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What makes a classic movie, classic? Part 1

The Godfather movie poster
The Godfather movie poster

What makes a classic movie, classic? The question is a simple one asked by hundreds of people everyday. So what does make a movie live on for decades and be revered as a masterpiece? Story or character, some say you can't have one without the other. The answer, well there is no definitive answer. So let's explore.

First we will start with characters or more precisely a character's arch throughout the story. The Godfather is by many people's opinion to be the greatest film ever, but why? Michael Corleone is the answer. His character arch from a young war veteran to the leader of the family and a brutal leader at that is an amazing journey. Marlon Brando's performance is also amazing, but without Al Pacino's Michael the story is simply not there. What is even more amazing is you believe this arch. Every thing that happens in the story pushes him towards losing his soul and gaining control over the family. I have never seen a better movie that is so epic in story, but also pushes a singular character to the edge.

Another film that echoes this is L.A. Confidential, which is an epic, complicated film noir film, but this is not why most people enjoy this. Most people enjoy it for the three main characters. They all start out as bastards in there own way, they are written to be hated, but by the end of the film we love them. Kevin Spacey's "Jack Vincennes" lives to be a consultant on a 50's cop show. He's greedy and only cares about the limelight. But during the course of the film he finds his soul and redeems himself. Russell Crowe's "Bud White" is one violent son of a gun. He's not against bending the rules to get justice done, gain though by the end of the film he finds love and happiness, and most importantly we like him. Last but certainly not least in Guy Pearce's Ed Exley is a by the book cop, who is the most ambitious character. The by the book cop really gets under people's skin in the early going, but by the end he is the true protagonist of the story. Again we like him for his courage in taking on crooked cops.

Then there's story. Every good film needs a good plot. Roman Polanski's "Chinatown" is a truly amazing film and script. The story takes many twists and turns and is a true Film Noir down to the core. Of course the characters make the film as well. Jack Nicholson plays J.J. Gittes to a tee. John Huston is by far the creepiest villain ever to grace the screen for only 20 minutes. But the story and the ending in particular is what pulls this film above the rest.

Or what about Jaws, the best character is the shark, Quinn is a memorable character but the shark is what we remember. The shark is not so much a character but a force, the fact that we don't see him until the latter part of the film makes us fear the shark and keeps us on the edge of our seats. Steven Spielberg who directed this movie as a horror film is what keeps this movie head and shoulder above the rest. The technology of the large mechanical shark is frightening, and something we had not seen during that film period.
In part 2, of "What makes a classic movie, classic"? We will discuss the themes of movies and the time period in which the movie came out.