It has never sat right with me when individuals say they are rating the "best" films. Film evaluation is inherently subjective, and what we're really doing when we call out the best movie is calling out our favorite movie.
So about a decade ago, I came up with a system to rate my favorite films, with the prime goal being to acknowledge that subjectivity. I rate the films in three categories, each of which I think are weighted appropriately:
Ambition (1-7): How much the film is taking on, in subject matter and in filming challenges? For example, is it offering both a romantic story and social commentary at once? How difficult was the film to make technically? This allows one to distinguish between two equally well-made films when one is Casablanca and the other is Animal House. Ambition isn't the be-all and end-all, but it allows some extra credit to be given where it is due.
Quality (1-10): This is essentially how most films are graded - simply, how good are they. As objective as I can be, how well do I think the film succeeds in achieving its ambitions?
Emotional resonance (1-13): How much did the film affect me personally. This category gets the most weight because it's the most important - I'd rather see a flawed film that touches me than a technically perfect but emotionally stultifying picture.
Just to give you a quick idea of how this works, here are the scores of my favorite films of all time.
The Misfits: Ambition 5, Quality 9.5, Resonance 13, Total 27.5 Casablanca: Ambition 6, Quality 10, Resonance 11.5, Total 27.5
Both are great movies in my mind, with Casablanca being objectively better and The Misfits being the most powerful to me emotionally. Now, there probably aren't 10 people in the world who would consider these films equals, but that's the whole point, isn't it? This system helps us rank our favorites without trying to say that they're definitively the best.
And, for comparison, down near the bottom of the scale ...
The Bad News Bears Go To Japan: Ambition 1.5, Quality 2, Resonance 2, Total 5.5.
During my single days, I rated nearly 600 films using this system before it fell by the wayside. But I decided to hurriedly resurrect it to knock out the films I saw that were released in 2006. You'll see that list below.
Two last quick points: I wouldn't get caught up in single-point distinctions - those don't amount to a significant difference between films. In fact, each time I look at the list, I feel like tinkering with some of the grades.
The other thing is that in the past, an average film totaled about 16 points, which means that I did pretty well in what I saw this year. I honestly didn't feel that I saw a truly awful movie from 2006.
Films that I've discussed previously on Screen Jam are linked. For those that aren't, here are some brief comments:
The Pursuit of Happyness: I felt like a sap for letting it get to me, but it got to me.
Breaking and Entering: As an English Patient detractor, I came to this film with trepidation. I then found myself elated by its nuanced examination of a troubled marriage, only to be disappointed by the film's descent into a more conventional other-woman story. Still, it's been a bit underrated.
Thank You for Smoking: Undoubtedly clever in the way it turns the tables on conventional thoughts on smoking and lobbyists, without losing sight of a larger truth.
A Prairie Home Companion: Just a rather sweet movie.
Cars: Fun ride.
Charlotte's Web: This classic story is the launching point for an impressive way to give discuss - if not introduce - the concept of death to young children.
The Devil Wears Prada: Certainly as fun as billed, but the Anne Hathaway character's journey is fairly standard. Meryl Streep's performance absolutely reminded me of Brando in The Godfather.
Akeelah and the Bee: Fine performances and a story well-executed, if mostly predictable. Saw this on an airplane, which probably isn't fair to it.
Half Nelson: It's good, but I didn't think it was as extraordinary as many others have.
Notes on a Scandal: You can't diss Cate Blanchett or Judi Dench, but to me the film is high-end soap opera.
The Dead Girl: In this film of five connected vignettes, some great peformances, most notably the underrecognized Mary Beth Hurt.
We Are Marshall: Starts out strong, but it's a puzzling movie, choosing to tell its story through its most annoying and in some ways least relevant character.
The Good Shepherd: Turned an intriguing subject into an almost shockingly flat movie.
Hollywoodland: I'm probably being too hard on it, but the story neither moved me nor felt particularly worth telling. For me to feel dispassionate about a Diane Lane movie, something must be wrong. (You could say the same thing about Must Love Dogs.)