Nicholas Alexander Boyd: What made you decide to become a film critic?
A.O. Scott: It wasn’t entirely my decision. I was always interested in criticism as a form of writing, and started out professionally writing about books. I had always been drawn to movies and interested in trying to write about them. I got a chance in late 1999 when an editor at Slate let me write a piece about Martin Scorsese, which got the attention of some editors at the New York Times, who had the absurd idea that I might be qualified to be a film critic.
NAB: What do you look for in movies that you see?
AOS: I like to be surprised. I like to feel some human reality has been illuminated.
NAB: Who would you say has had the biggest influence in the field of film?
AOS: Thomas Edison
NAB: What is the state of film now?
AOS: The state of film is that it is almost no longer “film” in the technical, photochemical sense. At the same time, moving pictures are everywhere, and there is more cinema in our daily lives that would have been imaginable even a generation ago.
NAB: Where do you see the field of film headed?
AOS: Film has been dying since the introduction of sound. It kept dying through the rise of television, home video, and now the Internet. I expect it to continue its death spiral for another 100 years or so.
NAB: What is your favorite movie genre, along with your favorite movie, and why?
AOS: I don’t have a favorite genre, unless “Italian” counts. I love just about anything made in Italy between 1945 and 1970, and also anything that shows the influence of those films. I like the naturalistic look, the theatricality of the post-synch sound, the sound of the Italian language. If I had to single out a favorite it might be “La Dolce Vita.” “La Dolce Vita” presents both a distillation of history–the West in a moment of what would turn out to be a perpetual, slow-moving, terminal crisis—and also a beautiful cinematic world. I have never been able to resist the desire to live in the world, or the fantasy, on some days, that I already do.
NAB: Who is your favorite actor and why?
AOS: At the moment I like what Joaquin Phoenix is doing. In his last few performances—thinking of “The Immigrant,” “The Master,” “Her”—he has completely resisted playing his characters as types. That is not easy to do—most actors slide back into familiar, pre-made ideas of the kinds of people their characters are, and in each of these cases he could have done that. There’s a way of playing an unstable alcoholic, a suave deceiver, an anti-social nerd, but the characters are none of those things. They are unpredictable, original and volatile in ways that are very rare in screen acting.
NAB: Who is your favorite actress and why?
AOS: Marion Cotillard. She is an actress of limitless bravery and supernatural poise, who is both beauty and beast.
NAB: Who is your favorite director and why?
AOS: This past year it was the Coen Brothers, among active American directors. The Coen brothers just now seem completely free to do what they want to do, and utterly confident in their story-telling and visual powers. “Inside Llewyn Davis” is by far the most perfectly realized movie of 2013.
NAB: What do you most enjoy about your job?
AOS: I love the variety of movies I get to see, and the way that movie permits me to travel to places I would otherwise never go, and know them in a way a tourist never could.