I admit, I am a little decision impaired. The day last week when I switched to digital cable, and the evil cable company gave me every channel free for a month, I flipped through all 200 of them until I became paralysed with indecision, curled up in the fetal position, and watched some Six Feet Under ... on DVD. I'm not likely to keep the movie channels, which seem to play a steady stream of films I've already seen or don't want to see, but I'm already in love with the Eastern feeds of American networks, in addition to the usual Pacific time zone stations. No more fighting against the weird inertia that causes me to rarely bother to record anything, when I have two chances to see the same show, and can spread out the Tuesday at 9 p.m. riches.
I'm also grateful for Zip.ca, the Canadian equivalent of Netflix. I've had customer service issues with them, but I'm thankful for a company that prevents me from roaming the aisles of the video stores as if the choice between The Forty-Year-Old Virgin versus The Constant Gardener will affect the fate of the free world. I tell them all the movies in their library I'd like to see, and they tell me when I get to see them by doling them out a few at a time in random order. I don't pay extra for those “what the hell” choices, and can keep them as long as I like – a perfect feature to catch up on TV shows I've missed, too (Lost - yes, I know, I'm the one person who hasn't seen it) or simply miss (Ally McBeal – yes, I know, but I liked it).
But I don't just love movies. I love the experience of movie going. Unlike some of my friends, who figure out what percentage of their mortgage payment each ticket would pay for and weigh the relative merits of Narnia versus overpriced condo, I'll see almost anything in the theatre. Almost. If a friend wants to see Hostel, she's on her own – I don't do well with horror or gore – but Memoirs of a Geisha? Eh, why not. I loved the book, have heard bad things about the movie, but it might surprise me. And in any case, the planet-sized Junior Mints and Coke are a special treat and always worth the price of admission. Literally.
But how to decide between movies I'm equally interested in seeing? After a dry spell around the holidays, I found myself wanting to catch up on some of the films I'd heard good things about, or just knew I wanted to see. Capote, Walk the Line, Harry Potter, Munich, Match Point, Shopgirl are some I still haven't gotten around to yet. That's far too much choice for someone who longs for restaurants that have two items on the menu, but Metacritic is my saviour. The site collects reviews by a variety of critics and gives a weighted average score for each movie (and DVD, and books, and music, and TV shows, but I'm trying to stay on topic here). It's all very pseudo-scientific, but the idea and the execution is brilliant.
A critic simply offers one person's opinion. That idea is revolutionary to no one, except maybe a few critics. Generally, a professional movie reviewer at least offers the informed opinion of someone who's seen enough to know that Glitter is not the pinnacle of filmmaking achievement, and of someone who genuinely loves movies (unless, of course, they picked “masochist” on the career aptitude test). But even better, Metacritic gathers many such opinions, gives links to the full reviews if available online, and averages them out to present a score between 0 and 100. It further divides the total score, as well as the individual reviews, into green, yellow, and red – green representing mostly positive, yellow meaning mixed, and red as in “stop, stinker ahead.”
Taking my list of to-sees, Metacritic tells me they're all considered decent to great by a range of critics, with Shopgirl trailing the pack. Sometimes the choice is easy. I'm not likely to be in the mood for Harry Potter or Munich on the same day, or I might be going with a friend who's never going to sit through anything related to Johnny Cash. But when it's all about me, all things being equal, I find myself clicking on “sort by score” to see what's first on the list. Capote, here I come.
It is, of course, an imperfect tool, a last resort. The site is fairly comprehensive, but I wouldn't rely on it to find out what interests me in the first place, or what's playing near me. For example, I'm determined to see Eve and the Fire Horse this weekend, its opening weekend in Vancouver after acclaim at Sundance, and it won't make Metacritic for a while, if at all.
Plus, there are films I know I'll have more of a shot of liking than the average critic, especially given my weakness for crappy romantic comedies. There are some, like King Kong, I'm skeptical I'd enjoy, despite critical acclaim (and if I want to test that gut feeling, that's what Zip is for). But rather than curl into the fetal position when faced with a choice between equally appealing movie opportunities, Metacritic lets me pretend to have logic on my side in the decision-making process.
(Cross posted to Blogcritics)