Paulzeye Interviews Me!

Posted on February 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

Many thanks to Paulzeye for the opportunity to answer very thoughtful questions about being a movie critic.  I was very touched by his kind words:

Whether Minow’s busy being a mom or busy being the Movie Mom, one thing is cer­tain: she encom­passes all the qual­i­ties and virtues of the hard-working 21st Cen­tury woman. And her com­men­tary is a reflec­tion of her own per­sona: hon­est, sharp, to the point, and always very insightful.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

Paulz­eye:  As a critic, you’ve seen a fair share of good films and bad films. How would you define a mas­ter­ful or good film?  How would you define a bad film?

Nell Minow:  I eval­u­ate every movie accord­ing to its aspi­ra­tions – oth­er­wise, every review will be, “It’s not ‘Cit­i­zen Kane.’”  How well does it meet the expec­ta­tions of its intended audi­ence?  If it is a silly com­edy or a chases and explo­sions film it makes no sense to com­pare it to an Oscar con­tender.  But, at its core, every movie should be grounded in the sin­cere com­mit­ment of the peo­ple who made it to do the best they can for the audi­ence they are try­ing to reach.  The one kind of film I really hate is the kind that con­de­scends to its audience.

Paulz­eye:  What are five films, new or old, that should be on every family’s ‘must-see’ list and why?

Nell Minow:   “To Kill a Mock­ing­bird,” “The Court Jester,” “Some Like it Hot,” “The Mir­a­cle Worker,” and “The Wiz­ard of Oz” are all clas­sics that have some­thing for every age and give fam­i­lies a lot to talk about.

Paulz­eye:  Peo­ple tend to think that being a film critic is an easy pro­fes­sion but surely it must be dif­fi­cult to spend hours in a mul­ti­plex watch­ing sev­eral films back to back and then review­ing them. Talk to us about that process. What’s a day at the movies like for you?

Nell Minow:  Most days, I see only one or two movies.  The inde­pen­dent and foreign films are most often in a lit­tle screen­ing room at the Motion Pic­ture Asso­ci­a­tion build­ing across Lafayette Square from the White House dur­ing the day and the big stu­dio films are in the evening, in movie the­atres with a cou­ple of rows reserved for crit­ics and the rest filled with peo­ple who won tick­ets on radio sta­tions or other giveaways.  I really enjoy the other local crit­ics, who have become friends and colleagues.  They make even the worst movies fun to watch.

Paulz­eye:  As a critic, what do you feel more com­fort­able writ­ing about: a film that you absolutely loved or one that you absolutely loathed?

Nell Minow:  Both are fine because they both inspire a lot of thoughts.  The tough­est ones are the bland and mediocre movies, because it is so hard to think of any­thing to say or any vivid way to say it.

Paulz­eye: You’ve inter­viewed sev­eral impor­tant fig­ures (politi­cians, actors, and direc­tors) over the years. What are some of your most mem­o­rable inter­views and why?

Nell Minow:  I espe­cially like talk­ing to writ­ers and direc­tors, who are not inter­viewed as often as actors and who are more inter­ested in talking.  Some of the most mem­o­rable include John Irv­ing, Jason Reit­man, Ran­dall Wal­lace, Mike Mills, and John Cameron Mitchell.  One of my favorite recent inter­views was with Mar­tin Sheen for “The Way.”  He is an enthralling racon­teur and I could have lis­tened to him all day.  I was also very impressed at how kind he was to the staff in the hotel, intro­duc­ing him­self to every­one and really lis­ten­ing to them.  Another actor I won’t name infu­ri­ated me by being very rude to the wait­ress and maître d’.

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Bad Manners and the Rules of Engagement — Reminder

Posted on March 12, 2011 at 3:43 pm

I love hearing from the people who read what I post here and it is my hope that we can create a community that welcomes a spirited discussion on media, culture, and values. I am lucky to have found a job as a critic because it suits my interests and personality. I love movies (I often say that the primary qualification for the job is the willingness to watch an unlimited number of awful movies) and I love to express my views. And as a critic myself, I love to hear the views of other people, whether about the movies I review or the reviews themselves. Opinions are less often good or bad than interesting or uninteresting, well-supported or not well-supported. You don’t agree with what I had to say? Bring it on! Nothing would make me happier than hearing about what you saw in a movie that I missed.

But I have no tolerance for bad manners and it is important to me that everyone feel that this is a safe place to ask questions and express views. You are more than welcome to disagree, but no one will be allowed to be disagreeable, hostile, or rude and I will delete any comments I consider inappropriate. “Why do you think that?” is fine. Corrections are appreciated. But insults of any kind are not permissible. That includes questioning anyone’s motives or the legitimacy of their views.

I do not understand what makes people feel that it is all right to be rude or hostile in an email or a comment when they would never do so in person. Please keep in mind that you diminish the credibility of the points you are trying to make when you post insults instead of arguments. We want to know what you are thinking. Lack of courtesy does not tell us anything interesting about what is on your mind.

Many thanks to those of you who have taken the time to write thoughtful comments. You have made me laugh, you have made me think, you have made me fix mistakes — you have made this a better place to be and I will do my best to make this place a welcoming and safe community for you. I hope you will return often and keep letting me know what you think. Those whose comments I have deleted are also welcome to return; I know you can do better and I look forward to hearing from you again.

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Want to Know How I Got to Be a Lawyer/Movie Critic?

Posted on August 3, 2010 at 9:00 am

The latest Washington Post On Success query I was asked to respond to really hit home:
Q: At some point in your life, you probably decided to take a leap of faith and go in a direction — professionally or personally — that others did not expect. Like quit Goldman Sachs to be a goat farmer. Or leave a company job for your own venture. Was the move a success? Did the new direction turn out the way you thought it would?
I have had a lot of fun in my careers, but one of the the most exhilarating professional experiences I have had was rebooting myself when I decided after 18 years as a lawyer that I wanted to become a movie critic. Fifteen years later, I’m still doing both.
It’s not that being a movie critic is more fun than being a lawyer. Some days it is and some days it isn’t. But the experience of starting something completely new was completely thrilling. It was almost as much fun when I switched specialties eight years after law school.
Making a big change is a way to sweep out the mental cobwebs. By deconstructing your career, you challenge all of your assumptions about what you are capable of, especially any sense that you are stuck with what you’re doing just because that is what you have been doing. It’s a wonderfully bracing way for you to choose your life with energy, awareness, and purpose.
I had been the critic for my high school and college papers and had studied film history and criticism in college. Then I went to law school and did other things, including getting married and having two children, all of which occupied my full attention for quite a while.
But then the children began to become more independent. And I began to remember how much I missed seeing and writing about movies. I wrote an article for a magazine about sharing classic movies with children. And I became very intrigued with the then-new World Wide Web. I began posting my reviews and comments online. I knew I would need some sort of niche to make me stand out, so I decided the best was to use what I knew and write from the perspective of a mom. And I knew I would need some sort of credential, so I decided to write a book: The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies
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That led to my being invited to review movies on the radio. By the time Yahoo was looking for a movie critic, I had an archive ready to move to their site and weekly radio spots across the country to promote it. I had not planned to go to work for anyone else writing reviews, but when they had a job available, I was ready because I had done the work to establish myself. I later moved to Beliefnet, which made it possible for me to reach a broader audience and write features, commentary and interviews.
People often tell me they’d like to become a movie critic and I always tell them that if they write reviews, they are a critic. If they want to be a good critic, they will have to spend the time to study film history and they will have to make sure that their reviews are lively, vivid, engaging, and distinctive as well as illuminating and instructive. If they want to make money at it, they may have to find a time machine and go back to the 1970’s. This is the greatest time in history to be a writer, but it may be the worst time in history to try to get paid for it.
So it’s just two steps and one secret to making it happen. Step one is to own it. Don’t say, “if only.” Say, “I am.” And then be whatever it is. Be honest with yourself and take responsibility for making it happen. Step two is to do the work, every day. And the secret is: Define success by what you find fulfilling and meaningful, not what your great-aunt or your piano teacher or your own interior critic think you should be doing.
If it really is your passion and not just a Walter Mitty daydream, if you want to do it because it is something you love doing so much you can’t not do it, and not because you think doing it will make you successful and admired, then you will be the one willing to do the work to make it happen. As “Last Lecture” professor Randy Pausch said, “The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” They are there so you can show everyone that you are the one who deserves the opportunity — and show yourself, too.
And I have found that my two careers nourish and inform each other in unexpected ways — really. But that’s a story for another day.

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Tom Clocker Interviews The Movie Mom

Posted on July 9, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Many thanks to Baltimore movie critic Tom Clocker for a terrific profile and interview.
Some selections:
Tom: You don’t have to get into too much detail since everyone can check out the full article from The Washington Post, but it seems like you are incredibly busy with your two jobs: Movie Mom, and Corporate Analyst. How do you find the time to see several movies a week, write reviews, and participate in many radio interviews in addition to your second career? Sounds like you should throw in some seminars on Time Management while you’re at it.
Nell: I never use the word “busy” about myself or let anyone else use it about me. In Washington, especially, it is often used in a macho way by people who want to make themselves seem important. Even worse, it is often used by people to explain why they are not doing things they should or would like to do. I told my children if someone says, “I’m too busy” it means “what you’re asking about is not important to me.”
It takes a lot of courage and honesty to take responsibility for the decisions about what you will and won’t do. Sometimes I miss a meeting for a movie. Sometimes I miss a movie for a meeting. But I am always clear with myself and my colleagues and family about what my priorities are. And my family comes first, always.
Tom: If circumstances ever forced you to pick one of your two jobs, and we all hope that never happens, which one would get the boot?
Nell: I’ll bet if one job ended, instead of doing the other full-time, I’d find another part-time job. I’m A.D.D. and find the feeling of going back and forth between two things both soothing and energizing!

Tom: I’m sure everyone wants to know: What is your favorite movie? And, if it is different, what is your favorite Kid’s or Family movie?
Nell: I was supposed to write a book with 200 movies and it ended up with 500, so I have a lot of favorites! But my all-time favorite is The Philadelphia Story. Other favorites include To Have and Have Not, His Girl Friday, Ball of Fire, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Music Man, Yellow Submarine, and many more!
Tom: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring movie critics? What does it take to become successful and get noticed in a world where anyone with a computer can be an on-line movie critic?
Nell: I have the same advice for any aspiring writer — write! Learn as much as you can and write as much as you can. Have a distinctive voice and point of view. Your reviews have to be lively and informative.
I wrote more than 500 reviews before I got paid for it. Dana Stevens was an unemployed PhD who wrote reviews for her own website that were so good within a year she was writing for the NY Times and is now the movie critic for Slate. This is the best time in history for a writer because anyone can be published. On Rotten Tomatoes, all the critics are right next to each other, print and online, so if you’re good, people will read you. Anyone who has talent, courage, and dedication can make it happen.
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