Nobody’s Perfect

Since joining the staff of The New Yorker in 1993, Anthony Lane has alternated with David Denby and others as the magazine’s film critic while also writing occasional essays and profiles about literary figures, film directors, and other topics. Nobody’s Perfect: Writings from The New Yorker displays the diversity of his interests, his vivid writing style, and his strengths and weaknesses as a critic.

Lane is clearly a follower of his magazine’s legendary critic Pauline Kael, who retired in 1991. Kael attempted to convey the visceral experience of filmgoing and succeeded most of the time. Lane rarely tackles a film head on, choosing to dance around the periphery, often getting off good lines, occasionally displaying some insight.

Lane offers a simplified version of Kael’s critical philosophy, claiming to believe in trash and classics. The Clint Eastwood-Richard Burton war epic, Where Eagles Dare (1968), for example, he revisits like a shrine. Lane violates his principle, however, by adoring middlebrow films such as The English Patient (1996) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). His strengths include the rare ability to analyze performances, bringing the work of Kevin Spacey in L.A. Confidential (1997) and Bill Murray in Rushmore (1998) to life. His enthusiasm is infectious, whether proclaiming the greatness of Apocalypse Now Redux (2001) or gushing over Kate Winslet: “Isn’t she a dish?”

He can be condescending, as when he describes the violin repairs in Un Coeur en Hiver (1992) and wonders how long it has been since he learned anything from a film. Lane is perhaps at his best when he is more contemplative. His reflections on Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, and Preston Sturges upon the one hundredth anniversaries of their births are witty and insightful. His favorite film, by the way, is Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946).