What Makes a Good Movie?

Tonight, I was watching the movie Unbreakable, where Bruce Willis(*) plays what’s essentially the same role he plays in just about every movie (that of a rough-neck, or an “average Joe”), but with a slight twist. After a train crash kills 130 people, but leaves him unscathed, he figures out he might just be a real life super hero. I won’t go into it further because of (a) lack of interest in making this a review, and (b) lack of interest at spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen this movie. Overall the movie’s pretty good, but what got me was the spectacular ending.

Now, this isn’t a review, but it got me thinking: why would I or would I not consider this a good film to me? I don’t mean one in which the acting is marvelous or in which the directing is first rate, but rather one which I enjoy, regardless of whether it’s graced by the wonderful performance of a top-tier actor, or by a wannabe that probably shouldn’t have even been given the chance.

I guess the mark of a good movie is one which I think about in the days following my seeing it. Some movies I’ll watch and never again give them another thought. Others I watch and find myself dissecting them for the next few days, trying to understand the stories from a quasi-impressionist view, where instead of watching them and looking at minute details within the story line, I study how I felt for that one instance in which I watched, and what I remember of the threads in the story line. I’ll even go as far as continuing the tale within my own mind. In essence, after watching a good movie, I bring it to life within myself, making it — I suppose — my own.

(Of course, after I finish dissecting it with my mind, I’ll go back and watch them again and again, especially if they have on-film commentaries and extra features. To that end, the Lord of the Rings series was by far the best movie set I’ve watched. Do they have awards for DVD extras?)

Anyone who’s ever created any work of art, be it a movie, play, painting, or musical piece, strives to reach the audience in such a way that the story being told — regardless of the format — is embraced by its audience to such a degree as to have it become a part of their very being, something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives, even if only at a semi- or sub-conscious level. Or rather, especially at a sub-conscious level. I suppose it could be argued that to reach this level of intimacy with the audience — where your work is now a part of their sub-conscious being — is the highest level of success for a work of art, even above the much-revered iconic status, even though it pays less than the whole “iconic” thing.

But just in case you want to know: No, Unbreakable is not one of those movies. At least not for me. Edit: Although I gotta say, I liked the movie enough to want to buy it. (Aug 22, 2005)

(*) – Hey, Bruce Willis might only stereotype himself in certain roles, but I tend to like his movies. Enough for me to readily know his name and face, at least, which is actually saying a lot, considering I generally don’t pay attention to actors whatsoever. Speaking of which, doesn’t Bruce look a bit like that guy who played Michael Garibaldi in Babylon 5, Jerry Doyle? Just a random observation.

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