What is a "Good Film?"

By: Joe Yang

Making a good film is not an exact science. No matter how well made a film is, not everyone will like it. For instance if there's a really well-made movie about sword-wielding leprechauns battling communist goat hustlers in an antique bookstore, I might not be inclined to see it because antique bookstores do not interest me.

And by the same token, not every "bad" movie will be reviled. Someone out there is sure to enjoy some film that's considered crap by 99% of the population. That someone could be you (but chances are, it's probably me).

Anyway, this article is not about discussing our individual tastes and preferences on the silver screen. Rather, I'm here to point out that the movies we really enjoy, whether they be foreign films, action films, dramas, comedies, chick flicks, etc. all have several key elements in common.

Characters: Every effective film has strong characters. Assuming the actors playing them are doing a convincing job, good characters tend to have distinctive personality traits, as well as specific strengths and weaknesses.

Good characters are also distinguishable from one another. While watching them in a movie, we should immediately be able to tell who's who.

Storyline: There's no magic bullet to coming up with a great story that's guaranteed to dazzle. Thousands, if not millions, of pages have probably been written on the subject of how to write a "good story that sells."

To spare you the agony (and cost) of all that reading, I'll make these brief but true points about what to look for in a good film:

- Effective plots are always focused and clear. The movie is about some specific conflict or issue that the main character(s) must deal with. The main character(s) should also be going after some sort of specific goal. Sometimes it's the big score, getting the girl (or guy, or both...ewww), freedom, escape...you get the idea.

- The "ticking time bomb": No, I'm not referring to your significant other who you can't take anywhere. Most good plots (with some exceptions, of course) must be resolved within "x" amount of time (in the context of the story) or else. In Pierre Morel's District B13 the story literally involves a time bomb. And in Bruno Barreto's Four Days in September, The conflict must be resolved in (surprise!) four days.

Screenplay: I could write a lengthy article on this topic, but won't. Essentially, if you, and many others, find yourselves liking the way the characters talk, or wishing you could talk like them, then chances are the movie is well-written.

Story development: This is a biggie. How is the story told?

I tend to think of this as "timing" or "pacing." When do the important parts happen? Does it take too long for the action to get going? Or does it seem like the main characters are discovering things too quickly? Are their reactions to plot turns convincing?

If none of these questions are irking you as your eyes are glued to the screen, then chances are you're on your way to seeing a good film.

Story development is one of the toughest parts of the film to nail down properly. All of the elements for a good film can be there, but it only works if the good things don't all happen either too soon or too late.

Boldness: Even if a storyline feels familiar, bold movies will have a unique feel. By bold I don't mean loud and obnoxious (although that is the case sometimes). In this instance, boldness refers to the filmmaker letting his/her true feelings, beliefs, and personal sense of creativity become a part of the film while trusting the viewer to identify with the vision.

This won't work with all people at all times, but it sure beats trying to please everyone. And those who do identify with the filmmaker's vision will likely become devoted fans.

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