Thursday, June 11, 2009

Set Phasers to Awesome

I know I have written here before about movies that I liked, and some about Story in general and my particular way of thinking about Story. One thing I have never felt able to define is any specific type of story that I prefer; I can't even decide on a "favorite" movie. The reason for this was pointed out to me recently when another friend commented to me — after I summarily dismissed a pair of recent movies as "just plain ordinary" — that because I have seen so many movies, I only like the ones that are in some significant way unique or "out of the ordinary." He's right.

I have seen a lot of movies; as soon as I had the means to do so, I devoured them. I could estimate a number, but I think it would be embarrassing. What I have discovered is this: good isn't good enough. In a large sampling of movies, there are a lot of good movies. Speaking of a simple binary state, good vs. bad, where I regret the time I wasted watching the movies that are "bad" and don't regret the time I spent watching the movies that are "good," there are a lot of "good" movies. So many in fact that a movie's potential to be "good" is no longer a compelling reason to ever watch it, and thus over the past couple of years I have found myself seeing fewer movies and liking fewer of them.

So my friend is right and as he realized, perhaps before I did, I do have a preferred genre after all: I believe the common term for it is "Awesome". I prefer "Awesome" movies. Its sibling genres, "Really Great", "Great" and to a lesser extent "Very Good" definitely have their place, but "Awesome" is really what does it for me. The good news is, I find that those four genres combined total perhaps 50 to 100 movies. The bad news is, I find that there are perhaps two or three people in the world who would agree with me on what those 100 movies are. The other good news is, these genres are completely made up and entirely subjective, so I am guaranteed to be right.

What is it then that identifies a movie as falling into one of these genres? As my friend said, the distinguishing characteristic is uniqueness. Whether it is a familiar story told in an unexpected way, or a type of story I usually disdain told in such a skillful and compelling way that I am powerless to resist, or a story that purposefully breaks a cinematic "rule" with spectacular results, or just a simple story that achieves such genuineness that all other similar movies fail by comparison, each of the movies in these genres has some particular aspect of its storytelling that is unlike anything I have seen before.

That being said, I can now make a stab at answering my other friend's question: what is my favorite movie? Since I now know that to date only seven "Awesome" movies have been made, I can tell you without a doubt that my favorite movie is one of these:
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • Empire of the Sun
  • The Iron Giant
  • Meet Joe Black
  • Pride & Prejudice
  • Primer
  • Strings
The candidates for "Really Great", "Great" and "Very Good" are harder to define, but I feel sure they include this list.

Two recent movies have exhibited this quality of uniqueness. In fact, if it were possible for a movie less than one month old to earn such a distinction, I might almost say they were "Awesome"; certainly they are "Great" and perhaps even "Really Great." These two movies are Star Trek and Up.

Star Trek — finally someone managed to make Star Trek into a movie and not just a two hour television episode. (I'm not exaggerating: I saw the two hour premiere of Enterprise in an actual movie theater, and the experience wasn't that much different from the movies.) Ironically, many of the people responsible came from television; particularly gratifying is the fact that the director, composer and several of the producers and editors also brought us Lost. Watching the end credits of Star Trek I couldn't help thinking that it's no wonder Lost is so great: the people making it are capable of producing work like Star Trek. I watched Star Trek on TV for years; I have seen all of the movies. Though some were entertaining, they all shared these qualities: they never surprised me, they never went anywhere new, and they never surpassed my expectations. This Star Trek is something new, something surprising, and just flat out fun to watch. I can't remember the last time I had that much fun in a movie theater. The action is exciting, it's visually stunning, the special effects are top notch, the actors have chemistry and talent, and — wonder of wonders — the humor is genuinely funny (and not just to people who show up to the theater in Starfleet uniform). My one aching regret is that it was not produced in RealD 3D, but then again I don't suppose the biggest movie of the year really has to be.

Pixar as well has risen to new heights with Up — and no, I do not apologize for the pun. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, but Pixar succeeded in producing a story that moves from genuinely touching to laugh-out-loud funny with seamless ease, all centered around characters so natural that by the time you think the words "suspension of disbelief," it already happened five minutes ago. It was a joy to watch. I should also mention that Partly Cloudy, the short film that preceded the movie, continues to display Pixar's genius with dialoge-free storytelling and lives up to its long line of great predecessors (Geri's Game, For the Birds, One Man Band, Lifted, Presto). I did see the movie in 3D, which was nice. I don't think the 3D played quite as large a part in the whole experience as it did when I saw Monsters vs. Aliens, but it didn't really have to.

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Blogger Jess said...

Pixar is really pulling their weight in the movie business. I loved "Up" and can honestly say I haven't found a person who didn't. Also, I giggled at your Favorite movie list. Pride & Prejudice is a given (*teen sigh*).

Saturday, January 23, 2010 7:18:00 PM  

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