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Burning Questions: Lifetime Passes 

Michael C. here. This week’s Burning Question came to me when my heart sank upon seeing the poster for Woody Allen’s latest.

Maybe it's the inexplicably prominent placement of Roberto Benigni. Maybe it's because the Committee to Blandify Movie Titles reduced the movie's name from the interesting The Bop Decameron to the acceptable Nero Fiddled to the yawn-inducing To Rome With Love. Or maybe it was just the beige Nancy Meyers-ness of the whole thing. Whatever the reason, my gut tells me this is a return to the lifeless, script-out-of-the-bottom-drawer rehashes that have been the rule and not the exception for Woody’s output over the last decade. 

Of course this would all be a lot less distressing if I didn’t know there was no way I would miss seeing it. Why? Because I, like many others, have issued Mr. Allen a lifetime pass out of gratitude for Annie Hall and Manhattan and a dozen other titles that constitute a large chunk of the foundation of my love of movies. Therefore I will keep setting myself up for disappointment, like Charlie Brown forever returning to kick that football.

Annie Hall by Al Hirschfeld

Would it not make more sense to ignore the completist in me that insists I see every title Woody releases even when it's an obvious gutterball? Does anyone really deserve a lifetime pass?

First off, lets be clear what constitutes a lifetime pass...

1. You see that person’s films no matter how bad it looks

Oh sure, you may not be first and line opening day. You may even miss it in theaters. But when it hits video and cable you begrudgingly settle in to give it a chance, usually with a few shreds of phantom optimism. Surely those no-talent marketing people butchered the trailer. The Ladykillers can’t possibly be as bad as it looks.

2. You give even their missteps careful consideration

While you have no hesitation moving on from the obvious duds of others without a second glance, yet you keep returning to the disappointments from your lifetime pass holders, hoping against hope that this time you will find that spark you treasure in the rest of their films. Oh, Life Aquatic. I will never stop trying to love you.

3. You weigh their successes over their failures

He or she will always be the brilliant auteur who has hit a rough patch, never the current hack who got lucky back in the day. You remind your peers of this at every opportunity. Even if you’ve just been released blinking back into the daylight after a screening of Eyes Wide Shut, and your friends are moaning that its plinking piano score will echo in their heads until their dying day, you will be obliged to remind them that the man made Dr. Strangelove and that they should show some goddamned respect.

4. The pass cannot be revoked

This is crucial. A lifetime pass is not a lifetime pass if you can revoke it every time Tim Burton cakes Johnny Depp's face in white makeup. And who knows when someone's got a late career triumph in their back pocket like Hitchcock with Frenzy or Lumet with Before the Devil Knows Your Dead?  Maybe one of those low budget oddities Francis Ford Coppola keeps turning out will be an unexpected masterpiece? You can never count out the director of The Conversation.

So wouldn’t it be more sensible to not get so attached to any one artist? Or failing that how about placing their work on some sort of scale - the subtle, intense Pacino on one side, and the “hoo-ahing” ham on the other and then see which way it tips? 

I don’t think so. I think it’s worth remembering that even when the current output is dreadful one should take care before dismissing the entire body of work out of frustration. And when it comes to the greats there is value in sticking with them through the lean years, in experiencing an artist’s entire body of work. The lesser work adds context for the masterpieces and the duds take on a fascination that shows how narrow the line can be between genius and folly. And when all is said and done, to make a masterpiece even once is something close to a miracle. Anyone who has managed that feat is worth keeping an eye on.

Are there any actors or directors you will never be able to quit no matter what? Is there somebody who has you ready to throw in the towel, once and for all? Name names in the comments. You can follow Michael C. on Twitter at @SeriousFilm or read his blog Serious Film.

Previous Burning Questions...

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Reader Comments (34)

I guess you could say Robert Altman quite literally gets a lifetime pass. He has completed his filmography, and I haven't seen them all yet. I have my own lifetime to see them all. He is my favorite director, despite [fill in the blank]. Though, I'm not looking forward to one day watching OC & Stiggs or the entirety of Quintet, which I gave up on halfway through.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercorey

Pedro Almodovar gets my lifetime pass. Sure, I may not be very fond of Los Abrazos Rotos or early movies like Negros Habitos or Labirinto de Passión but he's probably the one filmmaker in the business that will get my heart racing minutes before entering his sessions.

He's a thrilling, intelectually stimulating auteur who can command a movie and its parts (art direction, photography, music) like no one other. Plus, he gave us THE Penelope Cruz we've learned to respect and love.

As for actors who get a pass from me... Meryl Streep is an obvious choice. The other is Christian Bale. God knows the man is not right for every part but I tend to like him in everything.

I'd love it if you Michael reversed the question and asked 'which filmmakers or actors never seem to catch a break with you in recent years?' because while Depp/Burton would be a likely answer to most of us, for me Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood have been absolutely annoying in everything.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

The To Rome With Love one sheet is from the Italian distributor. I except Sony Pictures Classics the US distributor to come up with something more sleek and fresh.

Cronenberg/Demme—I have given up.
PTA/Tarantino/Lynch—I have mood swings.

Kathy Bates—Aside from herself I'm the only other person rooting for a second Oscar.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

At least fifty directors have lifetime passes with me; eep. Though there are levels; must-see in theatres vs. I can wait to rent it. Cronenberg/Lynch/Almodovar and many others fall in the former; Allen is in the latter. I'll see everything he makes, more often than not I like them a great deal. I am willing to skip a cinema-trip though.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Z

As 3rtful yet said, this is just the (awful) Italian poster, I'm sure the official US poster will come out muuuch better than this one!
My lifetime pass (going to see a director's movies when they are released in theatres) goes to Woody, Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodòvar and a few others; in the past it has gone to the great Robert Altman (I even went to see "The company" in theatres, although it was really boring).

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStefano

Since when do posters tell us whether a movie will be good or bad? They're created by marketing departments, not filmmakers. Also, don't forget Woody's recent trend of creating quality stuff when he goes to a new country for the first time (UK - Match Point, Spain - Vicky Christina, France - Midnight in Paris, now Italy....)

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertonyr

It's funny that you cite The Ladykillers, because it's the only Coen brothers movie I haven't seen (and it's the only one since around Barton Fink that I didn't see when it was released). I love the Coen brothers, but I just can't get around to this one film. I suppose I should finally rent it.

There are a lot of filmmakers on my lifetime pass list, but even though Woody has made some of my favorite films, he isn't one of them. Too many of his recent movies have been close to unwatchable for me. I'll probably see To Rome with Love (awful title) though.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

The thing that scares me more than the poster is starring Woody Allen (among others). I guess it will be okay if he's matched up with Judy Davis (lifetime pass? Maybe) and not Penelope Cruz or, shudder, Ellen Page.

Woody has an "I'll get around to it" lifetime pass as does Eric Rohmer, Almadovar, and I guess Ingmar Bergman (amazingly, even to me). For actors, probably Meryl, Barbra, Doris (so shoot me), Judy (both Garland and Davis), and, hmm, on the men's side, hmm, Gene Kelly? Mickey Rooney? (I'm almost serious, at least I'll glance at it).

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

stefano -- i was that way with altman too. and also saw The Company in theaters.

everyone - but i'm with Michael on lifetime pass for Woody. He's too formative for me to not see when his movies come out. If i survived Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Whatever Works I can survive anything.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Great post! Judy Davis has a lifetime pass even if my love for Woody doesn't quite make it that far (close though). Ingmar Bergman, Todd Haynes, David Lynch, Isabelle Huppert and the aforementioned Davis are the giants who secured lifetime passes right off the bat and for whom I would suffer even The Serpent's Egg and The Break-Up, but I'm with Brian Z on having a long-list spread across a spectrum of priority. Hal Hartley is the one who's really tested my commitment to that lifelong pass I issued after his fist three films...
- Sally

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter7Bis

Winona Ryder.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCristhian

Marion Cotillard. It happened so quickly, two movies and I was sold.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

For me, Michael Haneke, Wong Kar Wai, Park Chan Wood, Pedro Aldomovar, Wes Anderson and the Coen brothers get my lifetime pass.

Even with their fail experiment I still found them fascinating.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertombeet

Allen Doesn't need pass. What he needs is fewer people unabale to critique his work. He has done terrific movies, than have gone completely unnoticed. What makes you think you can you are capable of appraising the work of someone as creative and intelligent as Allen anyway? What makes you think every film was made for you in mind or that you are able to connect or understand everything equally well.

As far as I'm concerned You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger was better than Midning in Paris and is one of his absolute best ever.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaxim

I would watch the hell out of something called The Bop Decameron, despite the fact that I've never really liked Woody Allen. To Rome With Love sounds like a Lifetime movie. Who gets a lifetime pass with me? Roman Polanski. I know; he's a despicable man in many ways, but I'll still see every film he creates. Less controversial, Ken Russell and Werner Herzog also get lifetime passes.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Of living auteur directors-Spielberg (as a director-don't know if it counts that I don't carry it for the producer credits), Marty, Cuaron, PTA, Pedro, Coen Brothers, and Malick, amongst directors. Oddly, actors are harder-Meryl, DDL, and Brad are the only people I can guarantee I would see their films under any circumstance, bad reviews and all.

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Madeline Kahn

April 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrichard


April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

I do hope Cate Blanchett signs for his next film.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYavor

Meryl, obviously.

Quentin Tarantino gets a lifetime pass if only in the sense that I will ALWAYS see what he brings to the table, because it's so different and unique from what everyone is doing and still you never quite know what you're getting with him.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I thought I could quit Lars Von Trier after Antichrist. In fact, I thought it was my sacred duty. Neither Kirstin Dunst or Charlotte Gainsbourg could tempt me back to the theater last year. I gloated through the Cannes fall from disgrace. But something nagged, and I put Melancholia in my queue. And now the DVD is here. It's been here for two weeks. I'm still resisting. But I suspect the next night I have two and a half hours with nothing better to do, I'll fall back into the pit of hell that is the Von Trier vision, slide the disk in and press play. Heaven help me.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I think I'm more forgiving with actors/actresses than with directors. Though at the same time, I'm harder on them because I won't see everything by them if I sense it's going to be painful (i.e. Personal effects). I'll see everything by Allen though, even though I found Whatever Works was razzy material, but even in those cases I guess you can say they have a lifetime pass if you can still find something good (Clarkson, in this case).

Not to repeat what others said, I'll say that outside the formative years, two my lifetime passes go to Emma Stone (I know it may be too early?, but she's earned it) and Elia Kazan (?). I mean, can you give a lifetime pass on someone whose career was already over when you started watching movies? If so, I'd give him my lifetime pass, I'd have given him an applause when he got his honorary Oscar, in spite of everything else. That's where I wanted to go.

It's also interesting to see how we react to criticism towards someone who has a lifetime pass for us. When I read negative comments about Allen's movies, made by people who started watching his movies from Match Point on, I can't help but think "hey, if only you knew what's capable of.." Then I cut off my thoughts before I start to believe I'm losing my mind. ;)

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Forgive this rant, but Jesus, another "Woody Allen doesn't make movies like Manhattan anymore" post? Seriously? Will these never stop? I really thought maybe Midnight in Paris' popular success and critical acclaim might put the tired annual "Woody,come back!" pieces to rest. Oh well. The dude is 75, and in the past five years has made two broadly acclaimed hits, two more that were commercial flops but have their share of admirers (Cassandra's Dream & You WIll Meet a Tall Dark Stranger), and... one movie that pretty much everyone agrees was pretty bad (Whatever Works). That's a pretty solid track record. I really don't see what football Allen is yanking away from his audience at this point. It's time to put away the circa-2004 "Has Woody lost it?!" hand wringing. He hasn't. He's settled into a groove of making solid, occasionally above average, occasionally below average movies. Deal with it!

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Clint Eastwood because he reaaly NEEDS a pass. I love most of his so much, and then I have to see Invictus? See, he needs a pass. Pass is for people that can't be great all the time, not for Quentin Tarantino or WKW.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I have a lifetime pass for Soderbergh. I had a lifetime passs for Shamalayan, and I stuck it out longer than most, but he's dead to me now.

Obviously lifetime pass for James Bond movies no matter who stars, writes, directs, or what the critics say.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

The most off- putting thing about the Allen poster is that Woody in person is in the film. The better Woody films of his latter period have someone else playing the Woody character and balancing out the sourness with some sweetness (Owen Wilson) or humanity (John Cusack) of their own.

But it looks like the success of Midnight in Paris has emboldened Woody to go back to whacking us over the head with one of his tired old themes of he is right in his sour misogynistic meanness and everyone else is wrong. To prove his point, he will have Roberto Begnini play out chicken arm flapping stupidity of cheerfulness. I fell out of charity with Woody some time ago (as he has none for anyone else).

My soft spots seem to rest with the Australians: Peter Weir, Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Bruce Beresford, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, (and after The Debt) Sam Worthington. But of course, there's always Werner Herzog.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteradri

My lifetime pass holders: Wong Kar Wai, Ang Lee (yes, I even sat through Taking Woodstock), Pedro Almodovar, Baz Luhrmann, Darren Aronofsky, Christopher Nolan (despite the Batman films, which I haven't really taken to).

On the bubble: Malick (will only see when the subject interests me; life is just too short), the Coens (I would, but they are SO hit-or-miss for me), Reitman (he hasn't disappointed me yet, but there's something there that I just don't trust for some reason)

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

Darren Aronofsky and David Fincher.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

Roarke - Rant forgiven. Especially because I mostly agree with you. I only used Woody as a jumping off point because of the poster and a gut feeling that this would be a dud. I could have easily named Burton, Gilliam, or Spielberg instead. But the point of my piece is pretty in line with you: That even with these bumps in the road I will never stop approaching Woody's annual release with optimism.

I do think you are soft-pedaling the dip in quality his films have taken - expand the field from 5 years to ten and it gets pretty grim. The football in question would be that he has developed a pattern of following up his really fine work with precipitious drops in quality - Scoop follows Match Point, Whatever Works follows Vicky Christina.

Cal Roth - Yes on Eastwood. It's funny that you often don't realize you've issued a lifetime pass until after the fact. I now realize that I've left the last 3 Eastwood films repeating the name Unforgiven in my head.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C

Since we are discussing Woody Allen...

First trailer for TO ROME WITH LOVE:


I smell disaster.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJorge Rodrigues

Michael - Well, I'm not *trying* to soft pedal it. I wouldn't argue that his best recent work is on the level of his best films overall, though a couple films get close. If you go back ten years, you find a group of films that represent, for me, the low point of his career. But starting with Match Point I think he has rallied back from that low. The average quality of his movies from 2005 through Midnight in Paris in 2011 is, for me, much higher than what it was from 2001 to mid-2005 (after Melinda & Melinda, before Match Point). Yes, there are still bad movies in the mix - but there are several good to very good ones too, and for a guy who has been cranking out movies for 40+ years, that's good enough for me.

I'm mainly reacting to a sense not that Allen fans greet his movies with optimism, but that they seem to reflexively expect a bad movie, and as such see each new Allen film is a chore to be approached with dread, when his recent history doesn't really bear that out. It's not like his last movie was Anything Else, you know? But maybe that early 2000s run of lousy comedies scarred his long time fans more than I realize. Anyway, I thought I picked up that negative vibe more than optimism in your piece, which is what prompted my response - if I misunderstood I apologize.

April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

Thinking it through, I guess I am just a lifetime pass kinda gal, because if there is someone I love I will see every single thing they are in. It's mostly actresses though:

Barbra of course ( have to see it in the movie theater and own the dvd, even the dreadful "Little Fockers"); Emma Thompson, same; Charlotte Rampling (though I haven't seen "Melancholia" - VT is basically dead to me, so that's hard to overcome). I can also honestly say I have seen every d- western Maureen O'Hara has ever been in, as well as every movie Deborah Kerr has ever been in.

April 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeehee

Just to hit the ones nobody mentioned yet: Godard, Costa-Gavras, Ferrara (though he is dangling by the tiniest of threads at this point), Antal (Kontroll goes a long way for me)

April 13, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterpierrotlepoo

Why hasn't anyone mentioned Paul Thomas Anderson?

July 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHannes

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