In a back row of the Virginia Theater in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois, you will see a raised platform just the right size to hold a reclining chair. This is my throne at Ebertfest. Because of havoc wrought by surgery to my back and right shoulder, I cannot sit comfortably in an ordinary chair. Here I recline at the side of my bride, looking upon the packed houses.
I am faced once again with the task of voting in Sight & Sound magazine's famous poll to determine the greatest films of all time. Apart from my annual year's best lists, this is the only list I vote in. It is a challenge. After voting in 1972, 1982 and 1992, I came up with these ten titles in 2002:
Not long ago I read an article about a new skyscraper charmingly named The Shard that will be the tallest structure in Europe. I posted it on my Facebook page, adding something like: "Great! Just what the London skyline needs!" A reader quickly commented that I was showing my age.
The emails have been arriving with depressing regularity. Often the subject line is only the name of a friend. With dread I know what the message will contain: That person has died. In recent weeks there have been seven such losses. Three came in a 10-day period, and I fell into sadness.
Long-suffering readers will have read many times about my dislike of lists, especially lists of the best or worst movies in this or that category. For years they had value only in the minds of feature editors fretting that their movie critics had too much free time. ("For Thursday's food section, can you list the 10 funniest movies about pumpkin pie?") Now their value has shot way up with the use of slide shows, a diabolical time-waster designed to boost a web site's page visits.
In a field with much competition, Number One on my list of Most Shameless Lists has got to be Time mag's recent list of the "Best 140 Tweeters." How did the magazine present this? That's right, on 140 pages of a slideshow. Considering that the list had no meaning at all except as some hapless intern's grindwork, I'd say that was a bold masterstroke. I say so even though I was on it. Do you think I would click through 140 pages just looking for my name? You bet I did. And then stopped clicking.
My negative review of "The Raid: Redemption" violated one of my oldest principles, and put me way out of step with other critics. In my review I gave it one star. The movie currently stands at 8.4 on IMDb, 83% on the Tomatometer, 76 on MRQE, 73 on Metacritic, and 65.4 on Movie Review Intelligence. When my review appeared online at 12:01 a.m. Thursday morning, "The Raid" was hovering near 100% at Tomatoes. You need a 60 to be a "fresh" tomato.
Something nice happened to us while we were preparing the schedule for Ebertfest 2012, which plays April 25-29 at the Virginia Theater (above) in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. We'd invited Patton Oswalt to attend with his "Big Fan. He agreed and went one additional step: "I'd like to personally choose a film to show to the students, and discuss it."
Even as I write on Thursday night, a screening of "Bully" is taking place in Washington that may or may not result in the film's MPAA rating being changed from R to PG-13. Jen Chaney suggests in her Washington Post blog that a compromise might even be possible. The film is a documentary about how bullying affected five families, and led to two suicides. It was slapped with an R, because of its use of the F-word. Chaney asked Lee Hirsch, the film's director, "whether there was any chance he would consider bleeping out one or two of those expletives if that guaranteed a PG-13 designation for the movie, thereby allowing teen audiences to see it."
Sarah Palin lacked the preparation or temperament to be one heartbeat away from the presidency, but what she possessed in abundance was the ability to inflame political passions and energize the John McCain campaign with star quality. That much we already knew. What I didn't expect to discover after viewing "Game Change," a new HBO film about the 2008 McCain campaign, was how much sympathy I would feel for Palin, and even more for John McCain.
Hollywood has the same problem with the Oscars that the Republicans are having with their primaries. They can't seem to agree on a candidate with a broad appeal to the base. All nine Oscar finalists were, like Mitt Romney, good enough to be nominated. But none of them appealed to average multiplex moviegoers, just as it's said Romney doesn't appeal to the GOP base.