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Filmism.net Dispatch June 24, 2014

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There's a common theme in coverage about movies every time a movie breaks out and captures both the box office and critical praise. There'll be a lot of stories about exactly what the movie got right, no different than all the 20/20-hindsight stories that claim to know why a certain movie flopped.

And there's always at least one voice in the media who attempts to cut through the white noise by saying (and I'm paraphrasing) 'Look, there's no mystery. If you make a good movie, people will go and see it, tell their friends, and it'll catch on'.

Sometimes it's a variation on the usual praise over 'risky' movies that do well (Gravity, Her), the writer making it seem that because so much of what we see on screen is the same, anything with a point of difference is a sure-fire winner. Ask the producers of Ishtar, Cowboys & Aliens, The Postman or Osmosis Jones if they agree.

Anyway, the edict 'people want to see good stories' sounds as self-evident as it is obvious, doesn't it? But the wheels fall quickly off that wagon as soon as you ask the next obvious question; exactly what made it a 'good' movie. More to the point, just what does the phrase 'good movie' even mean? If you want to go on a 'just make good movies' rant, the term is irritatingly subjective.

We all have a movie the whole world loved and we hated, or vice versa. I've got truckloads of them, and some of them that I thought were quite serviceable I'd never mention in cine-literate company.

Give you some embarrassing examples? I thought Pluto Nash was quite inventive. Battlefield Earth was only deplorable because of the Scientology subtext, otherwise it was a adequate sci-fi. As silly as The Happening was, I thought the premise was a great idea. Southland Tales is unappreciated genius, the brilliance of which went completely over the heads of critics and moviegoers of the world.

And don't get me started on classic movies that just didn't grab me. You know the ones I mean, the ones the cinerati get so excited over it's enough to make them spill their lattes all over their turtlenecks, but many watch and say 'WT actual F?' In my case, 8 1/2, Apocalypse Now, Blade Runner, Taxi Driver, Amélie, Pan's Labyrinth and Rashomon all left me cold. Cringing yet? I'm sure you have yours.

So you can see what muddy waters we're wading into. It's easy to slam your fist on the table, silence the room and say 'look, it's simple – just make good movies!. Not so easy to make a good movie. When there are as many opinions as there are viewers, there's just no such thing.

But look at the date, it's June 2014. That means it's exactly 30 years since a lot of this happened, and a lot of that is the reason movies are the way they are today.

On screens big and small recently, the flabby, ill-disciplined and marginally funny A Million Ways to Die in the West. X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was much better than most comic book movies. The new movie from Lukas Moodysson (who I'll be talking about more in future), We Are The Best!

But most thrilling of all was one of Oliver Stone's under-appreciated classics, Nixon. I only just got around to watching it for the first time recently, and it reminded me of just how good the JFK director was in his heyday and (fingers crossed) still could be.

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