Arts & Entertainment

Hooray for Hollywood

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“When we first stepped onto the Red Carpet, I felt a little like Captain Cook must have felt walking ashore in the Society Islands just before he was bludgeoned to death.” This was Larry McMurtry’s description of arriving at the 2006 Academy Awards—where he and his longtime collaborator, Diana Ossana, won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for Brokeback Mountain—from a conversation with Ossana published in The New York Review in March 2011. The two were relating their earlier experiences with the Hollywood awards season while analyzing that year’s pageant (“Jeff Bridges was the best thing about it”), but they were also expressing the bewilderment often experienced by writers encountering the film industry.

Many a Review contributor has hazarded Hollywood, from McMurtry to Gore Vidal (cowriter of Ben-Hur and Caligula) to Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne (The Panic in Needle Park, A Star Is Born, and much else besides) to Diane Johnson (The Shining); and movie studios have often relied on novelists—William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald—to dash off a quick screenplay. Indeed, this year marks Kazuo Ishiguro’s first Oscar nomination, for the screenplay to Living, an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru.

In advance of Sunday’s broadcast of the ninety-fifth Academy Awards, we present two film reviews from the last year—Zadie Smith on Tár (nominated for Best Film, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing) and Daniel Drake on Aftersun (nominated for Best Actor)—alongside a selection of essays about Best Picture winners past.

Zadie Smith
The Instrumentalist

At the heart of the film Tár is a conductor who cannot see beyond her generation’s field of vision.

Daniel Drake
Present Imperfect

Aftersun captures the loss of a parent, a story for which there are no spoilers.






Darryl Pinckney
Moon Over Miami

Moonlight isn’t trying to be realistic about anything, even as it confounds what we expect from stories about young black men, starting with the film’s texture, its intricate soundtrack, tantric pace, and beauty frame by frame.”


Geoffrey O’Brien
The Rapture of the Silents

“If The Artist was pure pastiche, and undeniably cute right down to an audience-charming Jack Russell terrier (who even got to vigorously reenact the ancient Rescued by Rover trick of saving his master from imminent disaster), it was made with a care so loving as to be almost didactic in spirit.”





John K. Fairbank
Born Too Late

The Last Emperor is a spectacular film photographed in brilliant color. It is also a moral drama with controversial political overtones of great ambiguity…. It leaves us with a question: Did Pu Yi, the last emperor of the Ch’ing dynasty (1644–1912) and the only emperor of Japan’s puppet state of Manchukuo (1931–1945), really find a new life in Mao’s China? Or was it simply a variation on his life’s theme of puppetry?”


John Gross
Hollywood and the Holocaust

“In the space of fifteen minutes Spielberg creates an impression of terror and confusion which, in my view, equals Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps sequence—no, if I am to be honest, which goes beyond it.”

Jason Epstein
A Dissent on ‘Schindler’s List’

“Despite its seven Oscars I doubt that Schindler’s List will survive its season either as a memorable film or as a comment on the concentration camps, for the evil that Spielberg tries to portray lies beyond his imagination.”


Robert Craft
B-flat Movie

“To give Milos Forman and Peter Shaffer every benefit of the doubt, we might assume that the presentation of Mozart as a fool is an intended irony, and congratulate the director for having chosen the best way to fail with an insoluble problem.”

Jane Kramer
The Eighth Gothic Tale

“The movie would have irritated Dinesen—it is so broad. There are the fresh Land Rover tracks on a heretofore unspoiled landscape, the nighttime tales that will have to end, like Scheherazade’s, the insistence that everything is happening for the last time, and that Isak Dinesen’s love affair with Denys Finch Hatton is the candle that will take Africa with it when it burns down.”

Joan Didion
Letter from ‘Manhattan’

“The characters in Manhattan and Annie Hall and Interiors are, with one exception, presented as adults, as sentient men and women in the most productive years of their lives, but their concerns and conversations are those of clever children, “class brains,” acting out a yearbook fantasy of adult life.”

Gore Vidal
Who Makes the Movies?

“The plot of Ben-Hur is, basically, absurd and any attempt to make sense of it would destroy the story’s awful integrity. But for a film to be watchable the characters must make some kind of psychological sense.”

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