Defending Warren Beatty’s AFI Award

Warren Beatty at the AFI presentation.Photo: Getty Images

Last night USA Network televised the ceremony in which Warren Beatty was given an AFI Lifetime Achievement Award. Now Popwatch’s Christian Blauvelt isn’t so sure Beatty deserved it. According to Blauvelt, Beatty has “the thinnest filmography of any star of his stature.” More specifically, Blauvelt has two arguments against Beatty’s award: (1) he hasn’t made nearly as many movies in the last 30 years as, say, Robert Duvall and (2) some of the movies he has made were bad. Now, we never even knew before how strongly we felt on this issue, but Blauvelt’s post made us want to defend Warren Beatty. Who knew we cared so much about Beatty, the only guy with fourteen Academy Award nominations ever to be accused of having a “thin filmography”?

Blauvelt claims that Duvall “has made almost 65 films” since 1978, to Beatty’s eight. (The number looks suspiciously like the result of looking up “Robert Duvall” on IMDb, going down through 1978, counting all TV movies, video games, cameos, and other detritus). Kevin Bacon, using the same measure, has made 64 “films” in that period of time — and none of his are video games. Get ready for your AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, Kevin Bacon!

As to uneven quality? Blauvelt points out that, in addition to Bonnie and Clyde, Reds, and Dick Tracy, Beatty made Ishtar and Love Affair, which is a fair point. So fair that it almost pains us to mention Duvall’s associations with Deep Impact, Phenomenon, and the Demi Moore version of The Scarlet Letter. (Forgot all about that one, didn’t you?)

But the kicker is this: “Call me a film snob, but I’m even a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Bonnie [and Clyde]. Part of me thinks the film just rips off French New Wave movies that did it better, such as Breathless, Jules and Jim, and Pierrot le fou.” As is explained in Pictures at a Revolution — written by Blauvelt’s EW colleague Mark Harris — the Bonnie screenwriters explicitly set out to make an “American French New Wave film,” and they doggedly (and almost successfully) pursued Truffaut to direct. The idea that connecting the finished product to the French New Wave would make you a “film snob” is endearingly self-deprecating, but not very realistic.

Look, Warren Beatty is, deservedly, a legend. Like every producer and actor, he’s made his share of stinkers, but one of the reasons he’s a legend is that for the most part he made the stinkers on the same terms he made his masterpieces: his own. That he was able to overcome the studio system that wanted to cast him as an empty pretty boy is why he’s a legend. And Blauvelt better be careful; We kind of think Warren Beatty is going to show up with a bunch of thugs at the EW offices to shoot his ninth movie since 1978, What My Shoe Tastes Like, As Told by Christian Blauvelt. —Linda Holmes

Questioning Warren Beatty’s AFI award [EW]

Defending Warren Beatty’s AFI Award