Robert Daniels has had a passion for films since, as a child, his father first introduced him to John Ford’s movies. He received his BA and MA in English Literary Studies from DePaul University. There, he created 812filmreviews.com. Robert has covered The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF: 18), Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, The Denver Film Festival, The Chicago International Film Festival, the Chicago Critics Film Festival, Fantasia: 2018, and Cinepocalypse: 2018 and is a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle (CIFCC), where his work can also be found. Robert is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic and is a member of the Online Film & Television Association (OFTA). He’s also a contributor to Indiewire‘s Weekly Critics Survey, The Spool, ThatShelf, and Mediaversity.
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As you read through my blog you may notice a few 4/4’s. I usually give out six 4/4’s a year. That’s actually kind of high!
When I give a 4/4, I’m not saying that a film is on par with the greatest movie I’ve ever seen. I’m saying that its expert craftsmanship, and that it made me feel something special. Conversely, if I give both Scary Movie and Phantom Thread a 3/4 (I didn’t by the way), that doesn’t mean that I think both films are of equal value, rather relative to their genre they are that score. In short, don’t freak out!
I grade on a 4 point scale, with each half point making up an area of grading emphasis.
.5 = Acting. I go to the movies to see the actors and actresses who fill the screen (don’t we all?). And every time I walk into a theater I’m hoping to find the next character phenom, the next Academy Award performance, the next scene stealer. Acting is the one piece of a film that can make up for the below categories.
.5 = Directing. If you asked anyone on the street what a director does they’d respond, “Direct?” I want to see great framing and composition, a compelling story, a unique eye, and playfulness with the camera. In short, a controlled vision.
.5 = Dialogue and story. More than a shot or a performance, we tend to leave films with dialogue. Sometimes one good line of dialogue can make an “okay” film, memorable. But most of all, I want a story that not only makes logical sense (following a strong acted structure), but also emotional sense too. I’m NOT CinemaSins.
.5 = Cinematography. Cinematographers have always been the unknown wizards behind the camera. Films used to be described as magic tricks, cinematographer are kind of the last remnants of it, the smoke after the handkerchief. Light is how we see the world, and I’m always looking for what the light is telling me in a movie.
.5 = Editing. A film is like music (I’ll get to actual music in a bit). It has rhythm and color, ebbs and flows. Editing is a massive part of that. Good editing, like anything else in film, should play with the senses and eyes. I love a well-edited scene, when the types of cuts tells me as much about the character as the words coming from their mouths.
.5 = Costume and makeup. Costume and makeup are what make it all believable. They’re the first suspensions of disbelief. If someone living in the Victorian Era is wearing Tom Ford, then we know we’re watching a movie. Show a war film where the soldier has no scars…was he ever in a battle? I want the veil over my eyes to be all encompassing!
.5 = Sound Editing and Mixing. Sound is the second step of that suspension. If the sounds of spitfires and stukas are done right, it feels like you’re on the beaches at Dunkirk. Get the gurgle of a foreign creature piercing through the mix, and you’re immediately scared. Have a car that sounds like a lawnmower, and the suspension is broken. I want to be dropped into a sound-filled nest when I watch films.
.5 = Score. Next to dialog, it’s the most “quotable” part of a film, whether that’s Jaws, Jurassic Park, or Star Wars. We remember classic scores because the themes and reprisals usually tell us as much about a character as the dialogue and costume. The score should be the last topping on a fantastic film.