Slavery was the betrayal of the American Promise at the moment that promise was made.
Walt Disney had a nuclear imagination before the advent of nuclear, some comprehension of apocalypse and rapture deep in his genes.
I've decided 'Breaking Bad' may be one of the best TV shows ever, but I had to watch every last episode of the first four seasons to come to that conclusion.
That godfather of the modern action blockbuster, 'The Godfather,' is entirely character driven, propelled by the transformation of a crime lord's youngest son, who breaks bad when he evolves from white-sheep war hero to blood-soaked inheritor of his father's empire.
Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts act themselves senseless in 'August: Osage County,' and by the time they're finished, they've acted their movie senseless, too.
In journalism, as in politics, other people's lives are a currency to be bartered on behalf of notoriety and influence.
In retrospect, 'Pulp Fiction' isn't just the template for everything Tarantino has done but the yardstick by which everything else he does is measured one way or another.
Before movies, memory unspooled differently in the mind, trailing off in dust-blasted fade-out rather than spliced-together flashback; before photography, memory rippled like a reflection on water's surface, less precise but more profoundly true.
White Americans believe we've made more progress since the end of slavery in 1865 than do black Americans for whom '12 Years a Slave' documents a collective memory, passed down in the genes and by the lore of generations.
Ironically, if only because over the years I've known so many - from college deans to studio executives to European expats - who come to Los Angeles aspiring to nothing other than living in Topanga, I wound up there by accident.
The beautifully composed imagery of '12 Years a Slave' underscores the savagery of its subject, which is an American South not of knights and ladies but obscene values and a grotesque pageantry, every gorgeous shot of the languid landscape radiating toxicity like a hyperlush blossom that's poison to the touch.
I rode the buses in L.A. until I was in my early 30s, and there's something about driving or riding through L.A. after sundown, when the Utopian city goes into hiding and another city comes out, more Doors and less Byrds.
Can anything be less cool than defending the motion picture academy?
If Lincoln is among history's truly great men, he didn't achieve that stature until his final three years. This was when his long-held antipathy to slavery cohered into a dedicated hostility that gave larger purpose to the Civil War and also confirmed the logic of Lincoln's destiny.
In their matching candy-stripe shirts, the Beach Boys were America's biggest band of the early '60s, transmitting utopian bulletins of summer without end to a cold and overcast nation.
Scarlett Johansson has a smile she tries to suppress in every movie she makes. She's been trying to keep a straight face since she appeared with Bill Murray 11 years ago in her breakthrough, 'Lost in Translation.'
For half a century, the Sunset Strip was the asphalt timeline of American popular music. My most distinct memory, from more years ago than I'll confess to, is waiting for a table at the Olde World, which occupied a wedge of territory at Sunset and Holloway Drive, where the daiquiris became more vicious the longer you sat in the sun.
Among the mysteries of the creative ego is how the transcendence of what artists do is their own response to the darkness of who they are, and the same personal darkness that is at odds with the art is what propels artists to the light of what they create.
Beautiful women get in Hollywood's door quickest and then are shut out when their beauty no longer measures up to whatever it is that Hollywood or audiences decide is beautiful enough; once they're inside, their choices are limited by the same beauty that won them their entree.
The most telling thing about 'Fargo,' both the now-classic movie and the television series, is that it doesn't take place in Fargo.
Like all paradises, Topanga is pitched at the tipping point of promise and peril.
When people start yammering about artistic responsibility, artists become wary. The subtext of such talk is that the arts need to be regulated, which is to say censored.
Some distant day, anthropologists will consider as a landmark in humankind's evolution - comparable to the capacity for destroying ourselves by nuclear obliteration - the adolescent gene's newly emergent power to dictate nightly TV viewing.
To an extent, our relationship with the movies is always subjective. Our capacity to be involved says as much about each of us; I've never fathomed why anyone would want to spend four hours in the company of the exceedingly tiresome Scarlett O'Hara.
I don't know for a fact, but I feel fairly certain that the first person who described a movie as 'character driven' had to have been a producer or studio executive.
If Marxist theory dictates that the personal is always political, the rebuttal of both 'The Americans' and 'House of Cards' is that the political is always personal: the sum total of our collective needs and desires, vows and betrayals.
What we call 'the news' always has tried to tell a story, and it's always told the story it wanted or, put most positively, whatever story it believed needed telling.
I think we can fairly conclude that writer-director Joss Whedon didn't make 'The Avengers' for me.
Quentin Tarantino is my 15-year-old son's favorite director, and by that I mean no condescension to either Tarantino or my 15-year-old son.
The 1988 biopic of bebop immortal Charlie Parker, 'Bird,' was the film that opened my eyes to Clint Eastwood's potential as a filmmaker.
The ritual of families watching TV together passed into antiquity around the time I was my son's age; that was when households tended to have a single television and when the choices of what to watch were manageable.
The witch-hunting McCarthy era found Hollywood's view of the press growing bleaker along with the decade's view of everything else.
All of Wes Anderson's films are confections, memoirs created in cinematic snow globes, with the subtext that memory is the most extraordinary confection of all.
A street is a story in asphalt - so it's a paradox that the streets are the one place where the movies play fast and loose with continuity, something to which L.A. streets lend themselves as naturally as does the city's psyche.
As a genre, the noir of post-World War II was based on characters who were weak or repellent, bound to let down us and themselves.
Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino makes zombie movies, which probably comes as a surprise to him. At the center of his best and most recent pictures are the walking dead, characters in a race with themselves across mortality's finish line, their spirits arriving before the rest of them.
The instant that movies became described as character driven was the instant when characters stopped mattering in movies. In other words, the birth of the notion of the character-driven movie coincided with the birth of movies in which characters were incidental to the very activities in which they engaged.
Every thought and word that a novelist thinks or writes is part of that castle constructed from sands on the beach of Me, including the turret or rampart or moat he may have thought or written on behalf of someone or something else.
'Homeland' was a sensation out of the gate in 2011, gathering acclaim and sweeping up Emmys, and the reason such shows are so overrated is because, unlike with other forms of popular art, success in TV is measured almost purely by how obsessive we become.
When the Doors became huge, what nascent rock intelligentsia existed at the time adored them.
When television captured the popular imagination of the 1950s, a rash of movies satirized Hollywood while also mythologizing it.
Being the family's literate one, my wife doesn't watch television much, preferring third-world novels, though she'll sit in now and then when I have on Jon Stewart.
Pablo Picasso, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Hemingway, Mel Gibson, Lou Reed, Norman Mailer, Vanessa Redgrave, Van Morrison - each is distinguished by controversies unrelated to his or her art; by many accounts, some of them are not nice people at all.
'The Company You Keep' is about outgrowing not just the delusions that accompany youth but the harsh certainties driving our lives and then trapping them before the years outpace the velocity of our dreams.
'Lincoln' is impressive enough to almost make you forget how much Daniel Day-Lewis dominates the endeavor.
It's not always clear whether the filmmaker intends our alienation or is even aware of it.
I own one movie by fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman, because I have to. You can't be a movie critic with a collection of six or seven hundred DVDs that includes everything from 'Tokyo Story' to 'Poison Ivy: The New Seduction' and not have a Bergman movie.
You can't blame movies for embracing spectacle; filmmakers since D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille have loved spectacle, and spectacle is something that movies convey like no other medium, especially in a digital age.
'Downton Abbey' is a pageant, a cavalcade of a time when being born right is the first and most irrevocable career move, and in which an older order - whose passing 'Downton's' creator, Julian Fellowes, clearly mourns - is submerging in icy seas as surely as a grand and extravagant ocean liner.