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Meet the Writers: Nick Allen

Editor's note: To give you a chance to get to know our writers better, we've asked them to respond to some questions. In coming weeks, we'll be posting their responses, which will always be available as a link from their contributor biography page. Here's Nick Allen. 


Where did you grow up, and what was it like?

I grew up in North Reading, MA. A small town in Massachusetts with a stern historical society, four Dunkin' Donuts stores in one mile, and (at the time) a Red Sox-losing complex. The number of Dunkin' Donuts in that strip has since been reduced to two. 

Was anyone else in your family into movies? If so, what effect did they have on your moviegoing tastes?

My family is a movie family, but I would say something like going to the movies with my parents was pretty influential in just seeing movies as an event to be discussed, with different tastes. I liked talking about what we liked and didn't like about the movie whenever we got dinner afterward. And they got me into James Bond movies, too. 

What's the first movie you remember seeing, and what impression did it make on you?

That might have been "Aladdin," but I don't remember any lasting impression. 

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."

That would probably have to be "Pulp Fiction," referred to me by a friend who was writing scripts. As I'm sure is the case for many people, this movie's huge style and sense of cool made it a gripping, electric experience. 

What's the first movie you ever walked out of?

"Without a Paddle," which was only because of a bungled friend hang-out/even klutzier date(?) I never have gone back to it since then, but also have never walked out of a movie for fun or at any festivals, etc. 

What's the funniest film you've ever seen?

Off the top of my head, I'll say "Step Brothers," which gets even better with more viewings. Another contender would be another Adam McKay joint, "Anchorman." He is my Harold Ramis

What's the saddest film you've ever seen?

Gotta give it to De Sica, for "Umberto D" and the final act especially. 

What's the scariest film you've ever seen?

"The Shining." 

What's the most romantic film you've ever seen?

"Manhattan," if for the intoxicating presentation of a city that made me so badly want to get out of the suburbs and under elevated subways and between skyscrapers after high school. The romance of living in a city can be as potent as any intimate relationship. 

What's the first television show you ever saw that made you think television could be more than entertainment? 

"The Charlie Brown Christmas Special." 

What book do you think about or revisit the most? 

"Sabbath's Theater," by Philip Roth

What album or recording artist have you listened to the most, and why?

Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," which happens to be the best album ever made. 

Is there a movie that you think is great, or powerful, or perfect, but that you never especially want to see again, and why?

"Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." Admirably made by a mad man (John McNaughton), but clear enough to be understood in one viewing, and ruthless enough with its content it doesn't need to be seen again. 

What movie have you seen more times than any other?

"National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," of all things. It has been a holiday tradition in my house for eons, and I don't think I've been able to watch my favorite movies as much as I've seen this one. 

What was your first R-rated movie, and did you like it?

This was very likely "Die Hard," and, of course, if this wasn't my first, it should have been.  

What's the most visually beautiful film you've ever seen?

I have been very lucky to see many that would fit into this category, but I'll go with "The Tree of Life." It's not just the images that are so everlasting and gorgeous, but the editing has a visual beauty of its own, which I have yet to see duplicated. But, I'll keep looking. 

Who are your favorite leading men, past and present? 

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Channing Tatum, Terry Crews, Idris Elba, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Denzel Washington, Gene Kelly and Buster Keaton

Who are your favorite leading ladies, past and present? 

Kristen Wiig, Melanie Lynskey, Liv Ullmann, Rashida Jones, Jessica Chastain, Amy Adams, Katharine Hepburn

Who's your favorite modern filmmaker?

There are many, but I think I'll say Rian Johnson. He is a symbol of homegrown, creative purity, and always strives for more. Plus, he made "The Brothers Bloom," a film I love to death. The fact that he'll direct a "Star Wars" movie is enough for me to be an optimist at the end of the day about this multi-billion dollar business. 

Who's your least favorite modern filmmaker? 

No one that I outwardly detest, but I am pretty tired of Quentin Tarantino. We get it, dude. 

What film do you love that most people seem to hate? 

Jared Hess' "Gentlemen Broncos." 

What film do you hate that most people love?

"Birdman." "You don't even have a Facebook!" Give me a break. 

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.

A public pre-release screening of "Fast & Furious 6," for the way that an audience reacted when the sound didn't work for the first 10 minutes. Everyone started making cartoonish car sounds during an opening chase scene for a bizarre yet touching communal experience. The movie itself was a particularly good time for me as well. 

What aspect of modern theatrical moviegoing do you like least? 

Hands down, cell phones. The arrogance that a rogue light displays, as it distracts any viewer in general vicinity, is enough to put someone into a blind rage. 

What aspect of moviegoing during your childhood do you miss the most?

An easy answer, but the idea of seeing a film projected on the screen. The cigarette burns let you know it was only a movie, a security that was a great comfort, the potential of what those images would be, endless. 

Have you ever damaged a friendship, or thought twice about a relationship, because you disagreed about whether a movie was good or bad?

I don't think so, and I hope this never happens. People see what they want to see, and people like what they like. 

What movies have you dreamed about?

Just last week, I had my first "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" dream, but the best part is that since I've barely seen any footage, my dream looked more like a Sidney Lumet movie with X-wing fighter costume design than whatever J.J. Abrams' film actually is. I remember even in my dream, before realizing I wasn't actually watching it, that this version of "Star Wars" was lacking something. 

What concession stand item can you not live without?

Buncha Crunch, maybe once every five times I get to the movies. Terrible habit, but at least I am cheap enough to not mix it with popcorn. 

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is the former Senior Editor at and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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