Exclusive Fandango Interview: 'At the Movies' Hosts Michael Phillips and Tony Scott

Exclusive Fandango Interview: 'At the Movies' Hosts Michael Phillips and Tony Scott

This season of At The Movies finds two new critics taking over the iconic spots once owned by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, the latter of whom was replaced by Richard Roeper following his untimely passing. And while it’s struggled to find an identity since Ebert was forced to step down to address his own battle with thyroid cancer, this latest incarnation – featuring well-respected, veteran critics A.O. “Tony” Scott of the New York Times and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune – looks to be the best yet.

 
 
Once again At The Movies is returning to a format that caters to those who, as Scott says, “want to continue the discussion” after leaving the multiplex. This isn’t the type of show that requires you to have received a college degree, but it does require you to be a fan of movies and a fan of intelligent film-related discussions or debates. But what exactly should we look forward to seeing this season on At The Movies? What makes their version better than the previous one featuring Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz? And which one film are both Scott and Phillips really looking forward to seeing this fall?
 
We sat down with both men to get the answers to those questions and so much more. Check it out below, and head over to their official site for more info on At The Movies, as well as where and when to find it in your neck of the woods.
 
 
Fandango: So how did you two wind up hosting the show this season?
 
Michael Phillips – Tony and I both filled in for Roger Ebert off and on over the last two, two and a half years working with Richard Roeper, and that was a decent number of shows there at the end for the both of us, which was a pretty good warm up.
A.O. Scott – We both got phone calls over the summer, kind of feeling us out to see if we’d be interested in doing it. I think we both had a great time when we were substituting for Roger, and even back before that when we ran into each other at film festivals – going out for beers at happy hour – we’d always say how great it would be if some day we could have our own TV show. And in the odd way that things work out in this life, here we are.
 
Fandango: What does your version of At the Movies have that the previous one lacked?
 
Michael Phillips: I don’t want to get into apples and oranges here, but I think the obvious answer is that we’re trying to be part of a show that we’d personally watch and come back to week after week. What does that mean? Well, for me, you and I both know that there’s no shortage of opinion out there on movies – and what we can try to do is not just get the opinion, but the “why” underneath it. If we can get that kind of additional layer of thinking and argumentation, then you’ve got something that really sounds and feels like two people spilling out of a multiplex on a Saturday night just yakking it up.
A.O. Scott: I think we just want to bring to the show what we bring to our writing, which is something entertaining, thoughtful, funny and provocative. And there’s something very exciting about doing it in real time, more or less spontaneously, and working off each other’s ideas, developing each agreement and disagreement.
 
Fandango: The promo for this season stressed serious reviews from serious journalists. Do you think there’s still an audience for serious film critiques on television?
 
A.O. Scott: Well, why not? There are a lot of people who go to the movies, are interested in what they see and take it seriously. I think there are people who can go to a movie and not ever read a review or watch a show like this, but I think there are also people who want the conversation to continue. And just as there’s a readership for film criticism now in all different kinds, I think there will be a viewership as well.
 
Fandango: Will you be adding any special guests to your format? Any chance Richard Roeper could make a return appearance?
 
Michael Phillips: I’m not sure about that, but we are looking to play around with the rhythm and formula of the show in future episodes.
A.O. Scott: The two of us fighting for attention is plenty, I think. [laughs]
 
Fandango: By taking on this gig, what do you think is your biggest challenge?
 
Michael Phillips: My hair? [laughs] Tony’s animal charisma is distracting, and so I feel all the thoughts just go right out of my head. [laughs]
A.O. Scott: I think when you’re a writer you have a lot of time to polish, refine and pay attention to all the details, whereas television moves a lot more quickly and a lot of what we do is fairly spontaneous – and so I think for me the challenge is to bring the highest level of quality and professionalism as I try to do in my writing to this new medium, which is looser and faster, but more unpredictable and spontaneous.
 
Fandango: Every day more and more upcoming films are adding 3D. What’s your take on 3D, and will it factor into your reviews on the show?
 
Michael Phillips: We haven’t worked out the specifics on that just yet, but I’ll tell you that if a movie is offered in 3D, I will definitely be seeing it in 3D. I won’t be settling for a second best viewing experience.
A.O. Scott: Of course television is not yet in 3D, so we can’t quite give the viewers the immediate experience of what it’s like to see these movies in 3D, but I think that’s become a very important thing for critics to talk about and evaluate – which is, how does this new technology work? What are its advantages, what are the disadvantages – what are its gimmicks are and what are the breakthroughs?
 
Fandango: As the season winds down, from a critical standpoint, what do you think was the most successful film this summer?
 
A.O. Scott: Oh, The Hurt Locker for sure – both as a serious piece of filmmaking, and also as a great action and combat movie. I’m a little frustrated that it went out into the world as if it was a delicate little art film because it’s really robust and exciting and visceral filmmaking. For me, that’s the movie of the summer.
Michael Phillips: I’d actually rate Up higher than that. That film really knocked me out.
 
Fandango: Looking forward to Oscar season, which films pop out as sure contenders for a nomination?
 
A.O. Scott: Hmm, let’s see: All About Steve, I Love You Beth Cooper … [laughs] It’s very hard to say because we’re entering that season where all of the Oscar contenders begin crowding the gate. And it’s going to be different this year because there will be ten nominees instead of five, so you may see films like Star Trek get a shot, or a movie like Up may break through to the Best Picture category.
Michael Phillips: Or a film like The Hurt Locker, which is one of my favorite films of the year.
 
Fandango: Now forget about awards, what’s one upcoming film you’re dying to see?
 
A.O. Scott: I’m really looking forward to Where the Wild Things Are. I grew up with that book, I read that book to my kids when they were little and I think Spike Jonze is a tremendously imaginative filmmaker.
Michael Phillips: I’m interested to see what Rob Marshall does with Nine, which is a less sturdy piece of work than what he had to work with on Chicago, and he has a tougher task ahead of him. But the cast is great, it’s got Daniel Day Lewis and as a music aficionado, I’m real interested in that.
 
 
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