Jordan’s Checklist for a “Good” Movie
While yes, I do write movie reviews right here at Film Equals, I do find the process of reviewing a film to be, for the lack of a better term, pretentious. There are so many factors that go into making a movie “good” (notice I’ll be using quotations the rest of the article), that it is stupid/almost pointless to rate movies.
It has, and always will, come down to personal taste.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and while I think that saying is also kind of stupid, I think it has some application when it comes to film.
However, to give you an insight into my mind and what I consider to be a “good” movie, there are roughly five things I generally look for when watching (and rating) a movie I haven’t seen. In no particular order, here they are (with examples from some of my favorite movies):
This one almost seems too obvious. A movie should start with a general idea, but it is in the script where the characters and plot come out. There is a reason the best movies generally have the best scripts. The power of a good script includes not only witty and/or genuine character interactions, but it moves a fluent pace that makes sense to the given film. Some of the best written films I’ve seen are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman), The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont), and Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino).
Although writing definitely comes before cinematography, I think the visual aspect of film is what sets film apart from, say, novels. This isn’t a knock on reading (especially since reading utilizes a person’s imagination much more), but instead I bring this up to touch on the importance of visual style. Whether it be visual effects (Avatar), color (Skyfall), or style (Beasts of the Southern Wild), there is no denying the importance the look plays, especially when it contributes to the film’s narrative. Some of the best films, in regards to cinematography, are 2001: A Space Odyssey (Geoffrey Unsworth), Children of Men (Emmanuel Lubezki), and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Roger Deakins).
I realize theme goes along with writing, but I think it is big enough to spawn its own section. And theme can be a tough one when it comes to movies because I think it is a lot more heavy-handed compared to its novel counterpart. In books, a theme develops slowly over time and is allowed to develop and evolve with the reader. In a movie, there is generally 90-150 minutes to introduce and develop a theme. Then, when you try to add more than one theme, it usually becomes crowded. Still, theme is worth mentioning because it is what the audience takes away from the film – generally, it is what you’ll remember years later even if you forget the details of the plot. It is even better if the movie can have some sort of cultural or social relevancy. Some movies with the best themes are There Will Be Blood (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson), No Country For Old Men (directed by the Coen Brothers), and Amores Perros (directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu).
There really isn’t a technical term (at least one I could come up with) that best embodies the idea of wanting to rewatch a movie over and over again. Therefore, I’m just going to call it the “Rewatchability” Factor. I will admit there are certain movies (I’m looking at you Requiem for a Dream) that are “good” that I can only bring myself to watch every couple of years (or decades). However, for the most part, some of the “best” movies are the ones that I can continue to watch and, more importantly, continue to watch and catch new things. There is an added depth to movies that warrant multiple viewings. This can be for a variety of reasons, making this one that expands multiple genres. The movies I’ve seen the most include Memento (directed by Christopher Nolan), The Dark Knight (again directed by Christopher Nolan), and Anchorman (directed by Adam McKay). I never thought I’d mention those three movies in the same sentence.
I haven’t exactly been shy about my admiration for original filmmaking and storytelling. With between two and four new wide releases every single weekend, there is a tendency to see a lot of movies that are repeats of each other. Each year there are about five (a rough estimation; no math used) films that seem to break through the monotony. These films give a different take on a familiar subject, think outside the box, or just catch you off-guard for one reason or another. Sometimes, I tend to give movies a pass when they even try (I’m looking at you Cloud Atlas) at being different. It isn’t easy to explain, but it is easy to tell when you see a movie unlike the rest of crowd. Some of the most original movies I’ve seen include Inception (again directed by Christopher Nolan; are you seeing a trend yet?), A Clockwork Orange (directed by Stanley Kubrick), and Fight Club (directed by David Fincher).
Are you surprised I left out the performances? What about direction? I am curious to hear from others, so please chime in the comments section below with your thoughts!
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