A Trip to the Movies


Once upon a month ago I tried to watch Birdman, which won the Oscar for Best Picture of 2014. It failed to rise above trendy quirkiness, foul language, and stilted (though improvised) dialogue. I turned it off. It’s the only Best Picture winner, of those that I’ve watched, that I couldn’t sit through.

There have now been 88 Best Picture winners, and I’ve seen 69 of them. (I include Birdman because the several minutes of it that I watched seemed like two hours.) How do they stack up with the average viewer who has rated the films at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), and how do they stack up with me?

Here’s the story. Best Picture winners are listed according to the average rating assigned by IMDb users, as of today (highest to lowest)*:

Ratings of best pictures

A blank in the “Me” column means that I haven’t seen the film.  The gaps tell a story: I usually avoid films about war because of their propagandistic aims. (The exception here is one of the earliest anti-war films, All Quiet on the Western Front, which is an artistic masterpiece that puts all subsequent anti-war films to shame.) I also tend to eschew melodramas, musicals, “message” movies, and movies about the Holocaust (I don’t need to be reminded; Barack Obama does). There are exceptions to these rules; I am not foolishly consistent.

I prefer films that entertain — that evoke laughter, challenge the mind, or put great writing or acting talent on display. Here’s how I assign ratings:

1 = So bad that I quit watching after a few minutes.

2 = I watched the whole thing, but wish that I hadn’t.

3 = Barely bearable; perhaps one small, redeeming feature (e.g., a cast member).

4 = Just a  shade better than a 3 — a “gut feel” grade.

5 = A so-so effort; on a par with typical made-for-TV fare.

6 = Good, but not worth recommending to anyone else; perhaps because of a weak cast, too-predictable plot, cop-out ending, etc.

7 = Enjoyable and without serious flaws, but once was enough.

8 = Superior on at least three of the following dimensions: mood, plot, dialogue, music (if applicable), dancing (if applicable), quality of performances, production values, and historical or topical interest; worth seeing twice but not a slam-dunk great film.

9 = Superior on several of the above dimensions and close to perfection; worth seeing at least twice.

10 = An exemplar of its type; can be enjoyed many times.

And here are the 69 feature films that I have rated 10 or 9**:

My favorite films_rated 10 or 9

As you’ve probably guessed, based on the year of release, Dr. Jack isn’t about Jack Kevorkian. It’s one of Harold Lloyd’s many hilarious productions.


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Related posts:
A Hollywood Circle
Christmas Movies
Pride and Prejudice on Film
The Movies: (Not) Better Than Ever
At the Movies: The Best and Worst Years
My Year at the Movies (2007)
Forgotten Stars
The Quality of Films over the Decades
More about the Quality of Films
The Movies: Not Better than Ever (II)
The Longevity of Stars
2013: A Bad Year at the Movies

* Sunrise (1927) won for Unique and Artistic Production (a category used only once), not for Outstanding Picture (as the Best Picture category was then called). The award for Outstanding Picture went to Wings. The apparent gap between 1927 and 1929 is due to the timing of the first six awards, which were given for 1927/28, 1928/29, 1929/30, 1930/31, 1931/32, and 1932/33.

** I have given a rating of 8 to 635 movies (see my reply to the comment by Ron Pavellas). By my count, I’ve seen 2,405 feature films made in 1920 or later, and have rated 2,100 of them.


3 thoughts on “A Trip to the Movies

  1. A quick scan of your 10/9 list doesn’t reveal any Mel Brooks pix. I think Spaceballs and Blazing Saddles are worth seeing again. Also, Ghost Busters. Is comedy not eligible? I generally agree with all the others you list, at least those I’ve seen.


  2. Comedy is eligible. My 10/9 list includes Destry Rides Again, The General, Bringing Up Baby, Sullivan’s Travels, Noises Off…, The Philadelphia Story, and Dr. Jack. All are comedies or dramedies.

    I didn’t want to list all of the 635 films that I have given a rating of 8, though — as noted in the guide to my ratings — I do consider 8-rated films worth seeing again. As it happens, Blazing Saddles and Ghostbusters are among my 8-rated films.

    With the exception of Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks isn’t for me. Chacun à son goût.


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