Radhika Jones on the 25th Annual Hollywood Issue

Vanity Fair’s editor discusses the 1995 cover that launched a tradition, finding inspiration in the not-so-distant past, and making 2019’s installment a celebration of the moment.
by Radhika Jone..

What better way to celebrate the 25th annual Vanity Fair Hollywood Issuethan to make a real-life motion picture as its cover? We did it in Los Angeles, of course, enlisting a very special guest as director: the three-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. Over two electrifying days at the Los Angeles Theatre, he shot some of the most brilliant lights of current cinema doing what they do best—acting, chatting, dancing, gazing from under smoky lids, and otherwise engaging with a camera that captured them in nonstop eloquent motion. It was exhilarating to watch the star power behind the lens connect with the star power in front of it.

Together our 11 cover subjects have acted in more than 150 films. This year marked the first for Yalitza Aparicio, the beating heart of Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, and the 24th for Saoirse Ronan, who stole the show as Briony Tallis in Atonement, back in 2007. Ronan was a baby when the first V.F.Hollywood cover came out, capping off the 1994–95 awards season. Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary won the award for best original screenplay for Pulp Fiction that year, while Forrest Gump took best picture, best director (Robert Zemeckis), and best actor (Tom Hanks), as well as the awards for adapted screenplay, editing, and visual effects. I had seen both movies in a theater near my apartment in Taipei, where I was spending the year after college graduation teaching English. They still feel perfectly representative of the dual strands of Hollywood’s appeal: raw, risky, auteur-driven versus wholesome, earnest, bankable-star-driven. Life is like a box of chocolates. You might get to watch John Travolta and Uma Thurman do the twist. You might get Samuel L. Jackson hurling a version of Ezekiel 25:17 at you before you die in a hail of bullets.

My theory of recent history is that it often lurks in a cultural blind spot.

Canonization takes longer than two decades; we know what to read from 100 years ago, but 25 years ago is a much harder call. The same goes for television, movies, and the news events that simmer in the culture, waiting for the clarity of hindsight. The slippage of recent history also tracks with one’s own life. I saw far more movies in the 1990s than I did in the decade that followed, because in the 90s I had time to do things like escape to the Paris Theatre in the afternoon to watch Mike Leigh’s delectable Topsy-Turvy. It’s a time-lapse thing. You get busy pursuing grown-up existence and then suddenly you look around and realize that they’re making movies about the story of Tonya Harding, which surely happened not so long ago, and drama series about the O. J. Simpson trial, which you watched in real time in Taipei as if it were America’s chief export—and maybe it was. Those stories, those characters, are as new to a younger generation as the Cuban missile crisis and Watergate were to me. Which is to say, they’re ripe for the moving-picture treatment.

So, as we dreamed up this 25th annual issue, we looked into the rich, half-tangible, half-elusive recent past to help inform the present. Our chief critic, Richard Lawson, and film critic K. Austin Collins have assembled their list of the 25 most influential scenes of the last 25 years. Our executive West Coast editor, Krista Smith, talked to every participant of the first, legendary V.F. Hollywood cover, an all-women ensemble outfitted in head-to-toe attitude, shot by Annie Leibovitz. For this issue, Annie photographed Cicely Tyson, recipient of an honorary Oscar, with a tribute written by Viola Davis. Tarantino is here, via an exclusive first look at his upcoming film, Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood.

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