(Santa Monica Press, 576 pages, $24.95)
By Peter Rainer
Over the past 30 years, Peter Rainer has gained a much-deserved reputation as one of the most respected film critics of his generation. But Rainer on Film is much more than just a simple collection of his published film reviews and essays that the title might suggest. At its core, this is a history of contemporary cinema; an insightful reflection on the evolution of the industry and the filmmakers who helped shape it.
Culled from Rainer’s extensive writings from publications including the Los Angeles Times and New York Magazine, the book is as entertaining as it is resourceful. The collected works are organized broadly by themes such as “Overrated and Underseen” (Fight Club is in the first category, A Cry in the Dark the latter); “Masterpieces” (Blue Velvet and Something Wild are among the diverse dozen); and “Comedies,” both intentional and unintentional (Sideways, intentional; Evita, unintentional).
A sizable chunk of the collection is dedicated to the directors themselves. His spotlight on “Youngish Turks” is particularly revealing as the reviews cover the early work of Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) and Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) who were, at the time, not much more than “promising” young directors. Rainer’s essays offer a candid assessment of the Hollywood climate these directors are emerging from.
And then there is the “Auteurs” section. The usual suspects abound (Kubrick, Hitchcock, Scorsese) but the surprising inclusions keep Rainer’s volume fresh and unique. Curtis Hanson and Baz Luhrmann share the page with Bergman and Altman. Spielberg gets his own chapter.
Even though these pieces were written at a fixed point in film history, Rainer was consistently able to spot new talent. Some entries come with a follow-up to the initial review; for Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, he boldly comments that the director “has shown himself to be the most versatile and highly gifted director of his generation.”
Smart, vibrant, and thoroughly engaging, Rainer on Film makes a terrific film companion for the seasoned cineaste and neophyte alike.
Review written by Carley Johnson