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How To Know If A Movie Is Great

We’re at the point where all of the 2013 Oscar nominees have made it to home video and are now popping up on premium cable TV channels.

But I have no interest in watching most of these movies for a second time.

It’s not that I thought they were bad or it’s some kind of anti-intellectualism on my part, but I do not believe they have anything to offer on a second viewing.

When I first saw them I understood their message, appreciated the craftsmanship of all those involved with the production, and that was that. There’s nothing pulling me to revisit the movies.

My one takeaway from all of film school was how to know if a movie is truly great.

According to my professor, there are three types of movies:

  1. A movie that you stop thinking about as soon as you leave the theater
  2. A movie you’re still thinking about on your way to your car and maybe even on your drive home, and 
  3. A movie where several days later, you’re looking for something in the refrigerator and you find yourself still thinking about the movie. You’re still grappling with the meaning of something in it, or just replaying a great scene in your head.

As he put it, movies that fall into the third category are “magic” because they have the ability to exist outside of the theater.

There’s something about them that resonates with you long after the credits roll, continuing to provoke thought about it.

And a movie doesn’t have to be Citizen Kane to earn that distinction — Star Wars probably comes up on top if you rate movies this way.

The point is, that for all of the well-acted, written and directed movies last year, now that we have some distance from them, they’re clearly failing the magic test.

As captivating as Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years a Slave were when watching them, I don’t think anyone is rushing out to watch them against because the movies have stimulated them so much that they have to revisit them.

And I feel like that’s what any decent piece of art of entertainment should do.

One reason we watch the same movies and TV episodes over and over again when we’re decompressing after work isn’t necessarily because they’re easy to digest, but they actually do pass the magic test — or at least level 2. You think enough about the movie or TV episode after the last time you saw it that you need to see it again, and again.

I raise this issue now because there is a kind of mass failure in Hollywood to produce magic movies.

When I think about my movie collection, I own so few movies from the last ten years because I’ve seen so few that necessitate multiple viewings.

And lots of these movies do disappear into the ether of our collective consciousness.

They either make lots of money at the box office or win a tons of awards, and a second thought is never given to them.

It’s like they never even existed.

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