Before there were movies, before men and women gallivanted in front of a camera, tugging at our heartstrings, before Spielberg and Kubrick and Scorsese, before even time itself, there was a little thing called Dungeons & Dragons. At least, it started before I was born, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s right around when time began. My birth was apparently quite a hassle—I came out mouth first and the doctor thought I had a gaping hole in my head. I mean, I did, but he thought it was an unnatural hole when really I was just hungry. After that, it was smooth sailing for 12 or 13 years, until…My friend, tempter that he was, showed me the magical world of D&D. And like any self-respecting nerd, I salivated over descriptions of Barbarians killing things in a raging frenzy, over Druids cavorting sexily with nature, and over Sorcerers who could bend the world to their will thanks to the dragon blood that coursed through their veins. Sure, at high school I was a pimply outcast, but in the game I could be whoever I wanted! I could be powerful! There was no way the jocks could defeat my level 13 Wizard and his maximized fireball spell.
Now I’ve grown up and of course become absurdly popular, but you know that. What you didn’t know is that I owe it all to Dungeons & Dragons. The tools I learned in those books were the keys to understanding and conquering life. Whenever I meet someone, I figure out what Character Class they would be. The hot girl at the party is a Rogue, trying to weasel drinks out of me but hiding her true motives. That guy everyone likes is a Bard, using his charisma and good looks to win hearts and minds, but deep down, he has no real skills. That dude wearing resplendent white full plate and wielding a dazzling longsword in one hand and an oversized cross in another is a Paladin, trying to stamp out evil in the name of God. You see, once I classify my competition, it’s easy for me to navigate the ins and outs of that daunting thing known as “basic human interaction.” But the most important tool by far is Alignment.
There are nine Alignments, each a combination of the two Axes.
On one side, Law and Chaos, on the other, Good and Evil. Put it all together and it looks a little something like this:
If people, complicated beings that they are, could be broken up into 9 easy categories, then why shouldn’t movies? Exactly. They should.
Don’t worry, good citizens. Russ Nickel is on the job.
The system of giving movies stars, thumbs, and scores is as antiquated as it is uninformative. For years, we have abided by these subpar schemes, too afraid to stand up and say enough. But we need fear no longer, for I, intrepid innovator that I am, have devised an entirely new method of judging cinema, and I call it:
The Nine Alignments of Movies
We know them when we see them—movies that spin tales so brilliant even Rumpelstiltskin would be proud. They win awards for their acting and direction, but they’re not so artsy that they bore us common folk (not that you’re common). Yes, these are the films that help critics and bumpkins set aside their differences and embrace in the joy of cinema.
My Pick: Gladiator. To answer Peter Graves’ question, I do like movies about gladiators, especially this one. Russell Crowe is a champion (just like all Russells), the plot is poignant, and the action is awesome. It’s nearly universally praised, and it boasts an award for Best Picture.
Other Examples: Forrest Gump, Groundhog Day, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Titanic, Pretty much all Pixar movies
The acting may not be award-worthy, the plot may be absurd, and there might be a distinct lack of originality, but these movies are fun dammit! Of medium quality, film snobs will ignore them, but you and I know better. Good work, us.
My Pick: Independence Day. Will Smith entertains with his alien-punching and general badassery, Jeff Goldblum amuses with his ability to hack into a computer system of alien origin when most of us can barely make Windows Vista do what we want, and Bill Pullman rouses our patriotism with his epic speech. Plus, there’s an awesome Russell in this movie too. Unlike him, however, I certainly haven’t quit drinking.
Other Examples: Live Free or Die Hard, Troy, The Notebook, How to Train Your Dragon, Basically every good action movie
My personal favorite category. Riddled with terrible dialogue, these movies are endlessly quotable, and the outlandish setpieces are a blast to describe to your friends! Whether it’s wolves on a boat in the middle of a city street or a bus that has to ramp off a freeway because it can’t slow down, these films’ plots are laughably over-the-top, the characters’ motivations are bipolar, and there’s usually a preposterous amount of illogical action. What’s not to love?
My Pick: G.I. Joe. Just listen to this dialogue:
Cobra Commander: “This will only hurt a little. What comes next, more so.” Very reassuring, doc.
Zartan: “Oh. That’s right. You don’t kill women.” Storm Shadow: “For you, Zartan, I’d make an exception.” Buuuuuurn!!!
Storm Shadow: “When our master was killed, you took a vow of silence. Now you will die without a word.” How fitting!
James McCullen: “Once unleashed, the nanomites will not stop. Ever.” They won’t stop EVER?!? That doesn’t sound like a smart plan, seeing as they can eat entire cities.
As for ridiculous action sequences, the Eiffel tower explodes (a digitally embiggened version of the Eiffel tower, no less—you know, to make it more epic), there’s an underwater base that gets crushed when a bunch of ice sinks onto it, and two ninjas duke it out in a giant reactor core. That, my friends, is some Spectacular Crap.
Other Examples: Speed, The Day After Tomorrow, Speed Racer, The Core, Most disaster movies
They come out every year, the run-of-the-mill, Oscar-hopeful films. Brimming with great actors, these movies deal with whichever depressing issue currently holds the nation’s attention. The director is probably foreign and it’s almost certainly a period piece. Perhaps a young white boy with a mental disability learns to play the piano with the help of his black football teammate despite the fact that they’re both orphans and everyone on the team persecutes them for their friendship. Or maybe there’s a war on, and only the fastest warhorse the world’s ever seen can turn the tide, but how is it supposed to run with a degenerative leg condition, especially when the only one standing up for him is a plucky cavalryman who’s coping with his homosexuality in an oppressive and close-minded society?
My Pick: True Grit. Great actors? Check: Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges. Great director? Check: The Coen Brothers. Heartwarming and semi-tragic tale? Check: the drunkard who cares only about himself learns the value of caring about others. The problem is that there’s just not much to this movie. The acting and dialogue are superb, but the story is unexciting. There’s little emotional attachment, and therefore it’s only somewhat enjoyable, even if it is Gold.
Other Examples: Seabiscuit, The Blind Side, Brokeback Mountain, The Pianist, Movies about boxing
Devoid of anything even bordering on original, these films leave absolutely no impression on you. Six months later, you won’t be able to recall more than one or two details, and that’s not a bad thing. It simply means your brain realizes it’s not worth committing the hard drive space to that hour and a half of mindlessness.
My Pick: Clueless. So my parents rented Clueless because they thought it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. We promptly watched it and went on with our lives. A few years later, my parents rented Clueless thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes, I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu, and I say, “I feel like she’s going to get mugged.” My parents brush off the idea as absurd. A mugging in a light-hearted comedy? Never. Then, a few minutes later, boom! She gets mugged. My parents were amazed that I was a psychic, but then we went on with our lives. A few years later my parents rented Clueless, thinking it would be an amusing diversion the whole family could enjoy. Not one of us realized we’d already seen it. After about 45 minutes I start getting this dizzying sensation of déjà vu déjà vu. I say the mugging thing, parents brush it off, boom! She gets mugged. I kid you not—we watched this movie THREE times before any of us were able to remember having seen it. Man, were we Clueless. And that, my friends, is Standard Fluff.
Other Examples: I don’t even know. That’s the point right? Every romantic comedy ever. Every subpar action movie. Everything about werewolves, vampires, and zombies. Every animated Disney movie in between Mulan and Tangled and all but about three Dreamworks movies.
The acting is a few shades short of acceptable, the dialogue is just above cringe-worthy, and the plot is riddled with holes so big you could drive your Hummer through them. Still, you can’t help but enjoy yourself, mostly thanks to the fact that there’s probably a hot girl in it.
My Pick: Fantastic Four. Jessica Alba is good looking. We can all agree on that. And I think some basically entertaining stuff happened. There were special effects and fight scenes and…well I’m not sure what else, but it was enough.
It wins all sorts of awards, but for the love of god, why?! Your parents think it’s the hottest thing since sliced bread, but apparently we’re jaded since we’ve never known a time when bread required effort on our part. You sit through it because you love your parents, but you’ll harbor that resentment forever. It’s just so slow moving, and there’s so much talking, and Nothing. Ever. Happens.
My Pick: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Monkeys banging sticks around, 15 minute scenes of a spaceship landing on a planet, 20 minutes of some guy re-experiencing his birth. Clocking in at well over 2 hours, this film is sure to bore anyone who’s seen Star Wars or virtually any other movie. It’s impossible to tell what’s going on, and whatever it is goes on for SO LONG. Sometimes I find it hard to keep on living when I know I’ll never get those hours of my life back.
Other Examples: Citizen Kane, Blade Runner, Ben-Hur, Master and Commander, Almost anything that’s over 2 hours that adults say you need to watch because it’s a “classic.”
With Unbearable Fluff, you’re not quite sure what went wrong. You know you want to stab your eyes out, but you’re almost positive you haven’t slept with your mother. What could it be then? These movies have good actors, maybe even a good premise. You can see how some people might not be driven into a frothing rage by the inanity of it all, and yet you notice foam spewing uncontrollably from your maw. If it were better, maybe you could enjoy it; if it were worse, you could rip on it, but instead it’s in that horrible middle ground, a spiky, castrating, death trap that no one in their right mind wants to straddle.
My Pick: Dinner for Schmucks. ’Twas truly a movie for schmucks. Look at that poster. Even Paul Rudd is ashamed. The only reason he’s involved in this travesty is because he got paid a boatload of money. But what about us saps, the viewers? We had to fork over a very small raft of our own hard-earned moola just to sit through this torture. It had actors with the potential for hilarity, but instead of being funny, this movie was a plodding endeavor in mental anguish. Finally the situations got so painful I had to leave the theater. I wandered around, striking up conversations with the employees I encountered, because I literally could not bear to watch this film. On the plus side, the employees were very friendly.
Other Examples: Meet the Fockers, Across the Universe, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Transformers 2, Anything with Jim Carrey, Steve Carell, Kevin James, or Ben Stiller that’s more about uncomfortable situations than about clever writing.
The worst of the worst. The lowest of the low. The unbearablest of the crappiest. These “films” have no redeeming qualities. By the gods, do they suck. Halfway through you have to run to the bathroom to wretch, and the only reason you don’t walk out is because you’re on a hot date. Even that wouldn’t be enough to stop you, but she’s also your ride. If you rented this, you’d watch it on fast forward and then throw the disc in the fire, fees be damned, because you’re doing the world a service by removing even one copy of that abomination from this world. And then you don’t even tell your friends you ever watched it. It’s that embarrassing. Or, if you’re like me, you spend the rest of your mortal existence bashing it, hoping that if you can get enough entertainment out of it that way, maybe, just maybe, the regret and guilt will stop and you’ll be able to sleep again at night.
My Pick: Fucking The Last Airbender. I already spent an entire review explaining why this is my least favorite film of all time, and then I proceeded to give it virtually all of the negative awards in 5¢S’s version of the Oscars, but I’m always willing to write just a little more, for I am driven by a hate so powerful that no matter how much I pour out, I can never be sated. The battle sequences are devoid of excitement and originality, the dialogue is delivered by children who clearly have no grasp on what emotions should look like, and the pacing is too terrible for words. The whole thing is narrated, presumably because Shyamalan was too lazy to explain things with actual scenes, and it was impossible to tell what was going on, though that may have been due to the fact that I spent a great deal of my focus driving a spork into my leg to help distract me from the much greater pain of watching the movie.
Other Examples: The Hottie and the Nottie, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2, Santa with Muscles, Everything by National Lampoon (ok, except Animal House), Everything by writing team Friedberg and Seltzer (Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, Date Movie, Meet the Spartans, Vampires Suck, and Scary Movie). If you ignore their first film (Scary Movie, after which they’d used up every idea they ever had), their remaining 5 films have a total of 16% on rottentomatoes.com. 16% total! For 5 films! They’ve been called “evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization’s decline” and “a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture, a typhoon-sized natural disaster disguised as a filmmaking team.”
Phew, that was a mouthful. For those of you who managed to read this far, it is now your sworn duty to spread this wonderful, amazing, spectacular and golden new rating system as far and wide as you can manage.
Why? Because it is time for change, my friends. Time to move away from simple numbers and stars. You know as well as I that a 2.5 out of 5 could be a time-sucking romantic comedy just as easily as it could be a life-changingly eyegasming G.I. Joe. It is up to us, armed with this new system, to help viewers everywhere make more informed decisions.
Thus, I rate this post:
Alignment: Spectacular Gold
If somehow this post leads to internet fame, I swear by Cinæmus, god of film, that I shall sacrifice a small goat in honor of Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax.