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Guest Post: I Know I Hate This, But I Don't Know Why
2007-06-02 08:48
by Jon Weisman

By Joseph Cox

Everytime I watch a movie, I mull where in the grand hierarchy of cinema it belongs. This process is supposedly ongoing, but I often revisit an old favorite (say: American Beauty) and wonder what I was thinking when I liked it in the first place. Today, my top five favorite movies might be something like The Big Lebowski, The Royal Tenenbaums, Stevie, The New World and The Decalogue, but tomorrow only Lebowski and Tenenbaums would remain.

It isn't that I don't have any criteria to judge movies, but after film classes, theory books, hours reading film criticism and enough movie watching to make me permanently allergic to sunshine (read: pasty), I have too many yardsticks to judge a movie with. Should I worry about auteur theory (Altman!), genre subversion (The Host!), thematic complexity (Angels in America!) or just simple entertainment value (Monty Python!)? So during a movie I either over-intellectualize ("Was that the plot point? Can someone make a movie about Africa that doesn't star a white guy?") or completely non-intellectualize, and simply live in the moment. It is probably more important to think about the movie afterwards anyway, though I end up forgetting a lot of the best parts and taking notes would be the ultimate mood killer.

I would like to think that just playing it by ear would work. I probably shouldn't go through back issues of Cahiers du cinema before watching Rush Hour 3 and I shouldn't watch Abbas Kiarostami movies with a hangover, but I don't want to buy into the "subtle bigotry of lower expectations," because it is obvious is that there is a caste system in the evaluation of movies. Certain movies (comedies, horror films) are seen as inherently lowbrow, while hoity toity schlock seemingly gets a free pass to a higher plane (Finding Neverland). Sure, not every movie released in December is an Oscar contender, but, as Sasha Baron Cohen found out, nothing released to box office success during the dog days of summer is regarded as more than bread and circuses for the great unwashed. Why can't a movie be all things to all people?

So ultimately, what makes a movie good? At the very least, a good movie should illicit strong emotional reactions, while middlebrow (or worse) leave no impression whatsoever. True art is a search for something authentic and telling about the human experience, and as such it should resonate. No matter how slick and clever a movie is, if it never taps into real emotion then it won't have any staying power in the mind's eye. Everything else is negotiable, but that is the bedrock. At least for me. So what do you look for in a movie?

(Editor's response: The Shifty System)

2007-06-02 14:40:42
1.   Benaiah
I am Joseph Cox by the way.
2007-06-02 22:25:32
2.   Inside Baseball
No, I am Joseph Cox.

Seriously, I enjoyed reading you post. I definitely need a movie to resonate to me for me to really enjoy it and recommend it to others. It needs to have a few "That's cool" moments where I find myself nodding my head because something really surprises me and/or is just perfectly crafted (e.g. when the wardon finally gazes at the poster in Tim Robbins' cell in Shawshank or the ending of Field of Dreams).

A movie, to be really great, also has to hold up. I remember really liking Forest Gump the first time I saw it and the second time getting little out of it. Yet I could watch Shawshank, The Sixth Sense, Pulp Fiction, Memento, The Usual Suspects, the original Manchurian Candidate again and always get enjoyment out of them.

2007-06-03 14:00:31
3.   Marty
2 I tend to agree, though I never liked Forrest Gump much. American Beauty is one that I like less each time I see it.

One mark of a movie on my great list is I'll watch any part or the whole thing if it is being played on TV. I can watch Treasure of the Sierra Madre, or His Girl Friday or North by Northwest, etc. at any point and enjoy myself, no matter how cut up by commercials.

2007-06-03 18:36:17
4.   Benaiah
I thought I posted a response to 2, but maybe I accidentally did it on Dodger Thoughts instead.

The response was: Forest Gump is a terrible movie, something akin to conservative propaganda and a much less interesting version of "Being There."

2007-06-03 18:40:29
5.   Benaiah
"Knocked Up" was incredible by the way. Laugh out loud funny to the point where I missed a lot of the movie because the audience was laughing so hard.

I found this old Harper's article of an email exchange between Judd Apatow and Mark Brazill. The language is a tad salty, but it is a pretty interesting read.

2007-06-03 19:34:17
6.   Inside Baseball
4 You know as I think back, I saw Forest Gump the first time with my first serious girlfriend. Clearly, my overall happiness at the time must have played a large part in my initial viewing. Not that I'm being defensive...

Now during Cool World I went into convulsions.

2007-06-03 19:44:44
7.   CanuckDodger
4 -- Forrest Gump is my favorite dramatic movie of all time. Being There is my top comedic movie of all time. I suspect that people who don't appreciate them are not seeing in them what I see. And no offense, but someone calling Forrest Gump "conservative propaganda" certainly tells me they are seeing a political message that ISN'T there.
2007-06-03 21:42:00
8.   Benaiah
7 - Forrest Gump is about a White Southern man who goes to Vietnam, doesn't have sex (except to procreate), doesn't have any vices and is richly rewarded by the system he blindly obeys. On the other hand, Jenny protests Vietnam (and hangs out with the Black Panthers) and ends up a stripper with AIDS. Whether or not the intention of the movie is to be stiflingly conservative, I do not know, but the movie's ultimate result is insanely right wing.

"Being There" is remarkable though.

2007-06-03 23:12:31
9.   trainwreck
As a fellow film major, I to have had these exact feelings. Though, your post made me want to get into film theory again as I have forgotten most of it (a by-product of going to UCSB). But the one thing that I love more than anything in film is when a film can say so much with so few words. I love visual storytelling.
2007-06-04 06:10:32
10.   overkill94
The answer to your final question is easy...T&A
2007-06-05 16:23:08

which is why i loved the ending in A History of Violence. That ending was pretty damn emotional, very intense for me. People around me thought it was kind of boring, but I think that was my favorite movie the last few years....

for some reason I can also watch the Predator over and over again, no clever sub-plots, etc. i hope im not the only that feels this way about the original.

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