I'm back with something that came from a simple conversation with a friend at work. We were talking about some of our favorite movies of the past decade so far, and he made a comment that made me stop and think, lets call him J for today.
J: My favorite [movie] this year so far has to be Guardians of the Galaxy. Well, actually maybe it's a tie with Dark Knight Rises.
... short pause ...
J: Well, maybe 'Inception'... ... ... No, 'Avengers' ... ... ...No wait, 'X:Men: Days of Future' maybe? ... ... ...Crap, no, 'Winter Soldier' ... Okay, so yeah uhm It's a six way tie.
I think we all could probably sympathize with my poor undecided friend. We probably have had a similar response when asked what our favorite movie is. For anyone that loves movies, it's always tough to choose a favorite because lately there have been so many good movies. Which in essence is what brought me to question
There are certain aspects of a movie that make it worth remembering or easily forgotten, that make it adult or juvenile, that make it bad, good or great. Everyone has different characteristics that they look for in movies but there are a few things that, in my opinion, are universal in determining the fate of greatness that a particular film will earn. I wanted to take you through a couple characteristics and movies that embody them.
We are all innately designed to seek out an engaging story. This is so ingrained in us, that we seek engagement in our every day lives. We want to be thrilled, to be filled with emotion (good or bad), we want to enjoy every moment of our life. A movie with an engaging story is paramount to raising a film to great status rather than just being a 'good' movie. Some of the most engaging movies of the past 20 years (at least for me) are: Batman: Dark Knight, Inception, Schindler's List, Gladiator, The Silence of the Lambs, The Usual Suspects, City of God, American Beauty, Dead Poet's Society, Saving Private Ryan, Good Will Hunting, The Green Mile, Frequency, Argo & the list could go on... But this is just a glimpse.
Several of these are commonly spoken of movies, others you may not have heard of. Regardless, the commonality among them all is the engaging story. From the thrill of Inception, to the twists of The Usual Suspects. From the cinematographic depiction of emotions in American Beauty to the humanity and sorrow in Schindler's List. They all are different, but ultimately the same. Their story carries them through. As a viewer we engage with character development, we engage with an emotional story, we engage with the human condition because we are human and we 'feel' the story as we watch.
A well developed character is someone who stays with us even after the movie is over. A movie that builds your understanding of its characters isn't always as easy as it seems, but the better developed the character the more we let the movie envelop our senses, and we start to be drawn into the character's life. Look at the characters in any of the movies I listed earlier and you'll remember the characters if you've seen the movie. Kevin Spacey as Verbal in The Usual Suspects, Tom Hanks as Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan, Jodie Foster as Clarice Foster & Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Tom Hanks as Paul Edgecombe & Michael Clark Duncan as John Coffey in The Green Mile.
Character development, it is as important as an engaging story. Look at the people in your life, the people who you've watched grow as you've walked through life together. Their development is as much your story as it is theirs. A good character can change your perspective and enhance your quality of understanding.
This is, in my opinion, the most pragmatic and important aspect of what turns a movie from good to great, and great to incredible. This is the complete inclusion of both character development and an engaging story. When you bring in the human condition into a movie, it elevates it to something more than just a collection of images and sounds. It creates an emotional synthesis between the characters you see, the story surrounding and your own heart. Everyone sees something different and feels something different when they watch a movie that captures the human condition, because the human condition is unique to each person. It is: meaning, acceptance, freedom and morality. Matt Damon's character Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting and Robin Williams as Professor Keating in Dead Poet's Society are two performances that will stay with me as long as I can imagine. They reached deep into my soul and pulled the human condition to the surface. They made me imagine as if I was there with them. Will Hunting made me walk through all his emotions and anger, and see all of mine. Professor Keating made me soar into my wildest dreams and reminded me to seize the day and make my life extraordinary.
My favorite movies will differ from yours, but they will always have the same concepts woven through them no matter who you are.
After all is said and done, ultimately the 1 thing that makes a movie great is, you. I'm a firm believer in letting a movie move you, and never turning down an opportunity to view a film that may not be particularly in your wheelhouse.