A friend of mine (or in this particular instance, a nuissance) questioned how I could like movies that are of high quality and are well-received by critics and audiences alike and still enjoy stuff like Fast Five (even though I will continue to stand by that for as long as I live.) And despite resisting, it seems I’ve relented and am now qualifying why I like the movies I like. Let me just say “like” one more time.
I consider a good or great movie to be different from an enjoyable or entertaining movie (although they can absolutely share qualities.) I think that each has its own merits and I respect both types of films. I’m going to attempt to explain my criteria for both and hope that it makes some semblance of sense. I’ll start off with the makings of a good/great film:
1. Creative/unique plot: There is a reason why so many people hate typical romantic comedies. The actual actions taken in the movie might be different, but the underlying plots are always the same (either the girl needs to loosen up or the guy needs to get his shit together, and like magic, a person of the opposite sex shows up to do just that. You’ve seen them, you know.) It should either be a new plot or a fresh take on something that has already done. Of course, it’s hard to look past the fact that all stories are just re-imaginings of other stories and the cycle is endless, but that’s another whole thing. And what’s maybe more important than having a great plot is following through and bringing it to its full potential. Nothing is worse than finishing a movie where you can’t help but think of what a cool idea it was, but it just wasn’t done as well as it could have been, it didn’t meet its full potential.
2. Am I even interested enough to watch all of it?: The movie Winter’s Bone received some insane critical acclaim and I still don’t get why, because I wanted to turn it off after 30 minutes (I didn’t because I hate not finishing movies, but I really really wanted to.) If the movie can’t hold my interest or worse, if I can’t get into it at all, it isn’t a good movie to me. Having good actors or a good message but an all-around uninteresting plot is like making a delicious pie filling only to find that you don’t have any pie crusts. And if by some miracle you do have a have pie crust, it’s some low-fat, no sugar added, 800 grain bullshit. It’s a big letdown.
3. Cinematography: I don’t use cameras so I can’t talk about lenses and apertures and lighting and that, but I think most people get this to a degree. If all of your shots are medium shots (the torso and head) and centered right in the middle of the frame, people will realize that it isn’t appealing to look at. Alternately, using obscure angles that make it hard to even understand what’s on the screen is equally shitty. There are all kinds of rules when making movies – the 180 degree rule for instance. If it isn’t followed, people will become hellaciously confused and probably hate your movie, at which point you say “it was experimental…duh!” and all is well.
4. Dialogue: Something about it has to add dimension to what’s being said and who’s saying it. Dry, choppy dialogue can really ruin a movie because it feels fake or forced. Even though most people don’t speak the way characters in movies do, it should feel authentic – it’s how we imagine our own conversations to be but they never really are. That’s most of the reason I disliked Juno so much. I know, I know, it’s just a movie and it’s meant to be humorous, but how can Diablo Cody give me this very real story with honest intentions and pair it with the hippest, most convoluted dialogue I’ve ever heard?
5. Good acting: This one speaks for itself, I think. When you’re watching a character-driven movie, you want to forget that you’re watching Ryan Gosling playing a part – you want to find yourself watching a movie all about this guy named Lars and his blow-up doll girlfriend. But then there are people like Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman, who are generally fine actors I suppose, but it’s hard to watch a movie and see them as anything but themselves. It’s like Barbie and all of her different professions; “Barbie is a teacher. Now Barbie is a pilot. Now Barbie is a hooker,” just like “Denzel is a cop. Now Denzel is a football coach. Now Denzel is a train conductor.” Or, you somehow find yourself unfortunately watching a movie starring Paris Hilton or Taylor Swift who are just…the worst.
6. Believability: This is tricky because let’s be honest, is there any science-fiction movie that’s perfectly sound and 100% believable? Not that I’m aware of, though I know many attempt to be as accurate as possible. But there is a definite line between a movie about a shuttle going to the moon versus a movie about going into the core of the Earth without much of a problem.
7: Continuity: This is important to me because I don’t like for movies to leave me with questions I shouldn’t have to be asking or it leaves everything more open than intended. Like in Back to the Future! Did Marty McFly’s parents never wonder how it was that they met some guy when they were in high school and proceeded to have a child who looked EXACTLY FUCKING LIKE THAT RANDOM GUY?
^ Typically, I find good/great movies might not get a huge release. They might get a one-week run at the big movie theaters but will probably end up at local “cinemas” or suddenly appear on NetFlix/at a rental store/elsewhere online. Not always, because there have been blockbusters that I thought were genuinely quality, meaningful films. Generally, though, they don’t get huge box office releases/reception.
Movies that fit the “good/great” bill: Midnight in Paris, Dark City, Almost Famous, Fight Club, Away We Go, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (U.S. and Swedish versions), Snatch, Death at a Funeral (original)
So now that the whole “good movie” criteria has been established, it’s on to what makes an entertaining/enjoyable movie. It’s hard to cover all of this because I look for different things in an entertaining romantic comedy than in an action movie. I’ll give it a shot anyway.
1. A certain level of absurdity/ridiculousness: Some directors set out to make an action movie to be taken completely seriously. They give it a deep meaning and stir up some emotion in their audience – let’s say Transformers is a good example of this. Plenty of action, ah, but there’s a message! I don’t want that, because those movies are usually atrocious – I want Vin Diesel and Paul Walker doing things in cars that are literally impossible while a hot girl does something sexual to them. I can only imagine the writing process: “Okay, so they’re driving over a bridge with no guardrails at 175 MPH and it’s pouring rain and one of them just got pepper sprayed…let’s have Carmen be there and she’s giving him a good old fashioned handjob!” and then all of the other writers and directors give each other high fives and chest bumps before chugging a Monster energy drink.
2. Dialogue: This isn’t much different from the dialogue I look for in a good movie. I don’t want unbearable dialogue in any movie, no matter what type. It’s probably the number one movie killer for me. Something about the dialogue has to be enjoyable, whether it’s strictly clever or shocking or funny, it just can’t suck and no, I can’t exactly define what “not sucking” is.
3. Quotability: The kind of lines you cannot wait to quote, that you’ll literally wait for the moment when the perfect opportunity presents itself and you will bust that shit out and EVERYONE will laugh, because it’s pure gold. I’m waiting to use one of my favorite lines from any movie ever and it’s from The Rock. Nic Cage says he’ll try his best, to which Sean Connery responds: “Your best? Losers always whine about their best, winners go home and fuck the prom queen.” That right there…it isn’t highbrow, it isn’t chock-full of hidden meaning nor is it comprised of 75 cent words. That shit is direct. And it’s hilarious. That’s the opposite of “you can’t make this stuff up.” You can only make that stuff up.
4. Predictability: I like when a movie is so predictable (but still fun) that it could be turned into a drinking game. I don’t want to watch a romantic comedy that’s cliched and boring and ignorantly sexist and bland and vanilla, but I could stand to watch a movie that has some classic tropes that I look forward to seeing play out. Hot Fuzz does an awesome job of calling these out – jumping through the air and shooting two guns at one time, for instance. You know that’s bound to happen at some point in almost every action movie.
5. Hot dudes/romantic whatever: You know, I can’t help it. At the end of the day, I’m a 22-year-old girl with hormones who lusts after male celebrities. For me, a hot guy in a movie is my kind of porn. I’ll see any Ryan Gosling movie, regardless of plot or the ratings it’s been given. (Albeit, Ryan Gosling usually chooses pretty top notch roles, so it’s hard to lose with his movies.) The point is, sometimes I do just want to sit down and watch a hot guy do things on a huge screen. Similarly, there are some romance/romantic comedies I can’t say no to. I have a soft spot in my heart for A Lot Like Love. Sometimes, if the plot is all right and I like the actors and the dialogue is just clever enough (plus it has a killer soundtrack), I want to see the leading people get together and for everyone to be happy. It gives me hope and makes me feel fuzzy inside, even though I leave the theater feeling more depressed than I thought I could ever feel and then I go home and eat a pint of ice cream even though I probably just ate way too much popcorn.
6: Not taking itself too seriously: I think the key to these movies that are simply entertaining is that they don’t take themselves too seriously. You know, the guys behind Crank probably didn’t set out to make the next Schindler’s List. They were probably like “Let’s make a fast-paced movie kind of like Speed but not really. There will be cars and guns and cursing and tits!” If I’m getting out of it what they put in and what they wanted me to see, then something must have worked out.
^ These aren’t really the same as “So bad they’re good” movies. I don’t really watch movies just to make fun of them or anything. I want to genuinely be entertained. I don’t want to feel robbed of two hours. I want to have fun and end the movie smiling or laughing.
Movies that fit the “entertaining/enjoyable” bill: Fast Five, The Rock, Crank, Sunshine
And sometimes, I like movies just because.