Monday Reviews: Welcome to V.O.R.
The site changes a bit this week, and I have two people to thank for it. One is that jackal, Christopher Nolan, who made a movie I didn't much like that I nonetheless haven't stopped thinking about and no one has stopped talking about. I couldn't see my way toward more than a C, but low grades like that, when they aren't bolted onto lame dross like The Eclipse or 3:10 to Yuma, often find themselves attached to films I disliked but in ways I found provocative, or that got under my skin even though I didn't much appreciate what they did once they arrived there: Inglourious Basterds, Splice, A Serious Man, Two Lovers. Sticking only to grades, especially when my time for full-scale reviews is often at a heavy premium, doesn't make it easy to separate interesting failures from dead weight, or vivid B+s and Bs from well-executed niceties that I barely remember at year's end. For a long time, I have wanted a little more "give" in my rating system, even or especially when I don't have time to write much, so I have instituted a second scale called the V.O.R. value to accompany my grades. You can read more about this small, additional feature and about my whole approach to grading here.
The other person I have to thank is a reader who sometimes posts comments under the name "Evanderholy," and whose real name I am withholding in case he prefers to keep it private. I have never met him, but he wrote me the most detailed, thoughtful, inspiring, and utterly unanticipated message that I have received in a long while, near the beginning of the year. I am disgusted to say that I still haven't answered this note, partly out of the pressure to write something even halfway as lovely, and partly because of my own bad habit of saving my favorite e-mails till the end of the "Response Due" box, which means I often never get to them. One thing Evander gently suggested in this note is that just a few lines of response about the films I grade but don't fully review would be the most welcome change I could possibly institute at the main review site. He is by no means the first reader to request this, and believe me, the writer has often requested it of himself! But a few months' practice on Twitter, a million consecutive days of writing other projects at this computer, and the desire to succinctly disentangle what is "good" or "bad" about a movie from what is "valuable" or "not valuable," "urgent" or "not urgent" about it have given me the kick I needed to find some middle-ground between my usual prolixity and my even more usual motto, "Not yet reviewed in full."
So, a grudging thanks to Christopher Nolan, and a very effusive, very public thanks to Evanderholy. Here are two full reviews of Cairo Time and the delectable Everyone Else, a medium-length reaction to Life During Wartime, and short write-ups of Greenberg, Wild Grass, and Salt, on the eve of "the Fifties" for 2010 and as an experiment in this new ratings system. Yes, this means I still haven't said anything about the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream that ostensibly sparked this sudden outpouring of verbiage, but I'll get there. I also (full disclosure) have an application filed with the Online Film Critics Society, and they may as well see that I am occasionally capable of dragging my fingers to the QWERTY and offering up more than "A" or "C+" about movies people are actually seeing, at the moments they are seeing them.
Let me know what you think. If I drop the VOR, I pledge to try hard not to drop the capacity to bang out a paragraph to go with each grade. I'm not seeing a ton of movies these days anyway, so it oughta exist in the realm of possibility.
Lastly, and not for the first time, a huge and ongoing thanks to all of you, for continuing to follow along, being excited when I'm productive and understanding when I'm not, and keeping the level of enthusiasm and civil discourse around this site one of the great pleasures of my life. I would write these pieces anyway if no one ever read them, or cared. But it's more fun to write them with you in mind, and to hear what you say back.