31 October 2007

Film Review Criteria

My next post will be a film review, and (since I’m not sure who reads this blog) I thought it might be useful to post a few thoughts about what I look for in a film. But before I do that I have a few disclaimers. First, just because I review a film on this blog does not mean I recommend it for everyone. I watch a lot of movies and some of them contain things that are probably offensive to some of my readers. Second, just because I give a movie a good review doesn’t mean I like the film, or even that I enjoyed watching the film. It means that there was something about the film that I believe made the viewing experience valuable. Third, if I give a film a poor review that doesn’t mean I don’t like it, it just means that I think it wasn’t well made. I could, however, like the movie quite a bit. Sometimes I’ll think a movie is valuable and I’ll also think it’s great and I’ll also want to watch it several times. Those kinds of movies are my favorite. Finally, I tend to gravitate towards what are often referred to as “art films”, it’s not that I don’t love a big blockbuster, (Live Free or Die Hard was super!) it’s just that generally I prefer films that are going to challenge while entertaining me rather than films that are for pure entertainment.

When I am watching a film with my “critic’s eye” there are several things I keep in mind. Is the film arresting? Does it engross me, or am I looking at my watch after ten minutes wondering when it’s going to end? Once I’m into the film I concentrate on the story, letting it wash over me and giving all my thought to understanding what’s happening. I’ll sometimes think, “I wouldn’t have done that,” or “What was the director thinking?”, but I generally try to save those questions until the movie is over and the credits have rolled. After the film I think about the actors’ (or actresses’) performances, and I pick them apart in my mind. Were they convincing? What did they bring to the character that another actor might not have been able to do? I then consider the director. What was he trying to say? Was it a critique of something, if so what? Was he just telling a story with no ulterior motives (is that even possible)? Was he able to pull the best performances possible from his actors? I then consider the cinematography. Did it fit with the over all feel of the movie? Was it single camera, multiple camera, hand held, or steady? Did it focus on landscapes, people, or a mixture? Did it go for the hard to nail close-ups of the actors’ faces or was it standoffish and perhaps impersonal? I wonder how much independence the cinematographer had, and how much of it is his (or her) eye and how much is the director’s. I then consider the music. Was it appropriate for the film or did it bog the film down? How much say did the director have? If the music doesn’t fit I wonder if it was the director’s fault or the fault of the composer or music supervisor. Finally, I also ponder the themes and ideas explored by the film. Are they relevant? What do they reveal about society at large? Did they challenge me in any way? All of these things add up to make what I like to think of as the composition of the film. I then take the composition as a whole and explore my own personal feelings and reactions to the film. After I’ve done all these things I am then able to talk to someone or write about the film.

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