1) Favorite unsung holiday film?
Eric Weston's 1983 film Marvin and Tige, with John Cassavetes as a borderline alcoholic who takes in an orphaned kid (Gibran Brown). Not necessarily a Christmas movie per se, but with many key holiday scenes, and with a generous spirit of love and compassion throughout. It'll make ya cry, as my mom would say. Unfortunately unavailable on digital despite it being one of Cassavetes' last (and greatest) roles, performing alongside a talented newcomer who never did another feature, in an indie of the sort that Cassavetes pioneered. An extraordinarily graceful, gritty picture that deserves to be seen by all.
2) Name a movie you were surprised to have liked/loved.
I attended the wonderful Massachusetts Independent Film Festival this year, as Jury President, and one of the films they featured as a midnight offering was Rob Zombie's The Lords of Salem. I'd never gotten through The Devil’s Rejects or his Halloween remake, because that kind of screen cruelty is just not my bag. But I was shocked to find that The Lords of Salem is easily the most visually arresting horror film of recent memory. Inventively cast, brilliantly designed and photographed, and scored with Zombie's usual collection of smartly-chosen source music (I’ll never hear The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” the same way again), Zombie's film had me sitting forward, gripping the back of the empty seat in front of me with terror and astonishment (though it's also not a film without a sense of humor). Make wisecracks--I was totally surprised myself--but The Lords of Salem is definitely scary, and immaculately made.
3) Ned Sparks or Edward Everett Horton?
Horton, if only for the Rocky and Bullwinkle stuff. But with Here Comes Mr. Jordan, I Married an Angel, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Front Page, Holiday, Design for Living, Trouble in Paradise, Lost Horizon and Thank Your Lucky Stars, I'm pretty sure he's in the Character Actors Hall of Fame. Still so many more of his movies I need to see. Ned Sparks barely registers for me (he doesn't even have a photo on IMDB, though he was in some landmark movies like Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley's 42nd Street, John Stahls 1934 version of Imitation of Life, and Capra's Lady for a Day). By the way, Horton has come up as a subject on more than one of these questionnaires. I voted for Horton in the past, too. But what's with the E.E. Horton obsession?
4) Sam Peckinpah's Convoy-- yes or no?
Yes, with a case of beer and a few friends around. Otherwise, no. As a film, it's a time-waster (unless you're a Peckinpah nut). The C.W. McCall song--a Billboard #1 hit--is quite enough. If it's trucks and fighting you wanna see, try out Jonathan Kaplan's White Line Fever. A much better movie.
5) What contemporary actor would best fit into a popular, established genre of the past?
I'd love to see a traditional WWII picture--like something Robert Aldrich or William Wellman might've crafted--with Jon Hamm as an American officer struggling on the battlefield, and Michael Fassbender as a canny Nazi honcho trying to outsmart him. It'd be extra amazing if the Nazi wins.
6) Favorite non-disaster movie in which bad weather is a memorable element of the film’s atmosphere
Sam Raimi's snowy A Simple Plan.
7) Second favorite Luchino Visconti movie?
Rocco and His Brothers.
8) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD/Blu-ray?
I just spent a day watching Out of the Furnace, Frozen, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (it was a fire-and-ice themed day, I later realized; I was underwhelmed by the first two, and entertained well enough by the finale). On VHS, On disc, barring the last season of The Wire, it was Andrew Dominik's always remarkable The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. On Blu-Ray, it'd be Polanski's exquisite Rosemary's Baby.
9) Why do you react the way you do when someone eloquently or not-so-eloquently attacks one of your favorite movies? (Question courtesy of Patrick Robbins)
I sometimes react like a mother tiger defending her cubs. I feel a special bond to some movies, as if they were MINE, as if I MADE them, and I'll scrap for them to the death. It's just something instinctual. That said, I do find myself more able these days to step away from a movie debate, especially online, where I find I'm overwhelmed with ant-like dunderheads with whom I have no desire to debate.
10) Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell?
Joan Blondell, for sure. She was always hilarious to me! (Glenda Farrell is an actress I need to become more familiar with; I'd like to see some Torchy Blaine movies now).
11) Movie star of any era you’d most like to take camping.
My current favorite actor, Greta Gerwig (here's my Movie Geeks United talk with her) would probably be able to catch a fish or start a fire, and she'd just be all-around game for the experience. She'd be extremely pretty and goofy and smart, and wonderful to be around.
12) Second favorite George Cukor movie?
Dinner at Eight
13) Your top 10 of 2013 (feel free to elaborate!)
I'll save any elaborations for my year-end article. As it stands right now (and it's bound to change, since I haven't seen many of the Christmas releases):
1) Steve McQueen's 12 YEARS A SLAVE
2) Abdellatif Ketchiche's BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
3) Andrew Bujalski's COMPUTER CHESS
4) Yasim Ustaoglu's ARAF / SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN (brilliant Turkish film I saw at 2012 NYFF but only released here on digital this year)
5) Kleber Mendonca Filho's NEIGHBORING SOUNDS (from Brazil, released in the US in 2013)
6) Alfonso Cuaron's GRAVITY
7) Noah Baumbach's FRANCES HA
8) Pablo Larrain's NO (from Chile, released in the US in 2013)
9) Sebastian Lilio's GLORIA (also from Chile, with Pablo Larrain as producer)
10) Hannah Fidell's A TEACHER
14) Name a movie you loved (or hated) upon first viewing, to which you eventually returned and had more or less the opposite reaction.
This happened to me first 30 years ago exactly, when De Palma's Scarface arrived. I was there opening day, and was absolutely thrilled by it. Next week, I returned for a second helping, and realized it was the stinkiest of stink bombs. I was forced to reconcile these two reactions, and finally surmised that, first time around, I'd been caught up with the spectacle of Al Pacino (who cannot be denied). Just now, I'm recalling a similar about-face on Burton's Batman. As for the movies I did not like, and then came around to loving...there are too many to mention.
15) Movie most in need of a deluxe Blu-ray makeover.
Abel Gance's Napoleon. It's an abject crime this isn't available for all to see. Also, I'd posit that Joan Micklin Silver's Chilly Scenes of Winter is the most recent movie (1981) I'd request as a Criterion release (replete with the alternate scenes from its first version, 1979's Head Over Heels, and a comprehensive dissection of its complex structure and history).
16) Alain Delon or Marcello Mastroianni?
Mastroianni, in a walk. I never got the appeal of Delon, I confess.
17) Your favorite opening sequence (provide link to clip if possible).
I can't decide between the majestic opening to Terrence Malick's The New World (set to Wagner's "Vorspiel," or the audition at the beginning of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz (set to George Benson's "On Broadway"), so it's a tie.18 other worthy possibilities: Persona, Touch of Evil, Manhattan, Stop Making Sense, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Music Man, O Lucky Man!, Once Upon a Time in the West, Apocalypse Now, Seven Beauties, West Side Story, Blue Velvet, The Exorcist, The Wild Bunch, 8 1/2, Electra Glide in Blue, Fail Safe, and The Social Network.
18) Director with the strongest run of great movies
Kubrick is the too-obvious answer. I'd instead go with Mike Leigh, who bests Kubrick by not having made even a middling feature (or short, or TV production) in a 40+ year career. It's apparently impossible for Mike Leigh to contribute anything but superlative, invaluable work.
19) Is elitism a good/bad/necessary/inevitable aspect of being a cineaste?
The more movies you see, and the more you switch up the TYPES of movies you see (varying the genres, budgets, countries of origin and time periods)...well, it's follows that your tastes are going to become sharper, more particular, more nuanced. It's inevitable--if you're a thinker (that's the elitist in me coming out). The reason critics often have what's viewed by the public as "snobby" tastes is simply that they see more films than the average dude. Rather than the 1000th superhero or combat movie, you give critics something completely unique like Playtime, Salesman, The Tree of Life, or Persona, they feel connected again with the energy that made them love seeing, and commenting about, movies in the first place. Depending on the critic, the branching off from popular taste is an occupational hazard.
20) Second favorite Tony Scott film
I guess it'd be The Hunger. Not a director I care for, though I know he has his defenders.
21) Favorite movie made before you were born that you only discovered this year. Where and how did you discover it?
Definitely Vincente Minnelli's 1958 movie Some Came Running. After years of procrastination, I finally caught it streaming online, and was enraptured by its rich Cinemascope look, fiery emotions and iconic performances (Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine and especially Dean Martin have rarely been better than they are here, and man, I'd love to see this one on the big screen). Other pre-1966 movies I discovered I adore this year: Jubal (Delmer Daves, 56); Warlock (Edward Dymytryk, 59); I Saw What You Did! (William Castle, 65); The Big Country (William Wyler, 58); Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (Fritz Lang, 56); The Yangtze Incident (Michael Anderson, 57); Man Hunt (Fritz Lang, 41); You Only Live Once (Fritz Lang, 37); Sanjuro (Akira Kurosawa, 62); Mr. Sardonicus (William Castle, 61); Pickup (Hugo Haas, 51); and Fourteen Hours (Henry Hathaway, 51) (Buzz Kulik's 1967 film Warning Shot should be included here, too, since I was only 4 months old when it was released). Also I reconnected with a few movies I hadn't seen in a REALLY long time: It Happens Every Spring (Lloyd Bacon, 49); Rhubarb (Arthur Lubin, 51--two Ray Milland baseball comedies!); Harakiri (Masaki Kobayashi, 62); Midnight Lace (David Miller, 60--the single best Hitchcock imitation ever); and The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold, 57--deeper, more melancholy and technically adept than I remembered it being).
22) Actor/actress you would most want to see in a Santa suit, traditional or skimpy?
Like, 60s-era Andy Devine, for a traditional Santa (just hearing him say "Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas" in that voice of his would crack me up). For the skimpy Santa suit, Scarlett Johansson. Sorry but...youch!
23) Video store or streaming?
Nothing matches the challenge and excitement of going to the video store and finding things you were thrilled about seeing, or never knew existed. The streaming is nice and convenient, but the social experience of attending a top indie video outlet, and talking to fellow customers along with the hopefully knowledgeable staff, is (was) unlike anything in the film-watching pursuit. I greatly miss visiting, and working at, video stores; the best of them provided a sense that the possibilities in film watching are literally endless.
24) Best/favorite final film by a noted director or screenwriter
John Huston's The Dead. Utterly exquisite and THE perfect final film. (Great for Christmas...or maybe not...). I would also vote for Robert Altman's 2006 film A Prairie Home Companion as a near-flawless swansong.
25) Monica Vitti or Anna Karina?
Anna Karina is more fun to watch. Vitti's just too chilly for my taste.
26) Name a worthy movie indulgence you’ve had to most strenuously talk friends into experiencing with you. What was the result?
I always like to treat my friends to my favorite unsung movie, George Roy Hill's A Little Romance. It often takes some doing, since they see it as a kid's film, and an old one at that (plus Hill isn't held in the highest regard by film buffs, I suppose). But I usually wear them down, and by the end sequence, they're inevitably wiping away tears while I'm over in the corner, swabbing my face and blubbering like a child. Really, it never fails...
27) The movie made by your favorite filmmaker (writer, director, et al) that you either have yet to see or are least familiar with among all the rest
Kubrick's Fear and Desire. Only seen it once, and have been meaning to go back and rewatch it. All the others I've seen so many times, I have them committed to memory (though I suppose I could use another brush-up on Killer's Kiss, which is the only Kubrick movie I do not care for). As for a favorite filmmaker whose works I haven't seen in full, I hafta admit there are still a gaggle of 50s/60s/70s Sidney Lumet movies I'd like to catch, but which're unavailable (at least to me): Stage Struck, The Group, Bye Bye Braverman, Child's Play, Lovin' Molly, The Sea Gull, The Appointment, The Deadly Affair, The Last of the Mobile Hot Shots. I'm fully expecting to be let down by some of these titles (Lumet certainly wasn't infallible), but there just HAS to be a gem or two amongst 'em.
28) Favorite horror movie that is either Christmas-oriented or has some element relating to the winter holiday season in it.
Bob Clark's Black Christmas. Has to be! It's the king Christmas horror movie of all time!
29) Name a prop or other piece of movie memorabilia you’d most like to find with your name on it under the Christmas tree.
That painting Catherine Scorsese shows off to De Niro, Liotta and Pesci in GoodFellas ("One dog goes one way and the other goes the other, and this guy's saying 'Whaddaya want from me?'"). This, or an authentic, talking, sentient HAL 9000 (this is impossible...or IS it?). I also wouldn't sneeze at that red neon sign outside of Ben's place in Blue Velvet: THIS IS IT. I've contemplated having some artisan replicate that sign for me. I also love that mirror hanging in Joe Gideon's apartment in Fosse's All That Jazz--the one that says OH WOW. Dang, that would be amazing to have. Oh, I could go on and on...
30) Best holiday gift the movies could give to you to carry into 2014?
A Scorsese/DiCaprio team-up that doesn't leave me cold (though I like The Departed and The Aviator well enough, I guess). Here's hoping it happens!! But I ain't bettin' the farm on it.