To Samelane (verb) a movie is to offer the same opinion on the film as New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane...
There is no middle ground when speaking of Anthony Lane. It comes down to a simple matter of love or hate--a paradigm that generates, according to the critic himself, roughly nine complaints for every one fan letter. He's been called "the straightest shooter of the bunch" (Independent Reviewer) or "easily the most embarrassing high-profile film writer in the U.S." (The New York Press). So who's right? Is film critic Anthony Lane the only reason to read The New Yorker or the only reason to scourge it?
Nobody's Perfect, a selection of Lane's writings from nearly a decade at the magazine, offers readers a chance to decide for themselves. Just under 800 pages, the volume contains a sampling of film reviews, as well as a generous helping of his one-off articles on topics as wide-ranging as obituaries and sex books to A.E. Housman and Ernest Shackleton. Reading straight through the collection, one notices the motifs of Lane's work: his comic predilection for timing everything ("I once asked a friend who had never seen Marnie to guess the director… I started a stopwatch at the first shot… 'Hitchcock,' he said, and I checked the watch. Twelve seconds."), his love for Jane Austen's prickly heroine, Emma Woodhouse; his Cary Grant references, and the absolute conviction behind every one of his articles. No matter what you think of Lane, he doesn't care; he believes it and he had a great time writing it, anyway.
Which brings up an interesting question about the legacy of prominent film critics. Andrew Sarris had his auteur theory, Graham Greene his litigation over Shirley Temple, Pauline Kael anything on Marlon Brando, Siskel & Ebert their thumbs. For what will posterity remember Anthony Lane? "Smiley Face," his crackdown on Julia Roberts? The snarky trashing of Speed 2? His glowing descriptions of a golden Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley? I'd hold out for one of his longer pieces: a visit to Singalong-a-Sound of Music, a tribute to Legos, a justly National Magazine Award-nominated profile of Evelyn Waugh. These articles were the true delight of Nobody's Perfect: as entertaining as the film reviews and wholly unexpected as subjects.
In this issue of Bold Type, check out an assortment of Anthony Lane's New Yorker writings from Nobody's Perfect: his reviews of the blockbuster movies Batman & Robin and Pearl Harbor, as well as his thoughts on cookbooks and Legos.
-- Kelley Kawano
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