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How’d the Oscars do?

January 27, 2007

I’m eternally fascinated by, the site that averages critics’ ratings of movies to determine how well a movie has been critically received. It’s a better gauge of critical response than Rotten Tomatoes because it only includes what it considers the 43 most important publications and websites and weighs the average to give more weight to influential publications like The New York Times and Variety. (I don’t know which pubs are given more weight, but I’m guessing those two are included.)

The top 10 best-reviewed movies list this year is interesting because the best-reviewed movie of the year was made nearly 40 years ago. Army of Shadows, from 1969, is a French film about the French Resistance during World War II that was released in the U.S. for the first time in 2006. Its average score? A 99, which makes it the third-best reviewed in Metacritic’s seven-year history. Is it really that good? I haven’t seen it, but I doubt it. My hunch is its elevated reviews are more a reflection of critical bias towards foreign film, older film and re-released classics. It’s the kind of movie a critic simply can’t pan.

Taking Army of Shadows and another older movie (also about WWII), Overlord, out of the picture, the top 10 looks like this:

  1. Pan’s Labyrinth
  2. The Queen
  3. United 93
  4. Letters from Iwo Jima
  5. Borat
  6. L’Enfant (The Child)
  7. Fateless
  8. Deliver Us from Evil
  9. Andy Warhol: A Documentary Film
  10. The Departed

With a 98 average score, Pan’s Labyrinth was easily the best-reviewed new film of the year. It is also the fourth-best reviewed film in Metacritic’s seven-year history. And when you consider that the top three are Superman II (?), The Godfather and Army of Shadows, it becomes clear that Pan’s Labyrinth is the best-reviewed new movie in Metacritic’s history. Not bad for the director of Hellboy.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences often gets crap for not nominating the best movies, but judging by this list, they did a pretty good job. Two of the top five best-reviewed movies were nominated for best picture, and three of the top 10.

While there has been all kinds of hubbub over Dreamgirls getting eight nominations but not a best picture nom, nobody has pointed out the fact that nobody really liked it a lot. No Metacritic critic named it their favorite film of the year, no regional critics group gave it Best Picture, only one critic named it to his or her top 5 (although a handful of others did include it on unranked top 10 list lists). Of the five critics who supposedly gave it a perfect score, two (David Ansen of Newsweek and Jack Mathews of the Toronto Globe and Mail) put it at no. 8 in their top 10 lists, one put it at no. 10 (Michael Sragow, Baltimore Sun), one included it in an unranked top 10 and the other, David Denby, works for a publication (The New Yorker) that is so f’-ing pretentious that it doesn’t deign to do something so common as rank the best movies of the year. Its average score was 76, which isn’t bad, but converts to no better than a B in Entertainment Weekly’s ratings.

At the same time, I wonder why no one is making a fuss over the nomination of Babel for best picture, which had an even worse Metacritic score than Dreamgirls, with a 69, a B- by Entertainment Weekly’s grading system. Only two critics absolutely loved it–Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and Lou Lemerick of the New York Post–and neither of those guys considered it one of the best five movies of the year. Almost universally it was considered ambitious, interesting, beautifully directed… and not quite adding up to much. To give you a sense of how middling a 69 is (stop your giggling!), here are some movies that scored higher: The Descent, Happy Feet, A Scanner Darkly. None of these three movies had a chance in hell of getting a best picture nomination.

Parsing out the small foreign films and documentaries that had no hope of getting nominated for best picture, the Metacritic rankings suggest that United 93 and Pan’s Labyrinth would have been more appropriate nominees for best picture than either Babel or Little Miss Sunshine, which received an 80. The lack of inclusion of United 93 is no surprise–it’s too old and too depressing–but I’m a bit surprised by the fact that the voters were aware enough of Pan’s Labyrinth to give it six nominations but didn’t nominate it for best picture. It may be the foreign language thing, but I wonder if another few weeks of wide release might have gotten it into the final five. As for the actual top five, I don’t begrudge the inclusion of Babel–the Academy may be required by law to include at least one ambitious, globe-spanning, big-star-having drama a year–but Little Miss Sunshine? Why didn’t they just nominate the boxed set for the first season of Two and a Half Men and call it a day?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Brad Glaser permalink
    January 29, 2007 11:19 am

    Hey, didn’t I turn you on to metacritic?

    P.S. I’m just back in town and owe you a professional e-mail, but this seemed more important.

  2. January 29, 2007 4:26 pm

    Yes, you did. Thank you, Brad.

    One of the interesting facts I didn’t point out about this year’s best-reviewed films was how uniformly good the praise was for the top tier. Last year, no movie received a composite score over 89; this year, six movies scored 89 or above.

  3. bro permalink
    January 29, 2007 10:28 pm

    the original superman ii is tied for the second best movie ever, and i’ve read that the recut richard donner version on the new superman dvd release is an improvement on the original, which must make the new superman ii the best work of art in any medium and richard donner our own michalengelo

  4. February 3, 2007 3:49 pm

    Yep. Aside from a couple of excellent performances (Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson), DREAMGIRLS blows. For once the Oscars did something right. (I exaggerate, but you know what I mean.) And I have absolutely no interest in seeing BABEL. I liked the three other nominees, though: THE QUEEN, THE DEPARTED and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, in that order.

  5. February 5, 2007 11:54 am

    Um, I forgot to say I haven’t seen LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA yet.

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