Five Favorite Films with A.O. Scott
The new co-host of At the Movies also talks about the show and print vs. TV.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times -- and now, At the Movies -- is one of America's best-known and most trusted film critics. Scott's tenure with the Times began in 2000; prior to that, he was a book critic for Newsday, and contributed to a number of other publications. Beginning in 2006, he filled in for Roger Ebert on At the Movies; on Sept. 5, he and the Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips took over as the hosts of the show, replacing Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz.
In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Scott shared some of his favorites (he particularly likes long movies and Italian films), and discussed the differences between appraising movies in print and on television, as well as what the new At the Movies has in store for audiences. (Be sure to check back next week, when we present Michael Phillips' Five Favorite Films.)
I would say number one is probably Fellini's La Dolce Vita, which I never get tired of. Even though parts of it are very grim and depressing, I think if there was a movie I would want to live in, it would be that. You know, if the world could be the Trevi Fountain in black and white, with Anita Ekberg holding a kitten on her head.
RT: As a newspaperman, don't you kind of live in that world?
[Laughs] It kind of is; that sort of mixture of romanticism and cynicism that Marcello has is very much a journalist's world view. And also the way he's thinking, "What I really am, deep down, is a poet or a philosopher, but I have to be in this vulgar world of paparazzi." The origin of the paparazzi is in that movie.
It's great to go back to, because whenever I remember it, I remember it a little bit out of order, and it seems like it's been slightly reshuffled or certain things come to the surface that I didn't notice before. Everything about it, too - the visuals, the setting. I am generally a sucker for Italian movies. If it's in Italian, I have trouble disliking it too much.
I would cheat and say the two Godfather movies, The Godfather part I and II, edited in whatever order; I like the way they were sort of edited together in a single movie, but I also like them as they were released separately. And I think that that, for me, is the pinnacle of movies as a popular art form in America. It's like a great novel, but it's a super entertaining movie. It's always funny to think that that was -- you know, if you talk to Francis Ford Coppola, that was sort of his commercial movie that he got hired to make, and that was the one he did to make a lot of money. I have nothing original to say about it, but again, a movie that I cannot imagine ever getting tired of watching. When you come across it on TV, you stop and suddenly two hours have gone by, and you're still with it. If you think about it, the performances in that... Everyone in that movie, just about, is as good as they ever were.
RT: So in general, do you like long movies?
Generally yes. I've been accused sometimes of having a kind of "the longer, the better" [attitude]. [A while back] I wrote a piece on the restored Berlin Alexanderplatz, and that was just a few months after Jacques Rivette's legendary Out 1, which is 13 hours long. [laughs] There was a cut-down version of Out 1 that was five and a half hours, but I think 13 hours is the full length, and they screened it at the Museum of the Moving Pictures here in New York, and they did press screenings over three days. And by the end it was kind of like we had been POWs together, who maybe didn't know each other or didn't like each other before, but were huddled, sharing food, and making these kinds of inside jokes. Yes, I do like long movies. I mean, I kind of like that feeling of getting absorbed and completely entering into the movie's reality. But I don't think I only like long movies.
I guess I would say, again, to choose among a lot of different ones, I love Sullivan's Travels. I love a lot of Preston Sturges movies. It's a movie about movies, and I just think it's just so funny. I love it. The first five minutes of the movie are among the funniest five minutes ever. Like when he's in the studio boss's office; it's the fastest dialogue. [laughs] How they managed to do that scene, it's just flying.
There's always an Altman movie on the list. Currently I think it's probably McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I love westerns; there are actually a lot of westerns I could add. A sort of deconstructed western. Altman's one of my favorite directors and someone even whose lesser work I find really fascinating and had an intelligence about filmmaking and also about human behavior that's kind of unmatched.
Next, Scott talks about the differences between being a critic in print and on TV, as well as what the new At the Movies will be like.
In the number five position, I would -- again, choosing among many possible candidates -- I think I would put The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. There are John Ford westerns that are more picturesque, that are more sweeping, but that's a movie that distills an idea of history and depicts -- granted, in a kind of mythologizing way, but in a very astute and complicated way -- the process of historical change in the American West. That movie is just fascinating to me, and it has sort of a dissertation's worth of ideas in it, but they're so well embedded and dramatized, and the performances are so interesting. Jimmy Stewart, to me, is such an interesting and in some ways misunderstood actor, because when you see him, he's so angry so much of the time. In Winchester '73 and even in It's A Wonderful Life. When he comes back to the house in that movie, he says, "Why do we have all these kids anyway?" and he's just furious.