Now here's a proper celebration of Roger Ebert's life. Tilda Swinton, dressed like David Bowie and channeling Ellen DeGeneres rouses 1,500 people at Ebertfest in Champaign, IL to shake their money makers to Barry White's "My First, My Last, My Everything" at the Virginia Theater on April 20. (That's Ebert's widow Chaz introducing the actress.) more »
I've never been much of an obituary-writing guy, but Roger Ebert deserves to be celebrated. So, rather than add to the hundreds of thousands of words that are about to be spent reexamining his remarkable life and career following his death today, I'm going to make one observation about his contribution to movie culture and then leave you with a clip that, I hope, will make you smile when you think of him.
My introduction to Ebert, and his equally mouthy partner in movie criticism, Gene Siskel, came via their thoroughly enjoyable syndicated television show At The Movies, which began as a PBS series in 1975, Sneak Previews, and eventually became Siskel and Ebert and The Movies from 1986 until 1999. (The year Siskel died.) And though I'm quite aware that a) these guys were operating on television and b) blog culture was a long way off, there's a real argument to be made that Siskel and Ebert are the real forefathers of the movie blog culture that exists today.
Siskel and Ebert: Proto-Movie Bloggers
Each week, they candidly curated a subjective list of movies that were opening that week. They told the television audience which films were worth seeing and why, which ones should be ignored, and which movies were worth actively seeking out at the video store if they weren't shown at the local cinema. And, by the way, their thumbs up or down system of rating movies was the proto-Rotten Tomatoes. As Roadside Attractions tweeted on Thursday afternoon: "Siskel & Ebert almost single-thumbedly made Hoop Dreams a thing. If they'd never done anything else, they'd still be indie film legends."
Siskel and Ebert lavished attention on obscure movies; they taught their audience how to look at crowd pleasers with a critical eye, and they fought and bickered with each other in a way that made great television. Their TV show had all of the elements of a great blog: curation, information, perspective and entertainment. And they did it better than a lot of bloggers are doing it now.
Siskel and Ebert At Each Other's Throats
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There are Top 10s galore this time of the year, but no doubt Ben Affleck is taking a bit of extra notice on this one. Uber critic Roger Ebert gave Argo his choice for the Best of 2012.
He called the year "one of the best recent years in cinema," noting that he wrote over 300 reviews over the year, which is a personal record. He also noted that it was "unusually difficult" to leave out films in the top ten.
Picking Argo, Ebert noted that the feature had the "classic values of a Hollywood thriller" and noted the story, based on true events, "reveals surprises about a story we all lived through. It is told with classic comedy and tension."
Also making the list was Sundance winner Beasts of the Southern Wild and perhaps surprisingly considering the momentum of the Oscar race, End of Watch Oslo, August 31 and A Simple Life.
Notables not making the cut in the top ten at least include Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Les Misérables and Silver Linings Playbook.
Ebert has long taken a course of his own. You can see his comments on his Top 10 here.
Roger Ebert's Top 10:
1. Argo by Ben Affleck
2. Life Of Pi by Ang Lee
3. Lincoln by Steven Spielberg
4. End Of Watch by David Ayer
5. Arbitrage by Nicholas Jarecki
6. Flight by Robert Zemeckis
7. The Sessions by Ben Lewin
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin
9. Oslo, August 31st by Joachim Trier
10. A Simple Life by Ann Hui
Also in Thursday afternoon's round-up of news briefs, upcoming New York Film Festival debut Frances Ha gets a buyer. The Rome Film Festival will debut a new section with a film by a quartet of auteurs. Any Day Now and Alex Gibney's The Last Gladiators heads to theaters. And Focus Features welcomes a new executive vice president.
Scorsese, James, And Zaillian To Make Roger Ebert Doc; Nic Cage Teams With David Gordon Green: Biz Break
Also making the rounds: Eric Roth will receive an honorary award at the Austin Film Festival, the latest doc from the filmmakers behind Sweetgrass and Foreign Parts makes a deal, and the Sylvester Stallone-Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Tomb gets a 2013 release date.
It seems Roger Ebert was unable to make the trek to Cannes, but his wife (and Ebert Co. VP) Chaz sends a report from the South of France with a fantastic breakdown of the fest's offerings — and sweet words for Rog back home: "Today there may not be starlets jumping nude in the ocean, but we are still being given stories of young love and old love and passion and feelings and ideas that make life worth living. Thank you for introducing me to this world. Now I just want you to hurry back to it." [Chicago Sun-Times]
While Think Like A Man may have conquered the domestic box office two weekends in a row – an impressive feat for what Hollywood execs refer to as an “urban comedy” – there’s no question that the film’s success is as much due to the popular self-help book on which it is based as it is to its comedic merits. Roger Ebert hit the nail on the head in his review, remarking: “The movie's mistake is to take the book seriously. This might have worked as a screwball comedy or a satire, but can you believe for a moment in characters naive enough to actually live their lives following Steve Harvey's advice?” The funny thing is that the screwball version film Ebert would have liked to see actually exists -- and is infinitely superior to the more dramatic, contemporary incarnation.
Here's Maybe The Single Best Anecdote (of Many Greats) from the 25,000-Word Oral History of Siskel & Ebert
"Gene did think he had Roger on smarts. Whenever Roger claimed to have the superior intellect, Gene would say, 'Aren’t you the guy who wrote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?'" Oh, that Siskel. This and many more great At the Movies nuggets can be found over in Slate's exclusive excerpt from The Chicagoan's Roger Ebert-Gene Siskel piece Enemies, A Love Story. Give it a go and settle in for a good, long read on the best frenemyship in film criticism history. [Slate]
I wanted to believe James Cameron — I really did! — but it turns out that the 3-D conversion of his megahit Titanic is not only the craven cash grab we all feared, but it's also a visually drab re-rendering of an otherwise extraordinary technical achievement. Womp wooomp.
In a blog entry yesterday, Roger Ebert announced that Ebert Presents At the Movies, the public television film review show hosted by the AP's Christy Lemire and Mubi's Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, will indeed be forced to go on hiatus at the end of December while he and Chaz Ebert search for funding. "We hope our hiatus will be brief. You have told us you like the show. And we now have options. A touching number of viewers offered to send us money directly. One of the avenues we may take is a Kickstarter campaign, as you suggested. We will let you know as soon as that is worked out." [Roger Ebert's Journal]
The pop culture parodists at The Hillywood Show bring it with the Halloween movie-music mash-up of the season. Put your paws up and watch as they envision The Nightmare Before Christmas, only with Lady Gaga in place of Jack Skellington. The Monster Queen of Halloweentown! Somehow it's not much of a stretch. Bonus: It'll give you a plethora of Gaga Halloween costume ideas (sans the meat dress, which might be a bit tricky to pull off). More in your Thursday Buzz Break!
Our own Stephanie Zacharek warned you away from the waterlogged cave-bound 3D cheese that is James Cameron's (executive-produced Avatar technology-wasting favor-to-a-friend) Sanctum, and she's not alone: many more esteemed critics made it through the Aussie survival adventure with their spirits, eyeballs, and attention spans barely intact. Some saw Sanctum's terrible B-movie dialogue as amusing unintentional camp; will you be so lucky? Rappel down to the depths of Sanctum's most scathing critiques and survey the rocky terrain ahead.