As anyone who has been following me for a significant length of time knows, I tend to be pretty stingy with 9/10s. This is because I feel many critics hand them out to every other film they like. As long as they’re consistent, that’s fine, but with my scoring system, I wanted to make creators well and truly earn every single point. You want a seven-point passing grade or better? You gotta work for it. Because of this, you won’t see me award this grade often, so when it happens, you can safely bet that I’m discussing a masterpiece.
Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1955)
It is a true testament to Mr. Kurosawa’s talent that Seven Samurai is what I consider to be his fourth-best film (or third-best depending on my mood), and it still got a 9/10. Many directors go their entire careers without coming close to what he and his team accomplished with Seven Samurai. I’ve heard some people refer to it as the Citizen Kane of the East, which is true given how iconic of a film it is and how often it’s considered the greatest Japanese film ever made. When it comes to production, however, it’s more comparable to Apocalypse Now insofar that it’s incredible what we got was halfway comprehensible let alone one of the all-time greats (among other things, Toho nearly went bankrupt producing this film along with Godzilla). It’s also like Citizen Kane in that while it has proven to be highly influential – to the point where even if you haven’t seen it, I guarantee you’ve experienced some piece of media that took inspiration from it – it still offers many well-crafted story beats that weren’t copied endlessly. It is an epic in every sense of the word, and mandatory watching for anyone who has even a passing interest in films.
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003)
The fact that Return of the King managed to be one of the few films to almost completely sweep the Oscars demonstrates just how much of a disservice cinephiles do to the medium by being so dismissive of entire genres. Sure, the more down-to-Earth fare is more immediately relatable, but it doesn’t mean that fantasy should be thought of as a lesser genre. One could argue that The Return of the King was basically set up for success given that it’s essentially a final act to a larger story. I wouldn’t contest that, but anyone attempting to lodge that criticism at the film needs to remember that the crew had to make all three films themselves. Is it unfair that a group of films managed to overshadow everything else from that year? Sure – if you consider awarding a group of highly talented people for making a 9+ hour film released across three years unfair, that is.
Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
To many people, Orson Welles is known as the “Citizen Kane” guy. I have little doubt that Citizen Kane deserves the praise critics have given it over the years, but it’s a shame that most people don’t know as much about the rest of his filmography. Even if Citizen Kane is the one film in his repertoire one could say was his purest expression due to minimal executive meddling, he had many masterpieces under his belt, and Touch of Evil is one of them. It was released in the same year as Vertigo and they are kind of similar in how they structure themselves. However, while Alfred Hitchcock’s work is far more famous, I have to say Touch of Evil blows it out of the water. No one could manipulate the shadows quite like Mr. Welles could (except perhaps, Charles Laughton), and he used this skill of his to create a true film noir masterpiece.
Wings of Desire (Wim Wenders, 1987)
Nick Cave’s presence alone awarded this film eight points– and then you actually see the film and realize it deserves its lofty status. When you think of the stereotypical high-minded film critic, Wings of Desire is something of an anomaly. It is embraced wholeheartedly by the film community, yet it is unapologetically idealistic in tone. Sure, it touches upon humankind’s worst atrocities, but then it actually takes a few steps back and admits they’re not all bad. This is the kind of nuance that many current arthouse directors lack, so it might do them some good to rewatch this film to truly grasp what makes it work so well. You should as well because it’s definitely one of the greatest films of the 1980s.
Toy Story 2 (John Lasseter, 1999)
It’s crazy to think that, due a single mistake, this film came dangerously close to disappearing into the ether. Thankfully, a timely pregnancy of all things saved the entire project. This is great because I personally feel Toy Story 2 to be Pixar’s best film. Later efforts such as Incredibles, Coco, Monsters Inc., and Finding Nemo were great as well, but Toy Story 2 managed to be the moment in which the team managed to fire on all cylinders and provide fans of the original with one of the single greatest sequels in the history of the medium. Not bad considering that it started off as Disney direct-to-video sequel, huh?
And that’s that. I have now covered every single terrible and great film I’ve reviewed thus far. As mentioned before, I’ve been keeping track of the number of films I’ve reviewed per decade and the number of times I’ve awarded each score. Here’s what it looks like:
As you can see, this chart enforces what I said earlier – that I have played more bad games than I have seen bad films. That said, I’ve also awarded more 9/10s and 10/10s for games. Unsurprisingly, given that, for the longest time, I tried to review films as I saw them, I have talked more about films from the 2010s than from any other decade. As I was compiling this list, I decided to go a step further and see exactly how the scores were handed out per decade. Here’s what I got:
Unlike gaming, I’m generally under the impression that filmmaking hit its peak long ago. Indeed, all but one of the 9/10s are from the twentieth century with the 1950s being the only decade to produce more than one. While this sample size is far too small to determine how good each decade is leading up to the 2010s, I just don’t think it’s a coincidence that the 2010s has a majority of the failing grades I’ve awarded. Indeed, only three films (Rushmore, Pale Flower, and Branded to Kill) from before the turn of the millennium failed to get a passing grade. Plus, it does kind of enforce the popular notion that the 1960s was something of a hit-or-miss period for the medium. It was a time in which creators suddenly began taking more chances, but they didn’t quite know what to do with their newfound freedom just yet. Sadly, the number of critically acclaimed turkeys has only increased in the past few years as critics let their emotions get to them and began passing films solely because they line up with their viewpoints. At least we have other mediums such as video games to pick up the slack.
- Neill Blomkamp is the first director to have received a failing grade. He is also the first male director to have received one.
- Elia Kazan is the first director to have received a passing grade. He is also the first male director to have received one.
- Seijun Suzuki is the first director to have received a middling grade. He is also the first male director to have received one.
- Jennifer Kent is the first female director to have received a passing grade.
- Claire Denis is the first female director to have received a middling grade.
- Lorene Scafaria is the first female director to have received a failing grade. She is also the first female director whose work faced disqualification to have done so.
- Spike Lee is the first director whose work faced disqualification.
- Adam McKay is the first director whose work received a failing grade as a result of disqualification.
- Of any studio with an established identity, A24 currently holds the record for the most number of failing grades with two. They also hold the record for the most number of middling grades with six.
- Of any studio with an established identity, Pixar currently holds the record for the most number of passing grades with four.
- The Farewell is the only A24 film thus far to have received a passing grade. By extension, Lulu Wang is the only A24-associated director to have received one.
- Akira Kurosawa is the first director to have achieved a 9/10 or higher.
Thank you for reading! This special was a lot of fun to type out, and I hope you end up checking out any of the films I recommended.