He was the only film critic among hundreds of book, theater, television, dance, architecture, and movie critics nominated to be so honored for work published in 1997. His submission of 10 pieces included reviews of such films as Titanic, L.A. Confidential, Good Will Hunting, and Hamsun.
The Pulitzer Committee said it was honoring Rainer for "his versatile and perceptive writing about film." He is the first movie critic recognized as a finalist from the West Coast, and one of six finalists for film criticism in the history of the Pulitzers.