I’ve always been opposed to the grading of films on any scale you can throw at me, whether it be on a star- or academic-scale. My mind changes too often, and frequently my grade/rating changes within the day or so. I can’t do the A/B/C/D/F scale, because technically an F is 69 out of 100 or lower, and most films fall under that category for me. I was only half-impressed with Breathless, so does it deserve the same rating as The Hills Have Eyes remake? I’d say no. With this said, I do rate films on my Netflix account, more to allow my friends to see what I’ve seen and whether it was shit or not. Often there, ratings are changed like crazy. Is The Departed a four- or three-star film? Can’t I have halves? However, since I rate the films I see on a five-star scale, I have begun to wonder about what is it that makes a five-star film for me? As my friend Tom has said, there are certain films that cannot fall between the 1 or 5 star, citing The Devil’s Rejects as one example. You could probably add Showgirls and Pink Flamingos to that list, though I may have rated Pink Flamingos three (whoops). So what is a five-star film and what does it mean for me?
My friend Mike rated the French Hitchcockian thriller La moustache, starring Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos, five stars the other day, which got me pumped to watch it. I did, and I was rather impressed… but was I five-star impressed? It’s thoroughly uncompromising and satisfyingly unsatisfying as only the French can do, yet I wonder. Will La moustache be sitting in my mind a year from now when the subject of Hitchcock comes up? Will I feel like I need to revisit the film in a year’s time? The answers are “probably not.” Does that make La moustache a shitty movie? Of course not, I rated it four out of five stars, but its significance to me appears, a day after viewing, to be fleeting. I encounter films like this all the time: exquisitely constructed, intellectually stimulating motion pictures that fade from memory like an aged Polaroid.
Take for instance The Science of Sleep (La science des rêves), Michel Gondry’s first credit as both writer and director. I found myself charmed, inspired, and beautifully frustrated with the film in all the right ways. After Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, I’ve gotten over my snobbish Gondry-hating, even finding a decent, if detached, appreciation for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. However, much of my appreciation for The Science of Sleep came from the exact time I viewed the film. My doctor has prescribed new medication, which has produced some of the most lucid dreams I’ve ever had, often blurring the lines of my own reality. I quickly snap out of these dream hallucinations, but that the main character of the film, Gael García Bernal, also has trouble with this distinction made me that more smitten with the film itself. Of course, it helps that Gondry has beautifully weaved his music video experimentation into a cinematic realm. It also helps that my romantic cynicism was perfectly matched with The Science of Sleep’s cryptic ending. So the question remains: will The Science of Sleep become for me what Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind has for slews of hip college kids? I want to say no; I want to say that my considerable appreciation for the film was because of the timing of its arrival in my life, not because it was of five-star quality.
With all this said, what qualifies as a five-star film for me? There’s the typical ones that everyone should rate five stars, like L’avventura, Double Indemnity, La dolce vita, Manhattan, Chinatown, The Passion of Joan of Arc, and that heap of garbage Citizen Kane (I kid). Then there’s the ones that, if you know me, are essential Joe Bowman classics: Showgirls, 3 Women, Blue Velvet, The Naked Kiss, Fat Girl, Freeway, and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. Then falls the tricky ones, the ones that I will never forget, even if they’ve already been forgotten by everyone else. Those would include Morvern Callar, My Summer of Love, Exotica, The Passion of Anna, Come Undone, Safe, and Before Sunset. For better or worse, these films also arrived at the opportune time in my life and have always stayed there. Some are hard to defend to others--I don’t even remember why I loved Exotica so much, but I still think about it a lot. I’m well-aware that these films in the third category are quality pictures, but they’ve become more than just films to me. Perhaps they serve as preserved memories of mine, or maybe I find something new every time I watch them. And maybe The Science of Sleep will fool me, as Morvern Callar once did. I dismissed Morvern’s hidden power over me just as I may be doing with The Science of Sleep. Only time will tell; the only thing you can be sure of is change… at least the change in my Netflix ratings.
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