What's the boundary line between a film actually being good and only being good because it reminds you of some fond personal memory; some state of mind that makes you feel better, if only for a moment? Is there even a boundary? Does it all blur with that string of images anyway?
For me, what the spectator brings to it and makes of the connection is just as integral in making a film good or bad. I was having a conversation about Lost in Translation (2003), and I said that I liked it when I saw it in theaters, which was only once. The ending was great, and it struck a chord, even if I couldn't verbalize, or even really analyze why then. This person whom I was talking to thought that the film was just a celebration of incredibly shallow people. I thought that there was some merit to that statement in that the acting was not the reason why I liked he film. I could only sputter that I really enjoyed the photography and the whole premise of the film. I suppose the thought of traveling to a country far from my own, meeting a random face, spending time with that face, and then to leave without any expectation of meeting that face ever again has always felt like something that would excite me and make me feel sad all at once, which is what a great film can do too (me being terribly cinematic in my head again). But it got me thinking, "Was the film actually bad? Where does opinion start and end, or is that just another circle? Was the film itself shallow? What does that say about my gut-instinct/inclinations?"
I'm not sure that there are proper answers for any of those questions. What I might have said to that person is, "I think you have a valid point; the acting left a little to be wanting. You should trust your gut instinct on it. However, we are all exposed to a lot of disposable culture, and it's easy to write off things at face value, or shallowness. For me, I responded to the theme of being "lost in translation" in a culturally-bankrupt world, unable to communicate with kindred spirits. I have always had trouble with this; it might be my greatest flaw. I was 18, and the insecurities that I have were extremely exacerbated at that time in my life. Seeing something like that on screen left an impression on me because it had to; it's the way I am. I am not a fan of any of her other films, but I will stick by my statement that this is worth watching more than once, and worth taking five minutes to actually think about."
So in the end, is it all relative? Probably is about the best thing I can say.