Matt Zoller Seitz has always been the hardest-working man in criticism. Nineteen years ago, he was one of the film critics for the alt-weekly New York Press and a TV critic for the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s biggest daily paper.
That same year, the Dallas native also began reviewing movies for a publication right here in the Triangle, the now-defunct Spectator Magazine. During the summer of 1997, he filled in for vacationing critic Godfrey Cheshire (one of his fellow critics over at the Press), reviewing such memorable catastrophes as “Batman & Robin” (“As I write this,” he wrote in his review, “I’m already struggling to remember what happens …”) and “Speed 2: Cruise Control” (“…a monster truck rally on the water”). When Cheshire left a year later to review films for the Independent Weekly (now INDY Week), Seitz became the Spectator’s full-time film guy for a year.
“I really enjoyed it because we had three critics at the New York Press at that time,” remembers Seitz, calling from his Brooklyn home. “So, if there was a movie I wanted to review that one of the other guys ended up reviewing, I would just review it for the Spectator.”
Nearly two decades later, Seitz, 47, still remains a tireless, unstoppable work force. He churns out TV reviews for New York Magazine and Vulture, its online wing, and is also the editor-in-chief for RogerEbert.com. (Full disclosure: this writer has recapped TV shows at Vulture and has written occasional pieces for RogerEbert.com. Hey, a brotha’s gotta eat!)
He’s also been dropping books left and right. Earlier this month, two books he wrote were released. The first one, “TV (The Book): Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time” (Grand Central Publishing) is a master list of the 100 best sitcoms and dramas, according to Seitz and Alan Sepinwall, whom Seitz reviewed shows with back at the Star-Ledger. The book has only been out a few weeks, but Seitz says people are already on his case about what they included and what they didn’t.
“That’s all people want to talk about,” he says. “It’s like, ‘Why isn’t this in the book? Why is this No. 4 and not No. 50?’ Things like that.”
I’m never going to review an Oliver Stone movie again because he’s my friend.
Matt Zoller Seitz
However, he also has gotten feedback from people who’ve appreciated the brilliant-but-obscure shows Seitz and Sepinwall pay tribute to in the book. “One guy tweeted at me that he read the book and he immediately went on YouTube and watched episodes of ‘East Side, West Side’ and ‘Frank’s Place,’ which are two of my very favorite television shows of all time.”
The other book he’s written is “The Oliver Stone Experience” (Abrams), Seitz’s latest coffee-table book-sized chronicle of a filmmaker’s life and work.
As someone who’s been a huge fan of Stone’s work ever since he got a VHS copy of Stone’s 1986 film “Salvador” as a teenager, Seitz enjoyed the time he spent with the filmmaker for the book. “Being with Oliver Stone is an experience,” he says. “He’s a very intense guy and, when you’re around him long enough, you start to enter his mental space. And I’m never going to review an Oliver Stone movie again because he’s my friend. He’s actually a really good friend of mine now. I’ve smoked a joint with him. I’ve helped his daughter with her college application essay. I’ve gone out for drinks with him. I’ve eaten dinner with him. I’ve taken a nap on the couch in his office. … That doesn’t mean I like all of his movies. In fact, he was not happy with some of the critical essays in the book, because I say negative things about some of his films. But his objections are incorporated in the form of footnotes. You see him kind of telling me I’m an idiot and I don’t understand his work.”
But Stone is a fan of the book, hipping folks to it while also promoting “Snowden,” his latest movie.
“He’s participated in three different book signings, and he actually carries copies of the book with him when he’s doing promotional tours,” Seitz says. “And anybody who seems halfway knowledgeable about his work, he’ll whip out a copy of the book and give it to him.”
Seitz says he’s working on another book about another acclaimed, veteran filmmaker, but he’s not disclosing names because he doesn’t want to jinx it. Until then, he’ll continue pumping out reviews and essays for his other gigs.
“I’m good at juggling,” he says. “I’m still at a point in my career where there are people still interested in what I have to say, and I’m trying to take advantage of that, while I still have the stamina. I mean, everybody reaches a point in their life where all they want is a nice bowl of oatmeal and a nap. And, when I get there, I’m not gonna be so productive anymore.”
Reach Craig Lindsey at email@example.com