David Thomson: Moments That Made Movies Great
Note: The web version of today's show (posted all the way at the bottom here) includes full, unedited, and unexpurgated film clips (which include some adult language) and runs more than four minutes longer than the show we did live on the air.
From Faith Middleton: If you saw When Harry Met Sally…, there was a wry, riveting exchange between the two main characters, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, sitting at a restaurant table, causing an observing customer to say, "I'll have what she's having."
I can't recall the detailed plot of that movie, but I will never forget that scene, and that's what drew all of us on our show to a new book by one of the great writers on film, David Thomson, film critic for The New Republic, and our interview guest.
He's written Moments That Made the Movies, explaining why a particular scene lodged itself in his head after decades of analyzing film, and to hear or read his reasoning is to learn a great deal about movie watching.
What is especially interesting about Thomson's choices is that, opinionated as he is, he says he's not wed to them, that they are deeply personal, and he invites each of us to compile our own lists of memorable scenes. Taking him at his word, I quizzed my movie-loving friends, and we seemed in agreement about our most memorable scenes. Each of us, for instance, chose the Pinot Noir description from the movie Sideways, and the Matt Damon speech to the military contractor in Good Will Hunting. Our list of favorite movies differed, of course, so we expect yours will, too.
Recently I've seen Her (liked it), The Wolf of Wall Street (meh), and American Hustle (adored it). Thanks to Thomson's perspective on memorable scenes, I have been musing over my favorite moments, and wondering if they are universal or just personal, the way his book is.
(Still many more movies to see before awards time, but so far my money's on American Hustle as the Golden Globe favorite. I wouldn't be unhappy; the performances, the dialogue, the scenery—ferocious!)
When Harry Met Sally… 1989
dir. Rob Reiner
scr. Nora Ephron
with Meg Ryan as Sally Albright and Billy Crystal as Harry Burns
Bringing Up Baby 1938
dir. Howard Hawks
scr. Dudley Nichols and Hagar Wilde
with Katharine Hepburn as Susan and Cary Grant as David
Citizen Kane 1941
dir. Orson Welles
scr. Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles
score by Bernard Herrmann
with Buddy Swan as Kane, age eight; Agnes Moorehead as Mary Kane; George Coulouris as Walter Parks Thatcher; and Harry Shannon as Kane's Father
Sunset Blvd. 1950
dir. Billy Wilder
scr. Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, & D.M. Marshman, Jr.
score by Franz Waxman
with William Holden as Joe Gillis
Anatomy of a Murder 1959
dir. Otto Preminger
scr. Wendell Mayes (based on Robert Traver's novel)
with James Stewart as Paul Biegler, Ken Lynch as Det. Sgt. James Durgo, Joseph N. Welch as Judge Weaver, Brooks West as Dist. Atty. Mitch Lodwick, and George C. Scott as Asst. State Atty. Gen. Claude Dancer
dir. Alfred Hitchcock
scr. Joseph Stefano (based on Robert Bloch's novel)
with Janet Leigh as Marion Crane and Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates
Bonnie and Clyde 1967
dir. Arthur Penn
scr. David Neman & Robert Benton
with Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow and Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker
Taxi Driver 1976
dir. Martin Scorsese
scr. Paul Schrader
score by Bernard Herrmann
with Martin Scorsese as Passenger Watching Silhouette and Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle
dir. Michael Mann
scr. Michael Mann
music by Elliot Goldenthal
with Al Pacino as Lt. Vincent Hanna and Robert De Niro as Neil McCauley
Burn After Reading 2008
dir. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
scr. Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
with David Rasche as CIA Officer and JK Simmons as CIA Superior
- David Thomson is the author of Moments That Made the Movies and many other books, is the film critic for The New Republic, and has written regularly for The Guardian, The Independent, Sight & Sound, Film Comment, and Movieline.
- “Gne Gne,” Montefiori Cocktail
- “It Had To Be You (Trio Instrumental),” Harry Connick, Jr., from When Harry Met Sally…
- “Main Title and Anatomy of a Murder,” Duke Ellington, from Anatomy of a Murder
- “Force Marker,” Brian Eno, from Heat