Digging Into: John Foote

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Few names in the film community unite actors, filmmakers, bloggers, Oscar prognosticators, publicists, and the general media in respect like John Foote does.  Yes, a young man who spent his early days in Canada wanting nothing more than to play in the NHL now is one of the preeminent voices in film criticism and the Oscar race, not to mention someone quoted on DVD/Blu-Ray box art across the globe (don’t believe me?  Go pick up a copy of 2010’s remake of True Grit).  He’s been in print, on television, in the classroom, and now on the internet.  Those who know him on a professional level know of his passion and knowledge, but those like myself who know him on a personal level can attest to his kindness, heart, and ability to make you feel like family within mere moments of meeting him.  For my money, he’s one of the best voices in the industry and a great colleague to boot.  Canada should be proud to cal him one of their native sons and I’m proud to call him my frend.
By conducting this interview with John, I hope to bring out who he is as a person, as well as a writer and film enthusiast.  It’s a somewhat free form piece, with me spitballing out what I think you might want to know about him and John not holding back and opening himself up to you all.  Don’t expect any huge revelations (he’s not who shot J.R. or anything), but expect an enjoyable look into who exactly John Foote really is.  You’ll find out about his favorite films, his family, and everything in between.  Enjoy!
Joey Magidson: First up…the essentials in regard to your tops in terms of cinema.  What are your 10 favorite films of all time?
John Foote: The Godfather Part II, The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, The Searchers, Schindler’s List, The Wizard of Oz, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and There Will Be Blood.
Joey: What are your 10 favorite Best Picture winners?
John: The Godfather Part II, The Godfather, Schindler’s List, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Schindler’s List, On the Waterfront, Lawrence of Arabia, One Few Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus, and Unforgiven.
Joey: Which are the least deserving Best Picture winners to date?
John: Chicago, The Greatest Show on Earth, Oliver, A Beautiful Mind, Crash, Around the World in 80 Days, An American in Paris, and Slumdog Millionaire.
Joey: Who are your 5 favorite directors?
John: Spielberg, Scorsese, Kazan, Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Thomas Anderson and Woody Allen.
Joey: Who are your 5 favorite actors?
John: Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Day Lewis, Jeff Bridges and John Wayne.
Joey: Who are your 5 favorite actresses?
John: Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, Holly Hunter, Katherine Hepburn, and Cate Blanchett.
Joey: Let’s go a little deeper now.  Describe the young John Foote for me.
John: The young John Foote was obsessed with two things: movies and hockey.
It was my plan to play in the NHL for the Boston Bruins as a goalie, but by the time I was 16 I realized the scouts were not looking at me…at all, and more pucks were going in than were being stopped. So I decided to study acting and my professors felt I had a knack for directing more than acting but I remained fascinated with the art of performance. In 1979 I saw Apocalypse Now and knew I wanted to write about film to spread the word if the great ones. I was a heavy reader as well…into, well, anything. A jock as well. I have two brothers and a sister to whom I am close with this day. Good parents, my grandmother was a profound influence on my life.  
Joey: Who at The Awards Circuit are you closest with?
John: Closest relationship? You.
Joey: I’m flattered. Getting into the current race for a moment, what do you see this year’s Oscar race looking like right now?
John: At this point? Midnight in Paris. Though the usual suspects will be in the race, Spielberg, Eastwood, Scorsese…
Joey: Why do you love the Oscars?
John: I love when he Oscars get it right, when they take a risk and honor the film that really is the best of the year, according to me of course. But of course it always more fun to see when they get it so wrong as they did in 2002 with Chicago as Best Film or that buffoon Roberto Benigni as Best Actor. Most of all its seeing the sheer joy on the faces of the winners who in some cases have no clue they are going to win and understand what it means to their career.
Joey: Broadening the scope…why do you love film?
John: Movies represent to me the most exciting art form and entertainment medium on the planet, ever changing, always reflecting the times. I love it when film mirrors society when a film makes a comment on the times with such searing truth audiences respond. Yet there is also the pure entertainment value, laughing at something wonderfully comic such as Annie Hall which also had great truth in it. I have loved watching the art evolve, watching actors grow, watching directors establish themselves (or go the other way). Most of all I love it when a film enobles the art form, like There Will Be Blood.
Joey: Here’s a challenge…describe yourself in 3 words?
John: Three words — intense, brutally honest, caring.
Joey: That’s 3 and a half technically, but I’ll take it.  How do you approach film criticism?
John: I try to watch a film with all my senses, though as a former actor I see the acting first, as most of us do. For me, it’s because we are flesh and blood we connect to flesh and blood on the screen. After the film is over I take ten minutes by myself and just put all the pieces together, the acting, directing, editing, music, writing, cinematography and sound, deciding if they all served the film. After twenty five years I still get excited about going to the movies, see a good film and the Oscars.
Joey: Agreed. Now, where do you see film going next?
John: Hopefully it will get better. I am worried that this mentality about money will continue to dominate.
Joey: Hopefully not. Following up on the idea of the future…who currently will make up the future “greats” in the industry?
John: I worry about the next generation because I am concerned not enough time is spent on craft. Are the young actors such as the great Emma Stone studying the craft of acting? Do they have what a Streep has or a Brando? There are some fine directors on the rise, Sarah Polley being one of many, but off the top of my head I cannot name five actors under thirty I truly admire…and that’s really sad.
Joey: What genre of film would you call your favorite?
John: The western…love it.
Joey: Do you get annoyed over bad films?  If so, what annoys you most?
John: Annoyed about a bad film? Depends. Was there a great deal of talent involved and they simply missed it? Was there a massive budget that could have provided funding for several other films? When a film costs one hundred and eighty million and stinks that could have been 180 small films made! Most of all the wasted time, which you never get back. I walk into every film believing it might be the best film ever made, though it is getting harder to do this with so much junk out there. Sometimes the chemistry is just bad, who knows why a film goes off the tracks.
Joey: Talk to me about raising a family while also making a name for yourself in the film world.
John: I had great support from my wife who always believed I could do this. She supported me when the TV show was struggling but enjoyed the perks when it took off. And wen I got tired of it and left she stood by as I made a name for myself in print criticism. She is very much my soulmate and enjoys films as well. Sherri calls movies my heroin. The only aspect of my life more important to me than film are my girls, meaning my wife and daughters.
Joey: What film are you anticipating this year more than any other?
John: War Horse. Spielberg, ‘nuff said.
Joey: Name a movie you currently haven’t seen but wish that you had?
John: Again…it’s got to be War Horse.
Joey: Interesting. Doubling back to your past, when did you know film was going to be a part of your life?
John: After seeing Apocalypse Now for the first time I exited the theatre and sat down on a street bench, too stunned to walk. I found a pay phone and called my dad to tell him what I had just experienced and that I was going to see the film again…right then. I knew I wanted to celebrate film, to write about film, to spread the word about this art form I could not get enough of in my life.
Joey: How did you join The Awards Circuit?
John: Clay invited me to come aboard. I was writing for another site (In Contention) and Clay offered me a chance to write with total freedom about anything I wanted. I felt it was a chance to help a site grow and find its identity. Still do. Still excited about where The Awards Circuit could go.
Joey: It takes a lot to get ready each year for the Oscar season.  How do you do it?
John: Preparing for Oscar season is a year long battle, because I struggle with the thought we writers on the web are doing more harm to the race than good. Are we the reason films peak as they say, or do we bring undeserved attention to certain films? Do we take audiences away from certain film? Does the constant discussion of so and so getting a nomination really help them get it or does it work the other way? I remember being certain The Dark Knight would earn nods for Best Picture and Best Director and then being stunned when it did not in a year that saw the vastly over praised Slumdog Millionaire win Best Picture. So how do you get ready for the season? First do not take it as seriously as others, realize at the end of the day it really does not matter who wins and who does not, it’s the nomination that really matters. Try not to take it personally when a film you love is snubbed, and be ready to do interviews at the drop of a dime when the call comes. I remember having five minutes to prepare for Robert Duvall last year….good thing I know a thing or two about him. And study the history of the Oscars, know the patterns, the sentiment, things like that.
Joey: Great advice. To you, what makes The Awards Circuit so special?
John: What drew me to Awards Circuit was the diversity of the writers, the fact we all came from very different backgrounds and walks of life. Here I am a fifty two year old professor of Film History in Ontario, Canada, well established in criticism writing with a group of young people with strong ideas, god opinions and a deep love of film…it’s terrific. I like the lack of pretension as well, the fact we are what we are with no apology and are free to be who we are with no apology. Clay is the boss but he leaves us alone to write our material and has never said no to me about putting a piece up, not once. While I believe we should focus entirely on film, I understand (to a degree) the branching out into TV and music, though the only things worth watching on TV to me are on HBO and Showtime.
Joey: Finally…wrap this up by telling the readers a few things they wouldn’t otherwise know about you.
John: I have a horrific temper and have worked very hard to learn to control it. It’s the Irish in me. My wife taught me to think about what I say before lashing out, think…think…think. Another? Sure, I experienced some sort of bizarre near death world when I was unconcious for three weeks after a violent car accident in 2001. I was not supposed to survive, but did. While unconcious I went on a journey across the landscape of my mind, bending time, seeing people long gone, seeing places I had been as a child, and always trying to get home. I became Dorothy…truly. Not something I like to discuss, because the accident left me forever handi-capped, which for a sports lover stinks, and in constant pain, but I am alive, here to care for my ailing wife and will one day walk my daughters down the aisle.
Joey: It’s been a pleasure John.
There you have it…John Foote: The Man.
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When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.