Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How to Tell a Good Movie: Part II

In Part I, we discussed the seven key attributes of good movies. To complete the list, here are the three optional traits. These are not required for a good movie, they just simply add to an already good movie, or potentially redeem a not-so-good movie.

Swearing. A few curse words used for effect can enliven a movie and increase the realism. Take The Big Lebowski or Superbad. These movies are funny on their own, but the well-timed/frequent swearing makes it all the more enjoyable. The absence example could be Napoleon Dynamite. This movie wasn’t good at all, despite the hype, but it wasn’t due to the lack of swearing. Geez! Gyosh! Likewise, swearing alone won’t make a bad movie good: I’m looking at you, Phone Booth and Snatch.

Boobs. Let’s face it, everybody loves beautiful women—even straight women. And while boobs alone can’t make a bad movie suddenly good, they are nice to look at. Boobs can make a sexy movie like Damage sexier, a funny movie like Caddyshack even funnier, or a just plain weird movie like Mulholland Drive a little easier to watch.

Stuff blowing up. Now, this may seem to contradict what I said about big-budget action blockbusters, where they replace dialogue with stuff blowing up. It’s important to understand that explosions are a supplement, not a requirement. In a movie like Independence Day or Speed, there is action and pacing and plot (however thin) that propels the movie. In a movie like Elizabethtown, well, maybe that could’ve used some stuff blowing up.

So now we’ve got the seven main and three optional elements. Several all-time greats, plus a handful of others, are scored according to my system in the spreadsheet. (Keep in mind the tally is directional, not purely numerical. A “7” isn’t automatically better than a “6”.)

Click here to view the MPF Good Movie System in action. If that's not working, try this non-graphic version. Commentaries on the best ones:

The Blues Brothers: Clearly a good movie because it contains seven of the 10 traits, including the rare trifecta of music, Chicago and Nazis. (Joliet Jake hates Illinois Nazis.) In addition, things blow up (a phone booth, Elwood’s hotel) and they swear in front of a nun.

Being on a mission from God could qualify as a moral theme of right and wrong.

The Godfather: A sweeping epic with an understated score, that haunting theme that echoes throughout. It’s got moral conflict (Michael shooting the cop), boobs (Appalonia) and mobsters(recognized as Nazis under the Mafia Corollary).

Oooh, and it's got cannolis. We loved getting cannolis in Little Italy, down by Chinatown.

The Sting: Set in Chicago, Robert Redford seeks out Paul Newman to get revenge on a mobster-type who killed his friend. Funny dialogue, occasional swearing, and Scott Joplin ragtime music.

Almost Famous: Aside from the fantastic music (at least three dozen great songs) and storytelling, it contains probably the best scene in cinema this decade. The decade is only 91% complete but I feel safe in calling it.

Clear and Present Danger: Great moral themes, great tension and superbly drawn characters. And stuff blows up.

The Fugitive: Take the best of C&PD, the best of The Sting, throw in Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, and you’ve got a movie much stronger than its “6” score.

The Big Lebowski: I didn’t realize how much I loved this movie til I got it for Christmas. It comes so close to scoring on Character Development (Walter, MAYBE) and Nazis.

Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter?
Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists, there's nothing to be afraid of.

The Dude abides with a score of 5.5.

Say Anything: Basically, it's Almost Famous, set in Seattle, no boobs.

Mystic River: Stunning, dark character tale of three friends in Boston. A murder brings back old scars from childhood. Great plot, great dialogue, great themes of right and wrong.

The Sound of Music: Make fun of this for being cheesy if you dare, but check out the scores: music, Nazis and right & wrong give it a solid 6.

And by request, The Cutting Edge: A movie about ice skating. I recall nothing special about it: it scores a “2” for plot (it had one) and character development (the ice queen thaws at the end).

It’s been a while since I’ve seen many of these, so if there’s a factual error, leave it in the comments. Please feel free to use this rating system when you’re trying to decide what to watch/rent. Happy screenings!


Greg said...

You need to update your spreadsheet with A) a total and B) a final good movie or not column.

Also, how can you not give Star Wars at least a corollary on the Nazi column? The stormtrooper outfits were based on the German helmets of WW II. Also music - if nothing else, what about the Empire theme?

Swimming Pool, not a good movie. I was ready to take a nap in the movie theater when boobs came on screen - it was the only thing that kept me awake. If it wasn't for the boobs, it would have been one of the least notable movies I have ever seen.

mpf004 said...

a) the total. I am reluctant to put a summary number, because the categories are not cumulative. Big Lebowski is a far better movie than its 5.5 would indicate.

b) Final Judgment: now that I could do.

Star Wars corollary: cause they aren't mobsters, that's why. I didn't find the music that compelling.

Anonymous said...

The Cutting Edge - I'm just surprised you admitted to having seen it!