The two winners from our Before Sunrise giveaway are: KaMeek Lucas Taitt and Jordan. Please write me to claim your prize.
AwardsDaily is giving away five copies of Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era. Anyone who writes about film today should read this book. Please submit a comment simply naming which film you think should have won Best Picture in 1979: Kramer vs. Kramer, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Norma Rae, All That Jazz.
Peter Rainer’s book of film essays covers the last thirty years in Hollywood. For anyone at all interested in seeing how film criticism has evolved in recent decades, or in hearing how Hollywood has been transformed, this is a must-read. We’re fortunate to have a few film writers out there who lived through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and continue to enlighten us to this day. Some of them know where the bodies are buried. Most of them have yet to tell their tales about how they think Hollywood has changed. But this book serves as a detailed chronicle, reminding us what Rainer was thinking back then and tracing the arc of film history all the way up to what he thinks now.
As an avid fan of 70s cinema (it has never gotten better) I particularly enjoyed his essays about industry developments in those years. There is an essay, for instance, about that decade’s movie stars like Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Jack Nicholson, and how comparatively little draw they had at the box office. “In five years,” Rainer writes, “the annual number of studio-financed films will be down to seven, and they will all star Barbra Streisand.”
If you’ve ever met or heard Peter Rainer speak you will have noted his wry sense of humor and conspicuous cynicism. I once sat on an Oscar bloggers panel at the Santa Barbara Film Festival where Rainer was the moderator and after reading through these film essays I can’t imagine how he feels — then and now — about the mere concept of Oscar bloggers. It’s absurd, we all know it’s absurd and yet …
This is the kind of film writing you rarely see these days because, frankly, most people writing about film have neither the foundation in film history nor grounding in life experience to provide proper context. That doesn’t mean their impressions are necessarily less relevant, and perhaps some readers will relate better to a idealistic perspective. But to understand how and why things are changing you have to have an idea of how they once were. Reading this book will give you that backgroud. The essay that stands out for me is the piece about Debra Winger. Rainer writes:
All of Winger’s walking, of course, only reinforced her rep for being “difficult” — a frequent slam against strong-willed actresses. (When Bruce Willis or Alec Baldwin do this sort of thing, they’re just being guys). But some difficulties are worth it. Show business needs its sacred monsters. The scandal of Winger’s career has not been her temperamentalness but, rather, the reluctance or the failure on the part of most of our finest filmmakers to fashion great roles for her.
For Winger may be that peculiarly American phenomenon — a great actress who has yet to appear in a great movie (and precious few good ones). She’s also had the misfortune to give two of her best performances to movies that practically no one saw: Mike’s Murder and Everybody Wins, both of which, to compound the misfortune, were drastically recut.
After Winger appeared in Terms of Endearment in 1983, she was the hottest young actress in Hollywood, with two hits, An Officer and Gentleman and Urban Cowboy, already behind her. She hasn’t had a hit since, and yet there’s recognition when she’s on-screen that hers is the kind of talent that unifies audiences in simple, direct ways.
This is not the only way to connect with audiences or to be a star, but, compared to the glossy etherealness of many female stars, Winger’s directness really clears the air.
[For context, also watch Roseanna Arquette's documentary, Searching for Debra Winger]
Now more than ever it’s important to pay respect to the legacy of our best film critics and celebrate those who have devoted their entire lives to writing about movies. Yes, we are witnessing a changing of the guard, a fact that especially palpable so soon after Ebert’s passing. I look at Metacritic now, at the new names who have taken the place of some of the most notable critics and I have no idea who some of them are. Maybe in ten, twenty, thirty years I will grow to admire the new voices as much as I now trust the legends.
Do I agree with Rainer’s take on very films? Naturally, I do not. I particularly loathe his review of David Fincher’s Fight Club, for instance, and can’t concur when he says he thinks American Beauty, Far From Heaven, In the Mood for Love and Zero Dark Thirty are overrated. So you might, at some point, want to hurl the book against the wall. I wouldn’t advise that any of us turn to this book, or any book, to influence what we think about movies. But if you want to attend a masterclass on movie writing, there is much on these pages to learn.
AwardsDaily is giving away five copies of Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era. Anyone who writes about film today should read this book. To be eligible all you need do is name the film you think should have won Best Picture in 1979: Kramer vs. Kramer, Apocalypse Now, Breaking Away, Norma Rae, or All That Jazz. If you want to explain why, we’d be interested to read that too.