There are ways to objectively evaluate a film.
You can judge how well composed the shots were; how well lit and staged the scenes were; the quality and believability of the acting; the pacing of the editing; the strength and originality of the script; the detail of the set and costume designs; the accents of the musical score.
Not that it really matters at the end of the day. A movie that you love and can watch over and over again might score failing grades in nearly all of those objective barometers with which we rate films and it won’t change the fact that you watch it several times a year without fail. (I’m looking at you Saving Silverman.)
And vice versa. It might be a technical marvel yet have no soul.
In that sense, movies are like people: it’s all about inner beauty. (But then what about mindless spectacle? Okay, so, hey, sometime we do want just a pretty face with nothing in between the ears.)
Which means that a movie’s quality can only be determined 1) subjectively, and 2) based on your mental state when you see that movie. Not to diminish the value of film criticism — it can be a very strong guide once you find a critic that has similar taste as you. But, at the end of the day, other factors will contribute much more heavily into your enjoyment or lack thereof when you do actually see the film in question.
Case in point: I loved Inception, while one of my best friends thought it was “boring and kinda dumb.” I hated Avatar, while most of the rest of humanity along with many of my friends either really enjoyed it or flat-out loved it. Who’s right? Naturally, I’ll argue that I’m right and try to get them to see that they’re wrong. But it won’t make one bit of difference.
And the reason it won’t? Because they had a singularly different experience watching the movie than I did. For whatever reasons — be in my mood, the theater I was in, what happened earlier in the day to me, how much hype I had heard previous to sitting down in front of the screen, who I was watching the movie with, the fact that the theater didn’t have any Sour Patch Kids, or any number of factors — I hated a movie and others didn’t.
In the case of Inception, I am left feeling baffled that someone could find it boring (even if you found it emotionally cold, I’d say it’s as close to objectively not boring as a movie can get) — which is exactly what other people must feel about me when I tell them the same things about Avatar.
Who knows. Maybe had I seen Avatar in a different setting or had been in a slightly different mood, I might have really connected with it. And same for my friend with Inception. And that makes me wonder just how much the movies I consider to be my favorites would still be ranked so highly had I just gone to see them on a different day or if I had gone with a different friend or if I had just waited until DVD.
It might have changed everything.