If you like movie criticism accompanied by star ratings, savor the reviews in today's CLT section. As of next Friday, we're switching to letter grades. I have hoped for this change for years, and the boss has said OK.
Our sister paper, the News and Observer in Raleigh, uses letter grades; my reviews often run there, so this simplifies the ratings chore. I've always felt people raised on letter grades in school had a better idea of what they meant, especially as we'll use five levels -- A, B, C, D, F -- instead of four, as with stars. (I didn't give even the worst movies "no stars.") Most importantly, the change gives me more flexibility: Instead of half-stars, I'll have pluses and minuses.
The two-and-a-half-star ratings were the breaking point. People have often told me, "If a movie gets less than three stars, I blow it off." I appreciate their trust, though that statement suggests they don't read actual reviews. But plenty of two-and-a-half-star movies deserve your consideration.
That 2.5 translates into either a C plus or a B minus. A C plus says "slightly better than mediocre, so not worth much." A B minus says (at least to me), "This film is flawed but ought to find an audience that would appreciate it." When I ship reviews to Raleigh, I use a B minus to encourage readers to look more closely.
The common misconception about critics is that we want people to attend films or stay away on our say-so. We're little Roman emperors, deciding which gladiator should be spared in the arena and which should get a sword through the neck. But good critics want to tell readers what kind of experience they'll have at a movie, then let them make up their own minds whether to go.
Maybe the letter "B" will make folks stop for a moment, even if there's a minus sign attached. That's my goal: To get them to consider all of a mixed review and decide whether the film's accomplishments outweigh its shortcomings.