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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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3 festival films reveal life's secrets

TORONTO -- It was the opening weekend of the 25th anniversary Toronto Film Festival, the summer was over, and it was safe for the good movies to open again. Summer is the season devoted to the mindless feeding of our base desires for low entertainment. Autumn is when we get new three-ring binders and iron our chinos and go back to school. Something ineffable in the first cool day of September makes us think deeper thoughts and nurture our better natures. This passes, but for a time we feel virtuous and want to go to movies that will reveal the secrets of life.

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Film lovers' treat

TORONTO -- I missed the first Toronto Film Festival. So did a lot of other people. I've attended every one since. The second was like a gathering of conspirators who raced from theater to theater on the rumors of screenings. But the festival has grown so steadily that its 25th anniversary event, which begins today, can safely be called the most important film festival in North America, and one of the top handful in the world.

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Fest ends with the best

CANNES, France -- Why did they save the best for last? "Songs From The Second Floor" and "In The Mood For Love," two brilliant final entries in this year's Cannes Film Festival, played over the weekend, as the hotels were emptying and the traffic jams clearing.

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Bjork stars in Dogma movie

CANNES, France -- A Danish film set in America but filmed in Sweden with stars from Iceland, France and the United States won the coveted Palme d'Or here Sunday night, at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival. Lars Von Trier's "Dancer In The Dark" picked up the top prize even though it got the most negative review in the recent history of Variety, the show biz bible. And its star, the Icelandic pop singer Bjork, won as best actress even though von Trier insists she is not an actress at all.

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Elizabeth Taylor helps host surreal AIDS benefit

CANNES, France -- I am a little dizzy. I have just returned from a $2,500-a-ticket dinner auction that followed a fashion show of Victoria's Secret swimwear and included Kenneth Branagh and James Caan stripping to the waist to be massaged by supermodel Heidi Klum on top of a piano later to be played by Elton John, while Harvey Weinstein auctioned off lunch with Nelson Mandela for $100,000.

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Even great films can leave you infuriated

CANNES, France -- Films are booed at Cannes for two reasons: Because they are bad, or because they are infuriating. Those in the second category are likely to be quite good, although they make you so mad, you have to step back and cool off to appreciate their qualities.

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Reel tired

CANNES, France -- Since my last dispatch I have seen nine films, four of them more than three hours long, bringing my Cannes total to 16 movies in six days. I feel like the hero of "A Clockwork Orange," who had his eyelids propped open with toothpicks while cinema was force-fed into his brain.

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Cannes dough

CANNES, France -- The big stars don't like to stay in town. It's more prestigious for them, and no doubt more comfortable, to stay 45 minutes away at the Hotel du Cap d'Antibes, which is the kind of hotel where it is not an affectation but a necessity to pull out a big roll of bills of high denominations, because the Hotel du Cap accepts no checks or credit cards only cash. Cash for everything. Cash for rooms, cash for drinks, cash for a towel in the beach cabana.

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Opening film hardly a night to remember

CANNES, France -- I am sure that the opening of this year's Cannes Film Festival will be a night to remember, but I will not remember it, because I will be elsewhere. I will not attend the inaugural screening of Roland Joffe's "Vatel," even though it does star Gerard Depardieu and Uma Thurman, and even though I am invited to the party afterward.

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