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The November Man

In this excitingly nasty but ultimately confused action picture, Pierce Brosnan plays a retired government hitman drawn out of retirement to untangle a global political…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

In Defense of Armond White

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Walter Biggins defends Armond White, the City Arts critic and editor who was recently expelled by the New York Film Critics Circle, as a provocative but necessary voice in movie criticism.

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#135 September 26, 2012

Marie writes: It's no secret that most Corporations are evil - or at the very least, suck big time. And while I have no actual proof, I'm fairly certain there is a special level of Dante's Hell reserved just for them. (Map of Dante's Hell.)That being the case, when my younger brother Paul wrote me about a cool project sponsored by Volkswagen, I was understandably wary and ready to denounce it sight-unseen as self-serving Corporate shyte. As luck would have it however, I was blessed at birth with curiosity and which got the better of me and why I took a look. For what I found was nothing less than extraordinary....

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Greatest Films of All Time: Where's the funny?

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The big loser in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll is... funny. OK, we know there are no losers, only winners! But, still, with the obvious exceptions of "Citizen Kane" and "Rules of the Game," this decade's consensus choices for the Greatest Films of All Time are not a whole lotta laughs, even though they're terrific motion pictures. There's not much in the way of chuckles or joie de vivre to be found in "Vertigo," "Tokyo Story," "Man with a Movie Camera," "The Searchers," "The Passion of Joan of Arc"... At least "Sunrise," "2001: A Space Odyssey" and "8 1/2" have healthy senses of humor, but "Kane" and "Rules of the Game" are the only movies in the top 10 with the propulsive vitality of (screwball) comedy. They are flat-out fun (even if they are regarded as "classics"). And with "Kane" bumped to #2 this time, The List has become, to paraphrase a great comedy from the 1980s, one less funny.

I say this as someone who believes that comedy is everything, and that drama is lifeless (or at least emotionally stunted) without it. Some might argue that comedy without drama is also limited and superficial, but I think comedy is more profound and complex -- and more difficult to pull off successfully. I can name plenty of comedies that capture a mature vision of human existence (if you're into that kind of thing -- like all of Buster Keaton), but a drama that (artificially) excludes humor is feels false and inert to me. [No, I'm not saying the other movies in the Top Ten are humorless or lack cinematic exuberance; just that their energy is not primarily comedic, as i feel Welles' and Renoir's are. To some extent, I'm talking about the overall tendency to value "seriousness" above "humor" in these sorts of exercises.] As for the 2012 Sight & Sound Top Ten, compare it with 1982 ("Singin' in the Rain," "The General"), 1992 ("L'Atlante") and 2002 ("Singin' in the Rain"). The lack of comedy on the new list hearkens back to the Somber Ol' Days of the 1950s, '60s and '70s. As somebody once said: Why so serious?

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The best greatest movies ever list

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UPDATED (08/01/12): Scroll to the bottom of this entry to see my first impressions of the newly announced critics' and directors' poll results.

Vittorio De Sica's "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) topped the first Sight & Sound critics' poll in 1952, only four years after it was first released, dropped to #7 in 1962, and then disappeared from the top ten never to be seen again. (In 2002 only five of the 145 participating critics voted for it.) Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) flopped in its initial release but was rediscovered in the 1950s after RKO licensed its films to television in 1956. From 1962 to 2002 "Kane" has remained at the top of the poll (46 critics voted for it last time). This year, a whopping 846 top-ten ballots (mentioning 2,045 different titles) were counted, solicited from international "critics, programmers, academics, distributors, writers and other cinephiles" -- including bloggers and other online-only writers. Sight & Sound has announced it will live-tweet the 2012 "Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time" (@SightSoundmag #sightsoundpoll) August 1, and as I write this the night before, I of course don't know the results. But, for now at least, I'm more interested in the process.

Given the much wider and younger selection of voters in 2012, ist-watchers have been speculating: Will another movie (leading candidate: Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo," number 2 in 2002) supplant "Kane" at the top of the list? Will there be any silent films in the top 10? (Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin" and Murnau's "Sunrise" tied for #7 on the 2002 list, but the latter was released in 1927 with a Fox Movietone sound-on-film musical score and sound effects.)

Though there's been no rule about how much time should pass between a film's initial release and its eligibility (the Library of Congress's National Film Registry requires that selections be at least ten years old), most of the selections ten to have stood the test of time for at least a decade or two. The newest film on the 2002 list was the combination of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather, Part II" (1974) -- but they won't be allowed to count as one title for 2012.

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In movies begin responsibilities

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I saw six movies this past weekend and it was exhilarating. That's a lot for me to suck up these days (though it didn't used to be), unless I'm neck-deep in a film festival. I used to think nothing of a double-bill a day, but this was such a rich and rewarding movie-weekend that it reminded me of the great intensified cinematic forages of my 20s and 30s, when I seemed to encounter, and ravenously gobble down, fresh new masterpieces (heralded or unheralded) for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also got me thinking about how unimaginably different the experience of finding movies to watch is now from what it was then.

Here's the breakdown: None of the movies I saw were available in my local theaters. I saw all of them at home, on the same 55" screen -- three on Comcast On Demand (two of those in HD widescreen, one in SD widescreen) and three on DVDs (all at 1.33:1) from my own library (in other words, not rentals, Netflix or otherwise). The movies themselves were made between 1947 and 2009, three were originally shot on 35mm film, one on Super 16mm, and the other on HD video. Four of them were in color, two in black and white. Three were serial-killer/corrupt cop thrillers, two comedy-dramas, and one an adaptation of a serious play about religion. None of them was American-made, but three were in English (though sometimes it was hard to tell), two in Japanese and one in Danish. Two were sanctified classics, one a lesser effort by one of cinema's greatest directors, and the other three recent works by established but not particularly well-known British filmmakers. All but one were new to me -- and that one I hadn't seen I booked it in 16mm, as a Seattle premiere, in a university film series 30 years ago.

OK, here's what I saw, in order:

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Name That Director!

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Click above to REALLY enlarge...

UPDATED 01/28/10: 2:25 p.m. PST -- COMPLETED!: Thanks for all the detective work -- and special thanks to Christopher Stangl and Srikanth Srinivasan himself for their comprehensive efforts at filling the last few holes! Now I have to go read about who some of these experimental filmmakers are. I did find some Craig Baldwin movies on Netflix, actually...

Srikanth Srinivasan of Bangalore writes one of the most impressive movie blogs on the web: The Seventh Art. I don't remember how I happened upon it last week, but wow am I glad I did. Dig into his exploration of connections between Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jean-Luc Godard's "History of Cinema." Or check out his piece on James Benning's 1986 "Landscape Suicide." There's a lot to look through, divided into sections for Hollywood and World Cinema.

In the section called "The Cinemaniac... I found the above collage (mosaic?) of mostly-famous faces belonging to film directors, which Srikanth says he assembled from thumbnails at Senses of Cinema. Many of them looked quite familiar to me, and if I'm not mistaken they were among the biographical portraits we used in the multimedia CD-ROM movie encyclopedia Microsoft Cinemania, which I edited from 1994 to 1998, first on disc, then also on the web. (Anybody with a copy of Cinemania able to confirm that? My Mac copy of Cinemania97 won't run on Snow Leopard.)

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Pulp Fiction: Nothing serious?

View image Genre picture? Marketing label?

Charles McGrath wonders if critics and the public give genre work enough credit. In "Great Literature? Depends Whodunit," published in Sunday's New York Times, McGrath makes a case for pulp fiction that applies to movies as well as to literature. Often behind the generic labeling, he says, is: ... the assumption that genre fiction — mysteries, thrillers, romances, horror stories — is a form of literary slumming. These kinds of books are easier to read, we tend to think, and so they must be easier to write, and to the degree that they’re entertaining, they can’t possibly be “serious.”

The distinction between highbrow and lowbrow — between genre writing and literary writing — is actually fairly recent. Dickens, as we’re always being reminded, wrote mysteries and horror stories, only no one thought to call them that. Jane Austen wrote chick lit. A whiff of shamefulness probably began attaching itself to certain kinds of fiction — and to mysteries and thrillers especially — at the end of the 19th century, with the rise of the “penny dreadful,” or cheaply printed serial. The market and public appetite for this stuff became even larger in the early years of the 20th century with the tremendous growth of pulp magazines, which specialized in the genres and eventually even added a new one: science fiction. I think of genre conventions as something akin to sonata form in music, or the chord progressions from a popular standard that jazz musicians may use as a foundation. The familiar prototype is just that: a recognizable structure upon which a craftsperson (even an artist) can create almost anything at all -- even turn it inside out or blow it apart.

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The 100 Greatest Directors of... what?

View image Number 74.

I was not familiar with TotalFilm.com, until I spotted a link over at Movie City News.

Thanks a lot, guys.

The link was to a pair of articles listing Total Film's choices for "The Greatest Directors Ever" Part 1 (100 - 49) and Part 2 (50 - 1).

Will I return to this site? I think probably not. Why am I linking to it now? Because it's my shameless attempt to stimulate discussion, which I hope will be on a more informed level than this list. Or maybe it's just to have a laugh. Or a moment of sadness. What do I think of the list itself? Well, let's see:

Baz Luhrmann is #97.

Tony Scott is #74, just edging out Milos Forman, Kenji Mizoguchi, Satyajit Ray, Carl Theodor Dreyer, and Buster Keaton, who comes in at #88.

Bryan Singer is #65, two slots below Robert Bresson, who immediately follows Sam Raimi.

Rob Reiner is #35.

Michael Mann (#28) is on the list, but Anthony Mann is not.

Bernardo Bertolucci is... not on the list.

Otto Preminger is... not on the list.

Richard Lester is... not on the list.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is... not on the list.

Max Ophuls is... not on the list.

George Cukor is... not on the list, but George Lucas (#95) is.

Andrei Tarkovsky is... not on the list.

Eric Rohmer is... not on the list.

Claude Chabrol is... not on the list.

Luchino Visconti is... not on the list.

Vittorio De Sica is... not on the list.

Michelangelo Antonioni is... not on the list. Not even the top 100.

What's worse are the little names they have for each director. Sophia Coppola (#99) is "The dreamer" ("Dreamy, brave and cool, this Coppola is doing it for herself"). Singer is "The new Spielberg." Robert Altman (#26) is "The outsider" -- oops, but so is Hal Ashby (#58). Somebody ran out of labels. Well, at least they are not outside all alone; they are outside together. Sam Fuller (#50) is "The hack." Mike Leigh (#49) is "The grouch." Quentin Tarantino (#12) is "The motormouth."

OK, that's enough. Have at it if you feel like it. If you don't feel like it, you'll probably live.

ADDENDUM: A reader, spleendonkey, describes TotalFilm as a British magazine aimed at teens and pre-teens, designed to broaden their film horizons. For the record, here's the mag's description of itself on its subscription page:In 2007, Total Film celebrates its tenth year of being the only film magazine that nails a monthly widescreen shot of the whole movie landscape. It’s the essential guide for anyone who’s passionate about movies - whether they’re into Cruise or Cusack, Hollywood or Bollywood, multiplex or arthouse, popcorn or - er - sweetcorn. Each issue is pumped full of reviews, news, features and celebrity interviews on all the latest cinema releases. The all-new home entertainment section, Lounge, is the ultimate one-stop-shop for everything you should care about in the churning world of DVDs, books, videogames and, occasionally, film-related novelty furniture. The mag regularly features highly desirable, Ebay-friendly FREE stuff - exclusive film cells, posters, postcards, DVDs… We’re currently in discussions with Health & Safety operatives about sticking a magical compass to the cover when "His Dark Materials" comes out. Subscribe to Total Film now, or forever be belittled by precocious children in discussions about what’s best and worst in movieland.Doesn't sound all that different from Entertainment Weekly to me, but there you go...

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The "Best" Non-English-Language Films (Round 1)

View image Wim Wenders' "Kings of the Road" (or literal English translation: "In the Course of Time"). You may recognize the poster image from outside the theater in which "Duck Soup" is playing in Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters." This movie can also save your life.

An ad hoc bunch of 51 online movie enthusiasts (online movie critics, bloggers, et al.), organized by Edward Copeland, the eponymous proprietor of "Edward Copeland on Film," recently composed our unordered lists of up to 25 most significant (or enduring or even favorite) "foreign-language" talkies.

Eduardo (as he might be known in, say, Mexico or Spain or Uruguay or Nicaragua or Puerto Rico) took on the gargantuan task of tabulating the ballots and coming up with the initial list of 122 nominees. As he explains: I set a few guidelines for eligibility: 1) No film more recent than 2002 was eligible; 2) They had to be feature length; 3) They had to have been made either mostly or entirely in a language other than English; 4) Documentaries and silent films were ineligible, though I made do lists for those in the future if this goes well. In all, 434 films received votes, not counting those that had to be disqualified for not meeting the criteria.In order to make the final ballot, films had to receive at least three "votes." I'm happy that most of my initial choices made the finals. And there were five I've never seen, so I have these to look forward to: Elem Klimov's "Come and See," Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence" (a spaghetti western), Wong Kar-Wai's "In the Mood For Love," Bela Tarr's 7.5-hour "Satantango," and Hayao Miyazaki's anime "Spirited Away." (And I've never made it all the way through "Amelie" or "Chungking Express.")

This exercise also reminded me of a bunch of movies I need to re-watch, because it's been too long (at least 20 years) and I don't remember them very well, including: Jacques Rivette's "Celine and Julie Go Boating" (always hard to see, but available on Region 2 DVD, at least), Carl Theodor Dreyer's "Days of Wrath," Lucino Visconti's "The Leopard," Kenji Mizoguchi's "The Story of the Late Crysanthemums" (and, for that matter, "The Life of Oharu," which deserved to be on the list and which I have on import DVD), and Edward Yang's "Yi Yi" (which I've been meaning to revisit since his untimely death).

Best of all, the list serves as a reminder that the vast majority of these films, available on DVD, are easier to see now than they have ever been since they were made! Most are just as easy to borrow from NetFlix as "Wild Hogs."

For my Own Personal List, and some observations about the preliminary results, click to continue...

Meanwhile, if any of the participants -- or any readers -- would like to publish their own lists, please feel free to do so in comments! I'll show you mine if...

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Yes, But Is It Art? Part 237

View image Another view of Death. From Dreyer's "Vampyr" (1932)

Welcome back to Post-Bergman & Antonioni Art Film week (or two weeks) at Scanners -- and just about every other movie blog and film section out there! The term "art film" used to disgust me as a designation that's simultaneously crude and precious, but it's really just another sales pitch. Try booking what exhibitors matter-of-factly call an "art house" for a few years, as I did, and you learn the pure commercial exploitation value of promoting "art." It's just another niche-marketing approach, like selling horror pictures or porno. It also happens to be art, but in the marketplace that's almost beside the point. Except that it is the selling point. Like any promotional campaign, the "art movie" sell involves convincing your potential audience that they will be stimulated by the picture, and that they will want to be among the exclusive "first" to see it because it will make them seem cooler and ahead of the (pop-)cultural curve in conversations with their friends and co-workers.

Coming at the subject from a more critical/academic angle, Zach Campbell at Elusive Lucidity has a response to Jonathan Rosenbaum's NYT Bergman piece that relates to Rosenbaum's comments in answer to Roger Ebert's criticisms regarding the comparisons of Bergman to Carl Theodor Dreyer, even though Campbell's comment (quoted below) was posted before Roger's. Got that? Anyway, this is good stuff: The question of form's importance really enters into whether or not Bergman's aesthetics are great, rich, profound, and if so, if they are such only insofar as they are "functional." To keep up the (perhaps shopworn) comparison: Dreyer was a storyteller, a narrative filmmaker, obviously. And no "more" cinematic than Bergman. But he was also, as I see it, more invested in the way his films felt, the way they impressed themselves on a viewer, than he was on letting his films breathe or go down unexpected sorts of paths. (It isn't so much innovation of film form/language as it is potentialy in film affect/reception.)

My impression of Bergman is that he was always going for effects, conclusions. To put it very crudely, because I can't find a more articulate or eloquent way of stating it, when I'm moved by Bergman--unsettled, saddened, uplifted--I feel like this movement is the calculation of form, that the form did what it was "supposed" to do. This isn't a sin, but neither is it the pinnacle of film art as I experience it and choose to think it. Whereas in Dreyer, I am constantly challenged, shot-to-shot sometimes, by the frictions and (im)balances and of shots, pictorial compositions, cuts, camera movements, etc. I don't feel like Dreyer is leading me to conclusions at all; there's a richness and a weirdness to shot combinations or spatial articulations that just doesn't exist in most of what I've seen in Bergman. It's not that Bergman is blind to form--clearly he cares about at least some major aspects of what he's doing, formally and aesthetically--but rather, a formal argument for or against his work should hinge on what he's doing with the form, and how & why. I look forward to reading David Bordwell's thoughts on all this, which I hope will appear in the near future!

P.S. They did.

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Ebert Strikes Back

View image Ingmar Bergman directs "Saraband."

So much for the alleged lack of intensity in discussing the work of the late Ingmar Bergman. Roger Ebert responds to Jonathan Rosenbaum's critical take on Bergman: I have long known and admired the Chicago Reader’s film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, but his New York Times op-ed attack on Ingmar Bergman (“Scenes from an Overrated Career,” 8/4/07) is a bizarre departure from his usual sanity. It says more about Rosenbaum’s love of stylistic extremes than it does about Bergman and audiences. Who else but Rosenbaum could actually base an attack on the complaint that Bergman had what his favorites Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson lacked, “the power to entertain — which often meant a reluctance to challenge conventional film-going habits?" In what parallel universe is the power to entertain defined in that way? [...]

Rosenbaum writes, “Riddled with wounds inflicted by Mr. Bergman’s strict Lutheran upbringing and diverse spiritual doubts, these films are at times too self-absorbed to say much about the larger world, limiting the relevance that his champions often claim for them.” This statement is perfectly accurate about Dreyer if you substitute his name for Bergman’s, and perfectly accurate about Bresson, if you substitute the names and change “Lutheran” to “Catholic.” Indeed, Bresson has been called the most Catholic of filmmakers. [...]

Finally, Rosenbaum laments how Bergman’s “mainly blond, blue-eyed cast members became a brand to be adopted and emulated.” Hello? Bergman worked in Sweden! Does he forgive Ousmane Sembene’s African exteriors and mainly black-haired, brown-eyed cast members? Or the way Ozu used all those Japanese? FYI: In a series of posts in a thread ("Rosenbaum disses Bergman in the NYT") at a_film_by, Rosenbaum elaborates:

"The article is meant to stir the pot, not close the lid."

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"... I'm perfectly happy to listen to counter-arguments defending the beauty, seriousness, authenticity, and/or importance of Bergman's thoughts and emotions and what they contributed to our own thoughts and feelings. Maybe Bergman DID have something to teach us all about the Death of God. But will somebody please explain to me what this is? I'm waiting for someone to engage seriously with such issues--not assume that they're already settled and therefore unworthy of discussion."

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"Not that this excuses anything, but my article went through many drafts, and some of the things I wanted to say necessarily got squeezed out--including more material about his theater work. (A dramaturge friend of mine is scandalized that there's been nothing written in the Times about Bergman's death by any of their drama critics.) For whatever it's worth, I'm something of a fan of one of Bergman's most unpopular and even scorned films, "All These Women" (but, then again, "Rhapsody in August" also happens to be one of my favorite Kurosawa films), and next weekend I'll be introducing and discussing "Sawdust and Tinsel" at a Bergman marathon organized by afb member Gabe Klinger.

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"There are some very important Bergman films that I still haven't seen; I'm looking forward to seeing 'Fanny and Alexander' for the first time next weekend..."

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He also wrote (though I can no longer find the post) that the piece was written at the request of a NYT editor (with whom Rosenbaum happened to agree that the obits were overpraising Bergman), and that he did not choose the headline or the insert quote himself.

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Defending Ingmar Bergman

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I have long known and admired the Chicago Reader’s film critic, Jonathan Rosenbaum, but his New York Times op-ed attack on Ingmar Bergman (“Scenes from an Overrated Career,” 8/4/07) is a bizarre departure from his usual sanity. It says more about Rosenbaum’s love of stylistic extremes than it does about Bergman and audiences. Who else but Rosenbaum could actually base an attack on the complaint that Bergman had what his favorites Carl Theodor Dreyer and Robert Bresson lacked, “the power to entertain — which often meant a reluctance to challenge conventional film-going habits?" In what parallel universe is the power to entertain defined in that way?

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The 100 Most Acclaimed Movies of the 20th Century

View image Antonioni's "L'Avventura" ranked in the top ten.

OK, as long as the simultaneous deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni have shaken the foundations of the pantheon and got us debating canons -- again: Near the end of the last millennium, I decided to do something difficult and convoluted and thoroughly silly. On this particular occasion I determined to figure out which 100 movies were the most highly regarded at the close of the century. I think this was in late 1998 or early 1999. But more recent films wouldn't have registered very high anyway, because I was using a larger historical sampling to compile the results.

I came up with some complex point scale for rating the movies by the awards and honors they had received, using a mixture of domestic and international, popular and critical sources. I no longer have any recollection of the formula I used, but I'm sure it was at least as complicated as the one for Coca-Cola. I know (given my personal bent) that I weighted, for example, the "Sight & Sound" international critics' poll more highly than, say, the Oscars. And I tried to find a mathematical way to properly consider and weigh American with non-English-language films (given the restrictions and biases of some sources), and older films with newer ones. The sources I used were (in no particular order): Academy Awards, "Sight & Sound" polls (1952, '62, '72, '82, '92), the first AFI 100 list, the National Film Registry (American films selected for preservation in the Library of Congress -- which had to be at least 10 years old), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards (1975 - ), the New York Film Critics Circle (1935 - ), and the National Society of Film Critics (1966 - ).

Although it seems inconceivable to me now, I actually put together several charts (spreadsheets!), so you could view the lists and the movies' individual honors, not only by rank, but by director, title (alphabetically), year/decade, -- and a comprehensive list of the 400+ titles that came under consideration, given my sources.

I doubt -- and I hope -- I will never be that anal again. But what I liked about the results was that they reflected a mix of "art films" ("The Passion of Joan of Arc," "Bicycle Thieves"), silents ("Greed," "Intolerance," "The Gold Rush") and popular titles ("West Side Story," "Annie Hall," "Schindler's List"). I was also pleased with the distribution over the decades, a little more balanced than you usually see in polls: two films from the 1910s; six from the '20s; 19 from the '30s; 16 from the '40s; 29 from the '50s; 19 from the '60s; 21 from the '70s; 13 from the '80s; and 14 from the '90s (which weren't quite over yet).

Point of interest: Bergman had three films on the list: "Persona" (22), "Wild Strawberries" (66), and "Fanny and Alexander" (84). Antonioni had one: "L'Avventura" (8).

Welles and Chaplin each had two films in the top 25. Other directors represented in the upper quarter include: Jean Renoir, Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini, Sergei Eisenstein, Stanley Donen, Steven Spielberg, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Vittorio de Sica, Woody Allen, Erich von Stroheim, Elia Kazan, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Robert Wise, D.W. Griffith, Jean Vigo, and Michael Curtiz.

The Big List begins like this:

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Video games: The 'epic debate'

At last week's Conference on World Affairs, I was on a panel somewhat facetiously titled "An Epic Debate: Are Video Games an Art Form?" with Roger Ebert (whose answer to the titular question is, as you probably know, "no"). Sun-Times tech columnist Andy Ihnatko was supposed to join us, but at the last minute he couldn't make it. Fortunately, we were able to recruit author, brain expert and laparoscopic surgeon Leonard Shlain to join us.

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