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Just a bit of stupid fun, in case you haven’t seen this floating around Facebook: The ‘List Challenges’ site gives you ‘The Top 250 Movies of All Time’, according to IMDB (the Internet Movie Database) – ‘as voted by our users’. Of course I disagree profoundly with the list, but that’s the point of lists like this.

films

You mark the films you have seen as you scroll through, and then it gives you the total. I was disappointed not to get 50% – my score was 117 out of 250. However, I took the moral high ground and decided to exclude from my check list those films I have walked out of and not seen to the end. I think I would have got to 50% with them.

It’s strange what you remember: I can recall the scene, the cinema, and just about the very place I was sitting of almost every film I have ever walked out from. As if the existential anxiety of cutting one’s losses and choosing to leave the ‘hallowed space’ of the cinema puts an indelible mark on the soul.

The first ‘walk out’ I remember was Fatal Attraction. This was when I was an undergraduate, in the old cinema near Parker’s Piece in Cambridge in about 1988, which has since been converted into a Weatherspoons pub on the ground floor and the new Arts Cinema on the first floor.

So you can do the list here. And do put your results in the comment box; and if you have had any particularly significant ‘walking out’ moments, do share them!

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I finally saw The Artist at the weekend. It’s great fun – I came out smiling. But I wouldn’t say it’s a great film. The two central characters are just not interesting enough to carry the film. I’m not sure if this is intentional. Maybe they are symbols of all the silent-movie characters who had to emote and over-act and gesticulate, but couldn’t reveal any emotional depth. I think it’s probably just a weakness in the screenplay: the lead male, especially, was basically a spoilt teenager; and the resolution [minor plot spoiler coming up…] was just him getting his toys back. I’m not complaining, just reflecting!

But the psychological experience of watching a silent film for the first time in years was interesting. I was more detached as an observer. I was more aware of my own experience of watching the film, as if there was a kind of veil between me and the situation on the screen in front of me. I was less caught up in the imaginary reality of the story, but enjoying it just as much.

It made me realise that in a normal cinema experience, it’s as if I am inside the world being portrayed in the film – lost in it. But in this silent experience, it was as if the film was in my head, and I was conscious of myself watching it, and of the film becoming a part of me – but not taking over. Put it another way, I didn’t lose my self-consciousness; or my ‘consciousness-of-self’ as the French put it (because they don’t have the reflexive use of ‘self’). Interesting.

What did you think of the film?

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Rotten Tomatoes is still my favourite site for film reviews. You get a percentage score for each film, a summary of each review, and – most importantly – a link to the original reviews themselves.

But every now and then it drives me mad. It scores each movie solely on the basis of how many positive reviews it has, but it doesn’t give any weighting to each review. So if 100/100 reviewers quite like a film (and give it say 3 stars out of 5), it gets the same score – 100% – as it would if 100/100 reviewers absolutely adore the film (and give it say 5 stars out of 5). So a bland, unprovocative film that managed to mildly please most critics would get a very high score.

This is what set me off last week: I went to see Moneyball partly on the basis that it got 95% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yes, it’s a well-made and thought-provoking film; but it’s also boring, over-long, and not half as funny or intelligent as it should be. This is what the Rotten Tomatoes scoring system can do.

(Maybe I am unjustifiably taking it out on this innocent website. It still got a staggering 87% on Metacritic. Maybe, in this case, it’s the critics themselves who are almost universally wrong. How can Robbie Collin at the Daily Telegraph call it ‘an accomplished, bracingly intelligent film that scores points on all fronts…’?!)

The solution to this problem? Do what Metacritic does. Instead of just adding up the number of positive reviews a film gets, give a certain weighting to each review according to how positive the reviewer was. They also (I’ve just found out) give some reviewers greater weight – as if they trust their judgment more than others. And, it has to be said, the site is really crisp and beautiful – unlike the Rotten Tomatoes site.

Here is the explanation:

A peek behind the curtain

Creating our proprietary Metascores is a complicated process. We carefully curate a large group of the world’s most respected critics, assign scores to their reviews, and apply a weighted average to summarize the range of their opinions. The result is a single number that captures the essence of critical opinion in one Metascore. Each movie, game, television show and album featured on Metacritic gets a Metascore when we’ve collected at least four critics’ reviews.

Why the term “weighted average” matters

Metascore is a weighted average in that we assign more importance, or weight, to some critics and publications than others, based on their quality and overall stature. In addition, for music and movies, we also normalize the resulting scores (akin to “grading on a curve” in college), which prevents scores from clumping together.

How to interpret a Metascore

Metascores range from 0-100, with higher scores indicating better overall reviews. We highlight Metascores in three colors so that you can instantly compare: green scores for favorable reviews, yellow scores for mixed reviews, and red scores for unfavorable reviews.

Why do I stay with Rotten Tomatoes? Simply because the UK site gives you reviews from the UK press, which Metacritic doesn’t, and lists the films under their UK launch date – so you can see what is out this week. If there were a UK Metacritic I would switch to it immediately. And if I had time I’d set about developing one. Maybe there is some money to be made here…

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Very nearly a masterpiece – if you have any doubts about the power of cinema or whether film is the highest form of civilisation known to humankind, you need to see the re-released version of Apocalypse Now on a very large screen straight away.

I kept thinking, ‘How did he do this?’ The cinematography; the set pieces; the editing; the music. It’s breathtaking. It’s a long time since I have giggled with sheer delight at the audacity of  someone’s film-making.

What’s it about? War in general? The Vietnam war in particular? Madness? Morality? The risk of playing at God and thinking someone to be God and knowing that someone is not God? Possibly. Especially in Brando’s speech about the power that lies in the hands of those who are willing to dispense with moral scruples. Or is it about film itself?

This would have been Hitchcock’s answer: Film is not about anything – it’s not the content or meaning that matters – it’s the involvement of the viewer in the unfolding of the film itself, the momentum of desire and longing, the desperate need to know and arrive, and the delayed gratification of a story that is constantly twisting out of view.

It’s only the last half-hour that doesn’t quite work – too slow and too introspective. But then I’m not sure where else Coppola could have gone.

Do see this film on the big screen. It won’t be around for long. Here are the London listings for the next week.

PS – It was a joy to see this at Screen 1 of the Cineworld, Haymarket, just down from Piccadilly Circus, which is a huge old-fashioned screen with its proscenium arch still standing – such a change from the local multiplex.

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I promised a few days ago that I would post about my own favourite film scenes. And I feel it is time to push back the boundaries, to embrace new genres, to boldly go where no blogger with any self-respect has gone before. So here is my first quiz.

Here are the fifteen greatest scenes from the fifteen greatest films of all time (in my humble opinion). The clues are not cryptic – they are more-or-less factual descriptions of what goes on. So you either know them or you don’t.

Autoritratto come in un fotogramma di FILM by hidden side.

If you think you know a few answers, then post them in the comments section below. I will leave the comments secret for the first week, just to give everyone a chance to compete with a level field. Then I’ll make them public and anyone clever can try and fill in the gaps. There is a major prize for anyone strange enough to recognise all fifteen films in the next week (the prize being: public recognition on the comments pages of this illustrious blog).

Here they are:

[FINAL UPDATE, 16 April 2010: So I have added the answers in below. Congratulations to Neil for getting the best score (10/15), to Berenike for giving the Polish language version of no. 1 (although was it first screened under the French title at Cannes? – only nerds need reply), and Radha and Fr Martin for mopping up the more obscure auteur films at the end.]

  1. A woman catches a glimpse of her double in a Polish square. (The Double Life of Véronique)
  2. A boy pretends he knows how to cast a bell. (Andrei Rublev)
  3. A spaceman discovers he’s not who he thought he was. (Toy Story)
  4. The mother of the saviour escapes from a psychiatric hospital. (Terminator 2)
  5. A man catches sunburn in the night on one side of his face. (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
  6. An early hominid flings a bone into the sky. (2001: A Space Odyssey)
  7. A woman deals with the cops and escapes down a phone line. (The Matrix)
  8. Two men flee into the rush hour chaos of Waterloo Station. (The Bourne Ultimatum)
  9. A woman is transformed into the woman he once loved. (Note: I had scruples about giving this clue after I had posted it. As regular readers will know, I hate it when people give away twists and crucial bits of plot; and although this isn’t a direct piece of plot information, it could ruin what is one of the greatest ever moments in cinema. I count it as one of the great blessings of my life that when I saw this film at the NFT I had no prior knowledge about the twist and didn’t twig it until the last moment when it is revealed. And it blew me away with the force of an almost existential revelation. This is my convoluted way of saying that, in conscience, I can’t tell you which film this is! But if you have really never seen it, and really want to ruin it then go to this website and look for film number 65 . Yes, I’m making it difficult on purpose – to help you save your cinematic soul.
  10. Snow falls on snow at the end of the evening as the carriages pull away. (The Dead)
  11. A camera falls from the sky and a radio programme announces that it’s just some aircraft debris. (The Truman Show)
  12. A man wakes up to discover that today is yesterday. (Groundhog Day)
  13. A woman weeps on the top deck of a night bus as it takes her back to South London. (Wonderland)
  14. A French chef in exile delights the taste buds and lifts the hearts of her Puritan hosts. (Babette’s Feast)
  15. A hermit leaves his cell after his fall and finds redemption. (See note from no. 9. Click here and look for film no. 7 if you are desperate to know).

[UPDATE at 15 April: I’ve unhidden the replies in the comments section. Neil gets the prize with ten answers. I’ll put all the answers together in a few days, but just to see if there are any film geniuses out there: No one has got the following four films yet (very difficult, so I have added some clues) – 9 (not Orlando; a classic, always in the Top Ten), 10 (not It’s a Wonderful Life; the swan song of one of the great directors, who also has a daughter who is a famous actress), 13 (by a prolific contemporary British director with a film coming out soon), 15 (Italian directors).]

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