The following is a blog (of sorts) where I discuss movie-related and site-related thoughts that I can't express within the confines of a normal review.  Some of them may be responses to e-mail I've received, trailers I've seen, or just an overall theme not specific to a movie.  Most of these writings are meant strictly for me, but I do consider them of potential interest to those of you that love movies or are just interested in the running of the site in general.  I welcome any feedback you might have on any of the subjects listed in this (or any other) section of my site.

8/20/2006 -- Where are today's 5-star movies?

The following "Quip" is taken from a discussion in the Qwipster.net discussion group.  If you'd like to add to this discussion, please join the group (and the conversation) here.

From Cyrus:

Mr. Qwipster,

What was the last 5-star movie that you saw? I see you have some
recent 4 star movies, but most linger in in that "it was okay" realm.
I'm inclined to agree with your rating system for the most part (You
rated South Park: The Movie and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, way too
low for the amount of laughter they induce (I know I'm in the minority
on that one)). I wonder if new movies just suck in general? Where are
the chance takers and true story tellers? Why does every movie, for
the most part, seem like a half-assed attempt? Why am I finding that
television shows like "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica" take more chances,
have better story telling, finer acting, and offer more than a feature
film?

Although I have several five-star movies on my site, Magnolia remains the only new film I've seen since starting my site in late 1996 that I have awarded five stars to.

Part of the reason for the dearth of five-star movies comes from several factors.  One happens to be that I rank a five-star movie as a "masterpiece" on my scale.  I have given some recent thought about getting rid of that criterion, and just moving up "outstanding" (curently 4.5 stars) creating a new category between "good" (3.5 stars) and "excellent" (4 stars) called "very good".  However, I also like the rarity of bestowing 5 stars, which I think other sites dole out too liberally to take their perfect rating seriously.

The other factor is that many movies earn their five-star status over time.  It's hard to judge a new theatrical release as a five-star movie because it hasn't weathered the test of time, and we haven't even begun to see its influence on the world of cinema.  For instance, my favorite movie, Vertigo, was considered a marginal Hitchcock movie on its release, according to the reviews one can read at the time.  Sight and Sound's most recent survey of hundreds of international critics has it as one of the top 10 best movies of all time.  Your favorite movie, Shawshank Redemption, was a little more critically acclaimed at the time of its release, but didn't really get as many 4 and 5-star reviews as it does now.  My Maltin guide gives it 2.5 stars.  Blade Runner is another one that gained importance over time, as we can see now how seminal it is in the world of science fiction movies.  (Maltin rated that as 1.5 stars!)

The other quality of a masterpiece is that it holds up to repeated viewings.  Sometimes we get caught by a movie by surprise, but then when we watch it a second or third time, it isn't quite as good as when we first saw it.  Other times, we watch a movie that is fresh and new and vibrant, but aren't sure how to react to it, only really appreciating how visionary it is after seeing it more than once.

So, basically, while there may be something to the notion that movies made today aren't as good as in the past, my personal belief is that it's too early to write the current generation off.  In 20 years we'll all look back and see which are the masterpieces and which are just the forgotten movies of this time.

I agree that a lot of movies, like good wine, appreciate over time.
As my hero would unfortunately say, "No wine before its time".
Speaking of Welles and 5-star films, Citizen Kane was a box-office
flop and largely ignored (in large part to the black listing of the
movie and its maker) only to be given its due in later years (I
believe it was almost 20 years after it's theatrical run when Kane
landing in the AFI top 10 list, where it has stayed number one ever
since - although I have a very strong feeling that The Godfather - a
decision I will never agree with - will over take it next time they
do such a list).

But my first post about five star movies wasn't about a rating
system, it was about how movies are tailored to a specific audience
that doesn't include me. A party that I'm invited to, if I bring my
wallet, but not one that I wish to attend. I think the only reason
people go to the movies any more is for eating crappy food if you're
an adult, necking if your a teenager, or because you don't know any
better if you're a kid. Good films will slip in there from time to
time, but for the majority, the audience has told Hollywood that it
wants mind-numbing shit to stare at while shoveling popcorn into
its gaping mouth.

I'm all for entertainment, but a lot of what's out there doesn't
even qualify as that. Perhaps I expect too much. After all, it's only
millions of dollars that gets put into every one of these steaming
piles of....

Anyway. I love movies. I really do. I love a good story. Perhaps
that's what a lot of films are missing. Perhaps that's why I'm being
surprised with television. I do not watch commercials (which, on
another note, most theater movies seem to be these days - one long
commercial), I wait for the DVD release and watch it as a film,
usually over the span of a week or two. I highly suggest watching
"Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica". Both are very good "movies" indeed.

I think the real difference between the mentality now vs. when I was younger is what they deem to be a summer blockbuster. think the first film to be considered a true-blue summer popcorn movie was Jaws in 1975, followed shortly after by Star Wars, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., etc.  While those movies were grand pieces of pure entertainment, the filmmakers (Spielberg and Lucas in these cases) actually worked hard on creating well-rounded characters and stories that inspired a sense of awe, wonder, and escape.

However, when one looks at films mass marketed in the 90s ans 00s, it's stuff like Pirates of the Caribbean, Men in Black, and Independence Day -- all movies that try to inject special effects and goofy jocularity in equal proportions. While those elements are nice when they work, the concentration on characters and story are minimal at best. basically, they are purely diversionary films that have no real artistic value, and add nothing to the world of movies as a whole.

You mention television shows, and I think that you may be on to something. Whereas blockbuster theatrical releases are dumbed down to the point where everyone from a 5-year-old to a 98-year-old can understand them, and then injected with eye candy, musical interludes and oodles of comic relief to distract us, television shows don't have a lot of money to throw at the screen, plus they have to entertain week in and week out, as well plus compete with over 300 other channels for an audience. They can't afford to dazzle us, so they reel us in with characters and story, just like it should be. While I haven't seen "Lost" or the new "Battlestar Galactica" (I used to watch the old one, which wasn't all that great), given that these shows are mostly serialized now, instead of merely episodic, there is more emphasis on character growth and change than there was in television in the past.

2006 Vince Leo