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Globe film writer Morris wins Pulitzer for criticism

Wesley Morris addressed colleagues, as editor Martin Baron looked on. Wesley Morris addressed colleagues, as editor Martin Baron looked on. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Joseph P. Kahn
Globe Staff / April 17, 2012
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Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris was awarded a 2012 Pulitzer Prize on Monday for essays and reviews that the judges said embodied “smart, inventive film criticism, distinguished by pinpoint prose, and an easy traverse between the art house and big-screen box office.’’

Morris, 36, who joined the Globe staff in 2002, won the prize for criticism with a range of work published in 2011. Among the pieces were reviews of “The Help,’’ “Drive,’’ “Water for Elephants,’’ “The Tree of Life,’’ and “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol.’’ His essays included two written upon the deaths of Oscar-winning director Sidney Lumet and Apple cofounder Steve Jobs.

It is the second consecutive year the Globe has won the Pulitzer for criticism. Administered by Columbia University, the Pulitzers are considered to be journalism’s most prestigious awards.

“Wesley’s writing can be playful, and it can be explosive,’’ Globe editor Martin Baron said during an afternoon celebration in the Globe newsroom. “Always, there’s a boiling energy, informed by seemingly boundless knowledge. In one review after the next he helps us see the world in ways that might not come naturally. All of us at the Globe are immensely proud that Wesley has received our profession’s highest honor.’’

Globe publisher Christopher M. Mayer added that Morris’s achievement “underscores the remarkable work our journalists are doing every day in our community.’’

Morris’s Pulitzer, the Globe’s 22d overall, was announced on the same day The New York Times won two prizes - for international and explanatory reporting - and a pair of online news organizations, Politico and The Huffington Post, won their first Pulitzers, an indicator of how rapidly the media universe is changing.

The Philadelphia Inquirer took the public service medal for its reporting on violence in the city’s public schools. The prize for local reporting went to Sara Ganim and the staff of The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., for its coverage of the Penn State sex-abuse scandal.

Judges declined to give awards this year in two categories, fiction and editorial writing. It marked the first time in 35 years a fiction winner was not chosen.

Locally, Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt won the general nonfiction prize for his book “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.’’

The poetry prize, for “Life on Mars,’’ went to Tracy K. Smith, a Falmouth native, Harvard alum, and member of the Dark Room Collective, a community of African-American poets that established itself in Cambridge in the late 1980s.

Morris’s win represents the third time in five years, and the fourth since 2001, that the Globe has won the Pulitzer for criticism. Sebastian Smee, the paper’s chief art critic, won it in 2011. Mark Feeney was honored for his essays on photography, art, and film in 2008. Book critic Gail Caldwell won in 2001.

A native of Philadelphia, Morris graduated from Yale University in 1997 after majoring in film studies and literature. He previously worked for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle as a reviewer, essayist, and profile writer.

In an emotional speech to newsroom colleagues, Morris, who lives in Boston, called himself “the luckiest guy in the world’’ and said he’d never aimed to win journalism prizes but simply to do his job.

He continued: “Movies are visual, aural, they involve people, and life, and ideas and art, they are so elastic. They can hold anything, withstand everything, and make you feel anything. Other arts can do that, but movies are the only ones that can incorporate other media into cinema.’’

Morris’s writing, often personal, always bracing, has made him a favorite of Globe readers. In reviewing “The Help,’’ an Oscar-nominated film centered around black maids working in a white household in early 1960s Mississippi, Morris lamented what he saw as “another Hollywood movie that sees racial progress as the province of white do-gooderism.’’

The film “comes out on the losing end of the movies’ social history,’’ Morris concluded. “On the one hand, it’s juicy, heartwarming, well-meant entertainment. On the other, it’s an owner’s manual.’’

In remembering Lumet, director of “Dog Day Afternoon’’ and “Network,’’ Morris wrote of the filmmaker’s cinematic love affair with New York City and his brilliance at portraying characters caught in unforeseen circumstances. His movies, Morris observed, “could be buffets of cutaways to the stoic, nonplussed, or terrified faces of bit players and extras.’’

Jobs’s death from cancer last October inspired Morris to invoke both Ernest Hemingway and Stanley Kubrick in assessing the Apple chief executive’s legacy. “We don’t know whether Jobs’s revolution has enhanced or ruined us,’’ Morris wrote. “Are we smarter or ruder? More efficient or more indolent? More creative or more consumerist? It’s impossible to remember a before. We are our screens now.’’

Asked Monday why he’d been moved to eulogize Jobs in print, Morris recalled standing in the Apple store in downtown Boston shortly after Jobs’s death, reflecting on why so many corporate leaders are loathed or misunderstood.

“The irony was, here was a guy as rich as any of them, and people were building shrines to him’’ after he’d died, Morris said. “People really believed in the simplicity and singularity of Jobs’s vision. And I thought, isn’t that interesting?’’

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at

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