One of my personal heroes is the writer James Agee (1909-1955), who worked as a film critic for Time Magazine and The Nation between 1942 and 1948. He went on to write a new kind of fictional non-fiction book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, as well as a novel, A Death in the Family, that was published after his death, and which won him a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. He wrote the screenplays for The African Queen (1952) and The Night of the Hunter (1955) as well as numerous other articles, stories and scripts. But it's his film criticism that I most admire. I re-read it every year or so, and it always re-charges my batteries.

Agee could pry apart a movie and lay bare its inner workings in an astonishingly tiny amount of space and with an extraordinary use of language. Best of all, when reading the book Agee on Film in order, you get a sense of the movie critic's beat, and all the time spent watching, thinking about and writing about bad movies. It reminds us that the majority of movies have always been bad, and even when the present moment seems like it probably contains the worst lot of movies ever produced by man, it probably doesn't.

categories Columns, Cinematical