For the "Legacy" episode of the Focus Features digital series You Know That Scene, Scott Mantz, the president of the LA Online Film Critics Society, showcased his considerable film knowledge as the episode's moderator. With his panel of Jacqueline Coley (editor, Rotten Tomatoes), Wendy Lee (Actress, Content Creator, Collider), Trisha Hershberger (Entertainment Influencer, Host, Producer), and Matthew Hoffman (correspondent, Regal Cinemas), Mantz explores what makes films like Lost in Translation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Atonement, and the new Focus thriller Everybody Knows from two-time Academy Award® winner Asghar Farhadi stand out. Having fallen in love with movies as a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Mantz acquired over the years an encyclopedic knowledge of all things cinematic, an expertise he generously shares as one of the panelists of You Know That Scene.
We talked with Mantz about loving sci-fi movies as a kid, the film that changed his life, and why Lost in Translation gets him every time.
How did you get involved covering film professionally?
I never thought I would end up in the movie business because growing up in Philly I never thought I would move to LA. But then in December of 1991 I did to work for an entertainment marketing company. I loved movies but since I wasn’t a screenwriter, or a director, or an actor, I wasn’t sure where I fit into the film world. In 1991, a friend who had an entertainment news site asked me, "Have you ever thought about reviewing movies?" The movie opening that week was Eyes Wide Shut, a film, like every Stanley Kubrick film after 1964, you have to wrap your head around it and let simmer. I spent the whole weekend working on my review. After my friend liked my writing and gave me a column, I realized that I had found my calling. I threw caution to the wind, left my job, and started pursuing all the entertainment shows for work. Access Hollywood hired me as a film researcher, and there I quickly became a producer. During this time, I was still writing film reviews on the side. When Access Hollywood started their website in 2003, I started posting my film reviews on their site as well.
Having worked in the industry for over twenty years, what do you think has changed? And what hasn’t?
The window for a film to be in theaters has gotten much, much shorter, so movies have a lot less time to make money. That isn’t maybe that important to a bigger studio film like Black Panther, but it becomes a challenge for independent films to find their footing at the box office. But it does happen. Won't You Be My Neighbor? was a huge box-office success, the highest-grossing doc of 2018. What hasn’t changed is that people love going to the movies. 2018 was a record year for box office. Nothing will replace the shared religious experience of seeing a movie with an audience in the theater. For me, whenever there is a classic film like 2001: A Space Odyssey in the theaters, I will drop whatever I am doing to see it on the big screen.
In talking about legacy films, can you tell us some of the films that left a lasting impression on you? What was the first film that you remember?
I think I was five when I saw my first live-action film Escape to Witch Mountain with Kim Richards, who is now a star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. That was in 1975. By 1976 and 1977, I was going to the movies on a regular basis. My parents weren’t exactly film buffs but they loved going to the movies. In 1976, I remember seeing King Kong, which by all accounts today is pretty preposterous, but back then watching Rick Baker in that giant outfit was an eye-popping experience for a seven-year-old kid. The movies that really shaped my life were science fiction: films like Star Wars and especially Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Was there a film that opened your eyes to idea that film was an art form?
Blade Runner. It came out in June of 1982, which proved a landmark month. Poltergeist and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came out on June 4. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial came out on June 11. And then Blade Runner and John Carpenter’s The Thing came out on June 25. Five classic sci-fi movies in a one-month period. I went into Blade Runner expecting another fun Harrison Ford movie like The Empire Strikes Back or Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I walked out scratching my head. Even though I thought it was slow moving, I was overwhelmed by its visual and intellectual scope. I was 12 or 13 at the time and I thought, “This is a whole lot more than just a science fiction movie.” Right now we are talking in 2019, which is when Blade Runner takes place. Over the years, its dystopian, cyberpunk vision has influenced so many other films, which has made me appreciate it in a whole new way. In 2007, I saw the final cut of the film on the big screen. It was 25 years old but looked like it could have been made today.
Was there a movie that inspired you to work in the film industry?
Eyes Wide Shut certainly changed my life because it's the movie that made me realize I had a skill that I did not even know that I had. When I moderated a Boy Erased panel in October, I got the chance to tell Nicole Kidman how Eyes Wide Shut changed my life. This is my 20th year reviewing movies. To be able to tell someone, "your movie changed the course of my career," was extremely gratifying.
Having moderated a panel on legacy films, what did you learn about the topic?
I felt that I really lucked out with my topic. These are classic movies that I have seen over and over again. I remember the first of 30 times that I saw Lost in Translation. It was at a press screening in advance of its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Afterwards I floated to my car. Sofia Coppola cast such a spell with that movie that I was euphoric. The relationship that Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson have in the movie never crossed the line physically but the love was there. When he whispers in her ear at the end is one of the great romantic moments of all time. What did he say? I loved asking everyone on our panel, what do you think he said? In March 2004 I remember seeing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. That movie just rocked my world. Even though I've seen it many times over the years, I did rewatch it for the panel because I always marvel at its structure. I love just how groundbreaking it is and how it is still one of the most unique love stories of all time. When we were preparing for the different shows, there were some movies that I hadn't seen. But when it came to the “Legacy” movies I had already seen them so many times.