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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

daily list: 7 good things Sydney Pollack did at The Movies

I thought I saw Sydney Pollack recently on the streets of New York.

That happens a lot in Manhattan — you pass someone who seems kinda familiar, and then you second-guess yourself. Was that someone I went to high school with? Someone I see at the laudromat once in a while? Or was it that guy who was in that one movie I just saw on DVD? Superduper celebs aren’t the ones wandering the streets on their own like mere mortals — you don’t see, say, Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts lugging their groceries home or herding a couple of kids. But you do see almost everyone else at some point, bopping along down the sidewalk listening to their iPods or something. And sometimes you dismiss the thought that “Hey, that was That Guy!” because celebs turn out to look far smaller and frailer and human in person than you’d ever imagine. And the guy I thought was Pollack looked really unwell, which made me think it couldn’t have been him.

Except, now we know: he’d been suffering from cancer for at least nine months, and he died on Memorial Day.

I wouldn’t have said I was a huge fan of Pollack’s, except that when I looked back at his list of credits, I was stunned to see how much great work was there. Like these, in no particular order:
1. Made of Honor (2007) / actor. Pollack plays Patrick Dempsey’s father, a man who’s been married so many times he’s lost count… and we meet him on his sixth — or is it seventh? — wedding day. The character could have been a slimeball, but Pollack made him sweet if befuddled example of that maxim about second marriages (and presumably subsequent ones) being a triumph of hope over experience.

2. Out of Africa (1985) / director and producer. Simply one of the best movies about female independence ever made. Clearly, Pollack got women.

3. Michael Clayton (2007) / actor and producer. His performance as George Clooney’s boss was solid, as always, but he needs to be commended for helping to shepherd this thoughtful, quietly subversive film to the screen.

4. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999) / executive producer. Gay serial killers on horses. Or boats. A smart grownup thriller that doesn’t need blood and guts to shock? Cool beans: Pollack was really good at that.

5. Sense and Sensibility (1995) / executive producer. This one could be the ultimate expression of Pollack’s ability to make the highbrow accessible.

6. Tootsie (1982) / director and actor. Again with the whole getting-women thing… as well as the men-who-get-women thing, too.

7. The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) executive producer. A great movie about music, but also a great movie about the people who make music.

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  • PaulW

    Personally, I’d throw Three Days of the Condor up there. Perhaps the best political spy thriller film. It’s no Bondian car-chasing shoot-em-up movie, but a thought-provoking character-driven storyline that not only spoke to the post-Watergate era of paranoia but to the current post-9/11 era of political futility. There’s nothing flashy about Pollack’s direction, but there is the *mood* of the movie that reflects the vision he had for it.

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