So, how do I evaluate a movie? I know what I don't do - and that is rely on anything outside of the movie such as friend's opinions, critic's ratings and awards earned. Those things are only helpful to me in selecting which movies I see. So what factors determine if I enjoy a film or not?
- Most important is believeability. I don't care how awesome the action sequences or character moments are - If I don't believe that they're plausible then the film lost me. For example, in Speed when the bus jumps across the gap in the road without falling below fifty five miles per hour they lost me. Now, this doesn't mean that I don't enjoy fantasy and science fiction with the best of them. But a film has to obey its own internal logic. So when, at the end of Transformers, the Allspark shrinks down from the size of a building to the size of a football the movie lost me because it didn't fit with the entire film's mass-retention principle.
- Next is emotional impact. It really doesn't matter what emotion it is - it could either be humorous, uplifting, or sad. If a film moves me emotionally I think much better of it. I cry at the scene in Apollo 13 when the pregnant wife watches the astronaut going into space for the first time. I can't make it through the scene in Forrest Gump when he's standing at Ginny's grave without crying. Meanwhile, Office Space, Dirty Work, and Road Trip crack me up. If a film can make me care enough to be moved emotionally I know its a good one.
- Another thing I look for in films is if they are thought provoking. That doesn't mean I want to be preached at or told a story with a social, ecological, or political agenda. But I like it when a film gives me reason to think more deeply on a topic or to see an issue in a new light. Back to the Future caused me to think about how time travel works. The Good Son had me thinking what I would do if I was in that mother's place with two children's lives in my hands and only one can survive. When the experience of watching the film doesn't end with the final credits, that's an indicator that it was a quality film.
- Rewatchability is also very important to me. Sure, I saw Schindler's List in the theater and loved it but when I bought it and watched it again I couldn't drag myself through it a second time. It's a special thing when you can find enjoyment in a film even when you know every secret, every surprise, and every line of dialogue. I loved Tim Burton's Batman when I saw it in the theater but it just seemed tedious when I watched it again while The Wizard of Oz remains a timeless classic that I've watched dozens of times.
- Of course, I examine the technical aspects of film making such as acting, pace, lighting, shot composition, and special effects. Poor acting can kill a film almost as fast as poor directing. A truly monumental performance, on the other hand, can significantly improve my opinion of a film. Special effects, to a certain degree, apply back to the believeability of a film but I also think they're a distraction aspect to them as well. If I notice either a good or bad special effect and it takes me out of the experience of watching the film that's a bad thing. On the other hand, if they're integrated seamlessly into the fabric of the story then that's to the film's credit. I honestly didn't notice the CGI shots in Fight Club until I watched the bonus features on the DVD and they were pointed out to me. Bravo!
- Finally, I can't totally discount star power and property value. I find myself being more willing to forgive the faults of a film if it features one of my favorite actors such as Denzel Washington or Harrison Ford. A film based on a pre-established property, however, can affect my judgment both for the good and for the bad. I find that I'm particularly hard on films based on a property I love (such as Spider-Man or Star Wars). But if a film based on a property I love is good, I find that my evaluation of that film is higher than perhaps it would have been if I wasn't already a fan.
So, there you have it. Believeability, emotional impact, thought provoking, rewatchability, technical aspects, star power, and property value are all factored in when I'm thinking about how much I like or dislike a movie.