A coming-of-age drama, a horror movie, and a "hero's journey" film, all rolled into one.
Q. Of all the films we saw last year, my favorite was "The Postman," from Italy. Now I heard something about how it isn't eligible for the Academy Award as best foreign film. Surely this is a major miscarriage of justice? (Susan Lake, Urbana)
A. Foreign film nominations are made by each individual country, and the Italian committee passed over "The Postman" because its director--Michael Radford--is British. This despite the fact that one of the guiding spirits behind the film was an Italian, Massimo Troisi, who co-wrote the script and starred as the postman. Troisi delayed heart surgery to complete the film, and died the day after shooting was finished. There's a campaign underway to win "The Postman" nominations in other categories, according to Harvey Weinstein, president of Miramax. "It's eligible in every category except foreign film," he told me.
Q. Michael Medved said on Rush Limbaugh this morning that when Siskel & Ebert put "Nixon" and "The American President" on your top ten lists you were reviewing the films as "self conscious political liberals." Should we care what a critic's political views are? Or only if the reviewer liked the movie and would recommend it to others? (Thomas Heald, Rapid City, S.D.)
A. I hope Medved remembered to note that he was criticizing our lists as a "self-conscious political conservative" who consistently places his own politics above other considerations in reviewing any movie--to such a degree that he seems to give negative reviews to good movies that do not meet his political criteria. He did not study my list very carefully, since "The American President" was not on it, but never mind: I did give the movie a four-star rating, noting that it was a warm and funny romance, while noting twice in my review that it was made from a liberal perspective. There is nothing wrong with a critic having political views--indeed, it is impossible to imagine an intelligent person without them--but the views should not blind him to good filmmaking.
Q. I was just watching the David Brinkley show on "Nixon." I'm a literary critic, not a film critic, but I have to say, whether it's a film or a book or a play, it would be impossible for any artist to produce a quality piece of work without some degree of empathy for the subject. One thing that particularly annoyed me about the Brinkley show was the commentary of Nixon's biographer. He seemed to believe that any filmmaker who addresses an historical subject should be compelled to make a documentary. "Nixon" is not a documentary. It is film drama based on the life of an influential political figure. Similarly, Shakespeare's history plays were not meant to be read as actual representations of the events that inspired them. I'm not sure why so many people believe Stone should be an historian first and a filmmaker second. This is the same sort of mindset that got Welles into so much trouble with "Citizen Kane." Thankfully it did not prevent him from making the greatest film of all time, and it's certainly not cramping Stone's style. (Don A. Renicky, Durham, N.C.)
A. Agreed. "Nixon," like any movie biography (from "Patton" to "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), is a work of the imagination, an attempt by an artist to understand his subject. I am particularly impatient with Stone's critics who say, "But what about all the people who will believe this is the truth?" My answer is: If they're that impressionable, they (a) probably won't be interested in the movie in the first place, and (b) they must bear responsibility for informing themselves. "Nixon" is a psychological and artistic opinion in a work of fiction, and any adult should be sophisticated enough to view and evaluate it on that basis. That is what an education is for.
Q. Know what really bugs me this time of year? When studios headline their newspaper ads with "WINNER!" in very large type, followed by, in smaller type: "3 Golden Globe Nominations!" Like we're too stupid to figure out that the film has not, in fact, actually "won" anything, but has only been *nominated* for a silly award that no one takes seriously in the first place. (Ed Slota, Warwick, R.I.)
A. How about this as a suggestion: "GOT!!!! 3 Golden Globe Nominations!!!"
Q. I noticed an apparent discrepancy between your print and TV reviews of "Sudden Death." This is the first time I've ever seen you give "thumbs up" to a film that received fewer than 3 stars in your print review. (Jeffrey Graebner, Columbus, Ohio)
A. I don't know which rating was mistaken, as both make perfect sense to me. It was not a great movie, and yet I would recommend it to fans of the action-special effects genre.
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