What is a good movie? I’m not asking for a list of titles, yet even if I were, it wouldn’t matter; I’d still end up with a variety of different answers. What you think is good, I might not. What I think is wonderful, your friend may think is boring. Why, though? Well, if you can find the answer to that, than I can guarantee you’ve found the answer to my original query. Don’t worry about it too much, because instead of sending you on a quest for knowledge, I will happily provide the answer for you right now. Saving you all of that study and grief, by just GIVING you the answer? What a swell guy, huh? Well, I know sometimes people get confused on this matter, so I thought it high time I share the wisdom I’ve gained, and let everyone know, once and for all…
What is a good movie?
Have you ever seen a good movie? I certainly hope so. Have you ever had a disagreement with someone on whether or not that movie was good? Most likely. People can become painfully heated in discussing, then arguing, whether or not a movie is decent, when it all basically amounts to nothing. I like what I like, as will you, but is there a definitive answer to what constitutes a good movie? Is there a long checklist of technical accomplishments and storyline bullet points, or is there something simpler to determine a movie’s worth – or something even more complicated? I told you I would tell you the answer, but to do that I first have to explain a number of things. The answer is simple, but as with most simple things, there is often a wealth of information and ideas necessary for a full explanation for those who do not already understand the concept at hand. 1 + 1 = 2 is something we take for granted as adults, yet it is still an idea that has to be first explained to a child with examples and explanations… such is how we learn. So for those of you who are unsure of the answer, hopefully, I can now not only tell you what makes a good movie, but teach you why that answer is so.
I’m a Christian, as many of you know, and so I have my own personal set of beliefs. I believe abortion is wrong, and yet others think it is okay…. so who is right? In matters like this, there IS a right and wrong, because by simple logic not everyone’s opinions can be correct. No matter how much people want to believe the opposite, sometimes there are FACTS in this world, but where I make my case is that none of us know the facts. Nobody here on Earth can say something is 100% for certain about anything, yet that does not mean that these facts don’t exist regardless of our ability to state them without doubt. That can veer into another topic entirely, though, and my point here is movies. The example I provided above, is a moral dilemma, and surely the contents of a good movie have nothing to do with morality, do they? No (generally), and that is where the deviation comes in – art. Art is created for many purposes: to entertain, to provoke thought, to elate, to frighten, etc., and movies are art. Therefore, this concept of a definitive answer of what is good in regards to art, in this case movies, is null and void. So then, to broaden the term, what makes good art?
I look at an abstract painting, and I feel nothing. I have wracked my mind silly attempting to change this over the years, yet abstract art has no effect on me. However, the realistic style and lovely scenarios Norman Rockwell portrayed mean a great deal to me. Am I wrong? How can I be – it’s an opinion, a personal taste. Art is such a sneaky little thing because of this very fact. Its very existence is based purely on opinion. An artist feels something, or the lack of something, and is compelled to create. This creation is then presented to others and they form thoughts on the creation. Let’s diverge, for a moment, and understand that yes – sometimes these thoughts can be ignorant or mistaken, but not wrong. I have zero training in the composition and styling of abstract art, so if I were to attempt to critique it on technical merit, there is a great chance that I would use terminology incorrectly and make mistakes. However, my initial thought as a viewer that this piece of art is ugly and my personal opinion that there is no value in this work for me, is not wrong. This is where artists and their field of focus comes into play.
I make movies. I’ve studied them since I was a wee lad imagining the living room was Jabba’s palace. I understand the technicalities and details of movies, and how much work goes into the moviemaking process, so I can find appreciation for something even when I personally don’t like it. Isn’t that an oxymoron? No, it is neither an ox OR a moron. Citizen Kane is not a movie I would love to sit down and watch, but I can appreciate the technical aspects of it for what they are, at least, even if I don’t want to recommend it to people. The general public isn’t going to pay attention to these things, and will judge it only as a piece of entertainment – which they should. Likewise, my friend Joe is a musician. I play a few instruments, but I don’t consider myself a “musician” in the same vein for the same reason someone who grabs the family camcorder and records themselves being silly with friends isn’t necessarily a “moviemaker” – there is a level of technical knowledge missing. So, anyways, Joe can listen to a song, and be amazed by something the guitarist is doing because he understands the physical difficulty of playing in that way, while I will just be listening to the song and not thinking anything about it. On the flip side to that, I can love some cheesy pop song because it’s fun and I enjoy it, while he’s amazed that I can like such “crap” (for lack of a more apropos and technical term) because it is so sub par to what he expects out of music. Did you catch that? We’re coming to the point of everything here, so did you just have that “a-ha!” moment?
Am I wrong to enjoy a silly little song that makes me happy, even though it may not be deserving of any praise by those who are “in the know” of the musical field? Of course not! As much as American liberties are being increasingly constrained, human beings will always have an inherent freedom of choice – and if I am entertained by this pop diddy, that opinion is as valid as anyone else’s. To again reverse and pinpoint the example back to movies, if you love a movie, that is not wrong… because it can’t be. Movies are art, and your enjoyment of it, or lack thereof, cannot and should not be dictated by anyone else’s opinion. I have always written my reviews as I watch movies – from an audience member’s point of view. I do not attempt to analyze framing or other movie making technicalities, because that isn’t how I watch movies, myself. I like to sit down and be entertained… but the difference is that what entertains me, may not entertain you – it’s only my opinion, after all ;-). That is why at the end of my weekly DVD release reviews, I mention that if you see any of them let me know, even if it’s just to disagree. I can only tell customers and friends my own opinion, so hearing the thoughts of others allows me to give more well-rounded answers to those who ask. I recently viewed Star Trek and thought it was a boring and poorly made movie – but some people love it. Am I wrong or are they wrong? Neither. I was in a theater filled with people who thoroughly enjoyed the movie, and it would be elitist of me to look down upon them as fools for not knowing what good cinema is. They enjoyed it – and as movies are an art form, that’s what matters. Certainly, I may personally hope for more out of these “summer blockbusters” after seeing with The Dark Knight that people will still respond to a big, fun movie that I think is extremely well done… but sometimes people want to sit down and mindlessly watch things blow up.
So, what makes a good movie? The fact that you like it… and absolutely nothing more :-).