Editor's note: To give you a chance to get to know our writers better, we've asked them to respond to some questions. Here's Roxana Hadadi. Read her work here.
1. Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in Silver Spring, MD, which is a suburb outside Washington, D.C. My parents are immigrants from Iran and my childhood was shaped by that cultural identity, and by what my parents prioritized for us: strong educations, a lot of reading, and a lot of current-affairs awareness. My dad took us to the library every Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to noon, where we could check out whatever books we wanted; we didn’t have “age limits” for our reading. My brother and I each got a few dollars to spend at the used bookstore in the library basement, which is where I got really into John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other modern American writers; I eventually got a master’s degree in American literature. My parents both loved movies and we watched a lot of movies on TV, as well as nightly news, “60 Minutes” on Sundays, and “Jeopardy!” each weeknight. I spent summers in my dad’s laboratory at the Catholic University of America, where he was a chemist, and we explored D.C. museums together. My mom grew up near the water in Iran, so summer trips to the beach on the Eastern Shore of Maryland were pretty common. I can look back as an adult and realize that it was a fairly solid childhood, even if I felt stifled when I was in it.
2. Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?
My parents are both pretty into movies, and used to go to the cinema in Iran before they moved to the U.S. They were both into the classics: a lot of David Lean, a lot of Audrey Hepburn, a lot of Cary Grant, a lot of Gregory Peck. “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Doctor Zhivago,” “Giant,” “A Place in the Sun,” and “The Sound of Music” were major parts of my childhood, and are still some of my favorite movies. My parents also loved “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II,” and those were always our holiday viewing (I nickname this tradition “Kung Pao and Corleones”). They didn’t really watch a lot of contemporary American movies, but my dad had your typical dad favorites, and we watched those together a lot: “Forrest Gump,” “The Shawshank Redemption.” My mom got more into documentaries later in life. And in general, they watch Iranian movies whenever they can get their hands on them, so we’ve watched a fair amount of Asghar Farhadi and Abbas Kiarostami movies together.
3. What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?
I’m not sure I can remember the first movie I ever saw, but I have a few pretty formative childhood movie moments. I remember we saw “Mrs. Doubtfire” in the theater, and the idea of Robin Williams not seeing his kids again made me cry so much that my dad had to take me out of the theater. I remember watching the animated “Cinderella” a lot with my Iranian grandmother, who loved it, but my favorite animated Disney movies were probably “Robin Hood” and “Peter Pan”; Peter Pan was my imaginary friend. And I really loved “Hook,” so much so that one weekend while my aunt was babysitting I took advantage of her letting me do whatever I wanted, and watched and rewound the movie so many times in a row that I broke my parents’ VCR. Whoops!
4. What's the first movie that made you think, "Hey, some people made this. It didn't just exist. There's a human personality behind it."
Oh man! I’m not sure I can pinpoint the first time this happened. But it was probably as a teenager that I got more into movies as a form, and thinking about who made them, and that was really because Saturday afternoons was when I caught a lot of movies on rerun on channels like UPN or The WB. My parents and I usually rented movies as a family from a local store called Video 95, but usually on Saturday afternoons my mom was working or my dad was doing chores and I was left alone. And that’s when I saw movies like “Pump Up the Volume” and “The Crow,” which are some of my absolute favorites, and I started thinking about who made them. This is probably morbid, but reading about Brandon Lee’s death was a major moment in me realizing how movie productions worked and how tragically they could go wrong.
5. What's the first movie you ever walked out of?
I don’t think I’ve actually walked out of a movie while I was watching it. I wish I had walked out of “Buried,” but didn’t.
6. What's the funniest film you've ever seen?
I think a lot of Robin Williams’ movies in the early ‘90s just latched themselves onto my brain because I was watching them at such a formative time, and I think the answer has to be “The Birdcage”? Or more recently, “The Other Guys,” because Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell are so perfectly dumb together and that movie has a real undercurrent of anger that I can appreciate.
7. What's the saddest film you've ever seen?
This is an impossible question because I love sad movies and they are all my favorite! But I probably cried the most during “A Separation” and “A Time for Drunken Horses,” which really wrecked me, or “The Place Beyond the Pines” or “Blue Valentine.” Derek Cianfrance keeps stabbing me in the heart, and I hate and love him for it.
8. What's the scariest film you've ever seen?
The dumpster scene in “Mulholland Drive,” no question, or basically anything else David Lynch has done, because that man has a direct line to my nightmares.
9. What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?
Teenage me says Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet.” Adult me says that moment in “The Last of the Mohicans” when Daniel Day-Lewis’s Hawkeye is all bold about looking at Madeleine Stowe’s Cora, and she gazes back at him. That is the good stuff!
10. What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment?
Aging myself here by saying “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” which I started watching way too young (fourth grade, when it was airing) and which really hit me when it started getting to the Angelus stuff. It was right around when I started getting interested in boys, and watching all that “romance as trauma” stuff probably was not great for my psyche! But I remember “Buffy” made me think about what it was like to be a girl, and all the cultural baggage that entailed. I was a tomboy who was angry about a lot of stuff that I couldn’t quite articulate yet, and Buffy’s resilience and perseverance spoke to me on some deeper level that I didn’t exactly understand but that I still craved. I never missed an episode during its entire run.
11. What book do you think about or revisit the most?
Either “The Great Gatsby” or “The Namesake,” both for their understanding of the artifice of the American dream. Also, “The Hot Zone,” which was my first real nonfiction book and which I just think is an amazing piece of reporting and narrative writing.
12. What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?
Throughout my entire life, probably either the rapper M.I.A. or the rock band Murder by Death. Most recently, the singer-songwriter Jason Molina, who was incredibly prolific during his short life under his own name, and under the names Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. He died at 39 years old from multiple organ failure caused by alcoholism and addiction, and his really beautifully aching, plaintive, resentful songs about confronting your demons have hit particularly hard in the past year.
13. Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?
The aforementioned “Blue Valentine,” the ending of which just ruins me—the idea that the love you once shared with someone can just curdle and die. A lot of movies about wars in the Middle East or about brown trauma, which just hit too close to home and which make me angry because so little seems to have changed as a result—the very bleak Iranian film “A Time for Drunken Horses,” or the Palestinian film “Paradise Now” in particular.
14. What movie have you seen more times than any other?
Probably “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Godfather,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Hook,” or “Almost Famous.”
15. What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?
“Pump Up the Volume,” which I think was probably my most formative movie, ever—Christian Slater is perfect in it, Allan Moyle’s script taps into a palpable vein of disgust toward the hegemonic status quo that I still feel, and the soundtrack still slaps. “Do you ever get the feeling that everything in America is completely f-----d up?” remains a perfect line.
16. What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?
Abbas Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us,” or Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now,” or Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” or David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” or James Gray’s “Ad Astra,” or Andrew Dominik’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” or Justin Kurzel’s “Macbeth.” I’m sorry, I cannot choose!
17. Who are your favorite leading men, past and present?
Omar Sharif, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, Paul Newman.
18. Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present?
Elizabeth Taylor, Julia Roberts, Saoirse Ronan, Thandie Newton.
19. Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?
“Favorite” is hard, so let’s do favorites! Martin Scorsese, Sofia Coppola, Asghar Farhadi, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Mann, Mira Nair, Kelly Reichardt, Dee Rees, Crystal Moselle, Jeremy Saulnier, Guillermo del Toro, Abbas Kiarostami.
20. Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker?
I loathe Michael Bay; “6 Underground” is one of the worst movies ever made. Woody Allen, whose entire schtick I just find repellant. Other than that, I don’t know if I have a “least favorite,” but in terms of filmmakers who just aren’t for me, neither the Safdie Brothers nor the Russo Brothers do much for me.
21. What film do you love that most people seem to hate?
Post-“Drive” Nicolas Winding Refn, like “Only God Forgives” or “The Neon Demon.” Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” or Dominik’s “Killing Them Softly,” which have had a critical reassessment lately but were mostly loathed by audiences upon initial release.
22. What film do you hate that most people love?
“Uncut Gems,” which I don’t necessarily hate, but did not share the hyped response that a lot of other people had to it.
23. Tell me about a moviegoing experience you will never forget—not just because of the movie, but because of the circumstances in which you saw it.
My partner and I saw “The Hateful Eight” in 70mm on Christmas morning at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Md. It’s not my favorite Tarantino, but it was a snowy morning, everyone was hyped to be there, the theater is beautifully designed with a gigantic screen, and we all received specialty programs with our tickets. Would recommend all Christmas mornings be spent like this.
24. What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least?
Bad sound mixes. I miss theaters very much, but I do not miss struggling to understand dialogue.
25. What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?
We didn’t see a ton of movies in theaters when I was a kid, so I don’t know if I miss one specific thing. But what I do miss is how many theaters there were around us: There was a second-run theater in a strip mall near our house where we could go, and tickets cost something like $3, which was really affordable for us to go as a family and see a slightly older movie. There was also the nicer movie theater at the mall, which had more screens and was more expensive. There were a lot of movie rental stores, both local chains and Blockbuster, which yes, was the devil, but it existed! I think I just miss the variety that seemed to exist at that time that doesn’t now because the industry has just become increasingly dominated by a few forces rather than there being real widespread competition.
26. Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?
Thankfully, no. But if anyone disliked “Sound of Metal,” please know that I am coming for you.
27. What movies have you dreamed about?
Most recently, I had some nightmares about “Hereditary,” a movie I haven’t watched in two years. So that was random and I did not appreciate it!
28. What concession stand item can you not live without?
Hot popcorn and peanut M&Ms mixed together is the only way to live. Plus, a gigantic Coke Zero with peach and cherry syrup.