Instead of rating films using a star rating, we use a fish rating. A really great film might receive five fish and earn the right to be called a big catch. Stars may be in a great film, but we want a film that we can devour. Rotten Tomatoes has their “fresh pick.” We have our catch of the day, always fresh.
The 5 Fish Rating. For a critic to assign a 5 fish rating for a new film, just released, is to claim that film will be a classic like Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and so forth. A 5 fish rating means the film is not merely a towering achievement in its genre, but that the film makes ardent strives towards virtue and offers the viewer an acute and profound entrance into the ancient discussion of human excellence and the transcendence of God. I would wager I have seen fewer than ten such films upon their initial release in a theater. When The Tree of Life was released a few years ago, Joe Williams of the St. Louis Dispatch wrote the film was “…a religious experience. Overtly. Audaciously. Unashamedly. No film has ever reached as high toward the face of God and, in our commodified future, few are likely to try.” These are the comments I would expect to find a FilmFisher critic making about a 5 fish film.
The 4.5 Fish Rating. A film which is not merely excellent in its genre, but which bests the typical limitations of genre and offers the viewer some meditation on truth or beauty or holiness which stands to remain for weeks and months after leaving the theater. A good number of classic films might deserve a 4.5.
The 4 Fish Rating. A 4 fish film does the same as a 4.5 fish film, with perhaps a touch less ambition.
The 3.5 Fish Rating. A mastery of its genre, limited in scope and restricted to the themes typical of a time-honored and predictable plot. A 3.5 fish film delves deeper into archetypes than other films of its kind and returns with some gem of truth which will repay numerous discussions. Weighty enough to repay a second viewing.
The 3 Fish Rating. A 3 fish film does the same as a 3.5 although with flaws.
The 2.5 Fish Rating. A film which is enjoyable and asks challenging questions of the viewer or offers a thoughtful twist on the standards of the genre. It compares well with other films of its kind, and is perhaps worth seeing again.
The 2 Fish Rating. A film which is enjoyable, but not particularly ambitious. This kind of film might be built around some central conceit or theme, which invites consideration, and yet when the film strays from this theme, it becomes dull or cliché or simply unremarkable. Not worth seeing a second time.
The 1.5 Fish Rating. A film which is neither enjoyable not ambitious, but might offer some small redeeming quality (a good performance from a supporting actress, brilliant cinematography) that saves the film from being a complete waste of time. Not worth a second viewing, and the kind of film you would encourage others not to see.
The 1 or .5 Fish Rating. A film which lacks ambition and fails to accomplish many of the modest goals it has undertaken. Honestly, more films than not probably fit here.
The 0 Fish Rating. For the critic to assign a film a 0 fish rating, the film should not merely be an artistic failure, but apparently aimed toward the moral stupefaction of the audience. The 0 fish rating should probably be as rare as a perfect rating.