Skip to main content

When Movies Mattered

Reviews from a Transformative Decade

If you have ever wanted to dig around in the archives for that perfect Sunday afternoon DVD and first turned to a witty weekly column in the New York Times, then you are already familiar with one of our nation’s premier film critics. If you love movies—and the writers who engage them—and just happen to have followed two of the highest circulating daily papers in the country, then you probably recognize the name of the intellectually dazzling writer who has been penning pieces on American and foreign films for over thirty years. And if you called the City of the Big Shoulders home in the 1970s or 1980s and relied on those trenchant, incisive reviews from the Chicago Reader and the Chicago Tribune to guide your moviegoing delight, then you know Dave Kehr. 

When Movies Mattered
presents a wide-ranging and illuminating selection of Kehr’s criticism from the Reader—most of which is reprinted here for the first time—including insightful discussions of film history and his controversial Top Ten lists. Long heralded by his peers for both his deep knowledge and incisive style, Kehr developed his approach to writing about film from the auteur criticism popular in the ’70s. Though Kehr’s criticism has never lost its intellectual edge, it’s still easily accessible to anyone who truly cares about movies. Never watered down and always razor sharp, it goes beyond wry observations to an acute examination of the particular stylistic qualities that define the work of individual directors and determine the meaning of individual films.

From current releases to important revivals, from classical Hollywood to foreign fare, Kehr has kept us spellbound with his insightful critical commentaries. When Movies Mattered will secure his place among our very best writers about all things cinematic.

Read the Introduction to the book.

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Film Studies


"Dave Kehr is one of the most gifted film critics in America."

Roger Ebert

"Dave Kehr belongs in the pantheon of film critics who have been associated in one way or another with the city of Chicago—in fact, he’s one of the best writers on film the country as a whole has ever produced. This collection of his work for the Chicago Reader constitutes an important act of cultural recovery, which provides insights into a crucial period of transition in the film industry. Not only a critic but also a public intellectual, Kehr teaches us about film style, calls attention to pictures that have received too little attention, and makes us care more about an art form. When Movies Mattered is a great pleasure."

James O. Naremore, author of More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts

"Kehr writes in a way that merges an enthusiasm for innovation with an exhaustive knowledge of film history. And it seems he’s never lacked for bold opinions. . . . He might be right—which makes this collection all the more essential."

Film Comment

 "Most people now know Kehr as writer of the weekly DVD column in the New York Times, a gig he’s turned into an ongoing tutorial on film history. But that may change somewhat now that the University of Chicago (his alma mater) has anthologized 53 of his long reviews from the Reader (and one ringer from Film Comment) in the book When Movies Mattered: Reviews From a Transformative Decade. No one familiar with Kehr’s writing will be surprised to learn that the pieces are informed, insightful, and eloquent. Having inherited his job at the paper, though, I probably value the book more than most people, not only for its content but for its example. If you have any interest in the embattled art of film criticism, this collection (by a writer who, incredibly, was still in his 20s or early 30s) offers many lessons quite apart from his examination of the films themselves."

J. R. Jones | Chicago Reader

"When Movies Mattered is long overdue. . . . Kehr’s enviable strength in his chosen mold is his exceptional attention to detail and evocative power of description."—Andrew Tracy, Cinema Scope

Andrew Tracy | Cinema Scope

"This collection of criticism and lore deserves a place on every self-respecting cineaste’s bookshelf."—

"This is a cause for celebration, although the resulting party would drive other critics to drink out of jealousy rather than selflessness. [Kehr’s] prose is patient and lucid, laying bare stylistic and thematic mechanisms with the graceful invisible style of one of his favored Hollywood auteurs." (the official blog for TCM)

Table of Contents



Part 1: The Best

1974: Le Petit théâtre de Jean Renoir (Jean Renoir)

1976: Family Plot (Alfred Hitchcock)

1977: F for Fake (Orson Welles)

1978: Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick)

1979: 10 (Blake Edwards)

1981: Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme)

1982: The Aviator’s Wife (Eric Rohmer)

1983: Francisca (Manoel de Oliveira)

Part 2: The End of Classical Hollywood

Classical Hollywood

The Man Who Would Be King (John Huston)

Fedora (Billy Wilder)

Escape From Alcatraz (Don Siegel)

The Human Factor (Otto Preminger)

New Hollywood

The Driver (Walter Hill)

Halloween (John Carpenter)

Reds (Warren Beatty)

Sudden Impact (Clint Eastwood)

New Directions in Comedy

Victor/Victoria (Blake Edwards)

Risky Business (Paul Brickman)

Lost in America (Albert Brooks)

After Hours (Martin Scorsese)

Mavericks and Outsiders

Dawn of the Dead (George Romero)

The Big Red One (Samuel Fuller)

Love Streams (John Cassavetes)

Trouble in Mind (Alan Rudolph)

Part 3: Other Visions

Old Masters

Blaise Pascal (Roberto Rossellini)

A Piece of Pleasure (Claude Chabrol)

That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel)

Perceval (Eric Rohmer)


Numéro deux

Every Man for Himself



New Masters

Jonah Who Will be 25 in the Year 2000 (Alain Tanner)

The Memory of Justice (Marcel Ophuls)

Allegro non troppo (Bruno Bozzetto)

The American Friend (Wim Wenders)

Loulou (Maurice Pialat)

Eijanaika (Shohei Imamura)

Coup de torchon (Bertrand Tavernier)

City of Pirates (Raul Ruiz)

Part 4: Revivals and Retrospectives

The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi)

The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini)

Born in Germany, Raised in Hollywood: The Film Art of Fritz Lang

Record of a Tenement Gentleman (Yasujiro Ozu)

Peeping Tom (Michael Powell)

Othello (Orson Welles)

Crisis, Compulsion, and Creation: Raoul Walsh’s Cinema of the Individual

A Love That Caresses the Soul: Films by Carl Theodor Dreyer

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse)

Le Silence de la mer and Bob le Flambeur (Jean-Pierre Melville)

The Leopard (Luchino Visconti)

Hitch’s Riddle: On Five Rereleased Films

Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone)

French Cancan (Jean Renoir)

Appendix: Top Ten Lists, 1974–86

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press