Category Archives: Movies

Ann Hornaday is the movie critic of The Washington Post and will be one of our guest speakers.

Movie stars + Hallmark holiday = just OK

By Emma Wojtowicz 
ArtsPost staff writer


Jennifer Garner and Ashton Kutcher in "Valentine's Day". Photo from the Internet Movie Database.

As entertaining as the crowded, all-star cast of “Valentine’s Day” is, skip the theater and wait until it is available on Netflix. Too many story lines create too many plot lines, which results in a shallow movie. The stories intertwine and surprise the audience, but, overall, the movie is predictable.

“Valentine’s Day” takes place from sunrise to sunset on Feb. 14 in Los Angles, and follows the day’s events of the cast of nearly 20 big-name actors. The main character is Reed (Ashton Kutcher), a florist, who is busy fulfilling Valentine’s Day flower orders. He proposes to his girlfriend, Morley (Jessica Alba), but the audience thinks he secretly likes Julia (Jennifer Garner). Reed spends the day driving around in a pink van with his best friend and work companion Alphonso (George Lopez). Now on to the next cluster of characters. Edgar (Hector Elizondo) and Estelle (Shirley MacLaine) have been married for more than 50 years, and they are raising their grandson (Bryce Robinson), whose babysitter is Grace (Emma Roberts), who is friends with Felicia (Taylor Swift), who is dating Willy (Taylor Lautner). Then there are the story lines and appearances of Julia Roberts, Jessica Biel, Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, Jamie Foxx, Kathy Bates, Bradley Cooper, Anne Hathaway and Queen Latifah.

The problem with this movie is not that there are too many top actors; rather there are too many actors, period. Anne Hathaway lucked out with a unique, comical story line that is effective despite her limited time on screen. Jessica Biel was not so lucky; the audience does not understand if a past relationship has made her bitter or if it is just Valentine’s Day. Queen Latifah’s character is pointless. Taylor Swift either needs to be less annoying or have less screen time. On the other hand, Julia Robert’s story line is endearing and deserves more screen time. “Valentine’s Day” could have made the list of best chic flicks if there were fewer characters and more character development.

Director Garry Marshall, who also directed the “Princess Diaries” movies and “Pretty Woman,” fails to successfully incorporate all the stories. “Valentine’s Day” pales in comparison to British film “Love Actually” and the masterful way it weaves stories while creating an emotional connection between the viewers and the characters. The muddled story lines in “Valentine’s Day” prevent the audience from sympathizing or empathizing with any of the characters. Just when the audience is intrigued and questioning what happens next, the characters disappear and are not seen for at least 20 minutes.

The characters’ ages range from a fifth grader to teens to 20-40 year-olds and grandparents. The meaning and stigma of Valentine’s Day is accurately depicted in the story lines of each age bracket, and is the saving grace of this film; without a buffer on each end of the age spectrum, “Valentine’s Day” would be added to the list of movies about 30-somethings complaining about their rough, loveless lives. But like the holiday itself, the movie will have come, gone and been forgotten.

Another Valentine equation?

By Elizabeth Ward

ArtsPost staff writer

While I didn’t fall in love, I may have stepped in to it by accident.

Valentine’s Day is a Los Angeles-placed romp, following various characters and their relational happenings. In every aspect, it echoes the myriad relationship webs of Love Actually and He’s Just Not That Into You, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Within the entangled picture, we once again encounter a variety of stereotypical characters: the cynic player, the hopeless romantic, the workaholic, the mom, the long-lasting elderly couple, the high school sweethearts, and the cute little kids who remind us of the innocence of love.

Above all things, Valentine’s Day is a huge Hollywood excuse to put as many starlets into these stereotypical roles as possible. Of course, anyone going into theaters for this film knows this already.

The amusement comes from seeing this plethora of people try to spark up the screen. Case in point: Taylor Swift, America’s country and pop music girl next door, debuts as an annoyingly adorable teenager. While it is easy enough to say that Swift tries way too hard, there’s something a bit charming about her even trying.

Even more entertaining are the many allusions to other roles the actors have played. Patrick Dempsey plays “the best” heart doctor on the West Coast – a role akin to his McDreamy brain surgeon counterpart on the popular TV-drama Grey’s Anatomy. Taylor Lautner, Twilight series’ favorite werewolf, plays yet another physically able high schooler. Although this time around, Lautner jokes that he is uncomfortable taking off his shirt, which makes us Twilight followers laugh. (Jacob the werewolf never shies away from baring torso muscle!)

Even Jamie Foxx hints at his Ray Charles role and R&B music alter ego in a piano-playing karaoke session. And Jennifer Gardner brings out some of her old femme fatal Alias moves in an epic scene with a baseball bat and piñata. Even when we see Julia Roberts and Bradley Cooper for the first time on a flight to L.A., the captain states, “…three days of rain.” While it is barely noticeable, it is a reference to the Broadway play Three Days of Rain, in which both of them starred.

The disappointment, as expected, exudes from the predictable plot and exaggerated neuroses of many other unnecessary characters. Jessica Biel is the perfect model for this, excelling once again at playing the type-casted hyperbole of the “I am married to my job and hate relationships” character, making her even more intolerable.

At the other spectrum is Shirley MacLain, whose small role is ever so charming. She exudes grace and even manages to play homage to herself, while still being delightful.

Yet these countless cameos seem to exist in order to distract us from the real problem: the lack of originality and ability to relate. One character cleverly summed this up in a line targeted at high schoolers: “Oo, I miss High School – full of promise, full of love, ignorant of reality.”

This movie is High School. We love the promise of these actors (at the time of its release, the cast had collectively been nominated for 16 Oscars, including four Oscar wins). We love movies saturated with themes of love (at least we chick-flick attendees do). More importantly, we value being able to relate to the characters we see on-screen, or we at least value being transported into that on-screen world so that we can better relate. In this way, Valentines Day fails.

It concentrates more on the quantity of characters rather than the quality of storytelling, depth of reality and relevant relationships.

This is especially substandard given its famed romantic comedy director, Garry Marshall, who has given us the enduring charm of Pretty Woman, Overboard, The Princess Diaries and Runaway Bride. In this case, it seems as if the cosmic conglomeration of love-rampant individuals overruled Marshall’s capacity to direct another classic.

As George Lopez’s character says in the movie, “It’s Valentine’s Day… You don’t think, you just do.” This seems to summarize Marshall’s mind frame going into the film’s production.

At the outset, Valentine’s Day feels more like repeated scenes of couples waking up in bed next to one another. Throughout the middle, it turns into the perfect movie to help with my 6-degrees-of-separation game I play with Hollywood actors. And in the end, it becomes an all-around package of a saw-that-coming romantic comedy, only differing in the many more faces to put with the many more inevitable conclusions.

Begrudgingly, I believe these types of movies hold a significant place in the Hollywood landscape. When done well – like its corresponding Love Actually and He’s Just Not That Into You – these intertwined romantic pictures mold into the movies we can watch over and over and over again without guilt.

But love won’t come until I can interact with it more casually – with a glass of wine, a slice of chocolate cake and a group of girlfriends who can stupidly laugh and excessively comment at it with me. Only then will I truly love the scorned lover scenes, the awkward teenage sex drives and the romantic acts of “love” void of character.

Boys not allowed.

Whip It: Juno With Skates

By Lauren Linhard
ArtsPost Staff Writer

“Whip It,” recently released on DVD, comes packaged with an additional cardboard cover that opens to pictures of the cast. The movie puts in good effort, but you are obviously paying top dollar for the case rather than the film. Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, though featuring a rather impressive cast of Hollywood females, lacks energy and originality.

“Whip It” is a familiar coming-of-age story with roller derby thrown in there for a twist. It starts with a young Bliss Cavendar being forced to live her mother’s dream in the world of Texas pageants. It’s only a matter of time before Bliss discovers her need for roller derby and some kick-ass substitute mothers. Of course, when her parents learn of her secret life as Babe Ruthless, everything starts to fall apart and Bliss must choose between her parent’s wishes and her own.

The usual groups of stereotypical characters find their place in “Whip It.” The first five minutes show the obnoxious popular crowd teasing Bliss. Then there is the sexually mature best friend that emphasizes Bliss’ naiveté. And the film is peppered with scenes of parents who just don’t understand.  While all of these characters have been seen before, they do their part to fuel the film.

However, the most annoying thing about movies is when a random, unnecessary, romance is just kind of tossed into the plot mix. It’s inevitable that the love interest does something that causes complete disruption in the protagonist’s journey. In this case, the role falls to Oliver (Landon Pigg). Bliss refuses to admit defeat and leaves home when her parent’s find out about derby. But the second she learns her musician boyfriend has cheated, she breaks down and returns to face the judgment of her parents. It would have been better just to pass up that small niche audience that always craves a love interest, no matter how shallow.

Ellen Page does an excellent job as an unconventional young woman seeking freedom. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Juno was taken from the suburbs and told to skate in circles. Minus the pregnant belly, Page’s performance lacked fresh inspiration. Jimmy Fallon makes for an amusing “Hot Tub” Johnny Rocket, the roller derby commentator. The rather dry script depends heavily on him for the rare comedic lines.

Barrymore’s random appearances as Smashley Simpson, one of the Hurl Scout skaters, comes off completely false and overacted. Strongest in chick flicks like “Never Been Kissed” and “Music and Lyrics,” Barrymore just couldn’t find her bearings as a derby skater. Perhaps, as director, she should have stayed behind the camera this time.

As far as camera work goes, the film does deserve credit for gradual improvement. With Robert Yeoman behind the camera, having previously worked on “Yes Man” and “Martian Child,” the movie transitions from visually amateur to professional. Though shots were out of time with the skating action in early derby matches, the final skate scene was much more successful. The quick cuts increased tension and the rapid filming tempo during the championship was much more impressive.

Despite that “Whip It” is a story seen many times before, audiences will find the derby culture amusing and fans of Ellen Page will appreciate the film’s efforts. “Whip It” doesn’t merit a true movie-night, but you might consider it when craving something brainless. Suggestion: just wait till the price goes down.

“Only Angels Have Wings”: a contemporary comparison and defense

Howard Hawks has gone down in history as one of the greatest underrated Hollywood storytellers in the past century. A visual stylist, Hawks rarely stuck to the same genre for long – capturing the versatility of romantic comedies, slapstick melodramas, westerns and serious dramas such as Scarface, Bringing Up Baby, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and El Dorado.

Of these Hawksian classics is Only Angels Have Wings, a 1939 film, which screened at the AFI Silver Theatre this past week as a part of a Jean Arthur retrospective

Starring the unmistakably timeless Cary Grant opposite the spunky Jean Arthur, Only Angels Have Wings is quintessentially old time Hollywood. It portrays a group of ‘Hemingway-esque’ jungle pilots working on a South American airstrip and the head honcho, Geoff Carter (Grant) as the conflicted, cynical protagonist. It blends action, adventure, comedy and pathos in a story about men determined to keep their free-flying livelihood.

Set in the exotic, make-believe Barranca seaport – a trade city for bananas – Hawks immediately transports us to the new, beautiful and different. At the outset, the film is a visually stunning romp, equipped with Havana music, palm trees and attractive, flirtatious people. Yet with a plot centered on the danger and dedication of piloting airplanes, Only Angels Have Wings is suddenly dark, deep and depressing. (Which is exactly how I would describe a number of this year’s Academy Award Best Picture nominees.)

This makes me wonder: how does this Hawks film compare to present-day Hollywood hits? Can we compare? Does it benefit our understanding and appreciation of the classic movie genre to do so?

While obviously not shot on location, the same attention to detail, in scene and costume, is apparent. Men don khaki, leather jackets, Havana hats, gun slings and accessorized cigarettes – adequately representing the era and locale. What differs from most contemporary movies is the capturing of this detail. We are so attuned to fast-paced camera angles and scene cuts, but where Hawks is a master is his ability to attend to scene composition and length. He lingers on frames, cutting only when absolutely necessary. In doing this, we are allowed to soak in minutiae and scenarios. We are the immovable bystander, not the omniscient ever-moving eye, a calmer perspective from the norm.

He is even able to successfully direct effects. For a film made 70 years, we witness spectacular aerial photography by the premiere trailblazing aerial photographer of the time, Joseph Walker. Here he is able to capture plane-side action shots, which are no less appealing than Avatar’s cliff flying Pandora scenes. Yes, we see a few strings holding up model planes and some entertainingly fake explosions – but this film was not meant to be the early Star Wars/Armageddom action/adventure epic tale.

It is almost like a skeleton of Ben Affleck’s Pearl Harbor – sans war and romantic fluff, but with more character. Above all, it is about brotherhood and less about love and passion. It follows the same formulas we find in many of Hawk’s films.

Plotline one: an outsider in the form of Bonnie Lee (Arthur) enters and destroys the equilibrium, so what must happen to restore this equilibrium? Plotline two: Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess), the man with a disgraceful past, must endure the subsequent road to redemption alongside the strong, stoic leading man Geoff. These themes show up in many of Hawks’s films. Sure, we could also approach feminist critiques about the roles and attitudes of the Hawksian heroines in Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth, but we could make the same arguments for all women in today’s films – they accidentally fall in love and make plans. They are the starry eyed girls looking at a “screwy ideal of a man,” as Bonnie Lee would say.

On the other end of the spectrum are men like Geoff, who live for today. They fly planes without a safety net and “never ask anyone to do anything.” They’re irresistibly good guys for girls to stay away from. We’ve all known and seen these men depicted (think James Dean and Western cowboys), but nowadays we are accustomed to seeing these men change for the love of a woman. For Hawks, this is not the point of resolution. Rather, it is about brotherhood and honor. Men stay true to who they are, no matter how much women will them to change.

What we also do not experience today are the sort of strange story structures and dialogue with which Hawks composes his films. Only Angels Have Wings is seemingly split into three stories, almost like acts in a play. Act I: romantic introductions; Act II: a men’s melodrama; Act III: a drawn-out redemptive resolution. Within these acts are the delightful improvised breakouts into harmonized song, where a single scene has an entire musical group framed harmoniously as one.

However, toward the end of the film, we see four identical shots from the airplane with the characters stating, “Calling Barranca” into their radios. This sequence lasts 10 minutes or more before anything “exciting” happens. But is this poor storytelling? Not if it means taking realistic sequential steps to the ultimate conclusion… even if it results in impatience!

Indeed, parallelism runs rampant in this film. Multiple captured flights show almost identical take-off and landing footage. More important, the film successfully comes full circle with a concluding setting mimicking one of the opening scenes. A man has just died from a disastrous plane crash, as did a man at the onset of the film, but while the motions of the characters are aligned in both instances, the emotions and reaction are violently, affectedly disparate. This is the most poignant portrayal of these actors’ interpretive ability.

Grant has famously been criticized for being too “pretty” to carry powerhouse roles. If anything, Only Angels Have Wings will prove these criticisms are unsound. He’s our present-day Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt – it is not their fault they are beautiful, especially if they can act their parts. Grant not only acts this troubled role, but he picks up on the dialogue’s nuances, giving us just enough hints to get into the head of this broken man.

This differentiated method of acting is coupled and fed by the pointed dialogue. The move reads more like a stage play, with a few inner monologue asides and many vague references to unseen interactions. The dialogue is more honest and blunt, making it almost offensive yet balanced by its context and character. Today, we are impressed by restricted dialogue (Wall-E) and over-dynamic word vomit (Juno) – both of which grab our attention. But rarely do we find films that are direct but without full exposure. It is intelligent writing no longer used in contemporary filmmaking.

With films like Only Angels Have Wings, I soak in the difference in attitude, storytelling and content. It helps provide a point of departure for the films I love today, while reminding me that a good movie is a good movie, regardless of time.

Soars higher than expectations

By Emma Wojtowicz
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Bonnie Lee (Jean Arthur) describes her on-screen love interest Geoff Carter (Cary Grant) saying, “It’s like being in love with a buzz saw.” More quips and clever comments follow in Howard Hanks’ 1939 film, “Only Angels Have Wings.” The smart dialogue is engaging and the best feature of this film.

The film takes place in the fictional South American banana port of Barranca. Geoff is a thrill-seeking pilot who manages a small airline and group of flyers responsible for carrying mail over a dangerous mountain pass. Bonnie is a piano-playing entertainer, who is transferring boats at the port. The cast dynamics change when Bat MacPherson (Richard Barthelmess) and his wife, Judy, (Rita Hayworth) arrive. Bat’s past causes tension and strife among the pilots, but Geoff is in need of a pilot who is willing to take chances.

“Only Angels Have Wings” incorporates love, life and loyalty into the characters’ relationships. According to Geoff, flying is a dangerous occupation that does not accommodate love. Bonnie is convinced she can accept the risks that come with flying and will not try to ground Geoff as have other women from his past. Her feelings and emotions are put to the test when storms threaten the safety of the flights. Bonnie Lee is annoying and needy. She stalks Geoff, hoping he will give her attention and does not take “no” for an answer. Geoff and Bonnie lack chemistry and their potential romance is unbelievable. Geoff’s friendship with fellow pilot Kid (Thomas Mitchell) is more heartfelt than his relationship with Bonnie.

But Grant’s portrayal of Geoff makes the film worthwhile. He plays Geoff as quick-talking and arrogant, but loyal to his business and his pilots. His witty comments invoke laughter and emotion in the audience. Geoff’s constant criticism of Bonnie and her decision to linger on the island is amusing. Grant brings sophistication and confidence to his character. The audience recognizes when Geoff is fighting off his sensitive feelings and sees that he genuinely cares about his pilots and their business.

“Only Angels Have Wings” was nominated for two Oscars in 1940, best cinematography and best effects. The flying scenes are excessive by the end; nevertheless, they are exciting and well-made for the time. The other scenes take place in a saloon where clever dialogue is exchanged among the characters. The film bounces between the sky and the saloon, thus bouncing between different moods of the film. One minute the audience fears for the lives of the pilots, and then the next scene they are laughing at conversations between Geoff and Bonnie.

This film falls under several movie genres: drama, action, comedy and romance. This is a charming feature of older movies uncommon to films today. “Only Angels Have Wings” would be criticized today for being unfocused and scattered. This kind of film appeals to a wider audience because it encompasses different genres. Romance is intertwined with action-aviation sequences, but neither steals the spotlight. Geoff’s interest in women and his passion for flying are both evident and are both the focus of the film. The setting contributes to the movie’s genres; the tropical setting is romantic, but when the fog sets in it become dangerous. Howard Hawks, who also directed “Bringing Up Baby,” effectively balances romance, drama, comedy and action into one film.

Run time: 122 minutes

No ‘little green men’ needed…

By Alexandra Wells

ArtsPost Staff Writer

When you think of term “alien,” little green men often come to mind, sometimes having scales or even antennae. But in K-PAX (2001), directed by Iain Softley and based on Gene Brewer’s novel, the possible alien is Prot (played by Kevin Spacey). He is physically normal, but hides his oddness inside.

Prot simply shows up in Grand Central Station, one sunny afternoon and is thought to be crazy because he claims he comes from another planet. After being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, he’s taken to a psychiatric ward and assumed to be mentally ill. Dr. Mark Powell (played by Jeff Bridges) meets Prot and decides to try and treat his condition with psychotherapy.

Yet along the way Powell begins to wonder: is Prot really crazy or is he from outer space? However, Powell can’t seem to stump Prot with his questions relating to his home planet and even asks an astrophysicist friend to fact check some astronomy that Prot can’t possibly know. When the doctor feels as if he has no other options, he decides to put Prot into hypnosis and finds out some unfathomable answers.

In this science fiction movie, Powell does find his answers, but near the end of the movie, he says, “he wishes he hadn’t.” Prot stays optimistic and is an inspiration for all of the patients, but mostly for Powell.

Although Prot looks just like a human, he doesn’t seem to know basic things: He eats bananas with the peel still on and talks/barks with a dog. Spacey is the perfect man for this job, and pulls it off by convincingly acting a tad out of the ordinary throughout the entire movie.

The two actor’s performances were so spending throughout the film that no little green men are necessary. In addition, movie watchers each are allowed their own assumptions and views, as a definite answer is not always given.

Prot steps around some major questions, such as light travel, by using metaphors or excuses; this only allows viewers to create their own answers. The conclusion of the movie has multiple surprises and leaves any viewer wishing for a sequel. As he exists, Prot turns to Powell and adds with a sigh, “I shall miss Earth. It has great potential.”

The touching film was nominated for the Saturn and Image awards and brought in more than $50 million in 2001, the year it was released to the public. At least for a few hours after I watched the film, K-PAX altered the way I see the world and how I interact with it.

Golly Gee Willikers!

By Alexandra Wells
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Monday, March 1, 2010

“Only Angels Have Wings”, directed in 1939 by Howard Hawks, is a romantic drama that was nominated for two Academy Awards.  The film was released during a landmark year, as “Gone with the Wind”, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, also date to 1939, creating an astonishing number of classic films that audiences still watch today.

Only Angels Have Wings” begins when Bonnie Lee (played by Jean Arthur) waits for her boat to set sail again from a port in South America.  While she peruses the fictional port of Barranca, she attracts the attention of two American pilots and the trio head to a bar together.

At the bar, Lee soon becomes enamored of their boss, Geoff Carter, (played by Cary Grant).  He is the lead pilot of a small airline company that delivers mail over a foggy mountain pass.  When a new pilot arrives, he and his wife, Judy MacPherson, (played by Rita Hayworth), affects Geoff and the other pilots in a surprising way. Two key attributes distinguish this major motion picture from the others of its day.  First, the superb cinematography includes aerial and action scenes in the fog above the unpredictable Andes Mountains.  Secondly, director Hawks recruits a first-rate cast featuring Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Rita Hayworth and others.

Although the basic story is one that will resonate in people’s hearts for generations to come, to a viewer watching this movie in the 21st century, much of it feels out-dated.  Terms like “he’s a queer duck” or exclamations such as “golly gee willikers” are somewhat off-putting to anyone who grew up during the digital age.

Late in the movie, instead of the pilots using oxygen masks when they are at high elevation, they instead bite onto oxygen tubes.  Also, cigarette smoking is a constant element throughout the entire movie by everyone in the cast, 1930’s dreamy music plays in the background and women’s role in society is very differently defined than in the present day.

Easily Hawks’ best film, “Only Angels Have Wings”, is a compelling classic that has something for every movie-goer: action, suspense, romance and comedy, all rolled into one black-and-white, two-hour adventure. There are love quarrels, fights, deceit, death, shootings, total humiliation, romance and intrigue. The advertising posters proclaimed the film was: “Thrilling As Love Born Amid A Thousand Fabulous Adventures!” Seventy years after the film was first released in theaters, it still manages to hold the attention of modern audiences.

Writing passion leads to writing about movies: Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday talks about her growth as a critic

Film critic Ann Hornaday likes to take a notebook with her into the theater, and then “let the movie happen” to her, “but I don’t write right away.” She likes to see how a movie sits with her a day or two later, and contemplate whether  she remembers it fondly and could see it again, or not, although she rarely gets the time to do so. She sees two or three movies a week — and two or three a day during the Christmas season.

How did The Washington Post’s film critic learn to do reviews? “The best piece of advice I ever got .. What was the artist trying to do? Did he or she achieve it? And is it worth doing?” she recently told the arts criticism class at American University. And answering those first two questions “lets you judge a film on its own merit,” and the third “then gets into your own sense of aesthetics,” she added.

She said her background as a magazine fact-checker and researcher, as well as her constant reporting for  news-features, “feeds the critical eye always,” adding that many people may not realize how much reporting a reviewer does.

A long-lasting point she gleaned from director Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) is that the most important thing any director can do is to establish the tone of the movie. That overarching goal was, for her, the reason The Lovely Bones did not succeeed: “I felt like I never knew where I was emotionally,” she said of the recent release of the movie. In contrast, she cited Sophia Coppola’s skill at creating tone, a sense of place and “an world that was utterly convincing” in her movies, including Lost in Translation. Hornaday’s favorite movie of 2009 was The Hurt Locker, the story of an elite Army bomb squad, and movies she recommends this spring include Goodbye, Solo, and Sugar. (See her spring preview  here.)

Hornaday was a government major at Smith College, and not a film buff. But “what was a great passion  was writing,” she said. And to that end, she decided after graduation to follow her heart to New York City, where she did a round of information interviews, which eventually led to an opening as a fact-checker at Ms. magazine. She stayed for several years, but after being laid off, she was “spurred to become a freelancer,” a role that, in turn, led her to do New York Times’ book reviews and a variety of features for women’s magazines.

When Premiere magazine was looking for someone to help set up their research department, she took the job, which also became another source for building contacts as the editor also hired her to write stories. Jump ahead to a meeting with director Joe Berlinger that led to her writing about his 1992 documentary Brother’s Keeper, which in turn led to  the start of a long-term relationship with the Times’ Arts & Leisure section. Her various writing outlets and assignments led her to see herself as “still very much a generalist,” but increasingly she was writing about film. So she applied for and received a Pew Fellowship in arts journalism that took her to the University of Georgia and a year to study films and film history. Even now, “I’m constantly feeling I need to educate myself,” she said, “looking at a movement or historical chapters I don’t know about.”

In 1995 she became the movie critic at the Austin American-Statesman in Austin, Texas, where she stayed for two years before moving to Baltimore to be the movie critic at the Baltimore Sun until 2000. She has been at The Washington Post since 2002 and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism in 2008.

Influences include the legendary Pauline Kael of The New Yorker and her former Post colleague Stephen Hunter. “He wrote with such gusto,” she said, “and sort of looseness. He had a really unguarded, unaffected” writing style. “He taught me to loosen up,” Hornaday said. She said she learned from him “not to be so precious about your own voice.”

— Lynne Perri

Some of Hornaday’s recent reviews and features:

Profile of Alec Baldwin:

Review of The Lovely Bones:

Review of Crazy Heart:

Review of Youth in Revolt:

Review of A Single Man:

Best of the decade: