Jan 20, 2014
07:07 AM
Arts & Entertainment

New York Times Chief Film Critic A.O. Scott Brings His "Picks" to Fairfield University Jan. 27

New York Times Chief Film Critic A.O. Scott Brings His "Picks" to Fairfield University Jan. 27

New York Times chief film critic A.O. Scott, 47—his friends call him Tony — holds a B.A. in literature from Harvard, is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and is the grand-nephew of actor Eli Wallach. He’ll be discussing his “Critic’s Picks” at Fairfield University’s Quick Center for the Arts Jan. 27, as a guest of the Open VISIONS Forum. Check here for more information.

There are all kinds of arts criticism. What makes film criticism stand out? It’s very populist. What I love about it is that everyone is interested in movies; the average person has very strong opinions about them. I think that’s where film criticism starts, given that going to the movies is something everyone does. At the same time, film is very complex and diverse; there are all kinds of movies out there. It’s not just one art form, either: It involves acting, visuals and narrative. You have to figure out how to address that protean, complicated character in your critique.

What distinguishes you as a critic? I have a bias toward humanism. I like stories that engage, in some way, with the reality of human experience, that illuminate something about life. That doesn’t mean that a movie always has to be realistic — fantasies are part of this, too. But for me, a movie has to have some kind of human core, and my writing involves looking for and trying to think about that quality. 

What was the first movie you remember seeing? Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory [1971] was the first movie I saw on-screen. I really liked it, but it kind of freaked me out. I was a very sensitive child; I was terrified watching The Wizard of Oz on TV. My memory of Willy Wonka is that it was wildly entertaining and a little bit scary —there’s a kind of anarchy to it. And the way Gene Wilder played the lead was as an intriguing and attractive, but also kind of frightening, host in the world of the chocolate factory, where terrible things happened to all those terrible children.

Do you have a favorite movie?  Fellini’s La Dolce Vita [1960] is high on the list of movies I never tire of watching. I first saw it at a revival house when I was in college, and I was just so taken with the atmosphere and the sort of cynical worldly intellectual mood — which was something I was enchanted with anyway, at that age. As a picture of a society and way of life in a state of decay and disillusion, it’s very compelling. Marcello Mastroianni is my ideal of cool in that movie — and he plays a journalist. I have a weakness for Italian movies.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure — a movie you know isn’t great, but you love it anyway? {Laughs] I don’t know — when I really like a movie, I tend to decide that it’s good. I think that’s part of the arrogance of being a critic. I do have a soft spot for some of the lesser “Saturday Night Live” cast movies, like all of the movies with Chris Farley and David Spade. Anything Chris Farley does in a movie, like Tommy Boy — though he always did the same thing, being sad, dumb and out of control — I find hilarious. There’s something about obnoxious male immaturity that’s appealing to me.

What would you say were the best movies of 2013? As we speak, there are still a couple I haven’t gotten to see, like American Hustle — which I’m very much looking forward to — and The Wolf of Wall Street. But I think it was a terrific year. I really like All Is Lost, Inside Llewyn Davis, Blue is the Warmest Color, and 12 Years a Slave. Thinking back to earlier in 2013, I liked Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, and a movie I actually saw in 2012 at the Telluride Film Festival, but it opened in theaters last June: Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell. It’s really stuck with me.

It seems that last year in particular, the kind of themes and style of execution we’ve long seen in independent films had finally begun to percolate into mainstream movies.
I was very encouraged to see that in films like Gravity and the new Spike Jonze movie Her, movies that came from the big studios. The real challenge for these ambitious, independent-minded, interesting movies is that they have to compete in a very crowded marketplace and have a very narrow window of opportunity, maybe a couple of weeks. That concerns me — that these wonderful movies will keep coming out, but the audience that might embrace them won’t have a chance to see them.

New York Times Chief Film Critic A.O. Scott Brings His "Picks" to Fairfield University Jan. 27

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