Every story ever told can be broken down into three parts. The beginning. The middle. And the twist.
At least that’s what my nephew would tell you since that’s his favorite line from the Goosebumps movie. However, with all due respect to Jack Black’s version of R.L. Stine, it’s a little more complicated than that. In some stories, the ending is the beginning. In others, the middle is the beginning. And in yet others, the twist is an ever-present concept, perpetually reminding us of our utter powerlessness in the face of uncaring fate.
Yeah, but my nephew just really likes the way Jack Black says, “The twist!” in that oh-so-typical Jack Black way.
Not surprisingly, Goosebumps does not show up on this new video essay from CineFix, “10 Best Structured Movies of All Time” (that came off as more of a slam on Goosebumps than I intended). However, if you have 16 minutes to spare this makes for an interesting watch, a mostly welcomed (and sometimes insufferably unwelcomed) reminder of so many old college film classes and textbooks. The goal of the essay seems to be less about truly ranking the all time 10 best structured movies and more about explaining 10 different styles of cinematic storytelling and then nominating an exemplary example for each of those styles (e.g., Die Hard for traditional three act atructure, Citizen Kane for flashback narrative, Godfather 2 for the multiple timeline narrative).
If you’re like me, you’re already aware of all the story structures they identify, but usually think of them in terms of their most famous example, greeting each new case with a knowing, “Oh, so they’re doing a Rashomon thing” for repeated narratives from differing points of view or “It’s their version of Before Sunset” for a single uninterrupted stream. It’s similar to how Usual Suspects can be your touchstone for any film featuring an unreliable narrator.
The fun part of the video, though, is watching them analyze these different structures in specific detail. Obviously, you can always quibbling with their choices, although, if we’re being honest here, I’ve only seen half of the films they picked. At the very least, for some this essay might heighten your awareness of what constitutes good structure and contribute to a better appreciation for the craft of filmmaking. Then maybe you can think back on the many, many ways in which Suicide Squad breaks all the rules of good story structure.
Their choices again are (via Gizmodo):
- The Mirror (oneiric)
- The Sweet Hereafter (nonlinear)
- Before the Rain (circular narrative)
- Rashomon (repetition)
- Irreversible (backwards)
- Citizen Kane (ending first)
- Ajami (hyperlink cinema)
- Godfather II (multiple timeline)
- High Noon (single uninterrupted stream)
- Die Hard (three act)