Cry Havoc and Let Slip the Reviews of Red Envelopes!

The final month is upon us. DVD Netflix is going away. This departure will blow a hole in the movie-watching habits of many of us… and leave us ever more at the mercy of ephemeral licensing deals and capricious streamers, both of which may conspire to leave us without certain perfectly good films that deserve to be seen. As Beth Greenfield notes on (yes, the irony of that article’s location is not lost on me), this means some movies will move away from the public consciousness.

But although I am as bummed as my fellow cinemaniacs, I have been trying to finish out with a certain celebratory spirit. I mean, it may all be a marketing gimmick, but at least some staff at DVD Netflix seem to be having some fun as they wind down operations. I’ve whittled down my impossibly long 300+ title queue by removing ones I could quickly see streaming and ones that were as safe bets as any to stay streaming. I’ve made great progress, but the numbers don’t lie.

Back in July, I reported 206 titles still in my queue. Sadly, I’m only down to 189 titles. There’s no way I’m getting through them all, but I’m going to give you the highs and lows of them all starting tomorrow.

First, however, I should explain how I’ll be rating those highs and lows.

The Rating System

Growing up , our family were great fans of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which featured a four star rating system. We had very solid ideas of what separated a 2 and half star film from a 3-star movie, what made the 3 and half star flicks affairs to remember, and those few four-star films ones for the ages.

The online world has, by and large, adapted a 5-star rating system and Netflix is no exception. Also, my system for rating my biennial “50 Favorite Films” doesn’t fit here. So in honor of Netflix’s DVD system, which is so much nicer than their simplistic streaming rating system, I will use it.

Also, since the films aren’t necessarily going to be my favorites, I want to make sure the reviews give you a bit more idea of whether you might want to check them out, giving the pros and cons as it were. In this way, they’re an attempt to be more objective much like my Star Trek rankings and, like those capsules reviews, expect film-related trivia and references among the pithy comments.

Zero Stars

I don’t think you can actually rate a film zero stars on Netflix. It would simply count as “unrated.” so, by that logic, there should be no movies that I rate zero stars.

This is included out of a sense of completeness of the graphics I’m using and in case I accidentally rent and watch Alone in the Dark.

1/2 a Star

Likewise, you can’t actually rate things in half stars on Netflix at all, but I like to keep my graphics and rating options open.

This is also included if I happen to accidentally catch a scene of Bloodrayne.

1 Star

Here, Netflix has a rating. If you give a title one star, “you hated it.” Leonard Maltin would term it “a BOMB” and not the fun glitter kind. There is no redeeming quality about this title. It failed at whatever genre or type of story it aspired to. You will send no regards to its mother and are, in fact, most vexed that you spend hours of your life watching it.

I really hope none of the titles in my queue fall into this category, but we’ll see.

1 & 1/2 Stars

Somewhere between hate and dislike is this ranking. Perhaps the bomb in question had one redeeming quality: a stirring performance, a rousing score, one clever moment. Tough, but fair, film lovers will acknowledge this fact before banishing it to the lists of “never watch again.”

This, incidentally is also the proper rating for a glitter bomb, because while they’re fun, cleanup is the worst.

2 Stars

Netflix takes this rating as you “disliked it.” Whether it’s a big budget affair that gloriously failed to keep its promise or an indie feature that just fell apart from its premise, this is a rating for those films that disappoint. You leave the screening quite “put out.” The film may have many qualities which, you must admit, are not bad, but it does not deliver in several crucial ways. It does not pass the bar of the three star “liked it.”

2 & 1/2 Stars

Right in the middle, between dislike and like. This represents a film you want to like. Perhaps you were rooting for it even up until the third act. Then it failed you. Whether because of performances that run out of steam or some truly idiotic writing at the end that spoils proper payoff, more than a few titles at this rating break your heart a little. Was it a horror movie that descended into a derivative muddle? Was it a popcorn movie that obliterated any visual coherence with a mindless CGI-fest at the end? Whatever the case, this film does not pass muster and it will not get that critical extra half star of recognition. Good day sir!

3 Stars

The safe choice on the Netflix scale. “You liked it.” These are usually solid films within their genre and your taste. You may well recommend them to friends who like said genre or the creative folks behind it, but you know not every friend or even film lover will have the patience for whatever substandard elements are present. A particular work not aging well is a common reason.

Folks who have read my Star Trek reviews know that I am very forgiving of so many less than stellar episodes. That’s because it takes a lot to make great art seem effortless. I’m also very cognizant of watching a work with an eye to when it was made. But still, there is a dividing line and three stars is where it’s at. If I’m spending too much time considering the work as period piece (and it was contemporary when it came out), then the story hasn’t transcended its time like the great works do.

I will recommend these works with caution where I’ll outright try and dissuade people on some of the lower rankings, though I know our personal tolerances vary. Sometimes you just need to see every film with Max Von Sydow in it. I understand. Just pace yourself.

3 & 1/2 Stars

Now we’re getting somewhere. There’s a gleam in my eye when mentioning many a three and a half star film as it’s often one of the “hidden gems” that get spoken of. It does a lot of things right. It may do one or two things extraordinarily well. Has it aged badly? Are its themes presented better by a newer work? That’s not the fault of this title. More often than not, these are works that did their job reasonably well, but their aspirations were never that lofty or their execution wasn’t spectacular.

4 Stars

This rating, where you let Netflix know you “really liked it,” is the baseline for me recommending films to people that might be outside their favorite genres. These are films that meet the needs of their genre or story admirably. At this rating, it’s less about not hitting the notes of their particular genre or story, it’s about how many notes of excellence they achieve over and above that expected payoff. There’s likely one or two moments of pure delight you can’t wait for a fellow film lover to discover.

4 & 1/2 Stars

One step, or rather half star, away from greatness, the four and a half star film is usually one that you want to love, but has one or more elements holding it back. Maybe they didn’t stick the landing. Maybe, again, it was spectaular… five decades ago, and it just hasn’t held onto that timeless quality. But make no mistake, these are titles you can, more often than not, return to at different times and get something out of. Only the most curmudgeonly of film lovers will refuse to check out a film this good not in their favorite genre. It has something to offer many people.

Am I hoping some of these titles are in my queue? Yes, yes I am.

5 Stars

Rating something 5 stars differs in the online world. The same people who are hesitant to give their rideshare driver anything less than five stars barring grievous incompetence will cavalierly give an eatery three stars for substandard french fries. I’m not saying there isn’t a logic at work there and, in any case, five stars is the top of the top in the online rating world. But by rating a title on Netflix five stars, you assert that “you loved it” and by my criteria, that means you want to share the love.

You see, back with the Munson application of Maltin’s 4-star system, a four star film was one whose greatness was so thorough, that it transcended genres. Not a fan of musicals? You should still check out this one. Courtroom dramas not usually your thing? Objection overruled: you are ordered to sit yourself down and be massively entertained for two hours.

Even more than a 4 and a half star film, these are the films that you can return to repeatedly throughout your life and they will say new things to you: and it will all be valid. These are the films that remind you why you love movies.

Now, because of this repeat viewing phenomenon, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to rate any of the films I’m about to see five stars. By this rarefied criteria, you really want to see the film in question more than once. Indeed, as kids with our 4-star system, we had a special ranking of “3 and half P.” The “P” was for “Pending.” Yes, the film in question blew our socks off, but we knew we needed to be patient. If it was indeed one of the greats, it would reveal itself as such in future viewings.

May I find at least one film amongst the ones ahead in this marathon.

Now that the stage is set, let’s #GetThroughMyQueue!

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