What Makes A Movie “Good”?
Standing in line with other film buffs at the SB International Film Festival.
During the short life of this course, Film Festival Studies, I have wanted to learn the answer to the question, What Makes a Movie ‘Good’. It is a very difficult answer, as we have seen by someone like Norman Jewison trying to answer that question. As you may recall, he said it was that the characters in the movie needed to be believable. Then he kept coming back to the answer through the course of the hour he was with us, embellishing that thought with examples. He also said the story needed to be acceptable – that even if it was a “pretend” situation, that the viewer could accept the story as long as the characters were believable in that particular situation. He said the movie needs to draw in the viewer emotionally. And it needs to hold them emotionally and engage them – make them laugh and make them cry.
So I asked some other people the same question. I asked at the Director’s Panel and got no answers. They probably weren’t confident enough in themselves to share that info with their peers, because they are mostly new directors.
Paul said: In March of the Penguins, which I liked, the birds overcome the difficulty of life – through the narrator who gives them human like qualities. The beautiful cinematography added to my liking it. You can learn more about your own problems when watching a good movie while you enter a different world – like a vacation would do.
William said: empathy for the characters is what makes it good, being interested in what people do. They need to be believable. It helps when the scenery is good and the editing is good.
Rob: A good movie makes me think.
Dick: It leaves you exhilerated, engages the emotions and feelings.
Mickey: And the editing can give it rhythm; keep it moving along, the flow. Casa Blanca is one of my favorites – the juxtaposition or things I liked. And foreign films open a window to a society you wouldn’t otherwise experience.
Norm: Shouldn’t be too long. “More matter, less art” to quote Shakespeare.
Eric & Phuong: Believable story, and you can’t loose track of the story line. It needs to be easy to follow.
These interviews all took at least a half hour because the question is very difficult for a viewer to ascertain. I wish I had started earlier with the little survey. Then I went to see The Pear Story and they actually talked about what makes a movie “good” in their experience. They said you couldn’t copy a story or a formula for a story and repeat it. That doesn’t work, and that is what Hollywood needs to realize. They want to be safe in their money making so they are inclined to repeat something that was successful. Pixar wants to create new media with new ideas on how to use them. But through it all, even with very fanciful stories, ah, it’s back to the characters again – they need to be believable in that situation you’ve put them in. Like “Toy Story”, once you accept the circumstances of dolls coming alive, then you need to believe the characters would be acting the part of humans like you and me.
Coco said: The story needs to take you on a journey which helps you understand something, or helps you understand yourself better. “Time to Die” was a journey into self. It was a good story and good acting. The believability of the characters to be true to life is what makes it. In “Lord of the Rings” I believed in the characters in that situation.
Then I decided to see a movie that I liked a second time to see what I could extract from it with regards to what makes it “good”. In Up the Yangtze, second viewing, I noticed that the filmmaker kept focused on just the main family. They didn’t talk about the situation that made the family get into their situation. They didn’t talk about the building of the dam, nor the thousands of families who are getting displaced. They didn’t talk about the reason why money doesn’t “trickle down” to the peasant families. They didn’t talk about why the father got demoted from his minor post in his previous village.
What the director did was focus on the one family only and what their story is and just let them tell it as they did. The story is so intimate because the family was so comfortable around the filmmakers that they were uninhibited. It was as if they are actors. This may be because they have never seen a movie before and don’t realize they will be broadcast all over the place in public. The family is isolated as a subject in the movie. The voice over narration introduces the topic as a personal quest to make a personal discovery about the filmmaker’s father’s homeland – China. That voice over is very minimal throughout the story. It sums up the story at the very end, giving it a very personal feeling, once again, someone who is believable. The family is believable. The story is a documentary and so it is very believable. Believability is key to what makes a “good” movie, or what makes a movie “good”.