Monday, July 28, 2008

Favorites List: Criteria

One of the good things about making the favorites list is that it has thrown me back on my criteria.

Why is it that I loved Popbot but hated Hellboy 2? My complaint about Hellboy 2 was that, while the monsters were pretty, a movie should primarily be a story and the story failed on so many levels. But Popbot was all gorgeous art loosely strung together with a bad narrative.

One of the tenants of criticism is that a work teaches you how to judge it, suggests its own criteria: Hellboy is a summer blockbuster that placed a lot of emphasis on the story (Hellboy has a character arc, for example, whereas the characters in Popbot do not); Popbot is designed to highlight the art above all things (being mostly composed of splash-page paintings individually signed, for example).

There is an element of the irrational and contingent in these judgements. Maybe my mood effected my judgement - though I look to the work to guide my mood as much as possible.

And of course as I learned from Stanley Fish, only philosophers need to insist on some kind of rigid logical consistency. We can, and really should, live without feeling the need to make sure everything lines up just so.

Still, I cannot help wondering why I go to the trouble of separating out the New X-Men and JLA stories by Morrison that are my favorites while basically just saying that Buffy is one of my favorite shows, without getting more specific. Certainly part of it is that with comics it is very easy to see at a glance when Morrison is being assisted by my favorite artist, whereas with Whedon it would take some time to look more carefully through the credits -- and even so the collaborations are more fluid and less on the surface.

I can think of movies that I thought were perfect until the third act: Shaun of the Dead for example (which became by the numbers), and maybe Dark Knight (which had too many balls in the air). For those reasons I kept those films off of my favorites list. But I grabbed the first fourteen issues of Planetary, basically cutting the end off of that story all together. It feels less arbitrary to stop at an issue of a comic than at an act of a movie, but still.

I also tried to represent certain creators I really like, even though what I like about them is diffused across several works none of which I would necessarily call a favorite. For example: Zombies vs Robots vs Amazons for example, is there partly because Wood is one of my favorite artists, but he has never been put together with a really top notch story like WE3. (I am looking at you, Matt Fraction).

This is quite rambling I know. The point of it is this: I would like to continue to think about this, and I would like to hear from you about your own criteria and how it effects your calls on movies and the like.

On a larger scale I have two ideas for continuing the Favorites series, which I quite like. One is to begin to go through the lists picking items and writing short reviews based off of recent viewings. The other is to create a "least favorites" list, as I think that will help me to continue to think about what I value in the things I love.


briang said...

I would really like to see you get back to some more in depth reviews. Your issue by issue break down of Morrison's New X-Men is what got me reading this blog to begin with,but lately most of your reviews seem to convey your general impression of something, without all the specific details that help make your arguments so strong.
You don't have to do an issue by issue look at a series, I'd be more than happy with looks at random issues of things that catch your interest. I really just want to know why you like something or think it works well.
While I see benefits to doing a "least favorites" list I'm much more interested in hearing why you thought something worked as opposed to why you didn't. I'm not saying you should never explain why something fell apart (the New X-men reviews did an awesome job of both), but you always run the risk of sounding like you're just bashing on something you don't like, and the comments thread can have a tendency to fill up with people just fighting with you over something they liked (which isn't always a bad thing). It always seems a lot more informative and productive when you discuss things your passionate about.
It's one thing to explain why Eragon sucked balls as a movie, but it seems like time would be better spent explaining why a particular episode of the West Wing blew your mind.

Streebo said...

My first criteria for judging anything is always "did I enjoy it?"

Then I ask myself "why" I did or did not enjoy the work.

Hellboy 2 worked for me because it was so visually engaging from beginning to end. It was just plain fun to watch.