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Winter Sleep

The running time of his new picture Winter Sleep, three hours and change, suggests weight, but at it happens, this movie struck me as both…

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Mr. Turner

Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…

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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.

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Generation X has midlife crisis; Oscar predicability; Popular Twitter accounts making money; Casting directors getting praised for their work; Charlie Chaplin's monologue.

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The 2013 Santa Barbara International Film Festival (by way of Oklahoma)

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Seasonal anticipation: as 2013 debuted, many were feeling it. The 28th iteration of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, aka "SBIFF," was on the wind, with jazzed moviegoers soon to converge elbow-to-elbow in a familiar, even familial, and happy bustle on downtown's State Street.

I was among the excited, as this would be my third year covering the festival. And for me, extra sweetening would be provided by the tribute to Daniel Day-Lewis, the oft-reticent acting genius whose reanimation of Abraham Lincoln seemed certain to bring another Best Actor Academy Award -- his 3rd, making him the only actor to surpass Marlon Brando, who received 2.

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Outguess Ebert? I may have them all right

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This year's Outguess Ebert contest seems a little like shooting fish in a barrel. For the first time in many a year, maybe ever, I think I've guessed every one correctly.A few years ago, I came across an article about the newly identified psychological concept of Elevation. Scientists claim it is as real as love or fear. It describes a state in which we feel unreasonable joy; you know, like when you sit quiet and still and tingles run up and down your back, and you think things can never get any better.

I tried applying it to that year's Oscar nominees. Did it work any better than any other approach? You need Elevating nominees. An example of Elevation would be when the bone morphs into a space station in "2001." Did I feel Elevation in making any of my Guesses this year. That doesn't mean it was a bad year at the movies. Harvey Weinstein, accepting his achievement award from the Producers' Guild, said he thought 2012 was the best in 90 years. Maybe he felt Elevation when he gazed upon the Weinstein Company's box office figures.

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National Society of Film Critics falls for "Amour"

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Michael Haneke's "Amour," which won the Palme d'Or last May at Cannes, was voted Saturday the best film of 2012 by the prestigious National Society of Film Critics. The award, coming on the eve of voting for the 2013 Academy Awards, confirms "Amour" as a Best Foreign Film frontrunner. Other NSFC winners will also draw welcome attention.

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Lincoln: The Abe Team

"Lincoln," a new movie directed by Steven Spielberg, overflows with talk, large chunks of which are delivered by the titular character. It opens, however, with an instance of Lincoln listening. After a brief outburst of violence, which allows us to witness the Civil War strife in all its mud-drenched brutality, four soldiers of various ranks and differing races casually approach the sixteenth President and talk to him. Their demeanor varies, running the gamut from celebrity-struck goofiness ("Hey, how tall are you?") to brave political confrontation by a Black corporal, demanding equal opportunities for a military career. And yet, as the scene closes, the soldiers end up literally speaking in Lincoln's words. By showing they have memorized the "Gettysburg Address," they give the ultimate proof of political trust in one's leader: they allow Lincoln's mind to merge with their own.

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Ebert's Top Movies of 2012

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A funny thing happened on the way to the Oscars. Not to the Oscars. To me. I sustained a hairline fracture of my left hip. I didn't fall. I didn't break it. It just sort of... happened to itself. Most of the time, it causes me no pain at all. But my left leg won't bear any weight, nor can I walk on it. This pain is off the charts. It has nothing to do with cancer. It's plain bad luck.

The good news is that I've seen the films of one of the best recent years in cinema. I wrote more than 300 reviews in 2012 -- a record -- and it was unusually difficult to leave out many of the quote-unquote "best" films in 11th place.

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Lincoln: "It's true because it works"

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At the heart of Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" is a quiet scene between President Abraham Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) and two young men, Samuel Beckwith (Adam Driver) and David Homer Bates (Drew Sease), in an otherwise empty telegraph cipher office. Lincoln has to make a crucial decision: Does he consider a peace proposal from a Confederate delegation on its way to Washington, and thus perhaps immediately end the bloody Civil War that has claimed the lives of more than half a million Americans, knowing that it would doom his attempt to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, officially banning slavery in the United States? Or does he try to legally solidify and extend his Emancipation Proclamation by getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed during a narrow window of opportunity (during the lame duck session of Congress between his re-election and second inauguration) at the cost of extending the war?

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A Lincoln who creaks with every step

Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" (2102) is exactly what we would expect it to be. It is reverent. It is of such epic scope, with such microscopic attention to detail, that it competes with any period piece in the history of cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis disappears into Abraham Lincoln. So many supporting players ornament this film that a familiar face appears on screen every few minutes, adding depth, personality, and charm. Tony Kushner's script is complex, pious, and at times mesmerizing. Janusz Kaminski's cinematography, mixed with Rick Carter's production design, provides a portrait in every frame.

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And the nominees are...

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With the 2013 Oscarcast moved up to Feb. 24, movie fans are already in a lather over the possible nominees, especially since again this year there can be "up to" ten finalists in the Best Picture category. I claim no inside knowledge (I'm still waiting to hear from my friend Deep Oscar), but it's never too early to speculate.

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#137 October 10, 2012

Marie writes: I may have been born in Canada, but I grew-up watching Sesame Street and Big Bird, too. Together, they encouraged me to learn new things; and why now I can partly explain string theory.That being the case, I was extremely displeased to hear that were it up Romney, as President he wouldn't continue to support PBS. And because I'm not American and can't vote in their elections, I did the only thing I could: I immediately reached for Photoshop....

(Click image to enlarge.)

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The Master: Who are you?

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I apologize for the lack of postings the last few weeks. A recent flare-up of heart problems left me with little energy to write. But as the emaciated old man in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" says: "I'm feeling much better!"

At one point well into Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" I thought that the movie was going to reveal itself as a story about the meaninglessness of human existence. But that notion was based on a single piece of aphoristic, potential-thesis-statement dialog that, like much else, wasn't developed in the rest of the movie. Which is not to say that "The Master" isn't about the meaninglessness of human life. The line, spoken by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the cult guru known to his acolytes as Master, is addressed to the younger man he considers his "protégé," a dissolute mentally ill drifter named Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), and the gist of it is that the itinerant Freddie has as much to show for his life as somebody who has worked a regular 9-to-5 job for many years. The point being, I suppose, that for all Freddie's adventures, peculiarities and failures, he isn't all that much different from anybody else. Except, maybe, he's more effed-up.

(spoilers)

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#134 September 19, 2012

Marie writes: Intrepid club member Sandy Kahn came upon the following recipe and wisely showed it to me, so that I might share it in turn with all of you. Behold the morning chocolate cookie - a healthy breakfast treat loaded with good stuff; like fiber and imported French chocolate.

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How to Win an Academy Award

The Academy Award winners for the past thirty years have followed consistent molds, primarily in the categories of Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Picture. It is a very simple set of templates that I will explain with excessive evidence. This is not to say that the Academy Awards are a conspiracy run by some secret society, although that idea would be quite fun. Rather, at the very least, there is a subtext to American culture that plays out in the ideas and ideals in American cinema, and it plays out consistently. At the very least, I'm illustrating some unwritten ideals in American culture. Whether or not they are healthy or corrupt, they are there in us. So, "Best Picture" is not a great movie; rather, it is a great movie that fulfills the mold.

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The right hand of great directors

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Awards season again. Last year, as you may recall, a many months pregnant Natalie Portman received the Oscar for Best Actress for "Black Swan." Her lithesome acceptance speech, without notes, thanked many colleagues she knew had helped her stand there. As both a lifelong moviegoer and a worker on films, my spirit lifted at these words: "There are people on films that no one ever talks about, that are your heart and soul every day, including Joe Reidy, our incredible A.D..." Along with so many others, I was thrilled by her sentiment -- and especially pleased for Joe Reidy.

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A great love story: "Brokeback Mountain"

May Contain Spoilers

What's the last great love story you've seen on film? I don't mean your typical "rom-coms" with contrived meet-cutes that rely heavily on celebrity star power. I'm talking about a genuine romance between two richly defined characters. If your mind draws a blank, you're not alone. Hollywood, along with much of the filmmaking world, seems to have either forgotten how to portray love affairs in ways that once made us swoon. Whatever the reason, be it due to our changing times or priorities, we might not see any significant ones for some time.

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Gary Winick: A valediction forbidding mourning

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He had these smiling eyes. And a self-deprecating manner which seemed to belie his very good looks ("He's so cute," my 19-year-old assistant exclaimed), about which he was fairly oblivious. Most of all, he was simply a very good guy.

Gary Winick, a many-hats-wearing filmmaker and digital pioneer, died of complications following a 2 year battle with brain cancer on February 27th, the day of the Academy Awards --- an especially sad irony for a vital man, weeks shy of 50, whose passion for film and storytelling had filled the decades of his adult life.

The private memorial service was held at the Time-Warner Center in Winick's beloved New York. Overlooking Central Park as the sun set, an invited group of 400 (some going back to childhood, some famous, many with whom he'd worked, even some he'd made sure got a decent meal when they were struggling) assembled to watch film clips, to hear and tell stories - to cry, yes, but also to laugh at so many experiences they certainly cherish now.

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The most taxing people in movies

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For tax day, the editors at MSN Movies came up with an idea for contributors to write short essays about the most, ahem, "taxing" people in modern movies. Each of us picked a person whose presence, behind or in front of the camera, we find wearisome and debilitating -- as in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of taxing: "onerous, wearing."

You've probably already guessed my choice. I've written quite a bit about why I find Christopher Nolan's post-"Memento" work lackluster, but this exercise gave me an opportunity to condense my reservations about his writing and directing into one relatively concise piece:

Let me say up front that I don't think Nolan is a bad or thoroughly incompetent director, just a successfully pedestrian one. His Comic-Con fan base makes extravagant claims for each new film -- particularly since Nolan began producing his graphic-novel blockbusters with "Batman Begins" in 2005 -- but the movies are hobbled by thesis-statement screenplays that strain for significance and an ungainly directing style that seems incapable of, and uninterested in, illustrating more than one thing at a time: "Look at this. Now look at this. Now look at this. Now here's some dialogue to explain the movie's fictional rules. Now a character will tell you what he represents and what his goals are." And so on ... You won't experience the thrill of discovery while looking around in a Nolan frame. You'll see the one thing he wants you to see, but everything around it is dead space. [...]

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