It's worth noting that my philosophy behind ratings is similar to that of Roger Ebert, except Ebert rates films out of four stars, and I rate them out of five. Ebert has written:
"When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to Mystic River, you're asking if it's any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two."
So, it's all relative. Did you know I gave 4.5 stars to American Pie Presents The Naked Mile? I'm not kidding. I thought it had a lot of heart considering it was a direct-to-video teen sex comedy. As far as teen sex comedies go, it's a great one, and I was shocked at how much it tried. Does this mean it's a better movie than, say, Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (which I awarded 4 stars)? No, it doesn't. When I rated The Master, I did it through the lens of drama, considering how it stacks up against other dramas and character studies. Although, I will admit I was more entertained by The Naked Mile than The Master. (Did all my credibility go down the drain with that last sentence?)
Anyway, here is my personal meaning behind each star rating:
★★★★★ = A film that is not only watched, but also experienced. A five-star film could potentially change the way you see the world. In order for me to award a film 5 stars, I must find it technically stunning and entertaining. If I watch a classic film that was executed so brilliantly but is also rather boring, it's unlikely I'll give it 5 stars. It should be noted that I have given 5 stars to films because I have a nostalgic connection to them and grew up on them (most notably Home Alone 2: Lost in New York). Three films I have given 5 stars to: American Beauty, Apocalypse Now, The Shining.
★★★★½ = Amazing films that you should go out of your way to see. There may have been one slight flaw that made me refrain from giving it a perfect rating, but the flaw is so slight and irrelevant that it won't ruin your experience at all. Three films I have given 4.5 stars to: Requiem for a Dream, The Ice Storm, Fight Club.
★★★★ = An impressive work that I would happily watch again. There are maybe one or two things I didn't like about it, but it's definitely worth a watch. Three films I have given 4 stars to: The Godfather, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Full Metal Jacket.
★★★½ = A good film, but a little frustrating because it could have been a lot better. A film that gets 3.5 might be well-written but poorly directed, or have great performances driving a silly plot. Three films I have given 3.5 stars to: The Cabin in the Woods, (500) Days of Summer, Being John Malkovich.
★★★ = There are more positives than negatives, but it's not entirely satisfying. I would watch this film only if you're a serious fan of its director or one of the actors in it. That said, films like this are ideal for lazy afternoons. Three films I have given 3 stars to: Cedar Rapids, About Schmidt, Igby Goes Down.
★★½ = A very average movie that only just gets a pass. It's not unwatchable, but it's certainly not worth your time. Has some good moments, but not enough for me to recommend it. Three films I have given 2.5 stars to: Forrest Gump, The Cable Guy, The Tree of Life. Actually, I'll make an exception with The Tree of Life. Although I gave it 2.5, I definitely think everyone should see it. You'll either get it or you won't. I didn't.
★★ = Very disappointing, but not completely devoid of merit. I didn't enjoy it, but I could see it was trying to say something, or that it wanted to be good. Three films I have given 2 stars to: Tropic Thunder, Gummo, Paranormal Activity.
★½ = A mess of a movie. Perhaps it entertained me in a few spots, but it's too sloppy and uninspired to deserve anything higher. Cringeworthy in parts. Three films I have given 1.5 stars to: Project X, Afterschool, You Don't Mess With the Zohan.
★ = A very bad film that is painful to sit through. Do not bother. Three films I have given 1 star to: Napoleon Dynamite, The Hangover Part II, The Evil Dead.
½ = Every single moment was torturous, and I would not subject my most despised enemy to a viewing of it. It's offensively bad, and it depresses me that people invested money in making it. Do not watch these movies, not even out of curiosity. They stink. Three films (or is that movies?) I have given half a star to: V/H/S, Saw V, Meet the Spartans.