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11:11 - Eleven Reviews by Roger Ebert from 2011 in Remembrance of His Transition 11 Years Ago

Roger, thank you for the rich treasure trove of opinions and images you left for us. Thank you for your enormous sympathy about the human condition. Spending time with your reviews makes it feel as if space and time are but abstract ideas. Perhaps they are... Chaz Ebert


Today, April 4th, marks the 11th anniversary of Roger Ebert’s passing, a momentous loss even though we still feel his presence. As we often do on this date, we wanted to mark the occasion by celebrating his work and noticed that he wrote some incredible criticism in 2011. Our very own Clint Worthington dug through the archives and found a treasure trove of rave reviews, a collection that reveals that Roger was as sharp as ever when it came to his critical acumen, while also making it clear how much he still loved movies. That’s what comes through in this work: Love. Watch one of his favorite films from 2011 in his memory.

Hugo

"Hugo" celebrates the birth of the cinema and dramatizes Scorsese's personal pet cause, the preservation of old films. In one heartbreaking scene, we learn that Melies, convinced his time had passed and his work had been forgotten, melted down countless films so that their celluloid could be used to manufacture the heels of women's shoes. But they weren't all melted, and at the end of "Hugo, " we see that thanks to this boy, they never will be. Now there's a happy ending for you.

Into the Abyss

Opposition to the death penalty, in part, comes down to this: No one deserves to be assigned the task of executing another person. I think that's what Captain Allen is saying. Herzog may agree, although he doesn't say so. In some of his films he freely shares his philosophy and insights. In this film, he simply looks. He always seems to know where to look.

Take Shelter

And then a storm comes. Its nature need not be discussed here. It leads to a scene of searing power, in which Samantha tells Curtis that it is safe once again to return to the surface — that it is a step he must take personally. The story seems somewhat resolved. Then the film concludes not with a "surprise ending" but with a series of shots that brilliantly summarize all that has gone before. This is masterful filmmaking.

Moneyball

The director is Bennett Miller, who also directed Hoffman in the title role of the radically different "Capote." "Moneyball" is not a traditional sports movie, and indeed should be just as gripping for non-sports fans. It's not a series of Big Games. When it goes to the field, it's for well-chosen crucial moments. Its essence is in terse, brainy dialogue by the two accomplished screenwriters Aaron Sorkin ("The Social Network") and Steven Zaillian ("Gangs of New York"). As in "The Social Network," abstract discussions reflect deep emotional conflicts. There are a lot of laughs, but only one or two are inspired by lines intended to be funny. Instead, our laughter comes from recognition, an awareness of irony, an appreciation of perfect zingers — and, best of all, insights into human nature.

The Tree of Life

I wrote earlier about the many ways this film evoked my own memories of such time and place. About wide lawns. About a town that somehow, in memory, is always seen with a wide-angle lens. About houses that are never locked. About mothers looking out windows to check on their children. About the summer heat and ennui of church services, and the unpredictable theater of the dinner table, and the troubling sounds of an argument between parents, half-heard through an open window.

Drive

Maybe there was another reason I thought of "Bullitt." Ryan Gosling is a charismatic actor, as Steve McQueen was. He embodies presence and sincerity. Ever since his chilling young Jewish neo-Nazi in "The Believer" (2001), he has shown a gift for finding arresting, powerful characters. An actor who can fall in love with a love doll and make us believe it, as he did in "Lars and the Real Girl" (2007), can achieve just about anything. "Drive" looks like one kind of movie in the ads, and it is that kind of movie. It is also a rebuke to most of the movies it looks like.

Le Havre

This movie is as lovable as a silent comedy, which it could have been. It takes place in a world that seems cruel and heartless, but look at the lengths Marcel goes to find Idrissa's father in a refugee camp and raise money to send the boy to join his mother in England. "Le Havre" has won many festivals, including Chicago 2011, comes from a Finnish auteur, yet let me suggest that smart children would especially like it. There is nothing cynical or cheap about it, it tells a good story with clear eyes and a level gaze, and it just plain makes you feel good.

Kinyarwanda

I thought I knew something about Rwanda, but I didn't really know very much. I was moved by "Hotel Rwanda" (2004), but not really shaken this deeply. Not like this. After seeing "Kinyarwanda," I have a different kind of feeling about the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. The film approaches it not as a story line but as a series of intense personal moments.


Melancholia

If I were choosing a director to make a film about the end of the world, von Trier the gloomy Dane might be my first choice. The only other name that comes to mind is Werner Herzog's. Both understand that at such a time silly little romantic subplots take on a vast irrelevance. Doctor Johnson told Boswell: "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." In the cast of von Trier's characters, impending doom seems to have created a mental state of dazed detachment. They continue to act as if their personal concerns have the slightest relevance. Von Trier has never made a more realistic domestic drama, depicting a family that is dysfunctional not in crazy ways but in ways showing a defiant streak of intelligent individualism.

The Artist

Here is one of the most entertaining films in many a moon, a film that charms because of its story, its performances and because of the sly way it plays with being silent and black and white. "The Artist" knows you're aware it's silent and kids you about it. Not that it's entirely silent, of course; like all silent films were, it's accompanied by music. You know — like in a regular movie when nobody's talking?

Life, Above All

Oliver Schmitz's "Life, Above All" earns the tears it inspires. The film is about deep human emotions, evoked with sympathy and love. It takes place entirely within a South African township near Johannesburg, one with modest prosperity and well-tended homes. It centers on the 12-year-old Chanda, who takes on the responsibility of holding her family together after her baby sister dies.

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