If I had to choose one desert island producer making movies right now I’d have to go with Scott Rudin. Count them, not one but three films being released at the end of this year. And even if you want to say that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is — whatever — that doesn’t take away the fact that it was a brave subject to take on in the first place. Based on a book that was already divisive — as in, some folks thought it too precious — then adapted by Eric Roth, who, I’m here to tell you because I read it, wrote one of the best screenplays I’ve ever read. I know that reading scripts and making them into movies are two different things. But the film, though it may not entirely work, is a risk he took in getting it made. It’s so much easier to make a conventional movie that is all formula, pre-packaged and ready for consumption than it is to take a leap of faith with a great idea. You win some, you lose some but the producers who stop taking chances because it impacts the bottom line? The producers who only make movies that are dumbed-down to the lowest common demo of 13- (going on 30-) year-old boys? The directors who forsake taking risks because the critics give them such a thrashing when those risks don’t exactly pay off? Well, here’s a guy out there getting it done, making or attempting to make great films — films that appeal to actual thinking adults. Huh. Imagine that in 2011. It’s practically unheard of.
He gets my Desert Island vote for last year’s wildly successful masterpiece, The Social Network, and for his having produced No Country for Old Men – arguably the best film I’ve ever watched win Best Picture. There Will Be Blood, Doubt, to name a few. What I see when I look at his resume isn’t necessarily one box office success or Oscar winner after another – but I see someone who is unafraid of taking chances. One of the stupidest stories that ever came out of last year’s Oscars was the very thing Nikki Finke accused Rudin of doing: not coming to the Oscars because The Social Network wasn’t going to win. Honestly? After the DGA handed the award to Tom Hooper I would have stopped showing up too. And not because I wasn’t going to win; the Greek chorus watching the dog and pony show unfold was too trained on watching how Harvey and Scott thrived or bled out for anyone to stomach. There was a lot more to it than just this film versus that film.
And that brings us to this year — Moneyball and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are attached to Scott Rudin, among others. You can add Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or not and it won’t change the fact that he’s presented two of the best films of 2011. Not just the best films period but two of my own personal favorites. So I don’t really care if people “like” him or not. At the end of the day to me, it’s always been about the movies. The mishegoss with David Denby showed me two things. First, Rudin is a principled person who cares about right and wrong — whether someone agreed to do something or not, even if it makes him look bad in front of the judgmental Greek chorus. Second, he is willing to fiercely protect his films and his filmmakers. He stood up for something — seems so rare in this day and age when the snark has overtaken just about every form of ideas that float around out there.
When I grew up as a kid in the 1970s, movies were my life. My mother would drop my sister and I off at the multiplex and we’d sit there all day watching movies. We watched them at home on our TV, too. Old black-and-white movies mostly – Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney – these were our heroes. I grew up immersed in them, so much so that many films are truly part of my DNA. Almost all of Woody Allen’s movies are, the Godfather saga, Martin Scorsese’s films and the Coen Brothers movies – I watch them over and over again. Very few of them are so good that each time you watch them you learn something new, or drop another layer into the dream. Citizen Kane is one of those movies. The Godfathers I and II are two of those movies. No Country for Old Men was one of those movies and The Social Network is one of those movies, whether people voted for it or not. I like Scott Rudin’s productions because I get that he LOVES movies — with a passion. He also loves literature — with a passion. For me, bring the passion or go the fuck home. I can’t tolerate passive acceptance of the status quo, not at my age, not anymore.
His rival is made out to be Harvey Weinstein, and he is every bit the great producer that Rudin is, especially when his heart is in it. Who else but Harvey Weinstein would have declared, on Gangs of New York, that he would finally win Marty the Oscar? Who else but Harvey Weinstein could have driven Inglourious Basterds through to so many Oscar nominations and a win for Christopher Waltz? Maybe he’s better at playing the Oscar game but that’s assuming way too much at the outset; that’s assuming Oscar voters don’t know a great movie when they see one. And maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not true. But at the end of the day, this year, Rudin has turned out the more impressive array of great films.
I don’t know if the Academy voters are going to allow themselves to love the pulpy, intense beauty that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is – if it were me, I’d vote for it because, damnit, it’s the only mainstream player that isn’t soaked in a bowl of sugar. Look, I like sentiment as much as the next person. I cried during Hugo, War Horse, The Descendants and Moneyball. But that girl in me, the one who waited hours to see Jaws a few times in a row back in the 1970s still wants a movie I can sink my teeth into. Something savory among the sweetness. The Dragon Tattoo is a big juicy hunk of meat of a movie. Is it the best film of 2011? It’s one of them. Moneyball is another.
So that’s why Scott Rudin is our Desert Island Producer pick for 2011. Here’s to you, Mr. Rudin, and thanks for all the fish.