Sunday, August 27, 2006

Movies: Two-And-A-Half Man

For years I kept a copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide within arm’s reach at all times. Questions about film are constantly being raised here at Chez K, and I’d want answers tout suite. Rosemarie and I actually used to check off the films we’d seen, but that quickly become too time-consuming a project. We’d also update every year, buying each edition as soon as it came out.

But various internet resources soon supplanted Leonard, as we called the book, and we decided to spring for a new volume every other year. Lately even that’s slipped; we’ve been working off the same book for three years now.

We updated to the brand new 2007 guide over the weekend, and one thing hasn’t changed: Leonard respects my taste, but he doesn’t share it. Most of what I like gets two-and-a-half stars.

I first noticed this in 1995, when The Usual Suspects rocked my world. (“Highly praised, but to our minds, too ‘clever’ for its own good.”) It’s played out every year since. If I clutch a movie to my bosom, it might muster three stars, occasionally three-and-a-half. But 2.5 is the likeliest bet. If I’m lucky.

Consider 2004. Leonard has kind things to say about several of my favorite films of that year. Sideways and Before Sunset, for instance, merit three-and-a-half stars, while Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind comes in with three. (Leonard suggests that Charlie Kaufman’s script may also be too clever. I must be a sucker for that.)

But most of my choices land the dreaded score of 2.5 in the definitive film reference book. Like Bad Education (“Complex, challenging ... somewhat distancing for the viewer, in spite of strong performances”), Cellular (“Not-bad thriller ... entertaining enough, as long as you ignore the many plot holes”), and Collateral (“tosses credibility down the drain during the climax ... still quite watchable”). As for my pick for 2004’s best, Spartan? That features “a leading character who’s so off-putting, in a plot so convoluted,” that it winds up with a measly two.

Last year was a bit better. Two of my five faves, 2046 and The Squid and the Whale, stick that 3.5 landing. But Old Boy (“Production values are top grade for this genre”) and Munich (“less here than meets the eye”) are back at 2.5, while Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang scores a deuce.

Still, Leonard and I did find common ground in 2005. We both admired Wes Craven’s Red Eye, and felt that Nicolas Cage’s Lord of War was sorely underrated. And I won’t say an ill word against a man who begins his book with a list of 50 overlooked films that includes gems like Quai des Orfèvres, Classe tous Risques, Schizopolis, Kontroll and Bubba Ho-Tep.

Of course, this suggests that when my first movie gets made, it may well be enshrined in a future edition of Leonard with a rating of two-and-a-half stars and a review noting that “the script has its moments, but seems entirely too pleased with itself.” And you know what? I think I’ll live with it.