genuine connection on screen that's infectious. And so while it's rare that I watch movies from this genre, it's even rarer that I give any of them high marks. But here are a few that I deeply love.
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Films I've rated 5/10

OK, first off I don't want to look at why I rate films at every point level. So instead I've picked some levels that would benefit from some explanation. I shouldn't have to explain that anything below 5/10 flat out sucks to varying degrees, should I? OK then.

The films I rate 5/10 are ones I can't recommend to others no matter what. Same goes for anything rated lower than a 5, but here's where the line is definitely drawn between movies I consider worth watching & ones I consider better off avoiding. Fives tend to be uneven movies where some aspects work ok but overall it's not enjoyable to watch. They also have a tendency to be forgettable other than a general feeling that I didn't like it but was able to sit through the entire thing without being tempted to turn it off or walk out on it.
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Films I've rated 6/10

The 6/10 rating is the very lowest a movie can score & still earn a recommendation from me, though if I recommend them it's never strongly. In fact, it's most likely that I'll say these are worth a look but nothing anyone NEEDS to see. A film scores a 6 when I'm acutely aware of issues while watching it. Something isn't working right, but if it had been better handled the film might have scored higher. The technical side may be strong but the story doesn't fully work, or it could be that I like the characters and the story but ultimately feel like I've seen it all before. In fact the thing that typically saves a film from falling below a 6 is that I've enjoyed it to some degree because I like the actors or the director or maybe I was just in the right mood to not completely hate it. (These are the first 5 films here.)

Now here's the thing...there are many films I've rated a 6 because it's been so long since I watched them I can't recall much about them. I know I watched them, but it was when I was a kid or into my mid-teens before I'd fully figured out my taste in movies. And so, theoretically if I were to re-watch these the rating could change, thus the 6/10 rating is merely a placeholder. (These are represented by the last 5 films listed here.)
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Films I've rated 7/10

I feel a need to explain this rating because I tend to use it a lot too. Lately it's come to be the rating I give films that are worth watching but I'd never watch again. Or if I did watch it again it's because someone talked me into it & I figured I'd give it another shot. These tend to be films that are either critically acclaimed or highly recommended by others, but simply don't suit my taste. As I'm watching these I can see more or less why others like them, but they're not connecting with me. At the end of them I don't feel any animosity toward the film (which tends to come with the lower ratings), it's just not to my taste. These films also tend to be ones where I have some issues with them along the way, largely due to the weak connection they've made with me.

Ah, but sometimes these are films I enjoy to some degree while acknowledging their flaws (most of the X-Men films fall into this category). Maybe it was mostly good but then the ending was awful (The Ninth Gate), maybe I liked it overall but realized off & on that it could be better in some way, or maybe I was entertained enough to feel good walking out of the theatre but watched it again later & didn't like it as well (Kick-Ass). Then in some cases they're films I thought were very good, but I simply would never want to watch again (8mm, Antichrist). Whatever it was the re-watch value for me on these tends to be low to non-existent (which is how they differ from the 8-10 range), but I wouldn't talk anyone out of giving them a shot. (See the first 5 films here for examples.)

Now a few movies do fall into this category from back when I was younger too. These films, again, I haven't seen in ages, but I still remember enough of them to think I enjoyed them. And the fact I can remember various aspects of each film suggests it was worth watching at the time. Perhaps they still are, but it'd take a re-watch to confirm. (See the last 5 for examples.)
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I highly enjoyed Xanadon't's Let's Talk About Feelings list where he looked at how he rates movies, and it got me thinking about my own ratings. I didn't want to just copy his ideas though, so I had to figure out if I could take his idea & put my own spin on it. Make it my own thing, aside from the obvious fact that we don't entirely judge films on the same merits. And I figured I could do that, so here it is.

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the giraffe's movie lists guide (195 lists)
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