5 Questions with...Tribune's Michael Phillips

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Michael Phillips

Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the city's most popular personalities on the spot with everyone's favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled "5 Questions with..."

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, it's our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This week's guest, one of the most respected film critics in the nation whose no-holds-barred movie reviews have become a must-read for Chicago Tribune readers from coast to coast, the next few months will definitely keep this guy occupied to say the least with a busy holiday film schedule on tap, not to mention Oscar season right is around the corner, without further adieu, here are "5 Questions with...MICHAEL PHILLIPS!"

BIO: Michael Phillips is the film critic of the Chicago Tribune and was co-host of the long-running nationally syndicated TV show "At the Movies" in its final season after filling in for Roger Ebert off-and-on since 2006. He covers movies for CLTV and can be heard most Fridays on WGN-AM. This summer he guest hosted the popular filmspotting.net podcast (broadcast on WBEZ-FM) and has been a guest on everything from "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "Entourage," "The View," "Charlie Rose," BBC radio, MSNBC and locally on ABC 7.

In his former life as a theater critic, he wrote for the Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Dallas Times-Herald. He has chaired the Pulitzer Prize drama jury and is a three-time Pulitzer drama juror. Born in Kenosha, Wis., raised in Racine, Wis., Phillips is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and lives on Chicago's Northwest Side with his wife and son and two dogs. One of the dogs is a good dog. The other one's improving.

1) CSNChicago.com: Michael, thanks again for taking time out of your busy schedule to spend a few minutes with us. Lets get right to it ... as of this moment, from the movies youve seen so far in 2010, who do you consider to be the Oscar front-runners for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture?

Phillips: Screw it, who cares about the Oscars?

No, I kid. Im kidding. I care deeply about the Oscars, though not as much as I care about The Oscar (1966), which is one of the paragons of terrible melodrama. Its the one in which Stephen Boyd plays the unscrupulous weasel willing to do nearly anything to win an Academy Award. You should see it sometime if you havent.

Now, back to the real world:

With the Best Picture nomination list reconfigured last year to include 10 films, instead of five, the Oscars have made plenty of room for profitable mediocrities, along with films of actual quality. The Social Network and The Kings Speech are the front-runners and, whatever happens, both films will likely dominate the nominations in major categories. Theyre both good, too, which is nice.

Best Actress: I loved The Kids Are All Right, so Id be heartened to see both Annette Bening and Julianne Moore nominated. Natalie Portmans gripping in Black Swan. And I suspect Jennifer Lawrence from Winters Bone will get a nomination.

Best Actor: Colin Firth, The Kings Speech. Jesse Eisenberg will likely get (and deserve) a nod for The Social Network, but itll be Firth.

Its important to remember that the Oscars are simply trivia, which doesnt mean theyre not entertaining. The awards show is just the company picnic for an industry in flux. But I will say that the notion of marginalizing the honorary Oscars portion of the event, so that the Old People dont clutter up the telecast, makes me a little crazy.

2) CSNChicago.com: What would you say is your biggest film(s) disappointment so far this year and what films did you go into with somewhat low expectations and ended up truly enjoying?

Phillips: My biggest film disappointment so far this year? How about the entire summers worth of meh sequels (Iron Man 2), gargantuan headaches (Knight and Day) and 80s retreads (The A-Team)? No wonder Inception made waves, as well as making money, especially with younger audiences: at least its mind-games had some real movie-making going for them.

On the other hand: Nice to see a DreamWorks animated feature like How to Train Your Dragon make a virtue out of the 3-D format, in a year when so many films lazily repurposed for 3-D (The Last Airbender, etc.) did not.

And mainstream indies along the lines of Winters Bone and Get Low gave mainstream indies a very good name indeed.

3) CSNChicago.com: This debate will go on forever (especially in our office), but since we have you here, the question has to be asked. Name your top 5 favorite sports-themed movies of all-time.

Phillips: The Set-Up (1949). Great boxing drama with Robert Ryan.

Bull Durham (1988). Ron Shelton knows both comedy and sports, and its his best film.

Sugar (2008). Too few people know about this fantastic slice-of-life about a Dominican baseball players introduction to America. Its beautiful -- sad, but full of life, and truth.

Hoop Dreams (1994). A true Chicago story, and a documentary that forces the viewer to reckon with the good, the bad and the bittersweet in-between that comes from any pursuit of sports excellence.

Boxing Gym (2010). I guarantee you have not heard of Frederick Wisemans documentary, entirely free of narration or title cards or the usual trappings. But its a beaut.

4) CSNChicago.com: If you werent a journalist, what profession do you feel you would excel at the most?

Phillips: Im a critic, which is a form of journalist, but I have as much in common with a good metro reporter as I do with a brain surgeon or a chef. I dont know, maybe ... psychologist? Professor? The great thing about being a film critic is youre both, to varying degrees.

5) CSNChicago.com: Our beautiful city has been captured on film in hundreds of movies over the years. What Chicago based movies stand out to you the most that truly captures the essence of this city?

Phillips: Chicagos such a marvelous camera subject! The key Chicago movies, to me, arent the ones everybody thinks of first (The Blues Brothers, Ferris Buellers Day Off).

Id vote for Underworld (1927), which wasnt filmed here and in which Chicago is never mentioned by name -- but its the seminal Chicago gangster picture, the forerunner to the great early sound era gangster classic Scarface and the film that helped cement in the public mind Chicagos image as a glorified morality play, written in blood and bullets.

Then Id vote for Call Northside 777 (1948), which WAS filmed here.

Then, two from the 60s: Mickey One (1965), strange, unsteady New Wave-inspired Arthur Penn movie starring Warren Beatty as a mobbed-up Chicago nightclub comic (great location footage of nightspots long gone), and Medium Cool (1969), in which the grim Democratic National Convention clashes of the year before become part of the film itself.

And I love how Christopher Nolan made familiar Chicago sights look eerie and new in The Dark Knight.

BONUS QUESTION CSNChicago.com: Anything you want to plug Michael? Please share it with us

Phillips: A.O. Scott and I had a ball co-hosting the final season of At the Movies. We heard from so many people, all ages, who appreciated us bringin the nerd back to film criticism. Meantime, we thrive (thank God, and our respective media organizations) as critics online and in print. And who knows what the future will bring?

Phillips LINKS:

Chicago TribuneMichael Phillips movie reviews

Michael Phillips on Facebook

Michael Phillips on Twitter

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USA TODAY

Morning Update: Blackhawks lose to Flyers; Bulls fall in Dallas

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