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"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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* 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.

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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When the Great Gray Cloud comes to call

May Contain Spoilers

Yesterday it was cold and rainy and glum. I searched for background movies to put on while I wrote, but my usual George Cukor go-tos weren't doing the trick. I branched out. Shane, Forbidden Games, Love & Anarchy, Mogambo, and various classic TV shows were turned on and shut off. Nothing worked. I decided to take a twenty minute nap to shake the damp.

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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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"Calling Barranca. Calling Barranca."

Do you recognize this Barranca Airways plane? I hope so. Because it's from one of my top-five favorite movies (and most personally influential of all time -- and one of the great classics of American cinema.

A friend sent me this picture, from an "Antiques Roadshow" episode. The seller was asking $250 and didn't even know he had...

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Hollywood: Just shut it down

View image "My advice to Hollywood is to shut down...."

MSN Movies received this despairing e-mail regarding my "Open Letter to Hollywood" piece. I'm not sure what to say, but I thought I'd share it as the cri de coeur of one disillusioned man, and a reminder of the chasm that has always existed between art and commerce in Tinseltown -- but a canyon that is occasionally bridged: I was recently at a bar north of Boston, and discovered that the bartender was attending Emerson College, studying film production. He was interested in pursuing a career as a DP and eventually a director, and I asked him what kind of films he viewed in his program, mentioning such names as Fellini, Bergman, Kurosawa, Kubrick, the old great studio system directors such as Hawks, Huston, Cukor, etc. He said that he almost never watched such films, at least not as part of a class, and had only marginal curiosity about their work. He was far more interested in the technical [side] of film and the marketing aspects of the industry. He stated he understood the reputation of all of those people (although he had never heard of George Cukor), but his professors didn't stress much film history, and he didn't believe that this old work had much bearing on the reality of the industry today.

I look upon the mainstream films made in the current atmosphere and wonder how many have even a remote chance of standing the test of time. I've sat through dozens of viewings of films like "The Maltese Falcon," "The Quiet Man," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "Network," and none of these films have lost their freshness. "Titanic," for a while the biggest movie ever, is now ten years old. Does anyone have any interest in it at all anymore, a decade down the line? "Casablanca" is 65 years old. How many Hollywood films made in the last ten years will still generate interest in the years 2062 to 2072?

The film industry as it exists today is no different than any other major corporate enterprise. Corporate enterprises are by nature conservative; their goals are to limit risk exposure and do whatever is the easiest thing within a given business structure. They want to sell you things they know you'll buy because you've bought them already, so the conglomerates that own the studios will keep churning out sequels, franchises, and copycat product until you stop buying, and then they'll go on to the next thing and bleed that to death.

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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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Bergman: Sawdust and Tinsel?

View image Harriet Andersson in Ingmar Bergman's "Summer with Monika" (1953). US tagline: "A Picture for Wide Screens and Broad Minds."

Jonathan Rosenbaum puts another nail in Ingmar Bergman's coffin in today's New York Times ("Scenes From an Overrated Career"). As important as Bergman was to the rise of European "art film," especially in the 1950s and '60s, Rosenbaum says, Bergman -- who was more a theatrical director than a cinematic one -- wasn't really adding anything new to the art of film, and his work hasn't held up over time: Sometimes, though, the best indication of an artist’s continuing vitality is simply what of his work remains visible and is still talked about. The hard fact is, Mr. Bergman isn’t being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard. His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson — two master filmmakers widely scorned as boring and pretentious during Mr. Bergman’s heyday.

What Mr. Bergman had that those two masters lacked was the power to entertain — which often meant a reluctance to challenge conventional film-going habits, as Dreyer did when constructing his peculiar form of movie space and Bresson did when constructing his peculiar form of movie acting.

The same qualities that made Mr. Bergman’s films go down more easily than theirs — his fluid storytelling and deftness in handling actresses, comparable to the skills of a Hollywood professional like George Cukor — also make them feel less important today, because they have fewer secrets to impart. What we see is what we get, and what we hear, however well written or dramatic, are things we’re likely to have heard elsewhere.

So where did the outsized reputation of Mr. Bergman come from? At least part of his initial appeal in the ’50s seems tied to the sexiness of his actresses and the more relaxed attitudes about nudity in Sweden; discovering the handsome look of a Bergman film also clearly meant encountering the beauty of Maj-Britt Nilsson and Harriet Andersson. And for younger cinephiles like myself, watching Mr. Bergman’s films at the same time I was first encountering directors like Mr. Godard and Alain Resnais, it was tempting to regard him as a kindred spirit, the vanguard of a Swedish New Wave.

It was a seductive error, but an error nevertheless. The stylistic departures I saw in Mr. Bergman’s ’50s and ’60s features — the silent-movie pastiche in “Sawdust and Tinsel,” the punitive use of magic against a doctor-villain in “The Magician,” the aggressive avant-garde prologue of “Persona” — were actually more functions of his skill and experience as a theater director than a desire or capacity to change the language of cinema in order to say something new. [...]

It’s strange to realize that his bitter and pinched emotions, once they were combined with excellent cinematography and superb acting, could become chic — and revered as emblems of higher purposes in cinema. But these emotions remain ugly ones, no matter how stylishly they might be served up.

Michael Atkinson, who I quoted earlier in the week, makes some similar criticisms, yet comes to a different conclusion: "[N]owhere... is there a lazy, unambitious or unoriginal directorial moment."

I think there's some truth in both Rosenbaum's and Atkinson's assessments, but Rosenbaum seems more interested in asserting his own personal pantheon than in evaluating Bergman's oeuvre. Yes, the reputation of Bergman's work, and its former sense of vital importance, has undeniably receded. After all, it had practically nowhere else to go, given Bergman's overwhelming stature in the '60s and '70s. (On a personal note, I haven't felt compelled to watch or re-watched any of his films in years -- except "Persona" -- although I still treasure "Fanny and Alexander," and have fond memories of his early, funny pictures like "Smiles of a Summer Night" and "The Devil's Eye.") That's why, honestly, I haven't been able to write about Bergman myself this last week: He feels like an indistinct memory to me, safely enshrined as "classic" but almost taken for granted. Nevertheless, I've put some of his films at the top of my Netflix queue ("Shame," "Hour of the Wolf") in hopes of getting reacquainted.

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Prescient words of wisdom from Cary Grant

"When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself: 'What would General Motors do?' And then I do the opposite!"

-- Johnny Case (Cary Grant) in "Holiday" (1938). Screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Philip Barry. Directed by George Cukor.

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Opening Shots: 'His Girl Friday'

Enlarge image: Newsroom hustle...

Enlarge image: ... and bustle. Notice the emphasis on women at work in the very first moments.

From That Little Round-Headed Boy:

"His Girl Friday": Anybody who ever worked in the journalism business, or wished they had been around for newspapering's madcap era, must feel a quickening at the opening tracking shot of Howard Hawks' classic comedy. As the camera tracks from right to left across the city room of the Chicago Morning Post, a smoky, hustling, chatty ambience hangs over the enterprise, as an editor yells out for a "Copy boy!", reporters are decked out in rolled-up shirts and green eye-shades, the women wear fashionable hats and the blue-collar switchboard gals are yammering in overdrive. The scene sets the fast-paced theme, and it never lets up.

JE: Good grief, TLRHB, that's a great one! (This should give readers an idea why they should check out TLRHB regularly.) As someone born with ink in his veins (red ink, I'm afraid), I know well the quickening of which you speak!

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101 102 Movies You Must See Before...

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EXCERPT FROM INTRO: This isn't like Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" series. It's not my idea of The Best Movies Ever Made (that would be a different list, though there's some overlap here), or limited to my personal favorites or my estimation of the most important or influential films. These are the movies I just kind of figure everybody ought to have seen in order to have any sort of informed discussion about movies. They're the common cultural currency of our time, the basic cinematic texts that everyone should know, at minimum, to be somewhat "movie-literate." I hope these movies are experiences we can all assume we share.

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Elegant Role Model Could Not Be Typecast

She was, a critic once wrote, the last of the silent stars - because her eyes almost made it unnecessary for her to speak. She was a movie superstar for 20 years, but more than that, she was a role model: Teenage girls cut their hair like Audrey Hepburn's, and how many young women watched "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and decided that it would be wonderful to live in New York City?

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Oh, What a Beautiful Movie!

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DALLAS -- "Oklahoma!" opens with one of the most familiar moments in all of musical comedy, as a cowboy comes singing out of the dawn, declaring "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!" I've seen that moment many times, and it never fails to thrill me, but I've never seen it quite as I saw it here last Monday night, when the movie played during the USA Film Festival.

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Introduction to Memo from David O. Selznick

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This book represents only the tip of the iceberg. When Daniel Selznick, David O. Selznick's younger son, asked Rudy Behlmer to edit a selection of his father's memos, Behlmer had little notion of the task involved. The archive was lodged at that time at Bekins Moving and Storage in Los Angeles and Behlmer wrote: "I'll never forget walking into the building in which the files are stored for the first time and being confronted by approximately two thousand file boxes!" Those were only the memos--the written record of substantially every thought Selznick had about his career from 1916 to 1965. to When the David O. Selznick Collection was acquired by the University of Texas in 1981, it included countless other boxes, containing scripts and all their revisions, bills and statements, publicity materials, fan mail, receipts, and the continuity record of every day's shooting on almost every film. On an ordinary day Selznick used two secretaries, sometimes more, to take his dictation, and executives were not surprised when a Selznick memo arrived 15 minutes before they were scheduled to meet with him in person.

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George Cukor on stage

For an hour the screen was filled with clips from the movies of 37 years. Garbo in "Camille." Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story" and again with Spencer Tracy in "Adam's Rib." Ingrid Bergman in "Gaslight." Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." And, of course, Judy Garland in "A Star Is Born."

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