Monday, January 30, 2012

One Year In - What Makes a Five Star Film?

One year (and one day) ago, I sat down to watch A.I. Artificial Intelligence - a film I'd never seen before or really had no intention of watching unless it happened to come on television at the right time. There began my commitment to watch all 500 of Empire's 5-star films - in alphabetical order - in order to expand my knowledge about the origin of film ideas and to impress my grandfather when he asks me if I've seen what I previously considered to be an obscure 1940's film noir.
After scouring the Internet for a picture for this post, I wish I'd made a cake for the occasion
and what better decoration than a Buzz Lightyear candle from Character Cake Decorations.

So, what have I learnt? Quite a lot actually, although I will probably look back in 2013 at how youthful and inexperienced I was back in yonder 2012. Surprisingly with the exception of the 1940's boom there is very little to pick between a adventure film made with tools one feels that Neanderthals would be able to handle (my friends were in fits while watching The Black Pirate), to the latest 21st Century action flicks that forces production to move around a seemingly pointless gizmo that one man in the world can work in order to pan a camera half a millimetre (cue the link to Avatar).

What matters most to a film is the storyline. This doesn't matter if it is Bambi which will have the world's population of Under 3's crying at Bambi's mother's death, The Crucible which has anyone in tears during its closing scenes or the Japanese torture film Audition which will have everyone cringing. As long as the director can make a clear, concise storyline that the audience is willing to empathise with then the majority of the work is done. By adding his or her personal touches and interpretation then something special might be on the cards.

Arguably the next most important details are the actors. A well known cast is more likely to succeed at the box office but the audience could end up being disappointed with the story; whereas a lesser known cast can have the effect of confusing the audience as to the role of each actor. Who outside of the critic's own secluded world would have heard of any of the actors in The Band's Visit? Equally, would Brokeback Mountain have succeeded without Gyllenhaal and Ledger in charge? Probably not.

Any good reviewer worth their salt will make some reference to the soundtrack. As a vital part to create tension during the right places, the backing music has been in film even longer than actor's voices. I, on the other hand have gotten into the habit of skipping the mention of the soundtrack completely; why? Because some films do without it and fare much better for the experience (Dog Day Afternoon). Of course, that's not to say that a film should forget about the work of John Williams' classic five notes in Close Encounters of the Third Kind or exclude more modern music such as Moby's Extreme Ways in the final scene of The Bourne Ultimatum.

A good film does not revolve around its budget. Sure, having a huge wad of cash will entice the big stars and enable science fiction to simply exist on the big screen. Having Apollo 13 filmed with Tom Hanks in front of a black panel with stick-on stars would have completely detracted from the effect, whereas if Clerks had been made with a huge budget it wouldn't have become the cult classic comedy nor have the charm of knowing that the director gave away everything he had in order to make the film that stands today.

A five star film is not something that everyone will enjoy. A five star film is something that critics cannot find fault with. The majority of people that flock to the world's cinema are casual movie-goers who want to see the latest update to a franchise, want to take their girlfriend/boyfriend/casual love interest on a date to see some soppy chick flick that only she will want to see (though he'll probably enjoy it too), or simply go for something to do on a Wednesday afternoon where one can catch up with friends without being forced to make conversation.

There are some films on Empire's 5-star list that I personally cannot see the point of outside of the political connotations (Alexander Nevsky) or simply not even understand at all (Chimes At Midnight). That's not to say these are bad films in the eyes of everyone - the review is only accurate and personal as the reviewer. I'm sure even the guys over at Empire regularly strangle each other with movie reels in order to try and get their point across, but ultimately someone has to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to get those all important stars across to their paying readers.

Ultimately though, this is all besides the point. I never set out to discover what makes a five star film, and frankly, nor should I care. Choosing what to go and see at the cinema should never revolve around what a magazine says or what that guy writes in his blog (whoever he is...). Watch the trailer, read a brief summary of the plot and go and watch the damn film. If you hate it, then you'll learn from it and perhaps realise that comedy is only funny if you understand it.

That said, despite the real stinkers, I am eternally grateful to the guys and gals over at Empire for opening my eyes to the world of Amelie, The Apu Trilogy and all the other foreign films I would never have watched in a million years. Perhaps the biggest thing I've learnt is that English isn't always best.

Thanks to a combination of everything in this post, The Artist will sweep the board at the Oscars. That's what makes a five star film.

1 comment:

  1. Hi I came by your blog via the A to Z challenge list. I did enjoy your review, very interesting to read and well penned.