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Friday, January 12, 2007

What makes a good film?

Added bit: You can now download my scripts and adapt them for free under a creative commons license - from here.

So what does make a good film? Which film is better than another film? In a way its a stupid question. And yet it is this question that voting for the BAFTAs (or any other award for that matter) forces you to consider.

I get to vote up to the nomination stage on all the awards - and specifically for the 'best direction' award. It's my 'joker' if you like. My vote for 'best director' counts for more.

I try and vote to the best of ability. I think most members do. And as such I had to consider what my criteria for best film would be. I find this the hardest category to vote on.

In the end I came up with these guidelines.

Would this film have been difficult to get off the ground? Was it a risky venture? Did it not play it safe? Is it challenging? Did people take risks because they believed in it and wanted to share their story? Extra note: this is not the same as being 'worthy' - worthy films can be safe bets. Some comedies aren't.
My vote that didn't get through - Apocalypto

Does it linger? It's easy to get caught up in the hype and the excitement of a film. It'd better be - because companies spend serious cash making sure you do. But we aren't judging that (yet). So I tend to try and think about films that hung around in my mind, that made me think about them afterwards, that I found myself talking to people about.
My vote that didn't get through - The Fountain

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Here's the list of BAFTA nominations that did get through (as stolen from Danny Stack).

Best Film
The Queen
The Last King of Scotland
The Departed
Little Miss Sunshine

Best British Film
The Queen
Casino Royale
The Last King of Scotland
Notes on a Scandal
United 93

Best Actor in a Leading Role
Daniel Craig - Casino Royale
Forest Whitaker - The Last King of Scotland
Leonardo DiCaprio - The Departed
Peter O'Toole - Venus
Richard Griffiths - The History Boys

Best Actress in a Leading Role
Dame Helen Mirren - The Queen
Dame Judi Dench - Notes on a Scandal
Kate Winslet - Little Children
Penelope Cruz - Volver
Meryl Streep - The Devil Wears Prada

Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Alan Arkin - Little Miss Sunshine
James McAvoy - The Last King of Scotland
Jack Nicholson - The Departed
Leslie Philips - Venus
Michael Sheen - The Queen

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Emily Blunt - The Devil Wears Prada
Abigail Breslin - Little Miss Sunshine
Toni Colette - Little Miss Sunshine
Francis De La Tour - The History Boys
Jennifer Hudson - Dreamgirls

Original Screenplay
Guillermo Arriaga - Babel
Michael Arndt - Little Miss Sunshine
Guillermo del Toro - Pan's Labryinth
Peter Morgan - The Queen
Paul Greengrass - United 93

Adapted Screenplay
Neal Purvis/Robert Wade/Paul Haggis - Casino Royale
William Monahan - The Departed
Aline Brosh McKenna - The Devil Wears Prada
Peter Morgan/Jeremy Brock - The Last King Of Scotland
Patrick Marber - Notes On A Scandal

The David Lean Award for Achievement in Direction
Martin Scorsese - The Departed
Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris - Little Miss Sunshine
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - Babel
Stephen Frears - The Queen
Paul Greengrass - United 93


Paul Draper said...

Your own personal definition of a good film can be simple, in line with the simpleness of your gut reaction.

I tend to go for "a good story well told" - and the telling encompasses the direction and production too.

I can think of many films which are a bad story well told (The Prestige - feel free to disagree. I wanted so much to like it. Two magicians are angry with each other, they continue to be angry, they stay angry, one comes a cropper), and a good story badly told (28 Days Later, god that was annoying - hero gouging out eyes, nobody to care about as a principle character etc, but a great idea).

Pan's Labyrinth nailed both aspects the best for me this year.

Tim Clague said...

'A good story well told' in my mind is still not quite there. A good story is 'best screenplay' and 'well told' is best direction.

So what is 'best film' and would experiences such as watching 2001 really be counted as a 'good story well told'?

Paul Draper said...

I think you just need to move outside set role boundaries.

A good story can encompass more than the literal screenplay - its the idea and the essence of the tale - I'd even put the screenplay in the telling category. What is the gem you've conceived?

Well told indeed is direction, I'd also inlcude edit, sound, photography, and any process that brings your conceived gem to the eyes and ears of the viewer.

The definition has always worked for me, and any gripe I can level at a film usually concerns one side or the other.

2001 never really lit my fire, but it is well told.

Tim Clague said...

I'm enjoying your thought-provoking challenge Paul. With your interpretation what would be your choice for Best Film out of the nominations.

Paul Draper said...

I'm at a bit of a disadvantage in having only seen "Little Miss Sunshine" and as of last night "The Last King of Scotland". Both good stories, both well told (although a few quibbles with both - loved LKoS but we felt the pain mainly through a white man's suffering - did we need him in Europe to feel it? What of the suffering caught in glimpses in the rural areas?).

My own definition in the first post relates to what is your threshold of what a "good film" is - ie one that you personally like.

Presented with a list of films that all pass this criterion, and of course you're into needing something more. Could it be a better story, told better? Perhaps.

I'd like to think that one standout film you'd crown "Best Film" has a certain X about it - something that engages you and nails you to your seat, whether quietly or spectacularly.

I remember coming out of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark as a kid and feeling I'd just seen the perfect film - I'd want that feeling back. I know my tastes have changed but that X, that leaving the cinema floating on air feeling, that's what would nail it for me.

Down to Harbour Lights for the rest of those films for me!

Anonymous said...

I believe that the defination of a good film is one, that someone who would not normally be interested in the subject matter of the story, enjoys the movie. A defination of a poor film is the opposite.

Tim Clague said...

Nice one Anon. I can certainly think of plenty of both good and bad examples.

Anonymous said...

good story=best screen play and ,well told=best direction
thanks for giving me right track towards my career...
- yogesh(india)