“We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds.” Roger Ebert
Earlier this month, on April 4th, we were sad to hear that beloved Pulitzer prize winning movie critic, Roger Ebert, had died. Many of us remember him from his weekly t.v. show, “At the Movies” with partner Gene Siskel. Their “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” reviews from the balcony were often the only reviews people saw in those pre-internet days. Those two were such a part of our pop culture landscape that David Letterman once joked that there was only one reason why he had two guest seats next to his desk: “Siskel and Ebert”, of course.
In addition to his t.v. appearances, Roger Ebert made a name for himself as the movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. He held that position for almost 50 years. If Mr. Ebert loved a movie, he would convey his joy and wonder to all who would read or listen. But if he hated it, he was not afraid to say so, and often he would say it in creative and hilarious ways. A few years ago, Ebert compiled a list of his worst reviews in a book called “Your Movie Sucks” and it makes for some great reading. For example, here’s an excerpt taken from his review of 2005’s A Lot Like Love, starring Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet.
“A Lot Like Love is a romance between two of the dimmer bulbs of their generation. Judging by their dialogue, Oliver and Emily have never read a book or a newspaper, seen a movie, watched TV, had an idea, carried on an interesting conversation, or ever thought much about anything. The movie thinks they are cute and funny, which is embarrassing, like your uncle who won’t stop with the golf jokes. This is not the fault of the stars, who are actors forced to walk around in Stupid Suits.”
In more recent years, Roger Ebert took to social media in a big way, and his presence on Facebook, Twitter and his blog allowed his followers to learn more about the man and his life, not just about his opinions on film. We learned about his love of the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, his annual Ebertfest Film festival, and things like his favourite eateries in Chicago or favourite bookstores in London. He also talked directly and honestly about his ongoing health issues and challenges. His wonderful 2011 autobiography, “Life Itself” is a must read. He spent the last ten years of his life battling cancer, and since 2006 had lost the ability to speak due to a number of surgeries. Amazingly, when he lost his actual voice, he found his “voice” through other outlets and remained relevant and active up to the day he died. It’s a difficult realization that we’ll never get another Roger Ebert movie review.
In honour of Roger Ebert, we’ve put together a list of a few of his favourite movies that we have in our libraries, accompanied with a few of Roger’s own words as to why these movies were great. All of Roger’s quotations were taken from his 2002 book of essays, “The Great Movies“.
“Its surface is as much fun as any movie ever made. Its depths surpass understanding. I have analyzed it a shot at a time with more than thirty groups, and together we have found, I believe, pretty much everything that is there on the screen. The more clearly I can see its physical manifestation, the more I am stirred by its mystery.”
“Apocalypse Now is more clearly than ever one of the key films of the century. Most films are lucky to contain a single great sequence. Apocalypse Now strings together one after another, with the river journey as the connecting link.”
“Raging Bull is the most painful and heart-rending portrait of jealousy in the cinema-an Othello for our times. It’s the best film I’ve seen about the low self-esteem, sexual inadequacy, and fear that lead some men to abuse women. Boxing is the arena, not the subject.”
“The genius is not in how much Stanley Kubrick does in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but in how little. This is the work of an artist so sublimely confident that he doesn’t include a single shot simply to keep our attention. He reduces each scene to its essence and leaves it on-screen long enough for us to contemplate it, to inhabit it in our imaginations. Rare among science fiction movies, 2001 is not concerned with thrilling us, but with inspiring our awe.”
“Movies do not change, but their viewers do. When I saw La Dolce Vita in 1961, I was an adolescent for whom “the sweet life” represented everything I dreamed of: sin, exotic European glamour, the weary romance of the cynical newspaperman. When I saw it again, around 1970, I was living in a version of Marcello’s world; Chicago’s North Avenue was not the Via Veneto, but at 3 a.m. the denizens were just as colorful, and I was about Marcello’s age.
When I saw the movie around 1980, Marcello was the same age, but I was 10 years older, had stopped drinking, and saw him not as a role model, but as a victim, condemned to an endless search for happiness that could never be found, not that way. By 1991, when I analyzed the film a frame at a time at the University of Colorado, Marcello seemed younger still, and while I had once admired and then criticized him, now I pitied and loved him. And when I saw the movie right after Mastroianni died, I thought that Fellini and Marcello had taken a moment of discovery and made it immortal. There may be no such thing as the sweet life. But it is necessary to find that out for yourself.”