What makes a good movie? That is, of course, a matter of taste.
If you ask a first year film student his favorite films on his first day, before he has been brainwashed, or educated, on why Kubrick and Eisenstein are great filmmakers, he might tell you that he loved Airplane, or the original Ghostbusters, or something with Abbot and Costello. (With me it was Laurel and Hardy).
Of course, even if he isn’t brainwashed, being exposed to new voices like Charlie Chaplin can increase what he has to choose from, and his favorite films can change simply because he wasn’t before exposed to what he really enjoyed.
Analysis can be a killjoy. Looking at a film like Airplane frame by frame and from an ideological perspective, it might seem sexist, or against one’s religious or political beliefs. Some innocent joke is suddenly a source of everything that is bad in the universe.
I never really liked most Kubrick films, but for some reason, I tried to learn from his filmmaking method. I found 2001 long and drawn out, other films I couldn’t even finish. Sure, Dr Strangelove was more interesting as I got older, but most of the ones that Kubrick fans recommend to me frankly bore me.
A lot of French films have the same effect: I hear the “making of” and they sound like masterpieces; but I try to watch them and I am fast asleep.
I am not the first to look at films this way. In their Caheirs du Cinema, the great French analysts who led the new wave looked at the B films of Hitchcock and analysed crowdpleases as the true masterpieces of cinema. But why not Harrihausen? Suddenly the works of Chaplin could also be enjoyed, but why not Laurel and Hardy?
If you need to talk about the making of a film, the politics or ethics, the economics or any other factor external to the film itself to tell me it is a good film, then I lose interest. A good salad is not a good salad because of the chef’s politics or how long he spent in the kitchen.
That said, I look at my favorite films, and how they were made, and I have observed a pattern. No one necessarily got rich off the film, but everyone from the above the line (producer, screenwriter and director) down to the runner was paid more than a living wage for the time. Unlike Kubrick’s movies and Elon Musk’s philosophy, most if not all the people involved worked fourty hour weeks, with adequate lunch breaks, free weekends, family time, and all the rest of it.
Almost every one of my favorite actors, writers, editors and directors has stories about time with their family, often spent during the making of a film. Some may be single, but they tend to have stories of time with their friends.
None of them used amateur actors. Sorry, I do not really like the films of Ken Loach or those social realists. (Though I hear that style was popular with certain dictators in the mid twentieth century). If you cannot afford professional actors, that is one thing, but those who choose to repeatedly work with amateurs tend to make films that look like bad documentaries.
I have written films that can be shot in one room because of a lack of confidence in raising money, but they are not my favorite to watch. And they are not necessarily that simple to make anyway. Keeping one room available for the entire production is more difficult than it seems, unless you are the sole owner of the property and any adjoining rooms. (even if your producers are partial owners, they may decide to do some spring cleaning or home improvements that ruin your set because they do not understand the filmmaking process as well as you do).
My favorite films have full-time (not overtime) professional casts and crew (but often not celebrities). People involved are paid well enough to live on, usually, but very seldom do they get rich off the movie.
I dislike films with so many stars that you get dizzy recognising them from other movies. Speilburg’s Lincoln was terribly boring, more like watching a poorly planned improve at the afterparty of an academy awards show than a proper movie. Even the flags and main characters felt like crowdfunding cameos.
Laurel and Hardy’s Way Out West, on the other hand, had only two recognisable faces, both of which were not famous for their looks or politics, only for their talent. PeeWee Herman’s Big Adventure had some very brief celebrity cameos, but the main characters are played by actors I have not seen anywhere else.
But education can get quite political, and politics often get in the way of good judgement. While I often say that I would rather work with people with film degrees, I mean those who survived the degree without being contaminated by the politics, those who hold a strong interest in making films that are in their own right, rather than feeling the need to satisfy some socio-political goal. As Moliere says, the point of entertainment is to please the audience, not the critic. And I believe the best way to do that is making middle of the road pictures, with career professionals rather than celebrities or amateurs.
Currently, I think the countries doing this best are India and Hungary. I have very little time for British movies, for anything that shows at film festivals like Raindance. Well, I watch them sometimes, but do not tend to enjoy them (I am grateful that youtube and DVD players allow double speed).
Hungarian movies that get no European funding tend to be much better than British films that get European and Lottery funding. I do not know why, but government funding, even tax credits, seems to diminish the quality of art. (It might be because the EU and UK directives push bad art).
While newer films have much better effects, the writing and acting is terrible. Having a soldier play WonderWoman is distracting, it is like something Ed Wood would have done.
The truth is, I am not afraid of AI taking over films because it seems that it already has. The current generation of talent seem to act like robots, lacking any personality as they are shot down for the slightest controversial opinion. The worst part is that a growing part of the audience is a bunch of robots.
okay, rant over. Let us be grateful that we can still remember the old films and shows instead of seeing the remakes or reruns. Even if we become killjoys because we see their imperfections a second time, we have our innocent memories.
And a few films, like those with Laurel and Hardy, are pretty good even if we see them after getting a film degree.