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Monthly Report: March 2013

One year ago, I made my first Monthly Report post here on A Swede Talks Movies. I didn’t plan for this at the time, but the Monthly Report has become the real rock of this blog. Even as the amount of posts has decreased throughout the last year, the Monthly Report provides regularity and stability. I like that.

Mighty Aphrodite (Woody Allen, 1995)
The whole Greek theater angle was largely lost on me. The story itself is solid Woody Allen, with a couple of pure gold lines here and there and some effective and affecting performances. Not the best film I’ve seen from the director, as in the end it doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s a fine enough watch.
3/5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria, 2012)
For some reason, I was expecting something more comedic. I was also expecting something not as good as this ended up being. The whole coming apocalypse thing is shown with lots of fascinating details, but the real goodness here comes from the relationship building between Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. Superb chemistry, and I found myself genuinely moved by their story. It’s a healthy reminder of just how great Carell can be with the right material, and of how Knightley is capable of so much more than just looking good in a period dress. Perfect ending, too.
4/5

TheRaid-1

The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans, 2011)
Badass to the highest degree.
5/5

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969)
I haven’t explored the western genre enough to really say with any degree of certainty that it isn’t my thing, but what I can say is that there is little about the genre that makes me inclined to investigate it further. I liked this movie, though. The banter between Paul Newman and Robert Redford made for a lot of fun scenes, and the story of the two outlaws was compelling stuff. The extended music scenes felt a bit weird, though.
4/5

Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Some movies manage to really get under my skin. It might take a little while, but once they get through, they’re free to work whatever brand of magic they’re capable of, and it’ll just stick with me in a certain way. This does not mean that they’re better movies than others; it just means that they manage to operate in a different manner than most. Shame is such a film, and it achieves it through spellbinding long takes, a tremendous lead performance by Michael Fassbender, and a take on addiction different from the norm in films. The previous McQueen-Fassbender collaboration, Hunger, was a movie I admired more than I liked. Shame, I admire and adore in equal measures.
5/5

Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009)
The most boring movie I’ve seen in quite some time.
1/5

Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
The lavish production of it all is what I found myself liking most about this film. The whole shebang looks great, from the costumes to the art direction to the environments. My main problem is Barry himself, who for most of the film is really quite boring. The story fortunately picks up a bit in the second half. All in all, though, this is one of my least favorite Kubrick films.
3/5

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Stephen Daldry, 2011)
Rough goings early on with this one, as I didn’t like the main character – more to do with the writing than Thomas Horn‘s performance – and found there to be too many shortcuts. Having the kid always carry around a tambourine that he shakes whenever he’s nervous is a lazy way to show his emotional state, for instance. That said, this film definitely managed to win me over as it went along. It unabashedly tugs on the heart-strings, and Daldry ultimately makes it work. Bonus points for fine performances by Max von Sydow and Sandra Bullock.
4/5

Set It Off (F. Gary Gray, 1996)
Very run-of-the-mill bank robbing movie, full of clichés and overwrought melodrama. Not very good.
2/5

Cleanflix (Andrew James & Joshua Ligairi, 2009)
A surprisingly compelling documentary on the business of edited movies, IE when companies buy and edit movies to remove content they deem unsuitable or immoral. Fair arguments are made for both sides of the argument, and while the process to me certainly seems legally wrong, the movie did make me pause to ponder the morality of it. This was more than I expected to do, so that was cool. What drags the movie down is the form, with lots of talking heads and floating text to provide narration. You watch it for what it has to say, not for the way in which it says it.
3/5

The Girl (Fredrik Edfelt, 2009)
Heartfelt and frank story about a 9-year-old girl (Blanca Engström) who has to spend a summer taking care of herself. The clash between childhood and adult life is potent here, and the movie does a good job in sweeping you along in its smooth pace. A Swedish film that rises a bit above the norm.
4/5

About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, 2002)
Jack Nicholson is great here. It’s the kind of performance that make you wish there were more strong meaty roles like this one for older actors out there. The rest of the film is good too, although I was a bit bothered with the over reliance on narration in various forms to tell the story of Warren’s state of mind.
3/5

[Movie]11-14 (2003)

11:14 (Greg Marcks, 2003)
A black comedy thriller of sorts, with a number of different plot threads that intersect with one another. I found the tone of humor to be an ill fit for the more gruesome parts of the story, but it’s nonetheless fun to see in what ways the various plots are connected.
3/5

Morning Glory (Roger Michell, 2010)
The story of a plucky young career woman getting a new job and having to deal with old cranky people in order to show what she can do is nothing new; Morning Glory’s writer Aline Brosh McKenna herself handled similar subject matter four years prior in The Devil Wears Prada. The formula still works here though, largely thanks to Energizer bunny Rachel McAdams and a Clint Eastwood-channeling Harrison Ford. The whole movie is imbued with an energy that many comedies are missing these days, in fact. Everything just clicks. Morning Glory doesn’t break new ground, but it offers for a very fun time regardless.
4/5

Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (Mike Clattenburg, 2009)
Me and a friend were nursing hangovers and flipping through Netflix when we saw this film none of us had heard about before and decided to give it a go. We didn’t know that it was based on a TV show, and not the first film to be based on it either. Regardless, I enjoyed it. The material itself runs a bit thin at times, as there’s not enough to fully sustain its 102 minutes, but the characters are amusing and have an off-beat kind of dynamic with one another. I found myself wanting to see more of them, so…
3/5

Trailer Park Boys: The Movie (Mike Clattenburg, 2006)
…naturally, I checked out this one too. It’s roughly on par with Countdown to Liquor Day. A bit better paced and with a sharper plot, but it’s not quite as funny – possibly due to less focus on Bubbles (Mike Smith). Nonetheless, I don’t see how you could like one of the films and not the other.
3/5

Skärmavbild 2013-04-02 kl. 11.15.57

Intolerable Cruelty (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2003)
Oddly flat in content for a Coens film, but the humor is there and the cast has a good bit of fun with it all. The ending seemed weird to me, but then that’s par for the course when watching one of the brothers’ movies for the first time, so I’m not holding that against it too much.
3/5

The Substitute (Robert Mandel, 1996)
Pretty bad in most every way, from the clichéed story and poor action scenes to the cheesy acting. But it’s at least the kind of bad that you can laugh at if you watch it with some friends. If I can give Troll 2 a score of 3/5, I can give this one a 2.
2/5

Total # of new films seen: 18
Average score: 3.3 / 5
Best film of the month: Shame
Worst film of the month: Valhalla Rising

 
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Posted by on 2 April, 2013 in Monthly Report

 

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An introduction to the Flickchart world of ranking films

A while ago, I found myself staring at my computer screen, furrowing my brow, tilting my head from one side to the other. Flickchart.com had just told me to choose between Blue Valentine and Before Sunset. Two movies I really love, and I had to put one above the other. Do I go with all the wonderful conversations that are the core of Before Sunset? Or the powerful contrast between hope and dismay found in Blue Valentine? Should I take into account that Blue Valentine stands on its own better, whereas Before Sunset relies on its predecessor Before Sunrise to achieve its full impact? Or should Before Sunset be credited for achieving so much despite only being two people talking for 80 minutes? Should I just go with my gut-feeling? Which one would I rather watch right then and there? Reaching a decision took me a good five minutes, I reckon.

There are those who say that making ranked lists of movies is a pointless endeavor. Films should be judged by their own merits and not just in context of others, they might argue. My take on it is that context is something we always use when thinking about films. I saw The Gold Rush back in July, which was not only my first Charlie Chaplin film but also my first ever silent comedy. Did I like it? Yeah, I did. It was funny and charming. But it was very different from the types of films I had seen before. It took a while for me to get into its groove. It seems likely that my opinion of it will shift when I get around to seeing more Chaplin films, more 1920s films, and more silent films. As it is, I can still evaluate The Gold Rush strictly as a comedy and determine if I like it better or worse than, say, There’s Something About Mary. But as I haven’t seen anything quite like it, I can’t compare it to movies that are more closely related to it. Still, every movie we see, no matter what kind, gives us some degree of context against which to judge every other movie.

We rank movies all the time. Every time you give a film a review score of 8/10, you’re ranking it above every film you’ve given a 7/10 and below every film you’ve given a 9/10. When you call a movie the best of the year, you’re ranking it above all the other ones you saw that year. The issue people have with ranking, then, seems to be one more of degree than of concept. Any rating scale allows for a varying amount of ties. That 8/10 movie gets deemed to be in the same tier as all the other 8/10 movies. Are they all exactly equally good? Of course not. But the numerical rating is just a shorthand. If you write reviews, you hope that people will read the full text to find out what you thought about the film, which aspects worked for you and which didn’t. The score is just a quick summary. But when you go beyond these steps on your review scale to rank films, things can get very detailed. Too detailed for some.

Saying that Casablanca is better than Sucker Punch may be easy enough, but is it better than Pulp Fiction? “Oh, I couldn’t say. They’re so different.” Well, Casablanca is different from Sucker Punch too, and that didn’t stop you from proclaiming it superior. “Yeah, well, I can’t choose between Casablanca and Pulp Fiction. They’re both great. Ranking movies is stupid anyway.” Except when it’s easy, it seems.

This fictional conversation partner might have a point, however. Distilling all discussion on film to “good” or “bad” – and by extension “better” or “worse” – is reductive. I talked about this briefly in the opening of my blog post Noble Failures, where I argued that even overall bad films, or films we don’t like, can have parts or qualities that are worth discussing. “Good” and “bad”, like review scores, are just the sum total of everything we think about a movie. A useful shortcut in many cases, but we should be careful not to boil it down to this sum all the time. It’s a trap worth avoiding even when going into the specifics. The movie was “good”. Why? It had a “good” story and “good” acting. Why was the story good? Why was the acting good?

But for the purpose of ranking movies, we need these shorthands. Once you take everything about a movie into account, from technical merits and emotional impact to story, acting, how much it speaks to you as a person and everything else, you end up with your opinion of the film. Making a ranked list then becomes a matter of weighing this overall opinion against the opinion you have of other movies. Is your opinion of X stronger than your opinion of Y? If yes, is it stronger than your opinion of Z? And so on. Compiling a ranked list is to make a series of choices between different movies.

This is where Flickchart comes in.

Flickchart, the brainchild of Nathan Chase and Jeremy Thompson, is a website that presents you with two movies. Pick the one you like best. Now you get two more films. Pick again. Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you get a film you haven’t watched, you mark it as unseen and get another one instead. Eventually, you get recurring movies in new match-ups. If you like Trainspotting better than Fargo, and then Batman Begins better than Trainspotting, that means you like Batman Begins better than Fargo too. As you go along ranking on Flickchart – which can be devilishly addicting – the site compiles a list based on all your choices: your all-time list, from the very best to the very worst. Eventually, you will spot things that don’t look right. The first movie you pick to win a match-up will end up at the top of your list, and if that one doesn’t show up in match-ups for a while, it will sit at #1. Maybe it doesn’t belong there. You can then look up that film and re-rank it. This will pit it against the film at the center of your list. Is it better? Then it gets pitted against the film a quarter from the top. The halving process continues until the film has been placed at its opimal spot on your list. You can then go back to ranking films at random again, or keep fine-tuning your list by re-ranking individual movies.

A typical Flickchart match-up. Notice how your top 20 list is always staring you in the face as you rank? This is why most Flickcharters are obsessed with keeping their top 20 nice and tidy.

Should you pick the films you consider your favorites, or the ones you think are the best? This is a hot debate topic among Flickcharters. Some like to focus on a film’s objective qualities. Others favor a subjective line of thinking, going strictly for the films they enjoy more. A third group thinks that good films and films they like are one and the same. Flickchart doesn’t force you into either way of thinking, but lets you create your list according to your own parameters.

Choosing between two films can be hard. I’ve already mentioned Blue Valentine vs Before Sunset. What about Back to the Future vs Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or The Empire Strikes Back vs The Shawshank Redemption? The Breakfast Club vs Groundhog Day? How about a more unorthodox battle, like The Devil Wears Prada vs Saw? It can be equally tricky to decide between two so-so films, such as Charlie’s Angels vs Dan in Real Life. And just which is worse: Street Fighter or Super Mario Bros? Flickchart doesn’t allow for ties; there’s no Skip button (reloading the page will bring up a new match-up, but that’s not in the spirit of things.) One must always choose.

When you get tired of ranking random films, you can employ some of Flickchart’s various filters. You can choose to rank only films from the 1970s, or specify it further to 1977. Maybe you just want to rank action movies. Or Pixar films. Or Best Picture Oscar winners. If you just want to get new stuff on your chart, you can use the Unranked filter and only be presented with films you haven’t ranked yet. And if fine-tuning the top 20 on your chart is what you want to do, you can restrict your match-ups to just those 20 films as well.

A snippet of Flickchart's global chart

Flickchart offers plenty of other features too. Every match-up has a discussion page where you can leave a comment on your reasoning for your choice and see what other users have had to say. Then there’s the global charts, where the win percentages of all films are compared against each other to produce a list of Flickchart’s favorite films. Here too you can use filters to get specific information. You can also get recommendations on the best films you haven’t seen of various types. If you’ve added other users as your friends, Flickchart allows you to combine the rankings of you and them to find out what your combined favorite films are, or what the best films neither of you have seen yet are. New features are added frequently; the Flickchart of today has more bells and whistles than the one I joined a few years ago, and more is always on the horizon. But the core essence of pitting one film against another remains the same.

Is Flickchart a useful tool for making ranked lists? It can be, but you have to work at it. If you just rank random movies, getting anything fully accurate will take a very long time as a lot will hinge on getting “the right” match-ups. If you use the re-rank feature diligently, you can get something good going. That said, I don’t tend to look at Flickchart when I make my Top 10 lists here on the blog. The main reason is that my Flickchart isn’t in perfect order. During my time as a Flickchart member, I’ve picked winners in over 14000 match-ups, but there are still oddities on my list. Some films are way higher or lower than what feels right. Plus, I’m very fickle. From discussions with fellow Flickcharters, I know there are people who feel there is a perfect order for the movies they’ve seen. I’m of the mindset that my opinions can sway daily. I might pick the black comedy of The War of the Roses over One Hour Photo one day, only to find that the latter’s creepy atmosphere speaks more to me the day after. Movies drift in and out of my top 20 with ease, whereas other users keep a tight lock on their top spots. Different strokes.

Why do I keep using Flickchart then? Primarily, because it’s fun. It’s fun to just think about random films I’ve seen and discover what it is I really like about them, and seeing my list change and transform is oddly satisfying. It can also be a source of revelations about my viewing preferences. I might file a movie away as a 3/5 after first seeing it, only to later realize that I keep choosing it over films I thought I liked more. There are also more general observations to be made. For instance, I’ve never considered romance to be one of my favorite movie genres, and yet my Flickchart top 20 has a pretty high amount of them, all films I truly adore. Apparently, I do love me some well-made romances after all.

As you might gleam, there are many aspects, features and uses when it comes to Flickchart. Some use it as their primary way of keeping track of films they’ve seen. Others employ it to calculate their accurate ranking list of movies. Others still, like me, see it as an entertaining time-killer. Either way, it’s a site well worth checking out. You might just learn something about yourself. It made me realize I had a new favorite movie a while ago.

So go to Flickchart and start ranking. If you do, feel free to add me as your Flickchart friend at my profile page there.

Oh, and for the record:

Blue Valentine > Before Sunset
Casablanca > Pulp Fiction
Back to the Future > Raiders of the Lost Ark
Shawshank Redemption > Empire Strikes Back
Groundhog Day > The Breakfast Club
Saw > The Devil Wears Prada
Dan in Real Life > Charlie’s Angels
Street Fighter > Super Mario Bros

 
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Posted by on 2 March, 2012 in Links

 

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