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Are you now, or have you ever been, a film critic?
I started this website in January 1998, during my junior year of collegean alibi I will happily trot out if you find some of the earliest reviews gaseous, green, or dogmatic. (I have no excuse if later ones read the same way.) My full-time job now is a tenured professorship in English and Gender & Sexuality Studies at Northwestern University, where my research and teaching emphasize popular film of several eras and traditions. Finding the time to see this many movies is already a huge stretch, and writing about them properly even more so. Hence, the gradual slide in the site from essay-length responses to Twitter-length capsules and VOR ratings.
Did you ever consider a name for the site that folks could pronounce?
My partner of almost 20 years coined the name back when we were goslings. It seemed cute at the time, and now has sentimental value. And also, I hope, some modicum of recognition. But I have already purchased Nick-Davis.com and gradually, behind the scenes, I am updating and transferring pages to that domain (which is why new pages sometimes have "Nick-Davis.com" written into the header you see in your browser tab).
Is the transfer why some pages look updated and others ...not?
Yes. With no employees and little time to tinker, some old pages remain coded with archaic frames.
Do you attend a lot of festivals?
I have attended the wonderful and, in my opinion, underrated Chicago Film Festival as a juror, journalist, and audience member every year since 2006. I have occasionally been a juror at other festivals, including the Indianapolis and Nashville Film Festivals, and most frequently at Reeling, the second-oldest LGBT film festival in the US. Since 2012, I have attend the Toronto Film Festival every September. I have never been to Cannes or Venice, but I follow them closely (especially Cannes, where I occasionally dive deep into the past). You are welcome to hire me if you'd like me to observe and report!
Do you plan on adding more pages to the Best Actress Section?
Absolutely, both on the site and as a book or series of books I am negotiating with a publisher. The book prospect diminishes the more free content I give away on the site, but starting in 2016, you'll see more movement there.
Why do you care so much about actresses?
That question requires its own FAQ section.
What about the all-time Best list and Favorites countdown? Are you going to finish those?
I realize you've heard me say this before, but trust me: yes. Though the frames will have to go. (Please note: in the weeks since issuing this promise, I have added a dozen new entries to the Favorites feature. See, I'm not Pinocchio! I'm finally a real boy!)
Do you publish anywhere besides this site?
I wrote a whole book about queer cinema and film theory, plus individual essays about Y tu mamá también, Julie Dash's Illusions, LGBT love on screen, the acting and activism of Julie Christie and Vanessa Redgrave across the 1970s, Velvet Goldmine (though the revised chapter in my book is much better), and The Wild Party, The Incredibles, and Brokeback Mountain, all in one place. I have recently begun doing interviews for Film Comment, starting with Todd Haynes (twice) and Mia Wasikowska, plus some Toronto coverage for them, and have been approached about some columns in Sight & Sound. I also contributed several entries to The DVD Stack, including one-page write-ups on A.I. Artificial Intelligence, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, The Cell, Crash (Cronenberg, obviously), Dancer in the Dark, Daughters of the Dust, demonlover, Fanny & Alexander, Hannah and Her Sisters, Harlan County USA, Persona, The Piano, Pickpocket, Singin' in the Rain, and A Streetcar Named Desire. I've also written some articles and recorded regular podcasts with the movie-mad and Oscar-obsessed website The Film Experience. I've recently been lecturing about Slavery on Screen and on representations of sexual consent in recent narrative films around the world.
Would you watch my movie if I sent you a link?
I'm asked this a few times a month, and I take it as a compliment. I always want to say that I will, but the three times I have agreed, followed through, and sent feedback, even to filmmakers who assured me they wanted constructive and honest responses, the vibe has been weird. Other times I have agreed and never gotten around to it. Most often, I just don't reply. Here's the thing: I think I am really good at helping my own students form the germ of an essay idea and craft and revise their writing toward a polished, creative final product. I have no experience doing the same for a piece of film, and am not at all sure it's the same process. And I'm much more likely with your movie than with your essay to nudge you toward the version I would make, which is not what you need. So, hit the professionals for that. Besides which, if I didn't enjoy what you made, I would feel so bad that I'd rather not watch than find out. Sorry!
Do you think if I pose the question slickly enough, you could be tricked into writing my essay for class?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ...
I'm new here, or considering you for a freelance gig. Which pieces should I read?
I'm proud of my reviews of The Black Dahlia and Before Sunset. When Northwestern put me up for tenure, my file included my pieces on Heroes for Sale and The Postman Always Rings Twice (both of which stemmed from a brief but productive experiment with reviewing actressy movies on the star's birthday) and then-recent pieces on Black Swan and Precious. Scott Tobias told me once he liked what I wrote about The Sacrifice, and he's Scott Tobias, so that meant a lot. I enjoyed sticking it to Tim and The Village, even though, contrary to popular opinion, sticking it to bad movies isn't the thing good critics most enjoy doing. Speaking of good critics, Tim Robey co-authored some pieces with me, my favorite of which revisits Spike Lee's Bamboozled. My piece on the Rwandan documentary My Neighbor, My Killer was used for part of a fundraising drive for a museum and media center in Rwanda, which was a rare moment when I felt attached to something truly important. I felt the same writing a note to LGBT readers on my blog, though not really about movies. If another review has meant something to you, please tell me!
Whose film writing inspires you?
Among writers whose main gig is weekly, mass-market film reviews: Tim Robey and Robbie Collin at The Daily Telegraph, Guy Lodge and Justin Chang at Variety, Stephanie Zacharek wherever she's publishing, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott at The New York Times, Ty Burr and formerly Wesley Morris at The Boston Globe, and several others I'm sure I'm forgetting. Among Oscar watchers and entertaining feature writers, I'm eternally partial to Nathaniel Rogers at The Film Experience, Katey Rich at Vanity Fair, and Joe Reid at 600 outfits. Richard Lawson, also at Vanity Fair, does a bang-up job letting us know how Evelyn Waugh would sound if confronted with Gwyneth Paltrow and a flotilla of YouTube stars. Following all these people on Twitter is a good idea.
Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot writes with exquisite, accessible nuance about movies that don't always come alive for me until I absorb his take on them. Actually, that whole site is great, but Michael's work resonates most with me. Tim Brayton at Antagony & Ecstasy is a gem, though he recently started grad school, so reviews may soon be shorter or less frequent. (Believe me, Tim, I understand!) Amir Soltani and Tina Hassannia maintain their own fantastic portfolios of film writing and also join forces for Hello Cinema, a great podcast on Iranian movies. Film Freak Central has an amazingly deep bench of sharp, provocative, funny critics, with Bill Chambers and Angelo Muredda leading the pack. Nobody brings classic Hollywood alive like Farran Nehme Smith, aka the Self-Styled Siren. Mark Harris, formerly of Grantland and EW, and author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back, integrates film analysis and cultural history so sublimely I started building courses at Northwestern around his work. Recently, I've been pretty hooked on Jessica Kiang and Teo Bugbee. Follow all of them on Twitter, too. In fact, why are you still reading this paragraph? You should have clicked over to one of these folks long ago. I'm leaving out all the academics who inspire me, but you can ask privately.
You keep saying "please tell me" or "ask privately." Where do I do that?
Here. I'll respond as soon as I can! Thanks for taking the time to write.