This post is collating some thoughts I had over on Rob's article earlier today, but also things I have discussed many times here on other forums. I am writing them here partly to start some discussion and partly so I have a clear, concise statement of these things to give me something to reference in future.
We go to the movies for a lot of different reasons. We go to be amazed and awed, we go to learn and discover, we go to cry and laugh. But all these things have something important in common: We go to experience. Every time we enter a movie theater, we are hoping for the same thing: That the movie takes us out of our lives and into some new, different, powerful place. That place could be the life of a struggling musician, or the furthest reaches of the galaxy, but we want to feel like we're there, we want to come out of the movie having truly experienced those things, having been transformed by them.
Contrary to what video game companies would have you believe, this feeling doesn't come from better graphics, nor does it come from having the movie projected in 3D or in stereoscopic sound. It comes from something much simpler and much more difficult. It comes from emotional connection, from empathizing with the characters and their situation, feeling their victories, their losses.
Viewed in this light, the emotional journey of your characters is paramount. Regardless of whether you're making Die Hard or Tree Of Life, the most important thing in your movie is that your characters feel real, their emotional stories and decisions ringing true.
What this means, simply and crudely is that "plot holes" don't really matter. Now, when I say this, I don't mean movie-breaking holes in the film's internal logic. Without rules, there can be no stakes, without stakes, there is no emotional connection. For example, a sudden, previously unmentioned solution to a problem presented as unsolvable robs your story of its momentum, undermines any peril your characters were in, and pulls you out of the movie. Holes of this nature can clearly be a problem.
But if you look through the plethora of "A things wrong with B movie" and "Z errors in the films of 201X" lists that litter the internet, most so-called plot holes are more of the nature "How did Steve get to Wyoming so quickly?" and "How did James know that Sarah would be there at 4pm exactly?" Hardly internal-logic-defying leaps. Simple "problems" with simple solutions. For the most part, a single line of dialogue or throwaway shot would solve these problems. So, I hear you all cry, why do they not think to put such a simple fix in there. Well, you hear me answer, because they know that it doesn't matter!
Adding in that line of dialogue or throwaway shot won't make you feel any more connected to the character, won't help you see some nuance of the situation, won't deepen your emotional connection to the themes. At best it would be dead air, at its worst it would actually take you out of the movie while you wondered why they even mentioned it.
Critiquing movies this way misunderstands why we go to the cinema, and hence misunderstands what makes a great movie great, and what makes a bad movie bad. It encourages a form of criticism that ranges from encouraging nitpicking to actively encouraging a by-the-numbers, logical style of moviemaking which urges robbing cinema of its magic, majesty and power.