Am I a movie snob? Yeah, probably. I am not thrilled about it, but I am one nonetheless and not a fun person to discuss the choice for a movie night with. Chances are I will decline going out to see a movie if it got poor reviews; to me, bad movies are a waste of time.
I wish I could revert to my elementary-school self that found the good in every film and television show, but that naivety is long gone. I questioned why it was that I left the most recent blockbuster feeling dissatisfied while my friends raved about it, or why “Twilight” was at the top of the box office while other, clearly better productions trailing at the end. I wanted more out of my movie experience: more depth, higher quality writing, more symbolism and a social commentary to boot — these were what made film “good.”
It did not take long to realize that not all film is created equal, and that my enjoyment of a movie and its quality are independent of each other. No longer was a “good” movie one that I liked, and a “bad” movie one I disliked. Instead, I learned to evaluate a film’s merits on the basis of its quality rather than my own enjoyment. I concluded that if I were to optimize my time and money, I should prioritize seeing “good” movies over those that were merely popular.
Of course, there is no true consensus on what is good and bad when it comes to film — the metric I have used is based on critic reviews, and while it is imperfect, there’s an undeniable correlation between their reviews and a film’s quality. I worked under the assumption that critics had inherent validity as judges of quality, as they are experts in the field and consume movies much differently than a layperson. If the aggregate opinion of a movie from over 150 critics is resoundingly “excellent,” then there is a good and legitimate reason to believe that there’s something special about that movie, regardless its popularity.
One might argue that the entire point of movies is to entertain, and depending on the extent to which that goal is met, they are good or bad. Indeed, it is true that movies are entertainment, but books are also forms of entertainment, and reading high quality literature is frequently cited as a tool for self-improvement.
There is a definite reason why “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “1984” are required reading in many high schools — these works have been deemed good enough and being in possession of enough quality to the point that students are generally made smarter by reading them.
But there is no such standard for movies and television. Film is still primarily and mostly seen as a way to pass time with audience satisfaction primarily being seen as the main objective, but it should not be. In the same way that one would seek to read certain designated works of high-quality literature to better their knowledge and diction, individuals should seek out quality film to better their creativity and perception of nuance.
All of this is not to say that only the best movies are worthy of one’s time. The phrase “pleasure reading” exists to show the distinction between books assigned for education versus those that readers choose for themselves. One of my favorite television shows is “Hell’s Kitchen,” and it is no triumph. However, I clearly recognize that while I very much like the show, it is not “good” television, and should not be labeled as such.
My junior year of high school, I began casually watching “Mad Men” after it soundly defeated “House of Cards” in the Emmys, and thought it was straight dull. Why would I like 50 minutes of almost constant dialogue set in the most decidedly sexist and racist 1950s Manhattan? I dropped the show out of boredom, but revisited it after it won further awards thinking I missed something. I had.
It took my full, concentrated and undivided attention and an intense post-viewing analysis from “The A.V. Club” to break apart the subtle genius of the show. None of the dialogue was superficial, no interaction meaningless and no placement of music careless. My unwillingness to struggle when watching the show precluded me from being entertained by it, having only been used to lazily watching television and movies and unwilling to dig deeper.
Ultimately, whether or not to tackle celebrated film is a choice of personal improvement. Similarly to how exercise builds muscle, reading improves diction, and writing improves vocabulary, exerting effort in choosing and digesting acclaimed movies improves how one enjoys good film.
In some cases, a movie is simply and innately not well suited for a particular person. But most of the time, a willingness to trust the opinions of critics coupled with giving a movie or television show a good shot will usually leave the viewer pleasantly surprised, and open the door to a level of entertainment that “bad” movies, no matter how popular, will rarely reach.