What makes a good movie good?
I’ve found over the years and thousands of movies I’ve watched that there are several ways to answer this knotty question. It seems that the answer depends on whom you ask. But I’ve boiled it down to a handy maxim: Just because it is good doesn’t mean I have to like it… and just because I like it doesn’t mean it is good.
Ok, so what’s that mean? By “good” I mean a movie that many many people have thought to be a quality film. Think: Oscar winner. Ever seen an Oscar winner and been bored out of your mind, wonder what the voters were thinking, and all but want your money back? So just because the “critics” or some pundit out there like it(that’s me too) doesn’t mean you will or must like the movie. Still with me?
Well, the flip side is also true. Ever had a disagreement with a friend over a movie? You thought it was great and he/she was nonplussed or just hated it? That’s the second part of the maxim. Just because you fell in love with a movie (especially one from your childhood) does not mean that it was a “good” movie.
Clear as mud, right? Let me give you some examples.
Citizen Kane is at the top of the list for many critics as the best film ever made. I’ll be blunt. I can’t stand it. It’s long-winded and boring. I don’t like the characters “as people,” and so like Tom, Daisy, Jordan, and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby I don’t really care what happens to them by the end of the tale. By the time I finished reading Gatsby or watching the various movie treatments of Fitzgerald’s novel, I want to shoot Gatsby myself just to end my suffering. Yet Citizen Kane is a masterpiece. The quality of Orson Well’s script, the camerawork and shot design, the sets… all are excellently done. Yet I am not moved emotionally. I’ve seen it and do not wish to again anytime soon.
What about movies I love, but aren’t really great movies? In 1979 Disney was trying to jump on the Star Wars bandwagon and trotted out science fiction mess that was The Black Hole. I loved it as a kid for all the reasons kids love bad movies. It had a laser pistol battle. It had robots. It had space ships. It had some pretty cool special effects. Everything a young boy loves in movies. However, it also had Maximilian Schell practically eating the scenery with his over-the-top acting as the mad scientist Dr. Reinhardt. The lack of logic and science throughout is astounding. The largest scientific gaff is the journey through the black hole. While science fiction loves to envision travel through a black hole, but the gravitational pull of the singularity is so powerful that the tiny USS Palomino would end up crushed smaller than a grain of sand. Instead the “astronauts” fly off into a dream world. Yet I still love this film. It’s not designed for deep thinking. It’s a bad movie. It barely made back what it cost Disney to produce. The newspaper reviews of it were not charitable.
Just because it’s good doesn’t mean I have to like it; just because I like it doesn’t mean it’s good.