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How many times have you read a review praising a film to the skies, gone to see it and it's a stinker? What's going on? The bottom line is there are no objective criteria when it comes to likes and dislikes. A film review is a justification of someone's likes and dislikes, a reflection of their experience and values. Hopefully, with a bit of erudition thrown in.
Generally speaking, I rate each film as a good (or bad) instance of its type - thriller, comedy, drama, etc, not as a movie per se. Thus, Withnail and I has the same rating as Magnolia, ie. for me both are (roughly) equally successful within their style.
This is not an entirely satisfactory approach although no approach is. Some genres have inherently more potential as art than others - the 'high' form of drama as opposed the 'low' form of comedy, for instance. This makes it rather misleading to simply apply the best-of-its-kind approach to rating films. Thus I tend to reserve the highest rating (4.5 - 5 stars) for films that achieve more than comparative stylistic success and add to the finest that cinema, as an art form, has to offer. Understandably there are few such films in any given year.
Of course, underpinning these general precepts is a host of preferences and presuppositions. Thus, I have a liking for films, whatever their stylistic approach may be, that explore the contradictory, troubled aspects of life or that have a melancholy, even tragic view, of the human comedy. A film's primary value for me depends on what the people (often concealed behind the symbolically autonomous figure of "The Director") who have made it have to say. How and how well they say it is a highly contingent affair. In the best films form and content come together seamlessly but content is its sustaining heart.
For more about my views on film reviewing and film criticsm click here.
Here's a list of my favourite films, alpha-listed:
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)
Broadway Danny Rose (Woody Allen, 1984)
Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
Death In Venice (Luchino Visconti, 197i)
Enfants du Paradis, Les(Marcel Carné, 1945)
Gertrud(Carl Dreyer, 1964)
Great Beauty, The / Grande Bellezza, La (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
Hud (Martin Ritt, 1963)
Hustler, The (Robert Rosen, 1961)
Last Picture Show, The (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)
Midnight Cowboy (John Schlesinger, 1969)
Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
Nosferatu, A Symphony Of Horror (F.W. Murnau, 1921)
Performance (Donald Camell & Nicholas Roeg, 1970)
Point Blank (John Boorman, 1967)
Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985)
School Of Rock(Richard Linklater, 2003)
Spirit of the Beehive, The / Espíritu de la Colmena, El (Victor Erice, 1973)
Time of the Gypsies (Emir Kustarica, 1989)
Tous Les Matins du Monde (Alain Corneau, 1991)
Toy Story (John Lassetter, 1995)
Withnail And I (Bruce Robinson, 1987)
Wizard of Oz, The (Victor Fleming, 1939)