How Grading Movies Helps Me Remember the Good Times

A very cute thing my boyfriend and I started doing at the beginning of 2018 was assigning a letter grade to every movie we watched together. Our list of our grades hangs prominently on the wall of our living room, and is an excellent conversation piece. It’s an imperfect system for assessing films, but it has turned out to be a pretty fun way to quantify our entertainment experiences.

Before I show you our grades, a quick note on the criteria: I assess a movie based on overall enjoyability. My ideal movie is probably not an art film. It’s fast-paced and highly entertaining, but that doesn’t mean it’s void of meaning or import. I like a movie that says something about the world, that’s funny and, more often than not, full of cool action sequences. I have reverence for (some) hoity-toity cinema, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately, I seek a movie that will help me escape from the mundanity of my life and have a good time. (It’s a joint project, but since this is my newsletter, I won’t be discussing my boyfriend’s grades, which are mostly similar to mine.)

The other week, a rando on Instagram kvetched that I watch “wack movies” and instead should be viewing “classics & liberal arts cinema.”

I replied, “I like media designed to entertain the masses. Sue me!!” But moreover, I believe in the cultural importance of mainstream films, and maintain mass culture tells us valuable things about who we are as a society, in a way that a niche art film might not (but also can sometimes)!

Anyhoo, here we go:

Before you panic, I need to let you know:

  1. I have yet to watch something that merits an A+.

  2. As you might have noticed, my only A is WALL•E, which I love and couldn’t find a single problem with. A-’s tend to be movies I believe are more or less “perfect,” and also culturally influential.

  3. A B+ and above is a great grade to me. It means I truly adored the movie. The King of Comedy, a deeply underrated Scorsese / de Niro gem, is a B+ to me. It Follows, one of all my all-time favorite horror movies? B+. My love for the poignantly sweet My Neighbor Tortoro is about as pure as it gets, and I gave it a B+.

  1. A B is pretty good in my book: I gave The Dark Knight Rises, which I revisit a lot, due to my obsession with Tom Hardy’s Bane, a B. I have deep, deep love for that movie but it earned a B because it is too long, and a little stupid. (To be clear, I love stupid.) I also gave a Chungking Express, an utterly charming and bizarre Hong Kong indie flick a B. A critic would probably argue that Chungking Express is a superior cinematic work to The Dark Knight Rises, but even though the former was an absolute delight—and has an amazing soundtrack—the latter lives on in my heart in its own special way.

  2. Many movies I have great affection for received a B-: A Quiet Place, Isle of Dogs and Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse, for example. To me that it is not a bad grade. Some movies I kinda felt meh about got similar grades—e.g. some of the James Bonds—because I thought they were structurally pretty sound, and delivered what they promised to the viewer, even if they didn’t make a big impact on me.

  3. Despite having graded upwards of 100 films, none of them have received an F, on account of the fact that we seldom finish any movie that’s a real stinker, and we’re only allowed to grade movies that we’ve watched in completion together as of 2018, when we implemented the grading system.

  4. For whatever reason, we don’t grade any of the documentaries we watch. I guess I’ll save my thoughts on The Fog of War and The Unknown Known—two of my absolute faves—for another time.

The more I try to explain my complex grading system, however, the clearer it becomes that it may never make sense to anyone other than me. (Oopsie!) A simple letter grade cannot express everything these movies made me think about: what True Lies says about the anxiety of marriage; the enduring, delightful campiness of the teen horror classic, The Faculty; the brilliance of John Wick’s nonstop fight choreography; and the utter joy that revisiting Legally Blonde brought to me on a night when I really needed it.

Across the room from our movie grades hangs another list, which describes moments my boyfriend and I have had together that made us feel happy, like “watching our mushrooms grow” (pic below), “smelling the forest and early morning walks in Yosemite,” “admiring our plastic plant,” and “shopping for fruit and nunchucks in Chinatown.”

Ultimately, both lists represent an alternative method of tracking time through experiences—and not just the big, tragic ones that dominate the news. Anyone can remember 2001 as the year of the 9/11 attacks (and they'll certainly continue to), but only you can remember it as the year your sister snuck you into Donnie Darko while pretending she wasn't too scared to watch it alone.

I hope that I'll stumble across these lists again some day and remember that my twenties were about more than just financial, political and emotional instability. Even as I live through these years, it's troublingly easy to forget the smaller (but no less consequential) moments, like enjoying a great relationship, taking bike rides, and watching movies that make me think differently about the world.

P.S. Read my profile of Sam Nunberg on GEN/Medium. I accompanied the former Trump advisor—who among other things, takes credit for giving Trump the idea to build a wall—to his personal training session at Equinox.

P.P.S. If you like what you read, implore your friends to sign up for Evemail. It would mean a lot to me.