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The Criticwire Survey: Ebert's Greatest Criticism

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by Matt Singer
April 8, 2013 10:05 AM
3 Comments
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"Synecdoche, New York."
"Synecdoche, New York."

Every week, Criticwire asks film critics a question and brings you their responses in The Criticwire Survey. We also ask each member of the poll to pick the best film currently playing in theaters. The most popular choices can be found at the bottom of this post. But first, this week's question:

Q: What's your favorite piece of film criticism by Roger Ebert?

The critics' answers:

Raffi Asdourian, The Film Stage:

"The DVD commentary on 'Dark City' is a personal favorite and one of the most insightful examinations of what makes a film great."

Adam BattyHope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second:

"Growing up outside of the U.S. my own memories of Mr. Ebert are quite limited when compared to many of my contemporaries. Sure, I knew who he was, and seem to have a vague memory of a Simpson's parody of 'Siskel & Ebert,' but it wasn't until the age of the Internet that I really became familiar with his work. My favorite piece will always remain this Great Movies entry on Jacques Tati's 'Mon Oncle.' As a newly qualified lecturer on film one of my earliest tasks was to present the work of Tati to a class full of undergrad students, and I turned to Ebert's extensive yet accessible examination of M. Hulot's second outing for program notes. They worked a charm."

Scott BeggsFilm School Rejects:

"There are two ways to approach this because there are really two Roger Eberts. The first option is to celebrate the Ebert who was diabolically clever in his brutality when it came to bad movies. The second option is to honor the Ebert whose dedication to film criticism as a conversation meant shining a light on worthy films that needed more attention. The first is fun, but I'm going with the second, and few reviews top that list better than his take on John Carney's 'Once.' It's a beautiful, simple review of the movie, but it's also an example where Ebert was convinced to see a film because of the praise others offered it: ''Once' is the kind of film I've been pestered about ever since I started reviewing again. People couldn't quite describe it, but they said I had to see it. I had to. Well, I did. They were right.' He then saw fit to add his (admittedly large) spotlight to the task. It's a nice reminder that there are always great movies left to discover and that all those spotlights are still left shining."

Bruce BennettWall Street Journal:

"My favorite thing Ebert ever did was run a long clip from Errol Morris' 'Vernon Florida' on a 1983 episode of 'At The Movies.' Probably didn't cause a stampede of video rentals but it was a really cool thing to do in the same year as 'Scarface,' 'Return of the Jedi,' 'Flashdance,' etc."

Anders Bergstrom, Three Brothers Film:

"It's very difficult to select a single piece of film criticism from Roger Ebert as a favorite for me. The background his reviews provided to my film education were invaluable -- beginning with weekly reviews re-printed in the local Saskatoon, SK newspaper that helped us pick what to see. In recent years his blog posts on topics ranging far from cinema really showed what a sharp mind and fine writer he was. I am confident he earned that Pulitzer years before I was born. Ebert's authority as a critic was an important tool in imparting my love of cinema to my brothers and defending my fledgling opinions to others. Thus, I'm half-tempted to choose his 1999 defense of 'Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace' for what it meant to me to have the best critic in the world agree with my high school-aged self that it was indeed a wondrous filmgoing experience, if only people would let it be. At the same time he showed authority, he was also humble enough to admit when he might be wrong. His 'Blade Runner' re-assessment for the Great Movies series is inspiring. However, perhaps the closest I've felt to a kinship with Ebert in recent years is his review of 'The Tree of Life,' a film I greatly value as well. Some wonderful closing words, more poetry that film criticism: 'And it all happens in this blink of a lifetime, surrounded by the realms of unimaginable time and space.' Pretty much sums up Malick's film, and life."

Danny BowesMovie Mezzanine/Movies By Bowes:

"Although he certainly did more famous work about more serious movies, I always really loved Ebert's (three-star!) review of 'Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo.' He doesn't talk down to the movie or people (like soon-to-be-six-year-old me) who were excited to see it. Almost miraculously for a critic over 40 in 1984, there's no 'what alien culture is this?' pearl-clutching about breakdancing: hip-hop is treated as music, and breakdancing dancing. All of this speaks to his insistence on approaching a movie on its own terms, something we should all seek to emulate. Long live Ebert."

Monica Castillo, Bitch Magazine/Paste Magazine:

"While it's delectably fun to read a review that carves up a bad movie like a turkey at Thanksgiving, I enjoy reading a review where the critic gets so excited it looks as if Christmas came early. For example, look at the opening line of Roger Ebert's review on 'Do the Right Thing:' 'I have been given only a few filmgoing experiences in my life to equal the first time I saw 'Do the Right Thing.' Most movies remain up there on the screen. Only a few penetrate your soul.' It makes you sit up and listen. It's important that you read why this movie left such a profound impression. We're too often afraid to say 'best movie ever,' but in Ebert's Great Movies collection there are hundreds of reviews from an excited author gushing about the cinematography of one film, the dialogue in the next, or the chance to revisit a movie from a different perspective. It was a good reminder about what drew us to this table in the first place: a deep love of the movies."

Alan Cerny, Ain't It Cool:

"I have a ton of favorite Ebert reviews, but 'Ikiru''s is by far my favorite. Considering Ebert and his health issues, I think throughout the years this film has resonated with him deeply -- first as a young man, and then throughout his life. It's also one of the best written reviews he's done, and it made his Great Movies list. 'Ikiru' is probably my favorite Kurosawa film (actually, that changes a lot) and Ebert nailed the central message of the movie when he said, 'He makes us not witnesses to Watanabe's decision, but evangelists for it. I think this is one of the few movies that might actually be able to inspire someone to lead their life a little differently.' I had not seen 'Ikiru' that day in 1996 when Roger Ebert wrote that review, but it made me seek the film out. I was already a Kurosawa fan, but mostly of his action and samurai films. Once I saw 'Ikiru,' the movie became one of my all-time favorites and changed me in profound ways. I return to this review often, to read his prose, his insight, and to remember. 'Ikiru' very much feels like a part of me, and I feel something different every time I see it.  I thank Roger Ebert from the bottom of my heart for his words."

Sean ChavelFlick Minute:

"The moment Roger Ebert turned me onto 'Aguirre, the Wrath of God' my taste in film reached a new peak that  sums up what I crave from movies today. I had yet to have Werner Herzog seriously on my radar, I knew his name off-hand but far from comprehensively. Ebert wrote his Great Movies piece in 1999, and I knew immediately I had to see this film. I was persuaded that it wasn't enough to rent 'Aguirre,' I had to buy a copy. To this day it was the right decision; it's one of the few movies I have to re-watch at least once a year. The more you delve into Herzog's 16th century Amazon epic, the more you realize it is perhaps the most ambitious, impossible accomplishment in modern cinema. Ebert had the propensity to not only get you to understand the Herzog vision, but how to redefine your vision of cinema entirely. Ebert had made me want to digest more Herzog, and made me want to digest more Herzog-like movies. Another way to look at it is that Ebert had already made me appreciate ordinary movies to their max levels, but he redirected me in how to look for extraordinary movies."

Jake ColeNot Just Movies:

"Ebert wrote about Spike Lee's 'Do the Right Thing' multiple times, but it is the essay he wrote for its Criterion edition DVD, a mild variant of the Great Movies piece he would give the film later the same year, that is my personal favorite of his writing. As he looks back on the overheated rhetoric that greeted the film's Cannes premiere, he takes on the weary, frustrated, yet always empathetic tone he so correctly ascribes to the film, never resorting to dismissiveness to those who reductively read Lee's movie as a call to violence while gently revealing the myopia and prejudice of their view. The essay brings out the best in Roger: his gift for putting into a few words a film's most ineffable gestures, for incorporating his emotional response without losing his writing to ego, and his ability to strongly push back against naysayers without getting mean. There are so many Ebert reviews I reread just for the pleasure of their prose, but none more so than this one."

David Cornelius, Popcornworld:

"I'd been following Ebert for years on television, but I never got around to reading his work until I picked up one of his annual guides in the mid-'90s. Perhaps out of nostalgia, perhaps because of his insight, my favorite reviews of his are also among the first I ever read. I can still quote his take on '2010;' he used the words of e.e. cummings to teach why some mysteries, like those Kubrick presented in '2001,' are best left unanswered, as sometimes knowing can deflate the wonder. I also still think of his rundown of 'Licence to Kill' often; I was already a serious Bond fan at the time, but his words helped me understand the importance of the cliches and traditions of the franchise, and how familiarity in storytelling doesn't necessarily make a story lesser. After all, as he always said, it's not what the story is about."

Edwin Davies, A Mighty Fine Blog:

"It would be easy to sit back and try to pick of the review that I felt best described a film I loved (actually, considering the volume of Ebert's work, it probably wouldn't be that easy) but for me, the great thing about Roger Ebert was that even when I vehemently disagreed with everything he had to say about a film, he often stated his case so wonderfully that it forced me to re-examine my own feelings about the film in question. For that reason, my favorite of his reviews is his much-maligned panning of David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet.' I love 'Blue Velvet' a great deal, but when I read Ebert's review the strength of his convictions forced me to sit down and really think about why I love it. That's one of the many marks of what a great writer he was."

John DeCarliFilmCapsule:

"I don't have a single favorite piece of criticism from Roger Ebert, but his work that meant the most to me was his ever-expanding online list of The Great Movies. I made heavy use out of a used galley copy of the first Great Movies book, and checked off each title until I'd seen them all. His writing always gave me something to look for when I watched the films, and helped kickstart my own ideas after I'd seen them. Over the years, I kept track of the list online, which I think will continue to serve as a great resource to start or deepen any film fan's exploration of cinematic history."

Ronan Doyle, Next Projection:

"I could never settle on just one answer for very long, but because it’s the one I find myself reading again and again of late, I’ll say his review of 'Synecdoche, New York.' It incorporates everything that made A Roger Ebert Review a great thing to read: philosophical depth rendered without pretense; wit and wisdom delivered in equal measure; a sense of clarification that explores the themes of the movie without ever intruding upon our own reading. It’s a review that feels every bit as expansive and extraordinary as the film it considers, that seems to have just as much to teach us about life and the movies. The way it feels as personal to each individual reader as it obviously is to Ebert himself -- and he ties writer and reader together so brilliantly, so beautifully, in his opening words -- is a remarkable feat. That he can be so accessible on every level, all while drawing comparisons to Cocteau and Bergman and more, is emblematic of his critical career as a whole. And lastly for that closing line, italicized with ire and as funny as any he ever wrote: 'What does the title mean? It means it's the title. Get over it.' For looking past the labels and seeing the movie for everything it was to him, and everything it could be to his readers."

Alonso DuraldeTheWrap/What The Flick?!:

"The guy was pretty much reviewing movies for as long as I've been alive, and on television for as long as I could create complete sentences, so it's hard to pick out any one thing. (Although his 'North' review is, obviously, one of the great pans ever written.) I will go with Siskel and Ebert's 'Sneak Previews' review of 'My Dinner With Andre;' at the time, their enthusiasm about the film made me, at age 15, venture out to see a movie that probably wouldn't ever have made it to my radar. Now that I'm a critic myself, I know that enthusiastic reviews, the kind designed to get people excited about something that just doesn't sound interesting to them, are the hardest ones to write, making their achievement that much more impressive."

Jessica ElgenstiernaThe Velvet Cafe:

"I'm cheating a little here, since this isn't strictly an example of film criticism. But as a science fiction fan I’d like to give some love to 'Thought Experiments: How Propeller-Heads, BNFs, Sercon Geeks, Newbies, Recovering GAFIAtors, and Kids in the Basements Invented the World Wide Web, All Except for the Delivery System,' published in Asimov’s Science Fiction. In this article Ebert looks back at his days in 'the virtual world of science fiction fandom' where he, with his own words, started to be a writer and a critic. When you read it, it becomes clear why he ended up where he did, as a master of online writing. It was just a continuation of what he had begun so many years ago: 'we were online before there was online. It is perfectly obvious to me that fanzines were web pages before there was a web, and locs were message threads and bulletin boards before there was cyberspace.'"

David J. Fowlie, Keeping It Reel:

"This is a tough one. The most impactful for me were the reviews Ebert wrote for the films I had discovered in my tween and teenage years. There were specific movies he'd discuss on television but it was his written reviews of those movies that provided a greater understanding and appreciation after I watched them. To pick my favorite though, I'd have to choose a movie that we both agreed upon, because there's a certain validation I found when Ebert and I were on the same page. So the movie that comes to mind is M. Night Shyamalan's 'The Last Airbender' from 2010, an awful movie that had so much potential. I attended the same Chicago screening as Ebert for this movie and since it was such an utter bore, I would look behind me every now and then to where he and Chaz were sitting and notice how his head was sinking lower and lower into the seat -- he and I were clearly on the same wavelength and his review proved it. His review says it all. No one wants a movie to suck, but nevertheless, it happens and when it does, it should be well documented."

Kenji FujishimaThe House Next Door:

"I'm going with my gut on this one and citing Roger Ebert's review of 'Synecdoche, New York' as my favorite piece of film criticism of his. At the very least, it's the first piece of his I thought of when I heard he had died, and I still believe that it could serve as a worthy memorial for him, offering a powerful example of the kind of impassioned fusion of insightful critical analysis and poignant personal reflection of which he was capable when a work of art really spoke to him, as Charlie Kaufman's film clearly did. On a more relatively frivolous note, though, I also thank him for introducing the category of 'Bruised Forearm movies' in his review of 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (he would invoke it later when he tackled 'Lethal Weapon,' 'Die Hard 2' and 'Speed,' among other films). He even cared enough about seemingly shallow Hollywood entertainments to come up with brilliant turns of phrase like that."

Matt Giles, Matt Giles Movie Files:

"If I had to choose a favorite piece of criticism from Mr. Ebert, it would be his review of 'Boyfriends and Girlfriends' on 'Siskel & Ebert.' In that review he talks about why that film resonates and works for him, as he remembers what it was like in high school when he discovered that a girl liked him. It's a review that, for me, illustrates everything that was great about his writing. He always found a way to put himself in his reviews and didn't care if that went against what was viewed as standard criticism. Because of him I'm never afraid to make my writing personal, especially when it comes to film reviews."

Aaron Hammond, Holden Caufield Was Wrong:

"While a movie fan can learn a lot from Ebert's more glowing reviews, specifically the ones for 'Tree of Life,' 'Synecdoche, New York,' and 'Fargo.' But nobody could rip apart a movie with has much razor-sharp wit and insight as Roger could. He felt some movies were so bad that convincing people not to see them wasn't just part of his job but a public service, and his review of 'Little Indian, Big City,' a forgotten French film from 1996, is a great example of that. He opens by saying ''Little Indian, Big City' is one of the worst movies ever made, I detested every moronic minute of it.' He is downright hostile toward this film about a native boy and his adventures with his father in Paris, destroying every facet of the production from the bad subtitles, the lame gags, etc. His screeds transcended the easy snark that is in so many modern movie reviews, and the hilarious final line: 'If you, under any circumstances, see 'Little Indian, Big City,' I will never let you read one of my reviews again' comes not just from a place of lacerating humor, but from the same place that houses his unparalleled passion for the medium."

Peter HowellToronto Star:

"It's easy for any critic to write a rave or a pan; what's really difficult is the reappraisal. And Roger gave us a very elegant one in his 2007 rethink of 'Blade Runner,' a film he came close to giving a thumbs down to upon its first release in 1982 (as Gene Siskel did). Roger didn't deny his original qualms ('A great movie to look at, a hard one to care about,' he said then), but rather explained how his thinking about the film evolved over the years, as had his appreciation of it. He wasn't afraid to admit that first critical impressions aren't always the definitive ones. And I wonder if he was thinking of this when he wrote what turned out to his final review, his very thoughtful take on Terrence Malick's 'To the Wonder' that Jim Emerson has just posted. Roger leaves us with a thought that every moviegoer should ponder: 'Why must a  film explain everything?'"

Ben Kenigsberg, Time Out Chicago:

"There are far, far, far too many to list, both praise ('Hoop Dreams' is 'poetry and prose, muckraking and expose, journalism and polemic') and pan ('And what shark wouldn't want revenge against the survivors of the men who killed it?'). So I'll semi-randomly cite his Great Movies essay on 'Detour,' which prompted my first viewing of the film. His discussion of how Ulmer's 'stylistic transgressions' work in the movie's favor has shaped my thinking on film craft ever since."

Benjamin Kramer, The Voracious Filmgoer:

"It’s hard to pick just one piece of writing with which to remember a career as prolific as Ebert’s, but to me there is no better example of his generosity and personability in print than his Great Movies essay on Steven Spielberg’s 'E.T. The Extraterrestrial.' Written as a letter to his grandkids, this piece, tender and heartfelt, is a prime example of his dedication to writing in such a way that explains both his own responses and reflects upon ways in which the film works on a technical level without condescending to or distancing his expertise from his readers. It’s an intensely personal bit of writing, with some warm details meant most of all for his grandkids, but he also reflects so deeply and precisely on the film that we can see both the experience of watching the film in general and specifically on 'the big green couch' with his family. That’s what all of his best writing has in common, a feeling that we’ve been invited to sit next to a master conversationalist and share in his experience of cinema and life itself."

Gary KramerGay City News:

"I meant to add to my Ebert memories his rule about 'No good film ever featured a hot air balloon' when he reviewed 'Just the Way You Are.' I went over my list of Ebert's reviews, and I love what he wrote about 'Fargo,' '[It is] the kind of movie that makes us hug ourselves with the way it pulls off one improbable scene after another.' It's clear why he won a Pulitzer Prize for criticism."

Will LeitchDeadspin:

"'Hoop Dreams.' There was nothing better than when something had blown Roger away. This movie hit every quadrant for him, and you can feel him sort of levitating above his computer when he was writing it. 'It gives us the impression of having touched life itself.' That's just perfect."

Eric Madsen, Flicksation Podcast:

"My favorite bit of film criticism from Roger Ebert comes from back in 1998. I was a huge hater of the film 'Patch Adams.' Much to my chagrin, most of my circle of friends enjoyed the movie and would gang up on me at times. My vindication came as two of my 'Patch'-loving friends and I watched Siskel and Ebert both trash the film on 'At the Movies.' Ebert wrote, "'Patch Adams' made me want to spray the screen with Lysol. This movie is shameless. It's not merely a tearjerker. It extracts tears individually by liposuction, without anesthesia.'"

Joey MagidsonThe Awards Circuit:

"My favorite piece of criticism from Roger Ebert is one that always just made me smile.  I don't hate the movie 'North,' but one of the final paragraphs of the review was something very different to me: 'I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.' That's one I'll always remember, from a man worth always remembering."

Jeremy Mathews, Paste Magazine/The Same Dame:

"This is of course a tricky question, because Ebert was a master of both raves and takedowns. In my teenage years, the first thing I did after seeing a great movie was look up Ebert's sure-to-be-eloquent review. At the same time, my sister and I used to scour the 'Movie Home Companion' for his meanest reviews and read them aloud. During my first year of college, I went so far as to make a (failed) short film based on his massacre of 'Milk Money.' But rather than choose something on either end of the love-hate spectrum, I find myself drawn to his review for '2010: The Year We Made Contact.' Anyone could have noted the film's strengths and weaknesses, but Ebert took the opportunity to explore what made '2001: A Space Odyssey' such a special film, and why the explanation-filled sequel could never have the same magic."

Mike McGranaghanThe Aisle Seat:

"This is an easy one, and my answer jumped straight to mind: Ebert's 1989 review of Spike Lee's 'Do the Right Thing.' The movie had stirred up a massive controversy in Cannes before it was released here. From day one, Ebert was a vocal supporter of the film -- and an equally vocal detractor of those who claimed it would incite race riots. (No surprise that, in the end, Ebert was 100% right.) This review resonated with me for two reasons. First, it prepared me for what I would see in the film once I finally got to view it with my own eyes. Having some things to look for thematically really enhanced my appreciation of it. Second, I was, at the time, a college student, writing reviews for my campus newspaper and often fantasizing about a day when I do the job professionally. Ebert's take on the movie -- as well as his continual championing of it throughout the controversy -- made me realize that great films are worth fighting for. I've carried that lesson with me ever since."

Gordon S. Miller, Cinema Sentries:

"Roger Ebert's review of 'Blue Velvet' is one of my favorites. Although our opinions about the film differ greatly, Ebert, who concedes David Lynch is a talented director, is able to specifically state what about 'Blue Velvet' doesn't work for him and I understand it. While it would have been easy to go along with the cool crowd who were calling it a 'masterpiece,' Ebert had no qualms about looking like a square as he expressed his honest reaction to the film and its treatment of actress Isabella Rossellini. And he wasn't the only one who had a negative response to the emotionally intense scenes Lynch created. Working as an usher in Huntington Beach, CA, I witnessed the most number of walkouts during the its theatrical run of any film in my two-and-a-half-year tenure. While there's obvious satisfaction when someone like Ebert shares the same opinion about films like 'Citizen Kane' or 'Armageddon,' I am much more intrigued by those with which I disagree and the reasons for them because they say as much about the film as they do the reviewer."

Scott NyeRail of Tomorrow:

"Who knows if this is truly my favorite of his thousands of great pieces, but the one I return to most often is his initial review of 'Synecdoche, New York,' which did the not-simple task of unpacking a great deal of that film with his typical insight and wit, but which totally shirked any sort of conventional review format in so doing, thus meeting the film even more perfectly. That, in the process, it's a personal-but-not-indulgent reflection on life and cinema, and how each enrich the other, make it, in my mind, the quintessential Ebert."

Junius PondsThe Ascetic Sensualists:

"What comes to mind is Ebert's review of 'Claire's Knee,' which was in Ebert's "1988 Movie Home Companion" that I read over and over as a kid and teenager. This is a movie that from a brief description, even a brief description by someone who likes and admires it, sounds ridiculous, pretentious, and foppish. I feel like most critics would give up in despair if challenged to make a mass audience interested in watching such a film -- the review would either be written at an ironic distance, saying 'Wow, this is wacked out, man;' or it would just say 'Some people will like it, but how many of those people are there really?' Or it would just be dismissive. What impressed me was that Ebert takes the movie, the movie's audience, and his own audience seriously. Throughout his career he maintained a heroic avoidance of condescension. And looked for the good in everything, with the exception of things that condescend to their own audience."

Matt PriggeMetro US:

"I can think of at least three other people who are probably going to be replying with this one, but the last two paragraphs of Ebert's Great Movies piece on 'La Dolce Vita' are absolutely beautiful. That's not only because of how it acknowledges how movies change as we age, but in its final declaration: that we have to experience disappointment, loss and, perhaps, happiness and success for ourselves."

Jason ShawhanNashville Scene/Interface 2037:

"Ebert's review of Cronenberg's 'Crash' has always been a go-to piece to share with others for when I couldn't articulate my own adoration of that film. I also enjoyed his takedown of 'Caligula.'"

Mark Smith, ScreenGeeks:

"The first thing that came to mind was his legendary review of 'Armageddon.' I remember reading it aloud to anybody who thought Armageddon was a good movie and got into a good argument with my twin brother. Ebert was amazing at championing a film he really liked that he thought was under appreciated but there was nobody who could completely eviscerate a stupid movie like Ebert could. If his commentary tracks on either 'Citizen Kane' or 'Dark City' count those are also incredible and deserve to be recognized."

Jeremy Sollie, GeekBinge.com:

"For anyone curious why Roger Ebert is considered one of the best film critics, look no further than his now-famous review of Rob Reiner's 'North.' He loathed the film, even saying that "[he] hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.' But even though some critics might stop there and let the review simply be scathing, Ebert mentions his appreciation of Reiner and the talented cast. That isn't revelatory -- plenty of critics have admitted films they don't like are made by filmmakers they do -- but it shows that Ebert held filmmakers to a higher standard. He wouldn't tolerate any film that was a waste of their talent and neither should we."

Josh SpiegelMousterpiece Cinema/Sound on Sight:

"I don’t have a single favorite piece of criticism from Roger Ebert, because it seems antithetical to pick just one. Ebert’s writing, in his early days and after he lost the ability to speak, has been so consistently intelligent and direct that you can read an article, interview, or review from 1975 or 2005 and the quality would be unflagging. What I will highlight here are two Great Movies articles he wrote, on 'The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp' and 'Peeping Tom.' I’m sad to say that before I read these pieces, I’d been woefully unaware of the work of either Michael Powell or his collaborator Emeric Pressburger, the duo better known as the Archers. Both films are excellent, as are both pieces of writing. But if it wasn’t for the latter, I’d never have seen the former. Who among us can’t say we weren’t alerted to a film or director because of Mr. Ebert’s passion? For that alone, these pieces -- and, again, all of them -- are worth reading, or re-reading."

Andreas StoehrPussy Goes Grrr:

"Instead of citing one specific review, I have to go with the whole first two volumes of The Great Movies. More than any given piece of prose, it was the spirit of his undertaking that affected me when I read the books in high school; they're so clearly labors of love, showcasing movies that Ebert so urgently wanted his audience to watch, and in retrospect they introduced me to so many eventual favorites. The writing in those books feels like a gift, both in terms of the great movies it shared and the model of criticism it provided for me to aspire to."

Brad Sturdivant, Flix66.com:

"My favorite review of Roger Ebert's is for 'The Island.' Not necessarily for the quality of his review, but more for how he responded to criticism of the review from one of my friends.  Basically, a friend of mine was unhappy with Ebert's somewhat positive review, feeling that Michael Bay had outdid himself with another incoherent mess of a movie.  So my friend sent a harsh (yet respectful) email to Ebert, asking how he could possibly give anything less than a scathing review of 'The Island.' I didn't expect Ebert to respond given he was one of the most famous and respected movie critics of all time, but a few hours after receiving the email, Ebert responded and defended his review and then went on to ask my friend what other Michael Bay films he liked or didn't like.  He didn't take offense and didn't preach in his email; he just responded in a very friendly manner and continued the email chain for a few days. I became an accredited critic a few years later and Ebert's handling of that email always stuck with me. No matter how famous he became, he always took time to talk movies with anyone that was willing. It's something I wish more critics practiced."

Brian Tallerico, HollywoodChicago.com:

"It may not be his best piece of writing overall (although there's too many to choose from there) but I'll never forget Roger's review of 'Do the Right Thing.' I was 14 when the film came out and this review and his overall support for the film while the Academy ignored it was one of the first examples to me of how important it could be for a film critic to champion a movie. Growing up in Detroit, film reviews were largely seen as little more than product that advertised a film in the local paper. We read the reviews to see what was out. This was one of the first reviews that I can remember that showed me how a critic could be so much more than merely informative. I always think of 'Siskel & Ebert' when I think of this film, one of the best of the '80s."

Pete Thomas, Pete's Open Notebook:

"Although I love his negative reviews (often they are the only good thing to come from a film, see 'Mad Dog Time'), Ebert writes the best rave reviews. In the case of some films, like 'Shawshank Redemption' and 'My Dinner with Andre,' you get two wonderful reviews -- the original and the Great Movies review. My favorite Ebert review is for 'Small Change' by François Truffaut, published January 1, 1976. It is a simple rave, but captures everything that makes the film special (including a few points that I missed the first few times around).  'Small Change' is my favorite foreign film, and Ebert named it his favorite film of 1976 but never revisited it for his Great Movies.' Part of what I liked about the review was how he wrote a beautiful rave of a film, and seemingly did not mention it again for 34 years. He had time to revisit and rereview 'Jules and Jim,' '400 Blows,' and 'Day for Night' in his Great Movies series, but not a film he called 'magical' and includes a scene he calls 'Truffaut at his best.' I always wondered if he soured on it later in life, or if he felt the review was all he had to say about it. I was happy to see him tweet last year it was still a favorite."

Bill ThompsonBill's Movie Emporium/Sound on Sight:

"There were, of course, a ton of great pieces of film criticism to choose from. However, if there's one director I'm an absolute nut for it's Hayao Miyazaki. While I've enjoyed all of Mr. Ebert's reviews of Miyazaki-san films, his Great Movies review of 'Spirited Away' struck a chord with me. That a mainstream critic was willing to dig deeper into animation and talk about all the little background details that make up the world really impressed me. It's easy to be wowed by the imagination in a Hayao Miyazaki film. Roger Ebert took it a step further and went beyond the imagination and focused on the great detail and work that went into such a great film. Like I said, there's a near endless supply of great film criticism from Mr. Ebert, but this piece on 'Spirited Away' has a special place in my film criticism heart."

Luke Y. ThompsonTopless Robot:

"There is no single one. It was the ongoing conversation that I liked."

Anne-Katrin TitzeEye For Film:

"Roger Ebert had the platform of the mainstream media to, what I would call, scold and mold his audience. He used this strategy well to promote lesser known filmmakers in the U.S., for example his tireless efforts with Japanese cinema. To introduce his Toronto interview with Hayao Miyazaki, Ebert wrote: 'He and his Studio Ghibli collaborator Isao Takahata ('Grave of the Fireflies') are arguably the greatest directors of animation in the world... And although we spend a quarter of a billion dollars on each new Disney cartoon, we are shy of work by anyone else.'"

Nick Usen, Gazing At Film/Sound on Sight:

"While the entire Internet is certainly in agreement that it is beautifully perfect that Roger's final review was of 'To The Wonder,' my favorite review of his was for Bertolucci's 'The Dreamers.' Upon its release many critics dismissed this film, but Roger embraced the beauty of both the visuals and the narrative. The way that sex, cinema and politics coalesced together within Bertolucci's beautiful compositions really seemed to strike Roger. Instead of writing it off as an erotic folly from an aging master, Roger connected with it and convinces you to give it a chance like only Roger could. When I was going through Bertolucci's filmography, it was Roger who made me give 'The Dreamers' a chance and look at it as more then a minor work in a dense oeuvre. So once again, thank you for everything Roger."

Scott WeinbergTwitch/Movies.com:

"Probably this excellent revisit that he and Gene Siskel gave to John Carpenter's 'Halloween.' It pretty much speaks for itself. Enjoy!"

Dave Wilson, Smells Like Screen Spirit:

"This is easy. The review that comes to mind immediately is Ebert's review of 'The Son,' the 2003 film by the Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. Roger was so humbled by the simple poetry of this film that you can hear the awe in his voice. And he cares so much that we get to share in this experience that he simply slows down to show us a scene or two, listening and observing with the same care as the filmmakers, and setting it down in simple prose. I'll never forget the courage with which Roger admits, 'I grew during this film. It taught me things about the cinema I did not know.' Can you say that in a movie review? Roger did. And then the most curious move of all. He tells us to walk away, go see the film right now, then come back. Then I kid you not, there's an ellipsis. '...So now you've seen the film.' The review goes on and now you're right there with him, his hand is on his shoulder, and you're nodding. You get it. I've never read anything quite like this, and I want say it taught me things about film criticism I did not know."

Alan ZilbermanBrightest Young Things/Tiny Mix Tapes:

"I love Ebert's reviews of 'Ballast' and 'The Devil's Rejects.' In the former, Ebert discusses how the most moving movies are the ones that show us our capacity for goodness. In the latter, Ebert entertainingly defends great trash."

The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on April 8th, 2013:
The Most Popular Response: "Upstream Color"
Other Titles Receiving Multiple Votes: "The Place Beyond the Pines," "Evil Dead," "Spring Breakers," "Trance."


3 Comments

  • stu f | April 9, 2013 10:51 PMReply

    I guess most people (especially those who wouldn't know a von Sternberg from a von Stroheim) haven't quite figured out that Mr. Ebert almost never met a movie he didn't like. Which is why the folks in "the industry" just adored him. And which is why the rest of us have to sit through so many bad movies- and so many mediocrities posing as masterpieces. Don't believe me? Check it out: Ebert's thumb was in an upraised position for about 80% of what he saw. I don't recall seeing such a deluge of tears when far more important critics like Sarris and Kael went off to that great screening room in the sky.

  • Chris L. | April 10, 2013 3:27 AM

    Thanks for evaluating a man's life and work based on his Rotten Tomatoes scorecard. Based on this judgment, I guess Armond White is the one truly indispensable film critic on the planet.

    Funny, I thought the reaction was about what Ebert had to say, the life he led, the people he helped, and so on. You don't "have to sit through" anything based on a thumb. You read extensively, you compare, learn and decide.

    And yes, Sarris' passing still haunts many of us nearly a year later. I'll let others determine who was "more important."

  • Heidi | April 9, 2013 12:26 AMReply

    David J. Fowlie...Now that was a great review!

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