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Green Evangelist Richard Cizik

Richard Cizik is the vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, a lobbying organization that represents 45,000 churches. He is a conservative Christian who preaches the message of environmentalism from a pro-life perspective. He talks about creation care in relation to the threat of global warming.

30:35

Other segments from the episode on December 19, 2006

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 19, 2006: Interview with Richard Cizik; Review of 10 best films of the year.

Transcript

DATE December 19, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Richard Cizik of National Association of Evangelicals
discusses new evangelical movement addressing global warming,
his reaction to sexual scandal involving evangelical leaders and
evangelicals' midterm election vote
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Reverend Richard Cizik, was described in an LA Times article last
September as one of the new evangelicals, part of, quote, "a slightly younger,
considerably less pugnacious and less reflexively Republican generation of
conservative leaders bidding to dislodge familiar faces such as Pat Robertson,
Jerry Falwell, James Dobson and Richard Land. Cizik is the vice president for
government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella
group that represents over 50 denominations and over 40,000 churches. The NAE
is the group that was headed by Ted Haggard, who resigned last month after a
gay escort alleged that Haggard paid him for sex. My guest, Reverend Cizik,
has been controversial because he is one of the leaders in a new evangelical
movement to address global warming, a movement that has been criticized by
several top evangelical leaders.

Richard Cizik, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Why have you taken on global warming as an issue?

Mr. RICHARD CIZIK: Thank you, Terry. It's a delight to be with you.

Why have I taken it on? Well, I suppose I had a conversion, a conversion to
the facts of climate change back in 2002 and decided I ought to at least do
something. I felt compelled, not unlike a Christian conversion to Christ, I
should do something about what he owned, that is the Earth, and attempt to
save it, if you will, from environmental destruction, as I understand and
still do today, that climate changes pose to this Earth, that is, potential
destruction, not just of biodiversity but of life as we know it. So I took it
on and, well, it's been quite a ride.

GROSS: Yeah, and we'll get to that in a second. But what was your conversion
experience?

Mr. CIZIK: I was invited by friends to go to an Oxford conference on climate
change in 2002, went begrudgingly, said, `Don't expect anything from it.
Look, the science is disputable. This doesn't make a claim on me or the time
of the NAE, and so I'll go but don't expect much to come from it.' And, well,
I confronted the science, the best science of the world that was presented
there, evangelical beliefs as they were presented to me by scientists who are
men and women of faith, and I had a conversion. That is to say, I turned
around, I went a different direction than I'd been going and decided to
proclaim the new truth as I understood it, and that's what I've been doing
since.

GROSS: Right, and as you say, you decided to go in a different direction, and
as part of that, you helped draft the Environmental Climate Initiative, which
was signed last spring, I belive, by how many evangelical leaders?

Mr. CIZIK: Well, it's about 100 evangelical leaders that have signed thus
far, and we'd take more but we don't think we need them. What we want instead
are not their signatures but their lives, that is, evangelical leaders,
pastors, lay people of all kinds, college students and others. We want their
lives. We want them to commit themselves as a form of Christian discipleship
to advancing this concern, namely that climate change and all that it
encompasses, the care of the Earth, creation care as we call it, is something
that God makes a claim on them for right in the scriptures, and they've got to
act on this. That's our message. It's a very biblical message, and we've
attempted to find a biblical idiom, if you will, to help communicate it.

GROSS: All right. So you helped draft this Environmental Climate Initiative
but you never signed it yourself.

Mr. CIZIK: Well, originally, I did, yes. I not only encouraged others too
and put my John Hancock, as it were, on the document, but was forced to take
it off.

GROSS: What forced you to take it off?

Mr. CIZIK: Twenty-five leaders who wrote to the NAE saying, `This is not a
consensus issue about which the NAE should concern itself,' and moreover they
didn't want officials of the NAE speaking as if they spoke for all
evangelicals. So, in an attempt to build a bridge, to not retreat myself but
by simply taking my name off the list, I sought to bring others on it, and
that's been my goal ever since. But I was forced to take it off because I was
speaking out of turn, I was told.

GROSS: And among the leaders who signed that statement asking you to not add
global warming to your list of issues, among the leaders were Charles Colson,
the founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; James Dobson, the founder of
Focus on the Family, who is widely considered to be the most powerful leader
on the religious right; and Richard Land, who's the president of Ethics and
Religious Liberty at the Southern Baptist Convention. So those are some
pretty high-powered people. The letter said, "We have appreciated the bold
stance the National Association of Evangelicals has taken on controversial
issues, like embracing a culture of life, protecting traditional marriage and
family. We respectfully request, however, that the NAE not adopt any official
position on the issue of global climate change. Global warming is not a
consensus issue." What does that mean?

Mr. CIZIK: It means an issue about which all evangelicals have come to
consensus on, either on the science or what to do about it, and therefore,
knowing NAE's history, they made the appeal that we shouldn't join the effort.
I thought they were wrong then. I think they're wrong now. But I took my
name off the list in order to be a consensus builder, and a great deal of
consensus has emerged since that time over a year ago.

GROSS: What's changed?

Mr. CIZIK: Well, not only have some major voices in our community come out
saying that it's real, we've got to do something about it, people such as Pat
Robertson. We didn't expect him to have a conversion on this, but he did.
And thousands of pastors around the country have arisen to say, `You're right.
This is a biblical issue. It's not a secular, blue state, Democrat, liberal
environmentalist kind of an issue. This is a people issue. Even, if you
will, a family issue...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CIZIK: ...and so while we're not entirely on-board at this point, I
think there's begrudging admission even from the critics that some things have
changed in this world, not just the loss of biodiversity that we know is
occurring on a daily basis but, well, there are human events, such as
hurricanes, floods, droughts, all these combining together to present, I
think, a picture to not just to evangelicals but all people in the world that
we're dealing now with something that we've never confronted before in human
history, and we've got to do so with all our best minds, hearts and, yes, our
very lives.

GROSS: I would like to know if you feel like you understand why some
evangelical leaders like James Dobson are so opposed to trying to stop global
warming. They're so opposed to taking global warming seriously. I mean, do
you think that they're anti-science? Are they concerned about corporate
profits? Do they just not believe it's happening? There's so many different
reasons that people have speculated about. I'd like to know what you think.
What do you think is the real reason behind this?

Mr. CIZIK: It's hard to say. I think it differs per individual. I was
advised by our former president that he said when I asked--by me...

GROSS: The former president of the NAE?

Mr. CIZIK: Of the NAE.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CIZIK: ...what it was, he said, `Rich, it's that they're not saying it,
you're saying it.' And I said, `No, wait a minute. If I could get them to say
it, would that make a difference? He said, `Yes.' So that's what I've sought
to do, in other words, to win these leaders and others over to this cause with
the compelling science. Most of all, though, with the biblical arguments
because are the least objectionable to evangelicals. There are lots of reason
the aforementioned individuals didn't want NAE to take this on, fear that we
might be coopted by liberals. That this would endanger the encumbered
president and his political power if evangelicals were to come on-board. A
lot of different reasons. But the most fundamental of all reasons that they
have to come on-board, it's so compelling, beyond the science itself, is the
Bible itself, and it's that authority which I appeal to, so I'm not about a
political game here. I'm not a voice for the Democrats, least of all, but I
am a voice, I think, for what God is saying, and `Heaven is God's throne and
the Earth is his footstool,' according to the prophet Isaiah.

GROSS: The Reverend Joel Hunter was the president-elect of the Christian
Coalition, but he stepped down, saying that the group was resisting his effort
to broaden the group's agenda so that it could include poverty and global
warming, and the board didn't support him in that. Do you think that this
split on global warming is representative of a larger split in the evangelical
movement now about what the priorities should be?

Mr. CIZIK: Yeah, I think there is a tussle, an internal tussle going on over
what the priorities ought to be. I try not to emphasize the divisions because
I'm accused of being divisive, and I'm really not being divisive. I'm simply
calling us to a broader agenda, but is there a tussle going on for what ought
to be the future of this movement? Absolutely. Is there almost a
generational split. Yes, because the younger generation I hardly need to even
make a case for. They instinctively know that this is what they have to be
about. They know that this Earth is what they'll live in for two score--three
score and seven or whatever, and they've got to take care of it. It's the
older generation, sometimes, the old guard, so to speak, that objects, but I
found it's really not either about age, per se. It's about having this world
view that says, well, all of these things matter, and people are going to be
called to different struggles. I commend and applaud those that are called to
the struggle to protect the family. I'm myself prolife. I'm a conservative.
So I commend them. But I also say, don't attack those who choose to do the
other or deny them what is their God-given calling to do that.

GROSS: Let me ask you a question. You were saying earlier that fierce
hurricanes might be among the consequences of global warming, and we have to
pay attention to that. I recently spoke with Pastor John Hagee who has a
megachurch and is a pretty major evangelical leader, and he had told his
congregation in one of his sermons that Hurricane Katrina was really God's
retribution for a planned gay pride parade in New Orleans and for behavior
reminiscent of Sodom and Gomorrah, and I asked him about that on our show, and
he said, you know, all hurricanes are acts of God because God controls the
heavens and I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive
to God, and they are recipients of the judgment of God for that. How do you
react to a statement like that?

Mr. CIZIK: Whoo! There are those, you see, who have a hyper-Calvinism who
assigns even global climate change to God. This, I think, is a kind of
Calvinism that I don't buy into, and they're more than willing, out of
dispensational theology, to simply wash their hands of what's occurring in the
Earth, and they have a kind of social apathy borne of a kind of terminal
pessimism, and I think that that's unbiblical, too. In other words, that the
world must sink into depravity before Christ's return and frankly all these
interventions, nuclear war or hurricanes, you know, trying to solve them is
futile at best, and at worst, for some of those in that school of thought,
such efforts are perceived as Satanic secularism because it holds up that
which God is doing in the world. This is not biblical. I'm astonished that
some people believe this but it's not really right interpretation of
scripture, as far as I'm concerned. In other words, we can't sit on our
Western affluence and simply wash our hands of what's occurring in the world
because, well, it may be part of God's plan. God doesn't allow that. You
know, it may be that Christ will return, only when the world has forsaken all
goodness. But will he find the world's condition then in spite of or because
of the Church's witness?

GROSS: My guest is Reverend Richard Cizik, vice president of the National
Association of Evangelicals.

We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Richard Cizik. He's the vice
president for governmental affairs of the National Association of
Evangelicals. Your group, the National Association of Evangelicals, is the
group that Ted Haggard was president of from 2003 to earlier in 2006 when he
stepped down after the scandal surrounding allegations that he paid for the
services of a gay prostitute, Mike Jones. And Haggard has admitted to hiring
Jones but says it was only for massages, and he admits to purchasing
methamphetamine but that he threw it away and never used it. What was your
reaction when you found this out?

Mr. CIZIK: Well, utter shock. I was actually on the phone with reporters
from Newsweek doing a cover story on the Jesus movement. Utter shock. I just
couldn't believe it.

GROSS: Did you have any idea that he was involved in this kind of behavior,
you know, like hiring...

Mr. CIZIK: No.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CIZIK: No. It was just mind-boggling. I had no advance warning, much
less information, and so I was dumbstruck. I know we're all fallen. We all
have feet of clay, and so that's been my attitude since, to offer compassion
and forgiveness. I, in fact, sent Ted an e-mail--he had sent to me, saying
`Please forgive me,' and I said, `You're forgiven, my friend. God forgives
and calls us to forgive others and you certainly are.' But that was just total
shock.

GROSS: What impact is it having on your group?

Mr. CIZIK: I don't think that most people interpret it as an institutional
problem. It was the falling of a leader, a fine person otherwise and a person
whom I've loved, Ted Haggard. I'm called to love all people and I love--still
do Ted. But this is, I think, a personal tragedy, not an institutional
scandal per se, and that's how it's been interpreted. I haven't gotten a
single letter from a single church, saying, `Well, we're going to withdraw
from the NAE.' I haven't had that happen. We liken it to a plane crash.
Planes now and then do crash but people the next day still get on planes.
That's because they know things happen, and, well, this was one man's failure.
Millions of evangelicals go to church. Millions of Americans. One third of
all Americans attend an evangelical church every Sunday. Thirty-three percent
do and they still will, but they know, we all do, that leaders fail at times.

GROSS: Three evangelical leaders, and each the head of a megachurch, had to
step down this year because of gay relationships, and I'm wondering what that
says to you.

Mr. CIZIK: Well, it doesn't cause me to change my convictions but I think it
does cause me to speak out for compassion as have others. I think it says we
ought not to be pointing our fingers, recognizing frankly that every time you
do point your finger at somebody else, there are three pointing back. So if
we have a reputation as evangelicals for being judgmental, well, maybe this
should help us to be less so, and in fact, look in the circumstances for some
healing between these two communities that have so often been at odds, that
is, the gay community and evangelicals. I'm not going to change my biblical
convictions about whether homosexuality is sin, but I can certainly as an
evangelical consider my attitudes and what they've been, and maybe these
events will cause people to do that. It would me. They have me. I think
that the evolution of American evangelicalism is not just to a broader
engagement on all the issues, poverty and hunger, environmentalism, as well as
traditional family and the sanctity of life. We've become known, by the way,
as the "new internationalist," to quote Nick Kristof in The New York Times,
engaged on sex trafficking, religious freedom, all these issues. So, it's an
expansion not just of our agenda that we need to be about but we need to be
about a different methodology of politics, per se, rejecting the kind of wedge
politics that have divided Americans and be about healing, and not just
between people who happen to disagree partywise but between communities who
share very different values.

GROSS: I don't mean to sound presumptuous here, but is it possible that
perhaps the fact that three evangelical leaders had to step down from their
positions because of gay relationships that they had, is that perhaps reason
to reconsider your position on homosexuality, and here's what I'm thinking.
You know, I don't mean this to be presumptuous, I just wanted to like raise
this as something we could talk about.

Mr. CIZIK: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: It's possible that these are three people who are just gay. I mean,
they just are and...

Mr. CIZIK: Yes, that's conceivable.

GROSS: ...and that by trying to deny that, they basically drove their
impulses, they repressed their impulses and then kind of drove them into this
underground world because on some level there was like no denying what their
real sexual orientation was, but because it was so repressed, it came out in
this sort of underground, underworld kind of way and...

Mr. CIZIK: Hm-mmm. Yes, well, that...

GROSS: ...you can argue, gosh, it would have been so much healthier to have
like, you know, an above-ground, loving, caring, open, honest relationship
that, you know, would be life-affirming.

Mr. CIZIK: Well, I'm not willing to go there. I'm willing to say, though,
that, as evangelical Christians, we have to speak clearly to say that not just
heterosexual affairs outside of marriage, as well as homosexual relationships,
are sinful. In other words, I'm not going to depart from my understanding of
the Bible's teachings about immorality, which can be heterosexual or
homosexual, but I can say that this ought not to be a sin so great that
one--people can't be forgiven or can't be welcomed into the church because of
it. And--but that's the message that millions have gotten. Namely that we
are self-righteous people who sin not and, therefore, don't come to church
unless you're perfect. That's a sin in itself. It's called pride.

GROSS: Are you concerned that, although you see this as a personal issue and
not an issue that reflects anything about the larger group, the National
Association of Evangelicals, are you concerned that Reverend Haggard's problem
will be seen as hypocrisy that reflects on the larger movement?

Mr. CIZIK: Sure. Anybody who would deny that would be living in a dream
world. We're all as Christians held up to a pretty tough standard. It's the
standard of Jesus and especially when we speak out against others' sin as
evangelicals are wont to do, sexual sins, it can't help but be perceived as
hypocrisy when we ourselves fail, so we--yeah, I'm concerned about that. I
rather think that if anybody thinks there isn't sin in the church, they don't
know the church.

GROSS: Reverend Richard Cizik is the vice president of the National
Association of Evangelicals. He'll be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.

I'm Terry Gross, back with Reverend Richard Cizik, the vice president of the
National Association of Evangelicals. He heads the group's lobbying effort.
He's been at the forefront of the evangelical movement to address global
warming.

We're talking about speculations over the reasons why some evangelical leaders
have opposed your taking a stand on global warming, and you know, one reason
that has been speculated on this is this, that an amendment to ban gay
marriage or, you know, anti-abortion measures are much better at rallying the
base than say, global warming, which is a, you know, it's just, you know, a
more like scientifically complicated issue. It doesn't kind of hit people's
gut in the same way as, you know, rallying the base on anti-gay issues. Do
you think there's any truth to that?

Mr. CIZIK: Oh, for sure. In other words, there are political types in this
town, elected politicians and others who want to use our community for our
votes, quickly abandon us after they get those votes and care not really for
what we as evangelicals care, or should care, the most about, namely the
things of God. And so, knowing the fact that we get used, we should be more
careful and, most of all, examine what are God's agendas.

GROSS: In the midterm elections, I forget exactly what the statistics were,
but more evangelical voters voted Democrat than they did in recent elections,
and I'm wondering how you interpret that.

Mr. CIZIK: Well, not only did more evangelicals vote for Democrats, but more
evangelicals as a whole voted from 23 million up to 24 million.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CIZIK: And then in individual races between 6 and 16 percent
evangelicals voted this time for Democrats. In other words, there were these
6 to 16 percent of evangelicals who voted Democratic this time who didn't vote
that way last time. And my interpretation is that they were, one, sounding
out against the war in Iraq. I think that was clear. And, secondly, they
were sounding out against corruption, and they were saying, `We've got to
clean up this mess,' and only lastly would they have been voting, I think, for
some of these other concerns which I think are very important such as creation
care and the environment, but, hopefully, in the future, both parties will
consider our concerns on these counts.

GROSS: Now you are the head of the lobbying arm of the National Association
of Evangelicals. So what are your priorities in terms of legislation?

Mr. CIZIK: On an environmental level, I'd like to see a cap on C02 emissions
and some kind of a stewardship that was previously called the Climate
Stewardship Act--appropriate word, especially for evangelical Christians--and
I'd like to see action, in other words, of that score, but on a host of issues
that range from global poverty to the sanctity of life, I'm looking to find
some creative solutions that transcend the normal political boundaries.

GROSS: Like what? Can you give me an example of a creative solution?

Mr. CIZIK: Well, evangelicals have been railing against abortion for years.
The question is: What are we going to do about it? Not just spin or talk
about it, but genuinely seek to address the issues that women have that are
often rooted in poverty or other concerns that lead them to make these
choices, and we have to look creatively as evangelicals at a new world--it's a
new century--and do so in ways that transcend political boundaries and often
transcend political solutions, So while it's true I do work here in
Washington, do lobby, if you will--don't use that word usually--but there are
those kinds of things you have to work for in the political system because you
have to not only have a personal testimony, as evangelicals are good at, but
you have to have good analysis and then you have to have policy solutions to
go with them. So we have to find answers that we've never had before to
problems that we've never even considered before, and these have to be rooted,
I think, in good political analysis, as well as a bipartisan approach, and
that's a challenge. Evangelicals who've simply said, `Well, give it to them,
the Republicans, to solve,' well, have now discovered, `Well, the Republicans
weren't so intent at all about solving some of those problems, in which case,
maybe we should begin anew.' Hmm. Well, I think that's a challenge.

GROSS: Begin anew and not be as strongly affiliated with one party?

Mr. CIZIK: No, absolutely. We shouldn't put all of our eggs in one basket.
It makes no political sense. Besides, we're not a party team here. The
evangelicals aren't, you know, God's own party of prayer. That's not what it
stands for. We are people who should transcend political parties, who are
interested in solving problems, because, frankly, a lot of the problems that
we face in the world today are rooted in spiritual realities that require and
necessitate our engagement on. You can't solve problems of poverty without
addressing the spiritual. You can't even address problems of climate change
without addressing what it means spiritually. Even E.O. Wilson, the
evolutionary biologist from Harvard, who I now count as a friend, colleague on
these issues, says, `It's called creation, which implies those who haven't
been engaged need to be engaged.' So that's what I'm talking about here.

GROSS: Will you be preaching on Christmas or Christmas Eve?

Mr. CIZIK: I have been previously so, and I am happy to say that this year I
am with my family, probably taking in a service that somebody else leads. But
it is a favorite to go to a Christmas Eve service, yes, with my two boys and
wife, Ginny.

GROSS: What do you like to do on Christmas when you're not working?

Mr. CIZIK: I like to sit around a fire and listen to Christmas music, all
kinds, traditional hymns, "Silent Night, Oh, Holy Night," as well as
contemporary artists such as James Taylor. He has this incredible DVD of
Christmas music, and I love to listen to that.

GROSS: Well, I want to wish you a very merry Christmas and a very happy and
healthy new year.

Mr. CIZIK: Thank you, Terry, and the same to you.

GROSS: Reverend Richard Cizik is the National Association of Evangelicals'
vice president for government affairs.

Coming up, our film critic David Edelstein picks his top 10 films of the year
and reviews new movies opening for the holiday.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Film critic David Edelstein discusses his 10 best films
for 2006 and some of the movies opening for the holidays
TERRY GROSS, host:

Our film critic David Edelstein has completed his 2006 10-best list, but
before he runs it down for us, we're going to talk about some of the movies
that are opening for the holidays. David is also the film critic for New York
Magazine.

Welcome, David. You know, for the past few years, around the holidays, there
have been movie adaptations of Broadway musicals. There was "Chicago,"
"Phantom of the Opera," "Rent" and now it's "Dreamgirls." So what do you think
of "Dreamgirls"?

Mr. DAVID EDELSTEIN: Well, it's better than "Phantom of the Opera" and
"Rent," both of which made my skin crawl, and you know, right from the start,
there's this enormous sense of occasion as these three black women, this girl
group goes onto the stage, and you know, we're in this club and it's colorful
and it's loud, and we just--you know, it's just in our bloodstream right from
the start, and then I think the air kind of goes out of it. I mean, I hate to
bring down the room, but I was a little disappointed by a lot of the movie.
You know, it's inspired by Motown. It's inspired by one of the most momentous
cultural upheavals in our country's history when sort of black artists finally
moved into the mainstream. As presented, the movie is kind of a morality
play. It stars Jamie Foxx as a Barry Gordy-like figure who gradually becomes
corrupt, who throws out the group's lead singer, who's played by Jennifer
Hudson and who has a much blacker sound and who's a little pudgy and goes with
the sort of Diana Ross-figure Deena, played by Beyonce, because she has a much
lighter, whiter sound. She's gorgeous. And it's sort of about the
destruction of this family as they move into the mainstream.

You know, one of the problems I have with it is the music just stinks. The
numbers that they do on stage are sort of reliably second-rate, but the
interstitial stuff, the Broadway musical stuff, where they sing instead of
speak in moments of heightened emotion, that stuff is just sludge. It's like
Lionel Richie doing recitative at the Met, and the dancing is a little chopped
up and most of the numbers sort of segue into montages.

What the movie has is performances. It has Eddie Murphy in this great
comeback. He's not just electric on stage but he also--you know, when his
character slips into drug addiction as a result of being disappointed, his
features sag, and you realize, you know, I've never seen Eddie Murphy not `on'
before. It's quite a remarkable breakthrough.

GROSS: What about Jennifer Hudson? She, of course, was one of the
contestants on "American Idol," and she's been nominated for a Golden Globe
for her performance as has Beyonce and Eddie Murphy. What did you think of
her?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Well, you know, if you're a betting person, Jennifer Hudson
is a lock for that award. It is a nuclear debut. We bring that back story to
it. Just about everyone in the audience knows that she was booted out of
"American Idol" probably too early, and she's booted out of the group here,
for probably many of the same reasons, and so when she has her big number in
"I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" in which she affirms her love for this
character played by Jamie Foxx, you know, there's almost--you feel so elated
when she just smokes those high notes. It's between a bawl and a shriek. I
mean, this woman can scream on key. People at the screening I was at, you
know, just burst into applause after it was over and some of them were
standing. What a performance!

GROSS: Now Will Smith and his son are in a new movie called "The Pursuit of
Happyness." What's that one about?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Well, that's kind of an economic cliffhanger. It's about a
man, played by Smith, who's trying desperately to become a stockbroker. He is
invested in these kind of ridiculous bone density scanners that he can't seem
to sell. His family is slipping further into poverty. He gets a glimpse of
life, you know, at Dean Witter, you know, and he wants to do it, but in order
to do it, he has to become an unpaid intern for six months, and the chances
are, you know, they pick one person out of 20. So he's making no money. His
wife leaves him. He's got this little kid. He's evicted from his apartment.
He's evicted from a cheap motel room. You know, he can't get into a shelter
with his kid because there are too many people. He has to sleep in the rest
room of the BART station in San Francisco. It's an unbelievably sort of grim
and tortured portrait of a man who kind of has to hustle to save himself and
his kid. The movie's been criticized by a lot of people for somehow or other,
you know, playing into these ridiculous capitalist fantasies, you know,
rags-to-riches fantasies. I actually think it's a horror movie. I think it's
sort of relentlessly scary, you know, how kind of thin the membrane is between
prosperity and homelessness.

GROSS: Well, here's another movie for the holidays, "The Good German." Now I
should mention that this movie is opening in select cities for the holidays
and will open in the rest of the country January 19th. Now this is a movie
that's set in post-World War II Berlin. It's directed by Steven Soderbergh,
stars George Clooney. It's shot in black and white using the film technology
of the era. So, David, does it come off like a good film or just an exercise
in style?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: It comes off as a colossal mistake, and I say this as
somebody who thinks Steven Soderbergh has an uncanny instinct for fitting his
style to the content of whatever it is he's doing in movies like "The Limey"
and "Erin Brockovich" and some of his more experimental films. In this case,
I think what he's decided to do is make the anti-"Casablanca" in the style of
"Casablanca" with echoes of John Huston and Hitchcock and "The Third Man." And
I think the idea, I'm just guessing, is that this old movie romanticism is
meant to play off the fact that the characters have all done terrible things
to survive the war, and there's this atmosphere of devastation and realpolitik
in which the Americans, you know, are desperately trying to get hold of the
Nazi scientists, you know, and their coming conflict with the Soviet Union,
and--but what happens is that just remains intellectualized, and the
stylization, which is quite striking on its own, just keeps you at arm's
length from the characters, so you really don't know what's going on inside
these people. George Clooney, you know, comes off, you know, completely sort
of impotent in the film, and Cate Blanchett is kind of shrouded in shadow and
lowers her voice. She has the kind of husky tones of Marlena Dietrich, and I
thought I was watching a Carol Burnett parody of Dietrich.

GROSS: Now Clint Eastwood has a movie opening in New York and LA for the
holidays, and then it will open wider in January. This is a companion that
opened to his movie earlier called "Flags of Our Fathers." "Flags of Our
Fathers" was about American soldiers who fought in Iwo Jima in World War II,
and this new movie's called "Letters from Iwo Jima," and it's told from a
Japanese point of view. Tell us a little bit about this movie, David.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Well, it's that story. It's the battle of Iwo Jima kind of
turned inside out. We didn't really see any of the faces of the Japanese
soldiers. Now we're inside the mountain. You know, they built tunnels in the
mountain. They knew they were going to die but they kept fighting anyway
because, you know, it was important to the pride of the mother country and,
you know, we sort of get to see the other side, and the movie is very
different in tone from "Flags of Our Fathers," which sort of dealt with
American heroic archetypes and how far, you know, removed they were from the
very harsh reality of the war. This time it's just basically a kind of a
neutral but deeply humanistic study of a lot of soldiers who don't want to be
there, who don't want to die, you know, who understand that they have to, who
would be shot if they tried to run away. The protagonists of the film are
these sort of two almost clownish innocents who don't want to be there and who
end up running from one end of the mountain to the other and hooking up with
various commanders, some of whom want to kill them for surrendering and some
of them, you know, who just want to put them back in the battle. And so it
becomes like this sort of sickening, farcical house of horrors that pretty
much ends with most of the cast being wiped out. Like "Flags" it's shot
in--all the color is leached out and the only really vivid colors are the kind
of brick red that explodes from the characters when they're shot, or in one
sequence, a group of Japanese soldiers, rather than surrender, blows
themselves up with their own grenades. It's very striking. I think it's
better to consider, you know, together with "Flags of Our Fathers" as a movie
that says that even a just and necessary war is just an abomination of nature.

GROSS: OK. Well, Rocky Balboa is back for the holidays. It's the sixth
"Rocky" film even though I haven't seen all of them. It seems like more of
them...

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Oh, bless you.

GROSS: So, you know, people have been talking about this movie as if it's
going to be a great embarrassment for Stallone. Is it?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: No. No, it's not. It's actually pretty hilarious when you
think about how he comes through in this movie. I mean, it's old Sylvester
Stallone trying to prove he's vital by making a movie about old Rocky trying
to prove that he's vital. And, you know, the movie sort of on its own
ridiculously dumb formula terms delivers. I understand to my horror that I'm
being quoted in the ads for it saying, you know, `I was on my feet in the
final' thing, which is true. I mean, what they're not going to use is the
part where I say, you know, whether I make fun of Stallone's plastic surgery
and talk about how you really have to half your IQ in order to think it's a
good movie. But, you know, I think the movie earns a lot of goodwill and
makes you want to half your IQ, frankly.

GROSS: There's two movies by Mexican directors who are friends of one another
opening for the holidays. Tell us about those films.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Well, those films are Alfonso Cuaron's "Children of Men,"
which is in English and Guillermo del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth," which is
Spanish, and what's interesting is that they are both portraits of encroaching
fascism. They are shatteringly violent. They are tragic movies. "Pan's
Labyrinth" is set in the past, you know, in the sort of beginning of the
Franco era, and, you know, it's about a little girl who enters this sort of
fairy-tale fantasy world in order to escape the extreme sadism of her
stepfather. "Children of Men," which is based on a P.D. James book, with
Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, is set in England in a future where women have
become kind of inexplicably sterile and all the refugees are rounded up. They
are both extraordinarily bleak movies. I mean, this might be the most
depressing one-two dystopian punch in the history of movies.

GROSS: As always, there are several family films around for the holidays.
There's "Deck the Halls," "Unaccompanied Minors," "Night at the Museum,"
"Charlotte's Web." Do you have one to recommend of all of those?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: I recommend "Charlotte's Web." I mean, the best thing that I
can say about "Charlotte's Web" is that they don't ruin it. It's actually a
kind of delightful film, if you can accept Julia Roberts' voice coming out of
a spider and sounding very much like Julia Roberts. She doesn't do much--she
doesn't have a lot of vocal range, our Julia. But she's very nice. And you
know, it's live action, and you know, nowadays, with CGI, they can, you know,
really make pigs talk. You believe a pig can talk. The wonderful thing about
the movie is that it's narrated by Sam Shepherd, and I just never realized
what a fantastic voice he has.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: It's so Amer--it's got a tiny little bit of a quaver in it.
You know, you kind of hear the hipster and the sort of narrator from "Our
Town" at the same time, and you know--and--I don't know. It's beautiful. You
know, it made me cry. It was so weird to get up the next day, and after sort
of rooting for this little pig to escape being slaughtered to, you know, make
bacon for the kids, but I guess that's the paradox of being so far from our
food source, right?

GROSS: So if you had one film to recommend for the holidays, what would it
be?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Well, I loved the film--in addition to "Pursuit of
Happyness," I loved the film called "Notes on a Scandal," which is getting a
limited release, but believe me, you'll hear about it. It stars Judi Dench as
a sort of repressed lesbian who has Cate Blanchett in her sights, and it's all
done, you know, there's a lot of voiceover and you just realize this woman is
a monstrous narcissist but you're fascinated by her much as you would be by
Richard III.

GROSS: My guest is FRESH AIR's David Edelstein. We'll find out what's on his
2006 10-best list after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is David Edelstein. He's FRESH
AIR's film critic and also film critic for New York Magazine.

And, David, it's time to present your 10-best list so why don't we start by
just having you read through it for us?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: OK, well, first I want to say that as usual with these lists,
I cheat like mad. I can't decide, and so I group things together and there
are probably 15 or 16 movies on here, but, by gum, you know, I'll stand by
every one of them.

Number 10, "United 93," the docudrama. Number nine, "A Prairie Home
Companion," the last film of the great Robert Altman. Number eight are three
religious documentaries that make a pretty good case for atheism:
"Jonestown," "Jesus Camp" and "Deliver Us from Evil." Number seven is Jonathan
Demme's concert film, "Neil Young: Heart of Gold." Number six is an Algerian
film called "In This Country Days of Glory," kind of a generic retitling of a
movie that caused a sensation at Cannes last year called "Indigenes." Number
five are "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters from Iwo Jima," the two Clint
Eastwood movies I've already discussed. Number four are also two movies I've
discussed. "Pan's Labyrinth" and "Children of Men." Number three is a
documentary called "Our Brand Is Crisis." And number two is, once again, a
group of documentaries, all of which illuminate the situation in Iraq: "Blood
of Our Brother," "Iraq in Fragments," "Iraq for Sale" and "The War Tapes." And
my number one movie of the year is Stephen Frear's "The Queen."

GROSS: There's really a lot of movies on that list that have to do with war
and politics in one way or another.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Yeah, funny thing.

GROSS: Who guessed it in these times?

Mr. EDELSTEIN: I wonder why. I just plucked that out of the air. I have no
idea. Yeah--I mean, I think it's extraordinary how films reflect that right
now. Obviously, the documentaries, but also, you know, the post-9/11 era, the
post-Iraq era is beginning to sort of seep into all our films, even James
Bond, even "Casino Royale" reflects kind of the bitter realities of our
situation right now.

GROSS: Well, let's look at some of your runners-up for the year.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Sure.

GROSS: You want to go through it.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Sure, I loved "Notes on a Scandal." I loved the film
"Half-Nelson," in which Ryan Gosling, you know, giving probably the male
performance of the year, plays a crack-addicted history teacher who, you know,
attempts to save a young black girl played by Shareeka Epps and, you know, she
ends up saving him. "Marie Antoinette" is very deeply flawed but incredibly
passionate and intimate and exciting work by Sofia Coppola. Spike Lee's big
comeback "Inside Man," just a delightful studio picture , sort of paper movie.
"The Proposition," which is a really brutal and disgusting Western set in
Australia and written by Nick Cave. "Casino Royale," which is, you know, the
best Bond movie in decades and features, you know, a great, you know, rough
new James Bond. "The History Boys," the very quickie film adaptation of Alan
Bennett's delightful play. And two cartoons, two animated films I thought
were great this year: "Happy Feet," which had some of my favorite dancing of
the year, and "Monster House," which is just an extraordinary, you know,
horror movie for kids.

GROSS: This is mixing apples and oranges but I can't stop myself. I'm going
to just put in a shout-out here for all of the actors on "The Wire" who gave
such extraordinary performances this season, and I know it's not a movie, so I
shouldn't even be bringing them up, but it's such great acting I feel like. I
just wanted to give it a nod.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Well, I have to tell you...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: ...I happen to know that one major critic, a major critic and
a friend of mine, I'm not going to name him, a movie critic, is making "Wire"
his number one movie of the year.

GROSS: Bravo. OK.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: I agree. I agree. There's a great deal more satisfaction to
be had in some of the--especially the HBO and Showtime miniseries over the
last year than you're going to get at the movies.

GROSS: Well, David, I wish you a good year and happy holidays, and thank you
so much for talking with us about movies of the year.

Mr. EDELSTEIN: Well, same to you, Terry, and I hope you enjoy a lot of
popcorn and a lot of overpriced sodas.

GROSS: David Edelstein is film critic for FRESH AIR and New York Magazine.
You'll find his 10-best list on our Web site freshair.npr.org.

(Credits)

GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.

We're closing with Jennifer Hudson from the soundtrack of "Dreamgirls."

(Soundbite of "Dreamgirls")

Ms. JENNIFER HUDSON: (Singing) "Time and time we have so much to share. No,
no, no, no, no, no way, I'm not waking up tomorrow morning and finding that
there's nobody there. No, no, no, no way, no, no, no, no way, I'm leaving
without you. I'm not leaving without you. (Unintelligible) There's no way.
Please, don't go away from here. Fight with me, stay with me. Just stay and
hold me. Just stay and hold me. Please stay and hold me.
(Unintelligible)...try and miss her. (Unintelligible)...try and miss her. I
know, I know, I know you can..."

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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