Great filmmaking requires great taste.
Great films aren't one-trick ponies. They don't create a powerful connection with their audience by scoring one almighty touchdown. Great films have layers, they have corners, they consist of different flavours in different combinations.
This sounds obvious on the surface, but let's get specific for a moment. Take Sideways (2004), which follows old friends, Miles & Jack, on a stag week road trip to Santa Barbara Country wine country. The film did very well for itself, winning an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, amongst other accolades.
The film is packed with relatable, endearing human experiences. And I'm not just talking about well executed scenes or moments. They're inherent in the film's scenario.
Santa Barbara County wine country is a beautiful place to spend 2 hours.
The simple idea of a stag week road trip is endearing and full of promise. Who doesn't want an adventure with a best friend and a license to have a good time?
It's fun spending time with Miles & Jack. They're a disfunctional pair, but we're the first to hear the gossip and we're privvy to their most private moments. Miles isn't afraid to speak his mind, and Jack isn't afraid to break the rules.
Miles' knowledge of wine is genuinely interesting (if you're that way inclined, of course). His infamous ode to Pinot Noir is not only moving, it's informative.
The plot is clear, simple, and easy to invest in. It pushes the limits of their friendship and their insecurities, and they wrestle with things we can all identify with.
This film cares about the experience its audience is having, engaging many of our human interests at once.
The film succeeds not because it executes moments of high drama, forces a novel plot, or finds excuses for spectacle. It succeeds because the ingredients of the film, from the people to the places to the problems they face, just resonate with us. They draw us in. It's editorial, not technical. It's good taste.
Of course, it takes intelligent writing and direction to crack open these experiences for the audience. But no amount of witty dialogue, dynamic camerawork, or nuanced performance will save a film that doesn't have something genuinely endearing or intriguing or arresting or heartwarming to offer to other human beings.
Disney's Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022) is full of misguided creative choices that pull the rug out from underneath a bunch of talented actors and crew. Let's look at how Obi-Wan's character is written in the first episode alone.
He is shown to be mopey, emotional, indecisive, unwilling to take action, and generally incompetent at solving the problems presented to him in the story. Now, do these qualities lend themselves to emotional spectacle and a shallow sense of drama? Yes. Do they make sense in the context of the wider story? I suppose. But do they create an endearing and intriguing ride for the audience? No. Is this Obi-Wan someone we want to spend 60 minutes alongside? No. In fact, it's just frustrating and disappointing seeing a once great hero reduced to this.
The point is that just because something is dramatic, or funny, or novel, or it makes the story work, doesn't mean that it creates a satisfying experience for the audience. Truly great films are highly selective about the people, places, problems and actions they share with us. In short, great films have great taste.
Unsatisfying films are too concerned with looking and sounding like films. They're not thinking about the audience.