Every so often I like to look at the ratings on the Internet Movie Database, just to keep my finger on the pulse of popular opinion. You can use their power search feature to sort through all kinds of lists. So I recently did a search for all 2006 movies with more than 400 votes. (For perspective, the new documentary Wordplay has 420 votes, and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest has nearly 40,000.) From there, you can sort through the top 100 movies, ranked by ratings on a scale of 1 to 10. It's like an ongoing American Film Institute list of the year's best movies, which are really the year's most popular movies.

In any case, this list gives one a clearer idea of the popular climate than the actual box office scores.

The number one movie of the year so far is, rather surprisingly, a Bollywood film called Rang De Basanti. It opened here in San Francisco back in May and I missed it. All I can tell you about it is that it was three hours long. But I can tell you that Bollywood films have a following far more rabid than anything we know here in America, where Tom Cruise acts crazy for a couple of weeks and fans turn up their noses at him. In Bollywood, he'd be bronzed.

p class="MsoNormal">Skipping over a few other movies that haven't opened here yet, our next highest-ranking title is the new Little Miss Sunshine, currently on 58 screens and with a $2 million-plus gross. I like the film, too. I would certainly cast an Oscar vote for Alan Arkin for his scene-stealing supporting performance, but I have a small problem with it that is impossible for me to discuss without giving away important plot details.

Skipping over a few more titles that are playing on more than 400 screens and therefore out of my jurisdiction, we come to the year's two biggest hot-button films, An Inconvenient Truth (currently on 302 screens) and United 93 (no longer playing), in that order. United 93 has more votes, but An Inconvenient Truth ranks two tenths of a point higher.

After that we have two documentaries, or "reality movies," ranking in the high sevens: Wordplay (108 screens) and Neil Young: Heart of Gold (no longer playing). The wonderful inner city spelling bee drama Akeelah and the Bee (no longer playing) ties them to finish off the top ten (or top 11, if you want to go Spinal Tap).

A couple of movies that have not been released in America are next: Pedro Almodovar's Volver and Ronny Yu's Fearless, which bodes well for the future. (Ken Loach's Palme d'Or winner The Wind That Shakes the Barley ranks highly as well.) Then, an odd choice: Lucky Number Slevin. I kinda-sorta liked that movie, but with several caveats. It has its share of logic problems, and it tends to forget the richness of its cast as it goes on desperately trying to tie up its plot threads.

Next up, all with scores in the sevens: Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion (182 sccreens), Spike Lee's great Inside Man (no longer playing), Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantanamo (no longer playing) and Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly (224 screens). Then comes something puzzling. The worst movie I've seen this year, Wayne Kramer's Running Scared (no longer playing), comes in at number 21 with a 7.3 rating.

Now, this movie opened during a dry spell in February when critics had nothing to look at but warmed-over Oscar wannabes and unholy crap like Grandma's Boy. So, if you weren't paying too much attention, Running Scared must have seemed like a halfway decent, refreshing popcorn movie. But in reality, it's both inept and offensive -- and I'm not very easily offended. It not only sinks with bottom-of-the-barrel scripting, directing and acting (Paul Walker -- need I say more?) but also revels in appalling violence towards women and children. And so the question is, now that the film has been sitting around for six months, why haven't more people seen through it?

Moving along, a couple more blockbusters rate in the sevens, as well as the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? (74 screens). A welcome surprise turns up with a 7 rating, Sidney Lumet's unfairly overlooked Find Me Guilty from earlier this year. Vin Deisel gives a surprisingly warm performance as a New York gangster who decides to defend himself during his lengthy trial. It's still one of my favorites this year.

The list keeps surprising, with certain movies ranking higher than you'd expect (Click with a 6.9) and certain movies ranking lower (The Break-Up with a 5.8). But the most fun comes when you get to the bottom of the list. The IMDB voters can be as ruthless about bad films as they are passionate about their favorites. Bad movies start coming in somewhere in the fives. Our roster of losers, in order from worst to best, includes: 1) Phat Girlz, 2) Little Man, 3) Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, 4) Doogal, 5) Date Movie, 6) The Shaggy Dog, 7) ATL, 8) Medea's Family Reunion, 9) Stay Alive, 10) Basic Instinct 2, 11) Aquamarine, 12) Stay, 13) Ultraviolet, 14) Annapolis, 15) Waist Deep, 16) When a Stranger Calls, 17) Barnyard, 18) Just My Luck, 19) John Tucker Must Die, 20) Hoot, 21) Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties, 22) Freedomland, 23) The Pink Panther, 24) The Ant Bully, 25) Scary Movie 4, 26) The Benchwarmers, and on and on. (We haven't even reached You, Me and Dupree yet.)

If there are 25 movies worse than the latest Rob Schneider comedy this year alone, then Hollywood needs to go to its room for some serious reconsideration.
categories Columns, Cinematical