Quantifying the Popcorn


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

No time to write a lengthy discussion of it (why did I waste all that time this morning composing a post on something as useless as education policy?) but don’t miss the fascinating article in today’s Wall Street Journal on the history of, and debates over the merits of, the practice of movie critics assigning stars, letter grades, or “thumbs” to movies as a quick and easily accessible, yet frustratingly reductive, indication of their judgment on a movie.

Among other things, the article asks some prominent movie critics to give a star ranking to the practice of ranking movies by stars. One gives the practice four stars (“It helps the reader, and it helps us”) while another gives it one and a half (“It’s not necessary to film criticism but it’s not something that undermines it”). Some people quoted in the article are actively hostile to the practice, though.

The article is by “The Numbers Guy,” Carl Bialik, who apparently has a blog under that title at the Journal‘s website. Who knew? On the blog he has a follow-up to the story with more quotes and tidbits, including one critic who complains that he doesn’t know how to give an accurate ranking to a movie that he hated, yet enjoyed watching for its awfulness:

“The toughest one for me was Gran Torino, which I think is a terrible film but nonetheless found immensely entertaining in its awfulness,” Las Vegas Weekly film critic Mike D’Angelo told me about his 100-point grading system on his personal Web site. “I wound up giving it 34/100, which includes like 20 bonus points for camp value.”

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