I’ve always been a big fan of the last line of the thirteenth Article of Faith — “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
So lists, reviews, and recommendations are very important to me when I’m looking for something to watch or read. I’ve been working my way through both the Criterion Collection list and the IMDB list of Top 250 Films under the theory that those lists qualify as good report and praise.
Which is not to say that I blindly accept such recommendations. We can (and should) quibble about what properly constitutes virtue, loveliness, and worthy praise, and I love to see different arguments from different people operating under different assumptions.
Still, as a baseline of good report, the large sample size for the IMDB list and artistic qualifications of the Criterion Collection jury seem like reasonable aggregators of initial praise. The films that appear on both lists are all but guaranteed to be worthy (not unlike sf stories that appear on the ballots for both the Hugo and Nebula awards).
So far it’s worked out pretty well. I’ve seen quite a few films I would never have sought otherwise, that use narrative approaches or settings or conflicts that normally wouldn’t engage my interest. Some appealed on an artistic level; others on a thematic level; others as just plain entertaining. And some didn’t appeal at all, but at least I could see the draw for others.
A good and useful filter. Right up until it completely failed me on three out of five films.
Even that wouldn’t have bothered me except that the last recommendation failed me so spectacularly. Not only did the film not engage or entertain, it actively annoyed me with its shallow treatment, weak characters, lack of thematic depth, and hackneyed, tired presentation. Production and acting were as good as could be hoped for from a star-studded cast, but could not rescue a (for me) disastrous script.
On a film that Roger Ebert gave three and a half (out of four) stars and that even earned a seventy-five percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. In other words, plenty of good report and praise, but something I found neither virtuous nor lovely.
After the fact I found a fair number of critical reviews that saw the film the same way I did. After about three hours or research and reading, I found a significant rift right along the lines that bugged me so much. Unfortunately, the film itself was only about two hours long, so the cost of that research was simply too high.
I guess no system is perfect; the only truly effective test is trial and error. Still, it’s useful to get as many qualified opinions as possible to narrow the list up-front.
What are your favorite unheralded books, stories, or films—in any genre, not just Mormon? What are some works that have received bad report that you think are worthy of praise? What would you warn against despite good report, and why?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Oh, and the film that so disappointed me was The Road with Viggo Mortensen, based on a book by Cormac McCarthy. Interestingly, it no longer appears on the IMDB Top 250 list. If only I’d waited just a little longer…