Movies making the grade

Close your eyes and think about what you would describe as the best movie ever made. Now go to rottentomatoes.com or Yahoo Movies and see if critics agreed. Odds are, the answer is no.

Regardless of the ratings given by critics, certain films are destined to be No. 1 at the box office. Could it be those films are the only decent things out that season? Maybe the characters in the film are just played by the hottest actors. It could even be that the movie was marketed so well it just seemed good. But what do the critics think? What makes an A movie? Here’s what three local critics had to say.

Steve Persall, St. Petersburg Times”It’s tough to explain what an A movie is to me; it’s something that rises kind of instinctually from the experience of a particular film. Sometimes it’s a theme that may not be perfectly handled yet is so important to consider that the importance factors into the grade. I immediately Think of Spike Lee’s Get on the Bus. That, even flawed, was my pick as that year’s best film. Sometimes it’s a wave of appreciation rising from a visceral experience, like My Dog Skip or In America driving me to sobbing tears, or Bad Santa making me laugh harder than I had in a long, long time. We can’t always expect or receive the perfection an A grade suggests, so there have to be other measures that are truly personal. Trying to categorize them would somehow diminish their effect, I think. ‘Everyone’s a critic,’ as the saying goes, and it’s true. My A may be your C, or worse. That’s what makes movies so special and such a vital connection between strangers around the world.”

Robert Ross, Tampa Tribune”The A is a very rare occurrence in my experience. To qualify, the film must surpass expectations both objectively – i.e. excellence in acting, direction, screenplay, etc. – and subjectively, which means it has to provide an unparalleled, unprecedented experience to the audience.”

Reginald Stephens, ABC Action News”For me, your question is not simple to answer. I took a lot of production and film classes in college, so I’ve found it rather easy to spot things that are ‘wrong’ with a movie, and in order for a film to get the equivalent of an A rating, it almost certainly has to have very little ‘wrong’ with it. Of course, you have to take genre and director’s intent into consideration as well – you can’t be docking points from a Kill Bill or Star Wars movie because ridiculous things are happening within those movies’ own universes when that was the director’s intent. Most comedies that are not funny to me seem like failures, though they may be salvaged by other attributes. For this reason, I rarely ever give really high grades to comedies unless they excel in other ways, too – for example, 2005’s No. 1 movie on my list, The Squid and the Whale, which may not have been funny to everyone, but most people would agree that it was well-acted and well-written. To show how tough I am with A’s – that movie got the equivalent of a B+. 2006’s No. 1 movie, United 93, was the first movie I gave higher than a B+ to since 2003’s City of God. And with United 93, it was not really because it was an enjoyable movie (as it was not), but more so because I could find almost nothing wrong with it, while every movie from 2003 to 2006 seemed at least flawed enough for me to give it something below an A, even if they were more enjoyable to watch than United 93.”

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