Masterpieces. What exactly are they? Do they have a concrete definition or like many other aspects of film, is the definition of a masterpiece completely subjective?

So, what exactly constitutes a film as a masterpiece verses one that does? First of all, I write articles on this blog that are based in opinion and how I feel about certain films. Therefore, the definition and criteria I give for calling a certain film a masterpiece will be completely my own. That means that yes, it will be completely subjective. Maybe you disagree with my opinion or maybe you have your own definition on what masterpieces are. In that case, that’s completely fine but below will be my personal opinion and my personal criteria on why I call certain films masterpieces and other films not.

What Makes a Film a Masterpiece…

I have 4 basic criteria for what I think makes a film a masterpiece as opposed to just a great movie and they are:

1) The film in question must not leave my head immediately after seeing it. It must stick with me afterward and must be so memorable that I can’t stop thinking about it for days, weeks, months and even years.

2) The film in question should make me feel jealous that I didn’t write it and must make me green with envy for the filmmakers who did.

3) A masterpiece should be a film that sums up why I love and appreciate the art of filmmaking so much. It must remind me why I suffer through so many terrible and mediocre movies each year. The answer is so I can watch masterpieces that help me understand exactly how powerful the medium film is on my life.

4) A masterpiece should excel beyond the quality of a typical movie in all or several of its components, including its direction, acting, screenplay and score.

Overall, a masterpiece should make me feel excitement, amazement and envy. Masterpieces should inspire me to write more screenplays and get better at my craft. It should be a film that has a deep impact on me and also one that is memorable. This ultimately means that a masterpiece can’t be every film I see or even many film that I seen each year. In fact, many films I see, I don’t admire, they don’t inspire and I hardly think of most of them afterward.

The Difference Between a Great Movie and a Masterpiece…

Let’s face it, great movies are great movies but masterpieces are masterpieces. The following section might be considered controversial to some but I’m going to start listing movies that I consider my top 10 favourite masterpieces of all time. To note, some of these films are not necessarily on my top 30 list of my favourite films of all time. Being my favourite is not necessarily a qualification for being a masterpiece and vice versa.

My 10 Favourite Masterpieces, in alphabetical order:
1) Alien
2) Children of Men
3) Double Indemnity
4) Heat
5) Insomnia
6) Paris, Texas
7) Platoon
8) The Godfather
9) The Master
10) The Shining

5 Honourable Mentions that I’ve mention on this blog:
1) Inherent Vice
2) Looper
3) Repo Man
4) The Dead Zone
5) The Place Beyond the Pines

Each of these films hit all 4 of my personal criteria for what I consider a masterpiece. In some cases, like Platoon and Looper, I’ve thought about those films every single day since I saw them for the first time. In other cases, a revisit might have made me understand that the film in question was actually a masterpiece but in all the above examples, each film was unforgettable and masterful in their unique own way.

I’d love to know what films you consider masterpieces and what filmmakers you think are masters at their craft. For me, Stanley Kubrick was the greatest filmmaker who ever lived and the camerawork alone in films like The Shining and 2001: A Space Odyssey is nothing short of a master’s work. It goes without saying but he also made several masterpieces during his long career.