When Roger Ebert announced plans to revive his half-hour movie review television program, At the Movies, after its sudden cancellation in August, cinephiles were understandably excited. After all, Ebert is a Pulitzer Prize winner who has continued to review films at a torrid pace for The Chicago Sun-Times despite his long battle with thyroid cancer. (He was diagnosed in 2002, and the disease stripped him of his ability to speak following surgery in 2006, the year he relinquished hosting duties of the show.)
But when Ebert named his new co-hosts of the show, Associated Press film critic Christy Lemire and 24-year-old Russian film critic and blogger Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, everyone in the film world was left scratching their heads.
Who is Ignatiy Vishnevetsky ( Ig-nah-tee Vish-neh-vet-ski)?
Vishnevetsky was born in Moscow, where he cultivated a love of American action and sci-fi movies. “Comedy movies didn’t translate very well when they were dubbed,” he said, so he “never liked American comedies very much.” He immigrated to a suburb of Atlanta—Decatur, Georgia—at the age of 8 and then moved to Wisconsin when he reached middle school. At that point, Vishnevetsky became obsessed with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, who he says “had a strong hold over my childhood.” After graduating from high school, he moved to Chicago and briefly attended Columbia College. He worked odd jobs as a translator and Laundromat attendant before becoming immersed in the Chicago film scene. Vishnevetsky published his own film zine before writing for the online film website Mubi and contributing to the Chicago Reader.
The Daily Beast decided to quiz Vishnevetsky and test his movie mettle.
Name the last 10 winners of the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Let me see…What won last year? It was The Hurt Locker. Um…What won the year before? I frankly can’t even remember, like, three Academy Award winners for Best Picture. I’ll be totally honest, I don’t really follow awards very well—not the Academy, nor the Globes, nor the National Association of Film Critics.
It would be Slumdog Millionaire after The Hurt Locker.
Oh, Slumdog! That’s right.
No, I can’t.
Michelle Williams was on Dawson’s Creek, and Ryan Gosling was in several TV shows: The Mickey Mouse Club, Breaker High, and Young Hercules among them.
Since you’re Russian, born in Moscow, can you name three movies by Andrei Tarkovsky, arguably the greatest Russian filmmaker?
Let’s go with the first three: The Steamroller and the Violin—or actually, before that, we can go with There Will Be No Leave Today, which he co-directed with Aleksandr Gordon, and Ivan’s Childhood. I’m a film critic—I’m not an entertainment reporter. I couldn’t tell you what Ryan Gosling did before he did movies.
Prior to being a film critic, you worked as a translator and a Laundromat attendant. In what film did Johnny Depp play a translator? And in what film, set largely in a Laundromat, helped launch the career of Daniel Day-Lewis?
Is it My Beautiful Laundrette for Daniel Day-Lewis?
You got it.
I can’t remember what film Johnny Depp played a translator in?
That would be Platoon.
Oh, Platoon! Oh, yes. I haven’t seen that movie in like 15 years, which tells you that I saw the movie when I was 9. I think that’s the last time I saw it.
The man who hired you, Roger Ebert, dabbled in screenwriting—unsuccessfully.
I would disagree that it was unsuccessfully! I like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls!
Well, could you name two of the four films he scripted?
Let’s see… Did he do… Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens?
Yes! Next question. One of the frontrunners this Oscar season appears to be Natalie Portman for her performance in Black Swan. Can you name her real name, as well as her debut feature film?
It’s Natalie Hershlag, I know that. And it’s Leon: The Professional as her first role. Everyone loves that movie when they’re a kid. Children have all kinds of violent fantasies about becoming hit men. As kids, we like all kinds of movies where children are doing things they’re not allowed to do.
You dropped out of Columbia College at one point. Can you name three films that were released this past year that contain any scene at a school?
The Social Network has enough scenes at a school to cover eight movies. What else this year had a scene at a school? White Material has a really lovely scene at a school where Isabelle Huppert is picking up her ex-husband’s son from the school that he goes to. I’m trying to think what else has a good school scene that stood out this year…[long pause]
I could give you a hint.
OK, give me a hint.
The hint is lesbians? Is it… The Kids Are All Right?
…Which I actually have not seen. Someone else covered that. Oftentimes, you only end up seeing the stuff you’re assigned and don’t have time to see stuff outside.
They’re not sending you Oscar screeners?
Um… Well, no. Right now, I’m just seeing the films that we’re covering for the show. We scrapped the idea of doing a "best-of" for the first episode—which was in the works originally—which would have involved seeing pretty much everything that came out this year. But we decided against it.
The Oscar frontrunner for Best Picture this year appears to be The Social Network. Can you name three films, other than The Social Network, that were scripted by the great Aaron Sorkin?
Oh, I don’t think Aaron Sorkin is great. I would vastly disagree on that. I think his script for that film is maybe one of its weakest assets. The dialogue is fine, the actual structuring and characterization is a completely different matter. Let’s see… Is A Few Good Men one of them? That’s the only one I can think of off the top of my head.
He did Charlie Wilson’s War a few years back, and he’s also written Malice, and The American President.
Oh! I never knew he directed The American President. I haven’t seen that since it came out on video and I definitely didn’t know who Aaron Sorkin was at the time.
Next question. Colin Firth seems to be a lock for the Best Actor Oscar this year, but he’s probably best known for his portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries Pride and Prejudice. Can you name three films where Firth has poked fun at his Darcy persona?
Well, there’s those Bridget Jones movies. That counts for two of them. Bridget Jones’ Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. Is there a third one?
He actually pokes fun at Darcy in St. Trinian’s, and a bit in Nanny McPhee, Easy Virtue, and What a Girl Wants.
OK, last question: The late icon John Hughes set many of his films in what fictional town just outside of Chicago?
[Groan] Well, this is the part where I tell you that I’m really not a John Hughes fan. Those movies are pretty bad.
You don’t like any of his films?
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is pretty darn good, but those teenage ones, no, I’m not terribly fond of.
Not even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
It’s fun. I don’t think it’s a great movie or even a very good one, but it’s a lot of fun. It has, I think, quite a bit of nostalgic value for a lot of people that leads them to overlook its flaws—which is true of all Hughes’ films. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of his fictional suburb.
Ah! I knew it started with an ‘S.’
Since it’s awards season and you’re not doing a "best-of" on your new show, could you give us some of your best films of the year?
I have kind of a dislike that I’m trying to overcome—or mediate—of putting together "top" lists, but off the top of my head of things I really liked this year: Certified Copy, which doesn’t come out until this year, would be at the top, but that would be sort of ineligible of any top 10. Vincere, Father of My Children, which I really loved, The Ghost Writer, and I liked The Social Network quite a bit.
Even though you didn’t like Sorkin’s screenplay?
Well, ultimately, the screenplay is the only part of a movie that you can fit into a wastebasket. So, even if it’s filmed with absolute fidelity—which is true of The Social Network, since there’s very little said onscreen that differs from the Sorkin script—I feel like Fincher’s direction still takes it into territory that it isn’t originally meant to go. Not just his handling of the actors, but I think his handling of the images, is really what makes the film.
And lastly, did Roger Ebert ever tell you why he chose you to co-host his show?
Because he liked my writing and because he felt I was articulate in expressing my opinions. That’s the explanation I was given.
Mr. Vishnevetsky scored a 3 out of 10 on our quiz.
The new incarnation of Ebert’s show, Roger Ebert Presents At the Movies, will air its debut episode on Jan. 21 on PBS stations in 192 markets, and worldwide on the Armed Forces Network. It will bring back Ebert’s signature “thumbs up/thumbs down” rating system, and, although Ebert won’t be reviewing films, he will employ a computer voice to introduce the proceedings.
Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and is a masters degree recipient from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial dept. of Blender Magazine, as an editor at Amplifier Magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.