What was your first meaningful moviegoing experience?

My first memory of going to a movie has stayed with me not entirely because of what I saw on the screen: My father took me to see Pinocchio, and when we stepped out of the theater, a snowstorm was in full swing. It was my first experience of how strange the “real” world could feel after a couple of hours under the spell of the big screen. Family outings to the extra-big screens in Manhattan — Radio City, the Rivoli — taught me that seeing a movie could be an event. Seeing A Hard Day’s Night with summer-camp friends taught me that older girls could scream for the entire running time of a film.
Later, under the category of tween-momentous moviegoing, my best friend and I saw Gone With the Wind, a two-afternoon commitment. For those hours we were at Tara as much as we were at the Trylon on Queens Boulevard. Around the same time, the first film to unsettle and thrill me with its darkness was They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?


What movie would you have liked to review had you been a critic upon its initial release?

Bresson’s Pickpocket and Au hasard Balthazar; Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. They’re bold, exciting and challenging on every level; there’s little fun in writing about movies that are transparently formulaic.


What movie are you embarrassed to admit you love?

When it comes to movie love, there should be no embarrassment or shame. Except for the embarrassment I feel for those who disagree with me.


Name a film you think everybody should see.

I’ll cheat and name two — one of which is really 10 films ­— Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain and The Decalogue, Kieslowski’s exquisite take on the Ten Commandments. One will make you want to dance down the street, and the other is set in Poland.


What’s the most common question you’re asked when someone discovers you’re a film critic?

“Do you see a lot of movies?”


Is there a genre or era you have a particular affinity for?

I love 1970s films for their unconventional characters and anti-authoritarian viewpoints, and 1930s films for their elegant deco surfaces and subversive Depression-era glimmers.


Do you like to discuss a movie with other critics immediately after a screening or before writing a review?

I prefer to wait a few days before talking about a film, to let my reactions settle and incubate — unless it’s something ridiculously bad, in which case I might be eager to commiserate and trade quips.


What other film critics, past or present, do you admire?
Manny Farber — for his fresh, often contrarian, perspective.


Is there a classic film you’re embarrassed to admit you’ve never seen?
I’m always working on the back catalogue as well as the new releases.


If I weren’t a film critic, I’d be a…

Marine biologist (not really, but every questionnaire needs a Seinfeld reference).

To the public at large, what purpose does a professional film critic serve?

Ideally, the critic is well versed in the literature of film, passionate about its possibilities, and creates a thoughtful and engaging response to a filmmaker’s work. The writing is not about getting people into theaters or keeping them away; it’s about inspiring filmgoers to explore their own responses and expectations.


What’s the best part of being a film critic and the worst part of being a film critic?

Best parts: the chance to immerse yourself in the creative work of filmmakers, experienced and emerging; the chance to participate in film festivals, sometimes as a jury member; the chance to be a part of a community of intellectuals and artists. Worst parts: driving across the city in rush hour to review a film that turns out to be a DVD projection of a poorly shot, pretentious indie; having to sit through insipid and cynical studio movies.


What would you say to the old saw that critics are frustrated artists, punishing those who do for doing?

It might be true that some critics are frustrated artists; it’s also true that some are practicing artists. Either way, the commitment of time and energy to the work of filmmakers is not about punishment; it’s about optimism.


Are movies better because of film critics?

Some critics have become extraordinary filmmakers, but in general there’s no cause-and-effect connection. Film criticism does have the potential, though, to enrich the conversation around movies — to make it livelier, deeper and more dynamic.


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