Tim Urban: Credible Movie Critic

I’ll go months without reading and then go on vacation for a week and read 600 pages. I let my car get continually filthier and more cluttered until one day I’ll clean the whole thing out and it’ll be spotless for a long stretch of time before inevitably falling back into the abyss. I wrote every college paper in an all-nighter the night before it was due, culminating in me becoming a parody of myself when I wrote my 80 page senior thesis in the final three days, writing for 65 hours straight (bad times). I get behind on emails and then respond to all of them at once. When I play three-person homerun derby, I may be losing 7 to 6 to 0 after 6 rounds, but I may also hit 8 in the 7th round and win. I’m a notoriously slow drinker, but I'll also throw down a stiff one right before it's time to go.

This is just the way I am. So why should I watch movies any differently?

I love going to movies, and I almost never do it. My schedule’s pretty busy, and the movie theater is just one of the things that has gotten pushed out of it. Even when I have the time, I’m usually so behind on the movies that are out that seeing just one is so far from a real “catch-up” that I don’t bother. But this weekend I was in Boston for three days for a birthday party, and with little on the schedule, I saw six movies in three days. With the Oscars coming up, I had heard a lot about all these great January movies, and decided to knock them all off.

Usually, I don’t care too much about reviews-- a lot of my favorite movies got terrible reviews. But while bad reviews don’t mean much to me, critical acclaim usually means a movie is at least pretty good, so seeing all the Oscar nominations was a pretty safe bet. I had already seen No Country For Old Men, so I rattled off There Will Be Blood, Juno, Persepolis, Atonement, Michael Clayton, and Charlie Wilson’s War.

And a very enjoyable string of movies it was. While I wouldn’t give any of these an A, none of them got below a B- either.

Now, I think movies should be judged at three points. Your opinion throughout the first 80% of it, your opinion right after it ends, and your opinion a day or two later, when things have set in.

The first criteria, how enjoyable it is in throughout the first 80%, is a measure of how fun it is to actually watch the movie. Movies that do well here are the ones that are great to watch again and again, or that you come across on TV and always watch a few minutes of. Examples: The Big Lebowski, Fight Club, Dazed and Confused, Memento, Swingers, Harold and Kumar, Happy Gilmore, most Disney animated movies, Groundhog Day, A League of Their Own, Forrest Gump, Hoosiers, Ocean’s 11, Die Hard (before it was hideously dated), Pulp Fiction.

The second criteria, your opinion right after it ends, is largely influenced by the ending. A disappointing ending can taint an otherwise good movie (like The Talented Mr. Ripley), and a great ending can salvage a boring movie. I hate movies that are crappy throughout and then an awesome ending disguises it as an awesome movie (like Sixth Sense). Examples of movies that leave you in awe at the conclusion, regardless of the how the rest of the movie was: Primal Fear, Vanilla Sky, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The third criteria, your opinion a day or two later, says something important about the movie's overall message or how deep it really “got you” emotionally. Some movies that you thought highly of after leaving the theater kind of fade from memory immediately, and you don’t really remember why you liked it so much. Others take on a whole new life in the days or weeks following, and you appreciate the movie in a way you didn’t right afterwards: Saving Private Ryan, A River Runs Through It, Life is Beautiful, Eyes Wide Shut, The Ring (this still haunts me), About Schmidt, most Kubrik Movies, Jaws.

The best movies accomplish all three. No movie can be an “A” movie if one of these fails. Some movies that nailed all three: The Shawshank Redemption, the Godfathers, American Beauty, Back to the Future, Love Actually (actually), The Fugitive, Braveheart, The Usual Suspects, The Departed, Home Alone (try to tell me you disagree).

And so I’ll use this little three-point template for the six I saw this weekend:

There Will Be Blood

During the Movie: I was pretty riveted for the first 20 minutes or so, and definitely intrigued for the remainder of it, if a bit bored with the crazy main character by the end. Like Boogie Nights (same director), I thought the first half was better than the “dark, downward spiral” second half. The score was all up in my grill. Grade: B+

Right After:
This seemed like a movie that was gonna have an awesome ending, and it definitely went for it. But I thought a lot of things were kind of left unanswered, and while certainly memorable, the ending left me a bit disappointed.
Grade: B-

Looking back:
I didn’t find myself thinking about this much the next day, but I know a lot more about the process of extracting oil and how an oil tycoon fit into the early part of the century. The depiction of a super-religious, sleepy farm town was pretty chilling. Grade: B

Overall: B

JunoDuring the Movie: This was full of funny little lines and glances and expressions and is most certainly a rewatchable movie. A perfect one to flip by on the TV and watch for 10 minutes. I liked almost every character, especially the main girl, who was phenomenal and made the entire movie, and the father. I liked that they didn’t get too serious about anything and kept every scene funny. Grade: A-

Right After:
A cute and fitting ending. Grade: A-

Looking Back: Nothing too profound here to look back on. I felt generally positive about the whole thing the next day, and am slightly depressed that I can’t spend the rest of my life with the main character. Grade: B+

Overall: A-


During the Movie: Unique depiction of an autobiography on a subject that interests me. I didn’t want to miss a line. Rewatchable? Maybe once. Grade: A-

Right After:
The autobiography only extended until the age of 24 and I left feeling as unresolved as Marjan herself. Not that they should have ended it differently. Grade: B

Looking Back:
I would recommend it to almost anyone, and it definitely taught me something. Grade: B+

Overall: B+

AtonementDuring the Movie: Very interesting way to tell a story, repeatedly showing the same scene twice, as it happened and through the little girl’s eyes. Great score, beautiful screenshots, and a generally well-done movie. Still, at times it was a bit slow, and I may have looked at my watch. Grade: B

Right After:
A spectacular ending, that made the whole movie excellent in my eyes. If I saw it again, those slow points in the plot would not bother me, knowing how it ends. I was genuinely choked up. Grade: A

Looking Back: Definitely had some emotional pangs the next day, and the whole thing kind of gives me chills.
Grade: A-

Overall: A-

Michael ClaytonDuring the Movie: I was intrigued by the plot for most of the time, but not in a riveted way-- more in an “This isn't that great but I can’t wait to see how this ends” kind of way. It was also a bit confusing at times. If you asked me 2/3 of the way in, “Is this a great movie?” I would have answered, “Definitely not.” Grade: C+

Right After: It did all come together quite well, though in a fairly predictable way. The final scene was pretty rad.
Grade: B

Looking Back: Doesn’t do much for me. Grade: B-

Overall: B-

Charlie Wilson’s War

During the Movie: Kind of boring. Who wants to spend 1.5 hours watching a sleazy Congressman try to gather funding? Grade: C+

Right After: The end was pretty cool, watching all of the effort come to fruition as he gets a shockingly high amount of funding ($1 billion) and it suddenly makes sense how this random Congressman actually did play an important role in the Cold War. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s “Zen master and little boy” analogy was chilling and upsetting. Grade: B

Looking Back: I found myself thinking about this one the next day. In retrospect, the whole “Congressman seen blowing coke” scandal was a cool addition to the movie because it made the Wilson a pretty compelling character overall. The Zen thing is still bothering me, and the massive consequences of what this weird dude did seems pretty wild looking back on the movie. Definitely a movie that is good purely because it’s a true story. Grade: B+

Overall: B
And while we’re here--

No Country for Old Men: B+
American Gangster
: B
Once: B (kind of obsessed with the song)
Lions for Lambs: C

And for old times’ sake--

Signs: F+

In other news, I was at the Superbowl. It’s still haunting me. I was gonna write this huge blog entry about being there and watching the game, etc. Was. Instead, I’ll post two of my 40 pictures (and only because they're cute) and move on, before I start crying and throw the laptop out the window.

Richard Seymour's wife and daughter, Vince Wilfork's wife and daughter, and Ben Watson's father

Mrs. Seymour with a very bashful mini-Seymour


edwardo m said...

That's hilarious! I didn't know you were a procrastinator! I too enjoyed "Juno", but it didn't really stick with me the next day and I'm still wondering what the hell "There Will Be Blood" was about, milkshake? Anyway, sorry about the Patriots...

Anonymous said...

Don't follow American Football but
apparently the Pats lost the final
game in the final moments to a NY
team , ruining a perfect season.

From what I can get of CA the mens'
team makes me laugh more than your
recaps/interviews/blogs right now ,
both more than TV shows designed to
make me laugh are doing.

frmr jhi ...

Anonymous said...

Want to see an interesting movie ... got rent the 2005 - Me and You and Everyone You Know.

Do it now ...

Review cut below.

Christine Jesperson is a lonely artist and “Eldercab” driver who uses her fantastical artistic visions to draw her aspirations and objects of desire closer to her. Richard Swersey (John Hawkes), a newly single shoe salesman and father of two boys, is prepared for amazing things to happen. But when he meets Christine, he panics. Life is not so oblique for Richard’s seven-year-old Robby, who is having a risqué internet romance with a stranger, and his fourteen- year-old brother Peter who becomes the guinea pig for neighborhood girls— practicing for their future
of romance and marriage.

In July’s modern world, the mundane is transcendent and everyday people become radiant characters who speak their innermost thoughts, act on secret impulses, and experience truthful human moments that at times approach the surreal. They seek together-ness through tortured routes and find redemption in small moments that connect them to someone else on earth.

alina said...

Hi Tim. Did you see '432'? it's something else..
OK, to introduce myself: I am a girl, maybe already a woman because I'm 2 years older then you from Romania, give you a hint: in Europe, Nadia Comaneci and 'Dracula' are from here but awesome country, so if you want an adventure be my guest :)
I am not hitting on you, i only liked your writing and reading everything i had the impression that we are like buddies.
Did you read Nick Hornby's novels, especially Fever Pitch?
I loved your comments about TRUMP!!!!!
I have a lot of things to tell you(an entire theory about corporation, manipulation throughout TV, ..) but maybe in an email, mine: green_4vr@yahoo.com
Great album but I can not buy it :(

Anonymous said...

Tim ... did you get fired at reality dish ???

RJ said...

I loved you review!!! totally felt the same about Juno and Atonement.
Home Alone comment made me smile. That's absolutely correct! =)

Anonymous said...

hi tim,

just so you don't get the wrong impression, i am totally hitting on you. i love everything about you and would love for you to love me too. and i totally bought your album.

please respond directly to my comment if you are at all interested :)

DidiTheWise said...

hmm.. i really liked Once, i saw it by accident and it grew on me, plus the music was really good (and that's a remark from somebody that has nothing to do with music.. except listening to it).. so i would give it an A.... and the A comes from a Die Hard fan, that's any die hard movie, even 4 :D, how can u not love bruce willis flying on the wing of F-35.. that's hilarious

Movies said...

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