The ‘Winners’, the ‘Head spinners’ and the ‘that was incredible for beginners’ [part 1]

Following from my last post about the lack of benefits to 3D when it comes to films, some people have posed me with the question: for you what makes a film good? Which is in itself quite a broad question because when it comes to looking at films in a critical way, there isn’t just one element to pick up on. And in my opinion for many films there isn’t a straight forward answer, because films are so complex they can be brilliant in some aspects but then lacking in others. In this post I will attempt to talk about some of the films that I would consider to be good films and why.

As the title suggests this post is about the films that are good, the ones that engage your brain in a positive way and then the ones that are someone’s first film but leave a lasting impact. Also known to me as the ‘winners’, ‘head spinners’ and ‘that was incredible for beginners’ which are the three simplified categories for me. This is also the first part of what will be two posts linked together, the second will be what makes a film bad, so keep your ears to the ground.

Firstly for me what makes a ‘winner’ is a film you walk away from with nothing but positive thoughts. The films you walk away from and think you could easily watch it again and it would be equally as impressive. For me this is films such as The Master, the latest film from the genius of Paul Thomas Anderson. I knew very little about the film so I watched it with a completely open mind, but by the end of the film I had made up my mind. It was phenomenal. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance was incredible, the soundtrack composed by Jonny Greenwood was just right, and some of the images that PTA managed to create were exquisite. I’ll draw your attention to a scene in which some of the characters take a trip to the desert with motorbikes and one says “Pick a point and ride to it as fast as you can”. I will say no more, other than it was beautifully constructed and it was an Oscar nomination PTA missed out on. That is a film that I would consider to be “good” as some people would say but to say that does not give it the full credit it deserves. It was good because the characters were strong, the screenplay was exceptionally written and most of all it made me think. It was the sort of film that made me take a step back and actually think about what was happening and about the characters. Very impressive film from a very impressive film maker who understands cinema.

Another film I have to mention when it comes to the ‘winner’s is No Country For Old Men from the talents of Joel and Ethan Coen. It was the first film I saw from the Coens and to this day it still remains my favourite by them. For such a simplistic film I was very impressed by what I saw. Javier Bardem gave a knock out performance and it was a well deserved Oscar, the directing was equally impressive and the film as a whole was of a very high standard. I was completely hooked within the first ten minutes and that feeling did not decline at any point throughout the film. I felt a connection to the film because there was a very good balance of the three main characters; Josh Brolin playing the man who is trying to run away from someone two steps ahead, Javier Bardem playing the one who has no limits or boundaries, and then the frailty of Tommy Lee Jones playing the older character struggling to come to terms with the new world. Now that was a film I had a genuine connection to without the need of silly glasses (links to previous post).

In terms of ‘Head spinners’ what I refer to is the films that are clever. The films that if you look away for more than two minutes you are completely lost. The films that prove that cinema audiences are not stupid and that film makers do not have to treat them as if they are stupid. A prime example of this that I could not possibly fail to mention would have to be Inception. The complexity of the story alone was extremely interesting and it is clearly a master piece from Christopher Nolan. From previous posts it is clear how much praise and respect I have for Nolan but it has to be emphasised here, Inception was a work of art. Cinema is not just about entertainment, it’s about taking a trip outside of your normal life for two hours and experiencing an entirely different life to yours and that is what Inception accomplished so well, it completely absorbs you and takes you to something of a parallel universe. I admit it’s not everyone’s cup of tea because of the complexity and some people won’t find it entertaining, but for me it was very near perfection.

Now the last category is one that is quite small, but it is one that I cannot help but appreciate. A starting film in someone’s career is one that shows what they’re capable of without having had their years of experience in the industry. So for some film maker’s first pieces of work to leave such a lasting impact on me, it stands out as something very special. An example of this is the outstanding first film from Richard Ayoade entitled Submarine. The tale of a young teenage boy struggling to handle different elements of his life whilst trying to find out who he is. It was simple, it was witty, it was beautifully shot, it was emotional but most of all it was different. The events of the film are perfectly accompanied by the soundtrack written and performed by Alex Turner, which links very nicely to the events of the film and the atmosphere surrounding them. The artistic nature of the film was balanced perfectly by the clever dialogue and the complexity of the characters, but none more so than Oliver Tate himself. The wisdom that was shown in the words of such a young character were both entertaining and moving. For a first film it was very well made and is easily one of my favourite films. It wasn’t big and flashy, but I think that is what I liked most of all about it; I could relate to it because it was so close to real life.

I hope this has displayed what I consider makes a film good, the examples I used were ones that I think display the qualities very well and can easily be discussed. As I mentioned before there will be a follow post from this that will discuss the darker side of films with some examples so if you like this one then please keep an eye out for the follow up.

As ever feel free to leave any comments related to this post, be it about the opinions I’ve stated or your own opinions on the topic. I welcome any feedback also, be it good or bad. And most of all thank you for sticking this one out until the end, I know this has been a rather long post so many thanks for reading all of it.


You don’t need glasses to give something a third dimension.

For loyal readers this will probably be an addition to comments I’ve made before in previous blogs. I’ve already outlined my dislike to 3D but after a recent trip to the cinema, discussions with various people and dosage of the good doctor (Kermode) my dislike was enhanced.

The thing I still can’t understand about the concept of 3D is what exactly it’s supposed to enhance. It’s designed to enable a better connection to be formed between you and the film. Granted this is achieved, but only because the scenery is thrown in to your face. Take Avatar for example: the 3D made the holographic computers and the forest scenery seem closer to me, which was uncomfortably interesting. But did I go to watch the film in order to be connected to the environment? No, I went there to be connected to the characters and the story. I wanted the story to mean something, not for the leaves on the treas to block what was happening out of my vision.

In recent cinema news there’s more tampering with my childhood occurring. Can someone please explain to me why Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc are being re released in 3D? Were they really that flat the first time around? Were the character flat? Of course they weren’t! The films were perfectly capable of drawing people in and offering an entertaining experience without needing to be retro fitted to 3D. The characters already have the three dimensions they need for us to be connected to them emotionally, they don’t need the physical element to it as well. The characters and story already gained an emotional response from the audience in several ways because they were fine as they were.

On a side note I went to see Danny Boyle’s new film Trance two days ago. I thought it was absolutely brilliant and superbly made and it was good see another British film be that successful. Was it in 3D? Of course it wasn’t. Why would a talented film maker spend more money on something that would change the film for the worse?

It’s something that some film makers need to realise that no amount of technology is going to replace the impact of good screenplay and talented acting. Take some of the greatest films that have been made, like The Shawshank Redemption. It’s one of the most moving films that has ever been made, bringing a tear to your eye for different reasons at different points. Was that in 3D? Of course it wasn’t. And yet I felt more connected to that watching it on a small television in my bedroom, than I did to Avatar when I was sat in front of the big screen with the blue people walking out of the screen. Is Morgan Freeman’s voice and the well written script not enough for some people? I suppose some people want to have it beamed right down in to their heads so they’re more connected to it.

Interestingly as well, after watching a Mark Kermode review recently it did shed some light on something that appears to be quite an ugly situation. It basically showed the comparison between Stanley Kubrick, one of the single greatest film makers to ever walk this earth, and Michael Bay, the less said about him the better. The discussion basically showed how Stanley Kubrick had written letters to projectionists in cinemas asking them to be easy with the focus because there were details in his films he didn’t want people to miss, whereas Michael Bay had written to projectionists complaining about the colour loss (due to the 3D) in the third Transformers film. This lead to Bay requesting that they turn up the brightness because he had spent money on the 3D and the special effects so he didn’t want it going to waste. For me, that shows a clear contrast between the genius of a film maker, and the ignorance of a shabby film maker. We’ve gone from wanting our films to mean something, to making a film as loud and as bright as possible, which sets a clear line between how films should be made and treated, and how they shouldn’t. 

Having spoken to various people recently it’s evident that some people feel that 3D is a step in the right direction and that my views are biased because the films I’ve seen in 3D were bad in general and not just because of the 3D. I understand that this could very well be the case, Avatar was far from a great film so it does influence my opinion partially. However the point still stands that 3D does not allow me to connect to the film more. I didn’t see the Hobbit but if I was presented with the choice of 2D or 3D I would choose 2D every time. I have no doubt about Peter Jackson’s ability to make a film, Lord of the Rings showed the true extent of his genius, but do I want the Shire to be in the room with me? No thank you. If Bilbo is going to be a strong character I can connect with then it will be through his dialogue and the events that surround him, not how close he is to my eyes.

I’ll continue to watch films in 2D as I always have done, and if I don’t connect to a film through this then it just shows something about the film that a pair of glasses won’t change. If there are problems with the screenplay or the acting or the general story then all 3D will do is throw it in my face to taunt me even more. As more and more films are being made for 3D, or made and then fitted for 3D without the option of 2D then I might have to go through the effort of making “Anti-3D” glasses. If you don’t know how to make these I’ll refer you to Mark Kermode’s ‘kermode uncut’ video entitled “How to enjoy a 3D movie” which explains how to make a pair.

Interestingly Kermode was left a comment during one of his reviews which was about 3D that simply said “Bring me the glasses of reduced colour saturation” which is a good way to sum up this post I think because of course the option to go 3D is still open to the public. But it is an option that I shall avoid.

Feel free to leave any comments you have about 3D, and in particular I’m interested to hear what the best or indeed worst examples of 3D you have come across are.