Philip French is retiring after 50 years as a film critic at The Observer in the U.K.
He recently turned 80 and has seen more than 2,500 movies, written six books and been honored as an Officer of the British Empire for his efforts.
French has always held strong opinions and he offered some up in an exit interview with The Observer’s Elizabeth Day. In addition to her queries, French answered questions from readers and filmmakers including Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, and offered his opinions.
>> The best Bond?
Sean Connery, without doubt. And my favorite Bond movie, because it was the first, is “Dr No.” On the other hand, I have a very soft spot – my body is covered in soft spots – for George Lazenby who I thought was unfairly abused. “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” [in which Lazenby plays 007] is one of the best Bond movies.
>> What current director could become a giant of cinema?
Christopher Nolan. I saw his first film at the Dinard film festival. It was made on a shoestring and was called “The Following.” I thought it was one of the best recent British films and I did predict he was going to be a major director. He went on to make "Memento" and I wrote an unreservedly positive review about it. He both fulfilled his promise by becoming one of the major film directors, and he's also, unfortunately, got too involved in expensive movies.
>> Will any current actors have the impact of Marlon Brando or Robert De Niro?
Ryan Gosling has a presence with which he can command a film. I think “Only God Forgives” you could say is a Ryan Gosling film – he really is what holds your attention. I think Matt Damon is a wonderful actor. If you look at him he looks like someone who has just been signed up for a team of Irish-American builders and yet he has an extraordinary charisma and also, he hasn't got the mannerisms of a star: he's an actor without ego. The other person who has gone from being a juvenile to a serious actor is Leonardo DiCaprio, particularly in the films in which he's collaborated with Martin Scorsese.
>> How do you cleanse the palate after watching a soul-destroyingly crap movie?
I suppose the way, without resorting to alcohol, is to see a favorite movie. After seeing one of the “Hangover” films or any of the three or four British movies about appalling behavior at weddings which are quite as bad, I would probably go to the nearest shop and buy a DVD of “Annie Hall” or “Hannah and Her Sisters.”
>> Have you ever championed a film, only to change your mind years later?
I was a considerable champion in the early 1970s of Bernardo Bertolucci's “Last Tango in Paris.” I was championing it against the demand that it should be banned and, indeed, Lord Longford attacked me on the radio for having supported it. I still think it's a film of some significance but I no longer think it's a towering masterpiece and much of it now strikes me as downright bad, not to say embarrassing.
>> Is there still a role for the print film critic in the digital era? Yes. I don't think that any critic in any medium will have the same influence that certain critics have had in the past … but I think there will always be a place for good critics. I'm sure there will also be plenty of indifferent critics employed because they are personalities of kinds and write in an entertaining way but I don't think that criticism will ever have influence in the same way again. Indeed, many newspapers in America now think they can get along perfectly well without them. But of course, most of them manage to get along without decent writing, too.
>> Have you ever been offered sex or drugs to alter a review? Or both?
Unfortunately, no. I think I took a cigarette from a film-maker once at a party.