In the 35 years he spent as TIME’s resident expert on all things Hollywood, Richard Corliss, who died Thursday at 71, reviewed more than 1,000 movies. He offered insight into a generation’s great works of cinematic art, he applauded real emotion on screen and he wasn’t afraid to speak up when he disagreed with the crowd. (His Titanic pan remains legendary, but he stood by his opinion.) He helped us decide how to spend our Friday nights. He encouraged us to look deeper or to look again. Above all, he reminded us why we love the movies.
Here are 25 of Richard Corliss’s most memorable reviews:
Raging Bull: Animal House
“[Jake] La Motta was an animal, a bull in the ring and a pig outside, and [Martin] Scorsese is true to both Jakes. The boxing sequences (which amount to barely a dozen minutes of the movie’s two hours plus) are as violent, controlled, repulsive and exhilarating as anything in the genre. Scorsese layers the sound track with grunts and screams, animal noises that seem to emanate from hell’s zoo. The camera muscles into the action, peering from above, from below, from the combatant’s point of view, panning 360° as a doomed fighter spins toward the canvas. Smoke, sweat, flesh and blood become Jackson Pollock abstractions as they pound home the essential blood lust of those sweet sciences, prizefighting and moviemaking.”
E.T.: Steve’s Summer Magic
“Not since the glory days of the Walt Disney Productions—40 years and more ago, when Fantasia and Pinocchio and Dumbo first worked their seductive magic on moviegoers of every age—has a film so acutely evoked the twin senses of everyday wonder and otherworldly awe. With astonishing technical finesse and an emotional directness that lifts the heart, E.T. spins its tale of a shy, lonely boy in desperate need of a friend—when suddenly one falls out of the sky. The movie is a perfectly poised mixture of sweet comedy and ten-speed melodrama, of death and resurrection, of a friendship so pure and powerful it seems like an idealized love. None of this can be the result of computerized calculation; instead it stems from a seamless blend of writing, direction, casting and celestial good luck. Even its creator [Steven Spielberg] seems pleased: ‘I put myself on the line with this film, and it wasn’t easy. But I’m proud of it. It’s been a long time since any movie gave me an "up" cry.’”
Blade Runner: The Pleasures of Texture
“Blade Runner, like its setting, is a beautiful, deadly organism that devours life; and [Harrison] Ford, the cockily engaging Star Warrior of Raiders of the Lost Ark, allows his heroic stature to shrivel inside it. In comparison, [Rutger] Hauer's silver-haired superman is more human than human, and finally more complex than Ford's victimized flatfoot. Because of this imbalance of star roles, and because this drastically recut movie has a plot that proceeds by fits and stops, Blade Runner is likely to disappoint moviegoers hoping for sleek thrills and derring-do.”
Scarface: Say Good Night to the Bad Guy
“Through this underworld [Al] Pacino stalks like a panther. He carries memories of earlier performances (the bantam bombast of Dog Day Afternoon, the nervous belt tugging from American Buffalo, the crook’d arm from his Broadway Richard III), but creates his freshest character in years. There is a poetry to his psychosis that makes Tony a figure of rank awe, and the rhythm of that poetry is Pacino’s. Most of the large cast is fine; Michelle Pfeiffer is better. The cool, druggy Wasp woman who does not fit into Tony’s world, Pfeiffer’s Elvira is funny and pathetic, a street angel ready at any whim to float away on another cocaine cloud.”
The Breakfast Club: Is There Life After Teenpix?
“[John] Hughes must refer to this as his 'Bergman film': lots of deep talk and ripping off of psychic scabs. But this filmmaker is, spookily, inside kids. He knows how the ordinary teenagers, the ones who don't get movies made about them, think and feel: why the nerd would carry a fake ID ('So I can vote'), and why the deb would finally be nice to the strange girl (' 'Cause you're letting me'). He has learned their dialect and decoded it for sympathetic adults. With a minimum of genre pandering--only one Footloose dance imitation--and with the help of his gifted young ensemble, Hughes shows there is a life form after teenpix. It is called goodpix.”
The Princess Bride: Errol Flynn Meets Gunga Din
“As for the Princess Bride, she is flat-out lovely. [Robin] Wright’s grave blond beauty makes her the wedding-cake figure around which all the movie’s clowns cavort. As you watch this enchanting fantasy, feel free to be thrilled or to giggle, as you wish. This time, Happily Ever After lasts 98 minutes.”
Bull Durham: I Sing the Body Athletic
“Ron Shelton, who spent some years in the minors, has made a movie with the loping narrative rhythm of a baseball season. This is, after all, a game of anticipation: waiting to gauge an opposing pitcher’s heat, waiting for a seeing-eye grounder or a play at the plate. Shelton locates the tension and the humor between pitches, between ball games, between the sheets. It helps too that he has written the wittiest, busiest screenplay since Moonstruck, and that his three stars do their very best screen work.”
Do the Right Thing: Hot Time in Bed-Stuy Tonight
“[Spike] Lee’s movie bravely tries both approaches. It gives you sweet, then rancid, but without explaining why it turned. He holds the film like a can of beer in a paper bag—the cool sip of salvation on a blistering day—until it is revealed as a Molotov cocktail. The morning after igniting the riot, Mookie slinks back to demand that Sal pay him his week’s wages. Behind the camera, Lee wants the same thing: to create a riot of opinion, then blame viewers for not getting the message he hasn’t bothered to articulate. Though the strategy may lure moviegoers this long hot summer, it is ultimately false and pernicious. Faced with it, even Mister Senor Love Daddy might say, ‘Take a hike, Spike!’”
Goodfellas: Married to the Mob
“Most Scorsese movies are all exposition. The characters don't grow or learn, they just get found out. Same, in spades, here. So it is Scorsese's triumph that GoodFellas offers the fastest, sharpest 2 1/2-hr. ride in recent film history. He has said he wanted his picture to have the speed and info overload of a movie trailer. Two great labyrinthine tracking shots—at a neighborhood bar and the Copacabana—introduce, with lightning grace, about a million wise guys. Who are they? What are they doing, and who are they doing in? Just to catch all the ambient wit and bustle, you have to see GoodFellas twice—not a bad idea.”
Edward Scissorhands: Shear Heaven
“The film exists out of time—out of the present cramped time, certainly—in the any-year of a child’s imagination. That child could be the little girl to whom the grandmotherly [Winona] Ryder tells Edward’s story nearly a lifetime after it took place. Or it could be [Tim] Burton, a wise child and a wily inventor, who has created one of the brightest, bittersweetest fables of this or any-year.”
Groundhog Day: Bill Murray’s Deja Voodoo
“But this Chinese-puzzle-box movie has a deeper message inside. It says that most folks’ lives are like Phil’s on Groundhog Day: a repetition, with the tiniest variations, of ritual pleasures and annoyances. Routine is the metronome marking most of our time on earth. Phil’s gift is to see the routine and seize the day. Murray’s gift is to make the appalling appealing.”
Forrest Gump: The World According to Gump
“You see them—folks of all ages and both sexes—floating out of the movie theater on waves of honorable sentiment. The kids look thoughtful, the grownups wistful. Couples are holding hands. This is not a Speed crowd; these people haven’t just exited a roller-coaster movie—they’ve completed an upbeat encounter session with America’s recent past. No question: one more audience has been Gumped.”
Pulp Fiction: A Blast to the Heart
“Pulp Fiction is [Quentin] Tarantino’s show-and-tell extravaganza. It towers over the year’s other movies as majestically and menacingly as a gang lord at a preschool. It dares Hollywood films to be this smart about going this far. If good directors accept Tarantino’s implicit challenge, the movie theater could again be a great place to live in.”
Toy Story: They’re Alive!
“Like a Bosch painting or a Mad comic book, Toy Story creates a world bustling with strange creatures (check out the three-eyed alien-children toys in the Pizza Planet) and furtive, furry humor. When a genius like [John] Lasseter sits at his computer, the machine becomes just a more supple paintbrush. Like the creatures in this wonderful zoo of a movie, it’s alive!”
The English Patient: Rapture in the Dunes
“The film is, in an old phrase, beyond gorgeous: a feast whose splendor serves Almasy complex passions. The cast is superb: [Juliette] Binoche, with her thin, seraphic smile; [Kristin] Scott Thomas, aware of the spell she casts but not flaunting it; [Ralph] Fiennes, especially, radiating sexy mystery, threat shrouded in hauteur. Doom and drive rarely have so much stately star quality.
All year we’ve seen mirages of good films. Here is the real thing. To transport picturegoers to a unique place in the glare of the earth, in the darkness of the heart—this, you realize with a gasp of joy, is what movies can do.”
Titanic: Down, Down to a Watery Grave
“Tales of this film’s agonizing gestation and tardy birth, though already the stuff of legend, will mean little to moviegoers, who will pay the same $7 or $8 to see Titanic that they spend on films made for a thousandth its cost. Ultimately, Titanic will sail or sink not on its budget but on its merits as drama and spectacle. The regretful verdict here: Dead in the water.”
There's Something About Mary: Diaz-zling!
“Any review is irrelevant to this movie; it is either above criticism or beneath contempt. But for those who park their sense and sensibility at the 'plex door, there’s plenty to enjoy in the performances, the rowdy innocence of the whole thing, the closing sing-along of 'Build Me Up Buttercup'—and the vision of Cameron Diaz in giggly, gangly bloom.”
Shakespeare in Love: If Movies Be the Food of Love...
“But the true, rare glamour of the piece is its revival of two precious movie tropes: the flourishing of words for their majesty and fun, and—in the love play between [Joseph] Fiennes and his enchantress—the kindling of a playfully adult eroticism. Let the kids toy with their Rugrats and hold their Sandler high. Shakespeare in Love is a movie to please the rest of us, parched for a game of dueling, reeling romance.”
Erin Brockovich: Erin Go Bra
“Look, we think it’s neat that this story, about folks poisoned by water laced with hexavalent chromium, caught the eye of studio execs who haven’t drunk tap water in years. And it’s fine if today’s only female box-office magnet wants to do Norma Rae Takes a Civil Action. (Her teary phone call alone will guarantee an Oscar nomination.) But does the film, written by Susannah Grant, have to be both heckling and truckling?”
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Do I Love You? (I Forget)
“Each love affair is its own life. And whether its span is that of a mayfly or a Galapagos tortoise, it has a life cycle of birth, growth, maturity, decay, death. And possibly rebirth? Or just instant replay?
That's the question, the double theory, posed in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latest and loveliest alternative universe created by Charlie Kaufman, America's most—we should probably say only—intellectually provocative screenwriter.”
“Viewers will feel as though they've just finished a great meal but aren't sure what they've been served. Behind them, the chef smiles wickedly.”
The Dark Knight: Batman Is Back
“For a good part of the film, when the two embrace in a free fall of souls—one doomed, the other imperiled—you may think you’re in the grip of a mordant masterpiece. That feeling will pass, as the film spends too many of its final moments setting up the series’ third installment. The chill will linger, though. The Dark Knight is bound to haunt you long after you’ve told yourself, Aah, it’s only a comic-book movie.”
The Hurt Locker: Iraq, With Thrills
“The Hurt Locker has a few longueurs, and once or twice it spells out in dialogue what the images have eloquently shown. But short of being there, you’ll never get closer to the on-the-ground immediacy of the Iraq occupation, its sick tension, its toxic tang. This is one of the great war films, and our own Medal of Honor winner for 2009.”
Fast Five: The First Great Post-Human Movie
“In a film that is sure to blast open the box-office vault this weekend, these two amazing chase scenes provide a little epiphany about modern movies. It’s this: in the kind of picture Hollywood makes best, the old cinema verities—sharp dialogue, rounded characters, subtle acting, a certain camera eloquence—are irrelevant.”
Boyhood: A Thrilling Epic of Ordinary Life
“Parents forget; kids remember. Or is it the other way around? We all recall what is or was important to us, and are astonished when it slips other people’s minds. Perhaps we dismiss as irrelevant matters of crucial concern to those we love. That’s life as most of us experience it, and which few movies document with such understated acuity as Boyhood does. Embrace each moment, Linklater tells us, because it won’t come again—unless he is there to record it, shape it and turn it into an indelible movie.”