Saturday, June 26, 2010

Not the Greatest Post Ever

NOT THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER.... HUH?

As I sat in front of my computer a few weeks back, cranking out another review for all of you lovely folks to read I found myself typing out something strange. Something I've typed out hundreds of times before without the faintest of real thought about what I was saying. The review, for a film I thought was mediocre at best, but still entertaining, inspired me to put forward the words "it's not the greatest movie ever, but...."

The second I finished typing that sentence I suddenly came to a halt. What the hell does that mean!? A review, while written by me, is not written solely for me. I don't write for others, but I do so in the mind that others will read, and maybe derive something from it. So, what is there to gain by me writing down "not the greatest movie ever" when my top 100 will tell you that I feel only one film deserves that title.

Then, by all accounts, every movie not named that one would need that in the review, rendering it not only pointless, but completely unnecessary. So, why did I feel the need to write it? Then it occurred to me, it's something I read on blogs all the time, dating all the way back to 2003. One of those go to phrases reviewers (professional and bloggers alike) tend to toss in to defend a movie that's not legendary, but is perfectly acceptable on its own right.

Is it our way of saying "try to not grade every movie on the same high scale as an all time great?" I'm not so sure, but inherently we grade all films based on what we deem to be perfect for ourselves. As such, we base our scores on how the film manages to adhere to what we truly seek. To tell people to be nicer to a movie, is to assume some level of control over what they're looking for in a movie. So, I would argue that train of thought is also useless to a reader.

Now, I could see its use for a film like Citizen Kane (which I do love very much) by someone who doesn't care as much for it. A movie that has been called the greatest ever and therefore noting you disagree with that would be appropriate, and useful. But, as for its other uses, I find myself in the dark. We don't go to restaurants and when asked how our food is say "well, this isn't the greatest cheeseburger ever, but it's ok."

There's a certain comic level to its use. A defense for a movie, especially when that movie is one that has been widely criticized. But I wouldn't go so far as to say it's completely without merit. But to defend it, by saying it's not the greatest movie ever, you'd need an attack claiming it should have been. So, perhaps that's where the trouble lies for me. You don't see a lot of "this should have been the greatest movie ever, but wasn't, and so I give it negative points!" reviews for movies. Or, at least, I don't. And if one were to do that, well, I might argue it's not a review of any real value to any reader.

Be sure to comment, let me know what you think. How do you feel about the phrase's use? Is there any real value to be gained from its use for either the reviewer, or the reader?

14 better thoughts:

SugaryCynic said...

obviously there's a bit of hyperbole involved. If you're trying to defend a movie others might sneer at, it points out that maybe the other person's expectations are too high, and this film, while not the end all of cinema, is still a worthy good time. But it definitely is a pretty tired phrase (also I don't like Citizen Kane all that much pleasedon'thurtme)

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

I think it depends on what someone says after "It's not the greatest movie ever"... but, what? or and what? But .. it's still fun. or And I had a great time. Or it was a perfect escape from the summer sun. But I still enjoyed the performance.

I'm not sure I would call it defending, I like to think of it as matching up. Unless you are devoted to only seeing the greatest movies ever, than you will see some films that aren't. Sometimes people want to see a silly, fun movie or an action thrill ride. I'm sure there are some of those that are the greatest movies ever, but not all of them are.

It's a goood question. What does that phrase mean? Is it the best way to describe the film? If not - what's a better way to describe it?

silveremulsion said...

Great post! It really is a go to phrase that doesn't always help. Oddly enough, I do actually go to restaurants and say things like that about my food.

I try not to say it in my writing, but there are times when you enjoy something, despite knowing it's not really a good movie and you want to profess your love without welcoming hate mail by qualifying your positive post with "It's not the greatest but...". Expectations are key also, so if someone reads your glowing review and then actually watches the movie because of it, they'll be expecting greatness and therefore have a more disappointing time if it doesn't live up to that. When reading reviews I find that I need to know where the writer is coming from, so I know whether or not to trust their opinion. Unless you are reading someone's stuff daily, it's hard to get a grasp on where they're coming from in one review, so I find these sort of qualifiers to be useful in determining their expectations and comparing to my own.

I did a review a couple months back of a Zatoichi film that came out around the same time as Yojimbo. I felt the need to say that Zatoichi was great fun, but don't expect a Yojimbo quality samurai film, because it will never deliver. It's not really fair to compare the two directly though, I used it simply to temper expectations.

I love a lot of trashy horror movies as well, and writing reviews for those is tough. The first two Ghoulies films are incredible fun, exactly what I want in a horror/comedy but you know...they aren't the greatest movies ever.

Anyway, great post. I've got to go finish a review and watch out for any glaring "it's not the greatest" lines.

MovieNut14 said...

I haven't said that in my reviews, but I think I can really close to saying it on more that one occasion. Great post.

MovieNut14 said...

I haven't said that in my reviews, but I think I can really close to saying it on more that one occasion. Great post.

Dan (Top10Films) said...

I think we as human beings like to categorise things - it makes them easier to understand and comprehend. I suppose that goes someway to explaining the use of 'greatest' whatever. Of course, if someone says Citizen Kane is the best/greatest film ever made, most people would want to disagree for the simple reason of individualism. I think Citizen Kane is a great movie but for me it isn't my personal favourite, nor would I say it is the best film ever made. But then we get into the discussion of what is a 'favourite' movie (or whatever), and what is the 'best' - if indeed, there is a difference between our personal likes and a definable quality that makes something unequivocally better than something else.

In the instance that use the phrase - which I too have used - it is a case of categorisation. It is very easy to understand by saying the film isn't the greatest film ever made, it is therefore not that good. It might be watchable and entertaining but it doesn't merit the right to be called a 'great movie'.

Excellent post.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Well, I think you know where I stand on Kane - not very fond of it and prefer the "over-long" How Green Was My Valley. I have a suspicion it resonates more for Americans, though...don't know how true.

And in relation to the question, what everyone said (esp. Dan)

Univarn said...

@Sugary I'm good with hyperbole, but not in excess because it devalues what you say. Occasionally I would say using something like this is good, in context.

@Shannon I could see it being used in that context, but I would say there's a better way of saying it. Especially if you're trying to appeal to those who only watch what is widely considered "the greatest," it could be argued say "it isn't" will lose them, regardless of the "but."

@silver Yeah, I do acknowledge it's a common phrase, and one I use often as well. A bit of self critique going on here. As for expectations, that is very true. It's a phrase I imagine will get blown up on a good 30% of blog posts come the release of Inception. Because the buzz there is just way too high for any film.

@MovieNut14 It's not a bad thing, just whether or not its a useful thing is the real question.

@Dan Categorization is definitely one of our favorite things to do. And in movies it's as much a good thing, as it is a disadvantage. I wrote in my "love or hate movies" that once people put something into that high esteem/near perfection category they seem to really harp, and look down, on those who put the movie in it's good, not great category. Creating a real large separation where there isn't that great of one. And I think if you're standing against popular opinion (and by popular I refer to popular by those you know) using this is actually useful.

@Andrew One of these days I'll do my top 100 film review on Citizen Kane, and maybe I can inspire you to give it a second chance. Oh, and nice cop out on the comment there :P

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

If you think there is a better way of saying it Uni, keep searching and thinking on it. It will appear & it will be perfect!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I agree, it's a coined term. I'd use it for so-so movies that one would see just for the eye candy or fun ride, though.

Shubhajit said...

That's not just a very interesting post but also raises some extremely relevant points worth discussing over.

You're right, if you consider Citizen Kane as the greatest movie ever made, it would be quite pointless to use that phrase because, in a literal sense, it would be applicable for nearly every movie that you see and have liked. And I agree with you that there can't be different yardsticks for different films, or rather different kinds of films. If that were to be followed, there would be some 100 greatest ever films, and that would really defy the purpose.

But I feel the phrase "it's not the greatest movie ever, but...." is used rather in a figurative sense for movies that will never be considered as a great film, or might even be thrashed by highbrow critics, but ones you aren't ashamed to say that you like them, while of course admitting that they're not a great film while considering from a more critical & impartial perspective. As you said, its more of a defense mechanism, a defense of a movie that you liked while also not-so-subtly making it clear that you've enough sense to realise that it won't make your year-end "best of.." list.

Simon said...

Nothing is the greatest movie ever, except maybe Toy Story 3 (this is fact).

That phrase, I've used it quite I bit, I think, am I the only one who now finds it almost patronising, bringing down its worth by implying it is only good for entertainment (though it may be), and glossing over its cinematic worth?

Univarn said...

@Shannon Perhaps one day I'll come up with a better way of putting it.

@Alex Yeah, not a bad phrase, but I think it is an overused one.

@Shub I agree in that usage of it, but as I said to Shannon, I think there has to be a better way of putting it, than trying to associate it with what it isn't.

@Simon I'd argue use of "greatest ever" is perfectly acceptable as long as it stays in the confines of personal opinion. i.e. For me, the greatest movie of all time is Seven Samurai. Without the For me it's more of a claim of absolutism, and in the realm of cinema I greatly disagree with any attempt to do so.

As for this, cinematic worth is a tough phrase, mostly because what we all deem to be of worth in cinema is completely different.

Heather said...

I don't think it's without use or merit in certain contexts but in general is overused and relatively pointless. I'm certain I'm guilty of it, probably more often than I'd like to think, but yes, it may just be our way of saying, I really liked this movie in spite of it's faults (which is the sentence I'm most comfortable overusing) for all the reasons I noted above. It is a very common coin of phrase and that is probably why few of us haven't bothered to ponder exactly what it is we are saying.

Something that helps me, is just letting the thoughts flow, spelling, grammar, typos alike, and write the entire review. I do use spell check but seldom do I change the others.

At the end of the day I still use the following adjectives far too often: awesome, brilliant, and flawed. Point being, we all fall into things that are comfortable for us to say.

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