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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

Some of the images sit there unmoving for too long, but that very same stasis also helps create and enforce the underlying tension, the tormented…

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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.

Toronto International FIlm Festival 2013: Day Five

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When Harvey Weinstein is in the house, you know it's a big deal. After all, one of his possible Academy-bait babies was taking its first steps in public at the bustling Scotiabank theaters before the press and industry on Monday. He is not going to leave that special occasion to chance.Day 5 at Toronto brought the unveiling one of the most anticipated pieces of the Oscar-prediction puzzle—"August: Osage County" a.k.a. When Meryl Met Julia—and, judging from the "I like it but…" comments exchanged by audience members as the film came to a close, the reaction was one of tempered admiration.The comically caustic domestic situation, based on the 2008 Tony-winning play, concerns a contentious Oklahoma clan called the Westons who reunite following a family crisis. With a cast jammed with recognizable faces ranging from Sam Shepard's hard-drinking poet of a patriarch to Abigail Breslin's precocious pot-smoking teen, it sometimes comes off like one of those "We Are the World" all-star songs where everyone involved gets a for-your-consideration solo in order to shine.Of course, there are soloists and then there are divas. Nothing can be that bad when there's Meryl Streep as a pill-popping, cancer-ravaged matriarch who puts the diss in dysfunctional as she engages in a verbal dinner-table death match with movie daughter Julia Roberts. Imagine "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" filtered through "Terms of Endearment." The explosive results left some in the theater gasping.A couple of the casting choices seem wonky (Ewan McGregor is out of place as Roberts' roaming husband while Dermot Mulroney is basically playing the Dermot Mulroney role as a sexy self-serving jerk).But some of the most enjoyable portions are when the Weston sisters—joining Roberts' Barbara are Juliette Lewis' flighty Karen and Julianne Nicholson as dark horse Ivy—kick back with glasses of wine and trade stories about their challenging mother and personal secrets.All could be up for Oscars, including Margo Martindale as Streep's big-mama of a sister. The real question is whether it can be justified to place either Streep or Roberts in a supporting category to avoid competing with one another since they are both clearly co-leads. And that is where the mighty Harvey comes in. It has been finally decided: Meryl is lead and Julia is supporting, The negotiations over Syria probably have nothing on the intense discussions that went into that move.As for best picture chances, that is up to Harvey and his magical marketing machine. "August: Osage County" is more certain to fill several acting nomination slots, but just the fact that Roberts and Streep—who have only previously collaborated in the animated "The Ant Bully"—are together at last is a powerful reason to applaud this movie as much as possible.

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Roger Ebert Homily

In our many wonderful conversations over the years, Chaz, Roger and I – often along with a step-star step-producer or step-child or two – pushed our inquiries and experiences into the corners of ambiguity to find those images, colors, and sounds where the understanding and commonalities would blend and come together in a Monet Vanilla Sky.

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A little black dress makes the world go round

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With the passing of Andy Williams, I keep imagining his golden tenor singing Henry Mancini's "Moon River." The song talks about crossing life in style. "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is all about fashionable cafe society and love; in an adult fairy tale, you can have both even if you are two drifters.

The director Gregory Nava once commented, "Whenever any question of style or taste in dress comes up, I simply ask myself, 'What would Fred Astaire have done?'" Audrey Hepburn is Astaire's female equivalent: sophistication mixed with fizzy fun.

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Are women better than men?

Sometimes I think so. Sometimes, not so much. If the blog I wrote a few weeks ago had started that way, I would have been spared a lot of grief. It better expresses what I was unsuccessfully trying to say.

The actual headline was "Women are better than men." And that called down upon my head 408 comments, at least 80 percent hostile, and many surprisingly angry and insulting. This blog has traditionally been known for the civil tone of its comments, and now I was informed, for example, that I was a "feminist bitch."

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David Simon: Damn right Omar is cool. Get over it.

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"The number of people blogging television online -- it's ridiculous. They don't know what we're building. And by the way, that's true for the people who say we're great. They don't know. It doesn't matter whether they love it or they hate it. It doesn't mean anything until there's a beginning, middle and an end. [...]

I do have a certain amused contempt for the number of people who walk sideways into the thing and act like they were there all along. It's selling more DVDs now than when it was on the air. But I'm indifferent to who thinks Omar is really cool now, or that this is the best scene or this is the best season. It was conceived of as a whole, and we did it as a whole. For people to be picking it apart now like it's a deck of cards or like they were there the whole time or they understood it the whole time -- it's wearying. Because no one was there in the beginning, or the middle, or even at the end. Our numbers continued to decline from Season 2 on.* -- David Simon, creator of "The Wire," "Generation Kill," "Treme"

I've heard some very good film critics make this argument before, too. Of course, a movie has a beginning, a middle and an end (although, as Jean-Luc Godard reminded us, not necessarily in that order). That's the fabled "three-act structure" all the screenplay manuals talk about. Wim Wenders and other great directors have observed that they always make at least two movies: the one they set out to make and the one they discover while they're trying to make the first one. Same goes for watching a movie or TV series: there's always the show you watch when its destination is unknown, and the one you reconsider after you know how it ended up.

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#97 January 11, 2012

Marie writes: I have no words. Beyond the obvious, that is. And while I'm okay looking at photos, the video.... that was another story. I actually found myself turning away at times, the suspense too much to bear - despite knowing in advance that he's alive and well and there was nothing to worry about. The bottom of my stomach still fell out...

(click images to enlarge)

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"Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life." ~ Dr. Johnson

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My blog entry I met a character from Dickens stirred up nostalgia for London even among some who have never been there.

The great city lives in our imaginations like no other, perhaps because of the writers who have so memorably populated it for us:

Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, William Makepeace Thackery, George Gissing, Wilkie Collins, Henry James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Compton Mackinzie, Virginia Woolf, Anthony Powell, Iris Murdoch. And then Shakespeare and the incomparable Johnson and his Boswell.

If the physical city is burned, bombed, bulldozed and stripped of the past through urban renewal, the London of our imaginations endures rich and full. RE

Blackfriar's Bridge in 1896

Petticoat Lane in 1903

A rather amazing and nearly crystal-clear color motion picture of London in 1927.

A magic camera's futuristic visions on London in 1924

The Blitz, 1941

The victory celebrations of 1945

"Of all the seats in all theaters in the world, the best seat is at the front of the top of a London omnibus." -- Henry James

Driving the A13

A cruise on the Thames, 1983

The haunted London Underground

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Does anyone want to be "well-read?"

"Death disports with writers more cruelly than with the rest of humankind," Cynthia Ozick wrote in a recent issue of The New Republic.

"The grave can hardly make more mute those who were voiceless when alive--dust to dust, muteness to muteness. But the silence that dogs the established writer's noisy obituary, with its boisterous shock and busy regret, is more profound than any other.

"Oblivion comes more cuttingly to the writer whose presence has been felt, argued over, championed, disparaged--the writer who is seen to be what Lionel Trilling calls a Figure. Lionel Trilling?

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Elizabeth Taylor, pagan goddess

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Camille Paglia is known for being both brilliant and wacky (possibly wacko) -- often at the same time, which is probably when she's at her most inspired. A founding contributor at Salon.com (and co-star of "It's Pat: The Movie"), Paglia spoke on the phone to Salon editor Kerry Lauerman yesterday after the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death, and offered up an extraordinary tribute. I just wanted to share some of it with you. Lauerman begins by quoting something Paglia wrote about Taylor in Penthouse in 1992:

"She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women's ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm." Paglia takes it from there:

Exactly. At that time, you have to realize, Elizabeth Taylor was still being underestimated as an actress. No one took her seriously -- she would even make jokes about it in public. And when I wrote that piece, Meryl Streep was constantly being touted as the greatest actress who ever lived. I was in total revolt against that and launched this protest because I think that Elizabeth Taylor is actually a greater actress than Meryl Streep, despite Streep's command of a certain kind of technical skill. [...]

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Certified Copy: How can you be in two spaces at once...?

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"It's enigmatic and obvious, exasperating and beguiling, heavy-handed and understated, witty and poignant, all at once." -- Alex Ramon, Boycotting Trends

What I like most about Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy" is its slipperiness. The Tuscan textures are ravishing (it takes place over the course of an afternoon in and around the village of Lucignano -- or does it?), Juliette Binoche and William Shimell are easy on they eyes and ears (good thing, too, since the movie is practically one long conversation -- or is it?), but for me the most enjoyable thing about it is the way the story and characters keep subtly (and not-so-subtly) shifting, refusing to be pinned down. I was fearing one of those overly literalized Kiarostami "button" endings, but this time (as Michael Sicinski observes in his impressive, ambitious essay at MUBI), the thesis statement is placed at the front of the film and it gets slipperier from there:

"Certified Copy" operates almost in reverse of most thematically inclined works of art, which plunge us into a falsely desultory universe and gradually reveal their master interpretive passkey. Kiarostami's film presents a concept, fully formed and cogent, and allows the rest of the film to set to work on that concept, breaking it into Heisenbergian particles, then bringing it back into solid shape, and on and on.

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#40 December 8, 2010

From the Big Kahuna: Yes, this is the front of the Virginia Theater in Champaign-Urbana, where Ebertfest is held every year. The old marquee was showing its age, and will be replaced by the time Ebertfest 2011 is held on April 27-30. Update: I read in the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette that the new marquee is still in design, but park officials expect it to be a better complement to the theater's Italian Renaissance-style architecture and resemble the 1921 original marquee. When concepts are finalized, they will go before the park board for approval.

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100 Great Moments in the Movies

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Roger Ebert / April 23, 1995

For the centennial of cinema, 100 great moments from the movies:

Clark Gable in "Gone With the Wind":

"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Buster Keaton standing perfectly still while the wall of a house falls over upon him; he is saved by being exactly placed for an open window.

Charlie Chaplin being recognized by the little blind girl in "City Lights."

The computer Hal 9000 reading lips, in "2001: a Space Odyssey."

The singing of "La Marseillaise" in "Casablanca."

Snow White kissing Dopey Bashful on the head.

John Wayne putting the reins in his mouth in "True Grit" and galloping across the mountain meadow, weapons in both hands.

Jimmy Stewart in "Vertigo," approaching Kim Novak across the room, realizing she embodies all of his obsessions - better than he knows.

The early film experiment proving that horses do sometimes have all four hoofs off the ground.

Gene Kelly singin' in the rain.

Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta discuss what they call Quarter Pounders in France, in "Pulp Fiction."

The Man in the Moon getting a cannon shell in his eye, in the Melies film "A Voyage to the Moon."

Pauline in peril, tied to the railroad tracks.

A boy running joyously to greet his returning father, in "Sounder."

Harold Lloyd hanging from a clock face in "Safety Last."

Orson Welles smiling enigmatically in the doorway in "The Third Man."

An angel looking down sadly over Berlin, in Wim Wenders' "Wings of Desire."

The Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination: Over and over again, a moment frozen in time.

A homesick North African, sadly telling a hooker that what he really wants is not sex but couscous, in Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "Fear Eats the Soul: Ali."

Wile E. Coyote, suspended in air.

Zero Mostel throwing a cup of cold coffee at the hysterical Gene Wilder in Mel Brooks' "The Producers," and Wilder screaming: "I'm still hysterical! Plus, now I'm wet!"

An old man all alone in his home, faced with the death of his wife and the indifference of his children, in Yasujiro Ozu's "Tokyo Story."

"Smoking." Robert Mitchum's response, holding up his cigarette, when Kirk Douglas offers him a smoke in "Out of the Past."

Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg wading in the fountain in "La Dolce Vita."

The moment in Akira Kurosawa's "High and Low" when a millionaire discovers that it was not his son who was kidnapped, but his chauffeur's son - and then the eyes of the two fathers meet.

The distant sight of people appearing over the horizon at the end of "Schindler's List."

R2D2 and C3PO in "Star Wars."

E.T. and friend riding their bicycle across the face of the moon.

Marlon Brando's screaming "Stella!" in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Hannibal Lecter smiling at Clarise in "The Silence of the Lambs."

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You ain't heard nothin' yet!" The first words heard in the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer," said by Al Jolson.

Jack Nicholson trying to order a chicken salad sandwich in "Five Easy Pieces."

"Nobody's perfect": Joe E. Brown's last line in "Some Like It Hot," explaining to Tony Curtis why he plans to marry Jack Lemmon even though he is a man.

"Rosebud."

The shooting party in Renoir's "Rules of the Game."

The haunted eyes of Antoine Doinel, Truffaut's autobiographical hero, in the freeze frame that ends "The 400 Blows."

Jean-Paul Belmondo flipping a cigarette into his mouth in Godard's "Breathless."

The casting of the great iron bell in Andrei Tarkovsky's "Andrei Rublev."

"What have you done to its eyes?" Dialogue by Mia Farrow in "Rosemary's Baby."

Moses parting the Red Sea in "The Ten Commandments."

An old man found dead in a child's swing, his mission completed, at the end of Kurosawa's "Ikiru."

The haunted eyes of the actress Maria Falconetti in Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc."

The children watching the train pass by in Ray's "Pather Panchali."

The baby carriage bouncing down the steps in Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin."

"Are you lookin' at me?" Robert De Niro in "Taxi Driver."

"My father made them an offer they couldn't refuse:" Al Pacino in "The Godfather."

The mysterious body in the photographs in Antonioni's "Blow-Up."

"One word, Benjamin: plastics." From "The Graduate."

A man dying in the desert in von Stroheim's "Greed."

Eva Marie Saint clinging to Cary Grant's hand on Mt. Rushmore in "North by Northwest."

Astaire and Rogers dancing.

"There ain't no sanity clause!" Chico to Groucho in "A Night at the Opera."

"They call me Mr. Tibbs." Sidney Poitier in Norman Jewison's "In the Heat of the Night."

The sadness of the separated lovers in Jean Vigo's "L'Atalante."

The vast expanse of desert, and then tiny figures appearing, in "Lawrence of Arabia."

Jack Nicholson on the back of the motorcycle, wearing a football helmet, in "Easy Rider."

The geometrical choreography of the Busby Berkeley girls.

The peacock spreading its tail feathers in the snow, in Fellini's "Amarcord."

Robert Mitchum in "Night of the Hunter," with "LOVE" tattooed on the knuckles of one hand, and "HATE" on the other.

Joan Baez singing "Joe Hill" in "Woodstock."

Robert De Niro's transformation from sleek boxer to paunchy nightclub owner in "Raging Bull."

Bette Davis: "Fasten your seat belts; it's gonna be a bumpy night!" in "All About Eve."

"That spider is as big as a Buick!" Woody Allen in "Annie Hall."

The chariot race in "Ben-Hur."

Barbara Harris singing "It Don't Worry Me" to calm a panicked crowd in Robert Altman's "Nashville."

The game of Russian roulette in "The Deer Hunter."

Chase scenes: "The French Connection," "Bullitt," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Diva."

The shadow of the bottle hidden in the light fixture, in "The Lost Weekend."

"I coulda been a contender." Brando in "On the Waterfront."

George C. Scott's speech about the enemy in "Patton:" "We're going to go through him like crap through a goose."

Rocky Balboa running up the steps and pumping his hand into the air, with all of Philadelphia at his feet.

Debra Winger saying goodbye to her children in "Terms of Endearment."

The montage of the kissing scenes in "Cinema Paradiso."

The dinner guests who find they somehow cannot leave, in Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel."

A knight plays chess with Death, in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

The savage zeal of the Klansmen in Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation."

The problem of the door that won't stay closed, in Jacques Tati's "Mr. Hulot's Holiday."

"I'm still big! It's the pictures that got small!" Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard."

"We're a long way from Kansas!" Judy Garland in "The Wizard of Oz."

An overhead shot beginning with an entrance hall, and ending with a closeup of a key in Ingrid Bergman's hand, in Hitchcock's "Notorious."

"There ain't much meat on her, but what's there is choice." Spencer Tracy about Katharine Hepburn in "Pat and Mike."

The day's outing of the mental patients in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

"I always look well when I'm near death." Greta Garbo to Robert Taylor in "Camille."

"It took more than one night to change my name to Shanghai Lily." Marlene Dietrich in "Shanghai Express."

"I'm walkin' here!" Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy."

W.C. Fields flinching as a prop man hurls handfuls of fake snow into his face in "The Fatal Glass of Beer."

"The next time you got nothin' to do, and lots of time to do it, come up and see me." Mae West in "My Little Chickadee."

"Top o' the world, Ma!" James Cagney in "White Heat."

Richard Burton exploding when Elizabeth Taylor reveals their "secret" in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"

Henry Fonda getting his hair cut in "My Darling Clementine."

"Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinkin' badges!" Alfonso Bedoya to Humphrey Bogart in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre."

"There's your dog. Your dog's dead. But there had to be something that made it move. Doesn't there?" Line from Errol Morris' "Gates of Heaven."

"Don't touch the suit!" Burt Lancaster in "Atlantic City."

Gena Rowlands arrives at John Cassavetes' house with a taxicab full of adopted animals, in "Love Streams."

"I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again. Please God, let me live again." Jimmy Stewart to the angel in "It's a Wonderful Life."

Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr embrace on the beach in "From Here to Eternity."

Mookie throws the trash can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria, in "Do the Right Thing."

"I love the smell of napalm in the morning," dialogue by Robert Duvall, in "Apocalypse Now."

"Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above." Katharine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen."

"Mother of mercy. Is this the end of Rico?" Edward G. Robinson in "Little Caesar."

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Products of mass distraction (or, Hooray for elitism!)

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Revisiting Dwight Macdonald's famous essay, "Masscult & Midcult," and other ideas old and new -- continued from "When 'I get it!' means 'I don't get it!' and vice-versa."

"It seems to me that nearly the whole Anglo-Saxon race, especially of course in America have lost the power to be individuals. They have become social insects like bees and ants. They are lost to humanity, and the great question for the future is whether that will spread or will be repulsed by the people who still exist..." -- Roger Fry (1866-1930), from a letter quoted "Roger Fry," a biography written by Virginia Woolf(1940); also quoted by Dwight Macdonald in "Masscult & Midcult"

A while ago I added to the epigraphs in the upper right corner of this page a quotation from writer-actor-director Tom Noonan that echoed something I had long felt to be true, but had never articulated: "I don't think you go to a play to forget, or to a movie to be distracted. I think life generally is a distraction and that going to a movie is a way to get back, not go away." I don't feel that way very often anymore; gone are the days, when I was first discovering the richness of the still very young art of film, when I might see several masterpieces in a week, or even a day -- in classes, film series, rep houses, art houses, mainstream cinemas or on TV. But I was inclined to feel that movies,the art form of my time (and literature, music, art of all kinds), brought me closer to my own life by focusing my attention on what it means to be alive. Like millions of others, I found the only religion in which I could whole-heartedly believe in movie theaters, libraries, bookstores, and concert venues.¹

In "Masscult & Midcult" (1962), published when "Citizen Kane" was as old as "GoodFellas" and "Miller's Crossing" are today, Dwight Macdonald contends that art (movies included) no longer seeks engagement with an audience, but is content to serve as another opiate of the masses: "The production line grinds out a uniform product whose humble aim is not even entertainment, but merely distraction."

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TIFF #9: And so then I saw...

I always try to find at least one film at Toronto that's way off the beaten track. I rarely stray further afield than I did Tuesday night, when I found myself watching "Wake in Fright," a film made in Australia in 1971 and almost lost forever. It's not dated. It is powerful, genuinely shocking, and rather amazing. It comes billed as a "horror film," and contains a great deal of horror, but all of the horror is human and brutally realistic.

Donald Pleasence in "Wake in Fright"

The story involves a young school teacher in the middle of the desolate wilderness of the Outback. The opening overhead shot shows a shabby building beside a railroad track, the camera pans 360 degrees and finds only the distant horizon. and then returns to find a second building on the other side of the tracks. One building is the school. The other is the hotel. To get to either, people must have to travel a great distance.

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For Sale: On Revolutionary Road

"One thing I'm willing to bet [about a "Revolutionary Road" screenplay written in the 1970s] is that it made the Wheelers a lot more sympathetic than they ought to be. It was a common misconception when the book was first published, even among good critics. Quite simply, Yates meant for the Wheelers to seem a little better than mediocre: not, that is, stoical mavericks out of Hemingway, or glamorous romantics out of Fitzgerald. Rather, the Wheelers are everyday people -- you and me -- who pretend to be something they're not because life is lonely and dull and disappointing."

-- Richard Yates biographer Blake Bailey in Slate (June 26, 2007)

Plot and thematic spoilers ahead.

"How do you break free... without breaking apart"? That's the rhetorical question posed as a tag line in this trailer (above) for Sam Mendes' titanic version of Richard Yates' 1961 novel "Revolutionary Road," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

But is that what "Revolutionary Road" -- the movie or the book -- is about? Does it even scratch the surface? I wonder if this is being sold as a story about two extraordinary people who might have fulfilled their promise... if they hadn't been stifled by the suburban conformist pressures of America in the 1950s. If only they'd broken free and gone to Paris where people really feel things!

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Your brain, dog butts, and the quantum movie

View image Superbad-position: I don't know what this photo has to do with this post. I just think Michael Cera is a genius and his face is hilarious.

Excerpts from two pieces I've read recently that to me (of course) get at the essence of movies, and how we perceive them: First, a paragraph from Jonah Lehrer's introduction to his book "Proust Was a Neuroscientist" (look for the madeleine on the cover!), a most enjoyable volume dedicated to the proposition that the arts understood science long before science did. (Lehrer, the 26-year-old author, is described in the jacket blurb as a Columbia grad and Rhodes Scholar who "has worked in the lab of Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Erik Kandel and in the kitchens of Le Cirque 2000 and Le Bernardin." His book includes chapters on Walt Whitman, George Eliot, Auguste Escoffier, Marcel Proust, Paul Cezanne, Igor Stravinsky, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf.) Unfortunately, our current culture subscribes to a very narrow definition of truth. If something can't be quantified or calculated, then it can't be true. Because this strict scientific approach has explained so much, we assume that it can explain everything. But every method, even the experimental method, has limits. Take the human mind. Scientists describe our brain in terms of its physical details; they say we are nothing but a loom of electrical cells and synaptic spaces. What science forgets is that this isn't how we experience the world. (We feel like the ghost, not like the machine.) It is ironic but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know. This is why we need art. By expressing our actual experience, the artist reminds us that our science is incomplete, that no map of the matter will ever explain the immateriality of our consciousness.On the other hand, the mind is what the brain does. We just have no way of knowing how or why. But this paragraph speaks directly to experience of all kinds, including vicarious or representational ones -- and to my conviction that valid criticism of any kind needs to be both empirical (drawing on specific examples) and aesthetic (a subjective attempt to explain how something feels). Blanket terms like "beautiful" or "ugly" can only be defined/refined in this context. I think of it this way: A dog's butt doesn't smell "bad" to a dog. And poop doesn't offend a dog's sensibilities. Canine responsiveness to scent is roughly 40 times greater than ours, so perhaps you could say that dogs can smell "past" the limitations of our olfactory abilities to detect something more fully dimensional (the way some people savor the flavor of stinky cheese, perhaps). Or, they just like stink, in which case we may consider them to have bad taste. Or, maybe, admire them as perverse primitivist punk rebels who enjoy wallowing in filth for the sheer animalistic pleasure of it. Or would that be anthropomorphizing them? If only dogs could explain what and how they see and smell and hear and feel...

OK, moving on to number two....

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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 AFI Top 100

View image Still the One. I've tried, but I can't think of a better, more thoroughly entertaining and endlessly rewarding American movie.

Here's Roger Ebert's take. Some oversights have been corrected since the first list was compiled (by polling film "critics, historians and experts" -- categories that are mutually exclusive?) in 1998. To me, that's "the day before yesterday."

Anyway, the good news is that "Nashville" went from 0 (i.e., not on the list) to 59. At this rate, it will easily reach its rightful place in the top ten by 2017. Buster Keaton (previously unrepresented) scored with "The General" at number 18, which means it will surpass "Citizen Kane" by next Tuesday. And "Sunrise" finally made it aboard at 82. Other new additions include: "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," "Saving Private Ryan," "Titanic," and "The Sixth Sense" (all newly eligible) and "Cabaret," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "The Shawshank Redemption," "All The President's Men," "Spartacus," and "A Night at the Opera."

More good news: "The Searchers" leapt from 96 to 12. Maybe people are starting to understand it after 51 years.

Welcome, too, to these new arrivals in the Class of '07: "Intolerance" (much more engaging than "Birth of a Nation"), "Sullivan's Travels" (though I'd prefer "The Lady Eve" or "Miracle of Morgan's Creek"), "Cabaret," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," "All the President's Men," "A Night at the Opera," "Swing Time," "The Last Picture Show," "Do the Right Thing" and "Blade Runner" (maybe the next version Ridley Scott has planned will finally make it the masterpiece we've always wanted it to be).

Still MIA: "Miller's Crossing," "Scarlet Street," "The Woman in the Window," "Blue Velvet" (which even I don't think belongs -- though perhaps "Lost Highway," "Mulholland Dr." or "Inland Empire" would), "Lone Star," "Boogie Nights," "The Long Goodbye," [your choices here].

And where did "Fargo" go?

Also very much missed (i.e., dropped off): "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "A Place in the Sun," "The Third Man" (but isn't that a British film?), ""Stagecoach," "The Manchurian Candidate."

Not much missed: "Mutiny on the Bounty," "Patton," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," "Fantasia," "Doctor Zhivago," "My Fair Lady," "An American in Paris."

Still unaccountably on the list: "The Sound of Music," "Tootsie," "Ben-Hur"... (And, really, "Star Wars" is lots of kiddie fun -- but one of the best American movies? Hardly. Alhough I could say that about "The Wizard of Oz," too. Both "Oz" and "Star Wars" are movies people love because they loved them as kids -- and that's wonderful. Technically, they're also quite delightful. But as artistic achievements they're pretty thin. This isn't a popularity contest. Oh, actually it is. Still, I'll take "Pinocchio" or "Babe: Pig in the City.") And, one day, "Schindler's List" will be put into perspective, ranking slightly above "1941" (and below "Always" and "Amistad") in Steven Spielberg's body of work. For that matter, "Raging Bull" belongs above "The Departed" but below "After Hours" and way below "New York, New York" in Martin Scorsese's oeuvre.

Reuters notes that D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" "fell off the list entirely because of its now unpopular ideology, despite its history of technical innovations." Well, maybe. But has anybody watched it recently? Anybody even felt like it? And did "The Jazz Singer" drop off for the same reason?

What great injustices (and justices) do you see? Take a look at the list and let me know what you think.

P.S. That reminds me: My own Top 100+list is here.

UPDATED (06/21/07): Films are nominated by the pollees and then the top 100 are selected by ballot. According to the AFI, 43 new films (released between 1996 and 2006) were eligible this time that weren't eligible in 1998.

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