Imagine there’s no haters
It isn’t hard to do…
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace
Stop dreaming. But this week critics came closer to that mellow state of mind than we’ve seen since forever. When reviews for The Town started coming on strong a few days ago, planting Ben Affleck’s ensemble thriller firmly in the healthy green zone, I said “all it needs now are a few 100s in the mix.” Well those 100s never materialized — but happily, amazingly, only one single assessment on metascore rates it lower than a 60. For those of you keeping score at home (please tell me I’m not the only nerd), this benevolent critical reception gives The Town an overall average of 76 — yep, two points higher than Inception’s 74.
That’s right, Inception, with its 11 glorious scores of 100. And its poisonous bashing from Stephanie Zacharek, Rex Reed, and other haters whose 25s and 30s dragged it down off the pedestal. It’s a perfect example of something I rail about from time to time: how a metascore scale that runs from 1-100 is inherently flawed because it’s an open invitation to review abuse, permitting a critic to single-handedly wreck a movie’s critical perception. I mean, how shitty would a term paper have to be for a professor to give it a 0? Isn’t a grade of 50 in college already FAIL enough? Yet, when one critic out of 35 is given the mathematical power to wreak havoc, he can destroy a film’s ranking with a single deplorably low number in the red zone. No amount of counteractive adoration can save it; it’s sunk.
I’m not saying critics need to change how they think or write. Not at all. Just trying to make the case that negative reviews on metacritic are given the wrong numerical value. In a system that permits a movie to be valued as virtually worthless, bad reviews have inordinate power. We’re culturally ingrained since grade school to see 70s as mediocre test scores, so unless a movie can sidestep the minefield of negative stinkbombs altogether, critical mud slinging is bound to tarnish its reputation.
This situation offers the opportunity for me to shout out a last hurrah to The Town for performing so strongly, and to Affleck for finding the comfortable sweet spot with critics where he gives up some of the glory of ecstatic raves in return for the privilege of not being shit upon. And it will also provide an interesting test case to prove or disprove another theory we’ve posed in the past — Is it really better for a film to be divisive, inspiring extreme reactions of Loved it! vs. Hated it! Because our hypothesis all along is that a Best Picture nomination requires that a large number of voters mark a movie in the #1 spot, right? No matter if a lot of people utterly despise a film if enough AMPAS members adore it, then it’s in. The Town has no hateful inhabitants, but is a population of critics temporarily on Prozac a neighborhood where Oscar voters want to live?