Welcome to the 15th anniversary Decent Films redesign!


Over five years ago, in January 2010, I unveiled the last major Decent Films design overhaul. Even at the time I was aware of issues still to be addressed — issues that, in some cases, have remained outstanding until now.

The latest iteration of Decent Films delivers on that unfulfilled promise and much more. This was a gargantuan undertaking — too big, and too sophisticated, for my poor skills. With every past iteration of Decent Films, I’ve done all the front-end design work myself. This time I needed help.

The heavy lifting, design-wise, was done by my friend Jason Morehead of Red Bicycle. Being the obsessive type that I am, I did a lot of additional work as well, with helpful guidance from Jason. I think I can call the outcome a collaboration of sorts, but the bones are Jason’s work, not mine. I learned a lot on this project and I owe Jason a big debt. (If you’re in the market for website design, check out Red Bicycle.)

As always, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my longtime back-end developer Simeon, who has put in untold hours over the years realizing my hopes for Decent Films. (If you’re in the market for content management and database support, you’re out of luck; Simeon’s not looking for work.) My debt to Simeon is the second greatest I owe to any person on earth for making Decent Films what it is.

My greatest debt, beyond all hope of reckoning, is to my lady Suzanne. In a real way she is the uncredited coauthor of everything I write and do, whether she has active input or not, because she is the coauthor of the story I live in, the story of our life together. Without her support, tolerance, advocacy, understanding, heroism, sacrifice, devotion, forgiveness and love, I could not do this work and I could not be the person I am.

What’s new

This is the first completely new Decent Films in ten years. It’s also the first version ever that feels more or less complete to me. Not that there aren’t still bugs and tweaks to be addressed — and not that I wasn’t thrilled about the 2010 (and 2005) iterations when they were new.

But even in 2010 I looked at the site and saw major challenges ahead. (“Must do mobile templates,” I thought — and never got around to them.) Now, for the first time, I feel like … I’ve more or less arrived, design-wise. For now, anyway. It’s almost a little frightening!

There are still tweaks, of course, but if there are any major challenges ahead, I’m blissfully blind to them for the moment. (Let me enjoy myself! But if you see issues, of course, let me know.)

Some highlights:

  • Responsive design. At last! Decent Films looks good on a smartphone, a tablet, whatever. But it looks even better on a really big screen! There’s a maximum width now, so you can’t blow out the line width to unscannable lengths. I’m so giddy about this that I keep stretching and squashing my browser window just for the fun of watching the design respond. (There is one catch: The site is designed for modern browsers, primarily in the sense of “no Internet Explorer 8.0 or below.” Sorry!)
  • Simplified navigation and layout. The double top navigation bars of the 2010 redesign sometimes confused even me, though there was a rhyme and reason to them. My mistake was to try to make every option available all the time. The new top nav includes only the most necessary links; other links are available in the sidebar and footer.
  • Brand-new logo and masthead. The logo above is the first Decent Films logo ever not to rely on a filmstrip metaphor. What I learned doing this is that a purely typographical solution that is distinctive and good-looking is really hard! On the homepage the logo is superimposed over a new masthead collage of images from some of my favorite films. That was crazy difficult too, but the result is worth it. I think.
  • Masthead images for reviews and articles. I’ve avoided reliance on images in the past, partly because it’s more work — but I couldn’t argue with Jason’s point that film is a visual medium and a picture is worth a thousand words. Sometimes choosing the right image can be a form of commentary in itself. So far only a minority of reviews and articles have mastheads, but I’ll be adding more as time goes by.
  • Ratings adjustments. Why is the letter grade now floating by itself in a red circle? And what happened to the USCCB review? Here’s my thinking.
  • The “letter grade” — or “overall recommendability” rating — has always been, in a sense, the “main” Decent Films rating (and past designs have generally reflected this, some better than others). The star rating and the moral/spiritual rating are meant to clarify and illuminate the overall-recommendability rating. This hierarchy is clearer in the new layout, I think.

    The “USCCB rating” was always a bit of a misnomer (ratings before 1968 or so were assigned by the National Legion of Decency, and the close association of the USCCB name with the ratings suggested to some that movies were being rated by actual bishops, or had disciplinary authority, which was never the case).

    This became so even more a few years ago with the USCCB closed the Office for Film and Broadcasting and turned over movie reviewing duties to Catholic News Service. (I meant to write about this at the time but never got around to it; I’ll try to write about it sometime in the future.)

    For various reasons relating to this storied history, among others, I’ve decided not to display USCCB/CNS ratings in my reviews from now on. (However, the Search page still includes a USCCB/CNS ratings search for reviews I tagged in the past.)

Other stuff

  • SDG’s Decent Films mailing list. This isn’t strictly connected with the redesign, but it was occasioned by it — and it’s something I should have done a long time ago. If you’re interested in keeping up with what’s going on here at Decent Films, head on over to the Contact page and subscribe.
  • Improved “Continue reading” links. For the first 30 days, anything I write for another venue appears in its complete form exclusively at that venue; after that the whole piece is available at Decent Films. During that 30-day period I’ve always offered a teaser of the article with a link to the full piece. These links have been enhanced in two ways: They’re more visible and attractive, and they now expire automatically after 30 days, so I don’t have to remember to come in and manually add the rest of the content.
  • Social media buttons. To make it ever so slightly easier to share stuff I write on Facebook and Twitter. (If you’re a heavy user of some other platform and would like to see links to it, let me know.)
  • More and improved Amazon.com links. I’ve added, corrected and/or refreshed hundreds of Amazon.com links to positively reviewed movies. (My floor for Amazon.com links is a C+ rating; there are no Amazon.com links on Decent Films for any movie rated C or lower. If I can’t recommend a movie, or even lean positive on it, I stand by that and don’t want to benefit from it.) Of course, buying movies via my Amazon links supports Decent Films.

With every redesign of Decent Films, I always feel a renewed commitment to write more, and better — and the more I learn, and the more distance and perspective I get on my earlier work, the more I realize how inadequate it is, and the more impatient I become to do better work.

This time that urge is tempered by my ongoing studies for the permanent diaconate. I am still on academic semi-hiatus (don’t ask me how I did all this on semi-hiatus!). That being the case, I will continue to underperform as a critic for a little over a year.

But trust me: My enthusiasm about film writing has never been higher — and, God willing, the best is still to come.

Soli Deo Gloria — SDG

Where to go from here

Decent Films Doings



Welcome to the New Decent Films!

Has it really been ten years?