He was the only film critic among hundreds of book, theater, television, dance, architecture and movie critics nominated by their publications 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.
Rainer, the National Society of Film Critics chairman, was one of three journalists to reach the Pulitzer committee's first circle in the prestigious criticism category.
The winner of the $5,000 award was Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times for book reviewing. Besides Rainer, the other finalist was Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal for TV commentary.
The Pulitzer committee said it honored Rainer for "his versatile and perceptive writing about film." He is one of only six finalists for film criticism in the history of the Pulitzers.