Publications: Time, The Nation
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A true trailblazer, James Agee gave film criticism a boost of widespread credibility back in the 1940s, when he reviewed countless movies for both Time and The Nation. And he never hid his affinity for silent films, often saving his most positive thoughts for wordless cinema. As for every other kind, Agee is largely remembered as being a tough man to please. He wasn't the type to hand out middling criticisms—his standards were sky-high.

Clearly, he knew what he was talking about: After ending his critic hustle in the early 1950s, Agee went on to work on the screenplays for the greatly revered films The African Queen (1951) and The Night of the Hunter (1955). Plus, following his death in 1945, Agee posthumously won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel A Death in the Family.