12th Jan2018

Culture Dump #21: What Actually Makes a Film Good?

by Simon Bland

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Cinema-wise, 2017 ended with a rift more divisive than a light-sabre swipe. Rian Johnson’s eagerly anticipated trilogy sandwich filler The Last Jedi hit screens and immediately split the opinions of seasoned Jedis and fledgling Padawans alike. Some (including Disney) thought it was exactly the breath of fresh air that the series needed, a gasp-inducing continuation that refused to let you get comfortable from the get-go, either via character twists or Porg humour. Others meanwhile felt that Johnson’s episode played a little too fast and loose with the universe, characters and Star Wars story tone that they hold so dear. For the first time ever, there was a clear love-it-or-hate-it vibe about the Skywalker saga. Talk about a disturbance in the force.

It raised an interesting point though: What is it exactly that makes a film any good? Can a film be purely good or purely bad or is the worth of each cinematic outing based purely on personal taste alone? December was an interesting time to talk about good and bad movies too, notably due to the release of James Franco’s The Disaster Artist. Debuting just a week or so before The Last Jedi, Franco’s film revealed the story behind The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s infamously terrible movie that’s since gone on to become a sleeper cult-hit with movie fans. With Franco likely to win big during award season (scratch that – already winning big) thanks to a pitch-perfect performance of a character once deemed too terrible to succeed, it blurs the lines even further on what constitutes good art in the eyes of viewers.

With movies like Star Wars, the task of earning the accolade of ‘good movie’ is an even trickier task. Fans have had years to paint their own personal futures for their favourite characters and dream up bespoke swan songs and additional adventures that no Disney-released canon storyline can ever hope to compete with. For every person who admired The Last Jedi’s unexpected new direction, there was someone disappointed that their latest trip to a galaxy far, far away left them a little short of satisfied. Try as you might, you just can’t please everyone – not even if you’re a money spewing powerhouse like Disney.

And yet it gets more nuanced still. Perhaps a film’s worth depends less on the quality of its story and performances and more on the the personal impact it has on viewers when it lands on their radars. As time has told, box office returns – despite often feeling like the be-all-end-all signifier of a film’s overall worth – mean little-to-nothing in the bigger picture of a movie’s lifespan. There’s a reason why Best Picture winners are often hard to recall but no one has any trouble fondly remembering the movies they grew up with, no matter how shoddy or bizarrely constructed they are. Rarely are the latter included amongst the former yet its these movies that shape our tastes, fill our DVD shelves and adorn our walls. What makes a movie any good? Whatever you bring to it.

What do you think separates a good film from a bad film? Let me know in the comment section below!

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