Why Roger Ebert is the best movie critic around.

I’ve always thought that Roger Ebert deserved every bit of fame he deserves. Unlike other movie reviewers, Ebert is a real movie fanatic. He studies the craft, the technology, the art, the actors, the writing… He’s an ex script writer himself.

As proof, let me offer one of the best movie reviews I’ve read in a long, long time: http://www.suntimes.com/ebert/greatmovies/sho-sunday-ebert231.html

This is Ebert’s review of “The Hustler”, and it highlights just why he is so good. Not only does he capture all of the important nuances of the movie and ‘get’ the subtle messages and tone, but he shows real insight into what makes hustlers tick, and even what it means to be a great pool player, despite the fact that Ebert may have never picked up a stick.

The man does his homework. He thinks. He works hard at understanding. And in the end, he’s a great writer.

Compare him to the vast flock of other movie reviewers, who often wind up in their positions simply by jockeying around on a newspaper staff. Most of them have no particular credentials to be movie critics, and most of them miss a lot of the subtlety of cinematography, direction, and the technical aspects of movie-making.

Ebert is also very good at not letting pretention get in the way of reviewing a movie. He reviews movies not against some Citizen Kane standard, but simply against the standard the movie sets for itself. Does it achieve what it set out to do? Ebert will give a teen slasher flick four stars if it’s a very good teen slasher flick. Even if it’s not 1/10 of the movie of something like The Hustler, because it never intended to be. That’s fair.

On the other hand, his new co-reviewer Roeper is a hack who doesn’t have a clue. I wonder if they intentionally set Ebert up with an idiot so Ebert could chop him to pieces.

Anyway, my .02. Wasn’t sure if this belonged in IMHO or here. I just wanted to say all this after reading that review of The Hustler, which is one of my favorite movies. And as an ex competitive pool player, I was astonished by the insight Ebert shows into what it’s all about.

BTW, I’d say the next best reviewer around is the Chicago Reader’s Jonathan Rosenbaum.

Comments?

Preview is your friend. Lovely opening sentence there… He deserves every bit of fame he deserves? Let’s try, “He deserves every bit of fame he has.”

I agree. I always read his reviews. While I don’t always agree with him, about 85% of the time, if he likes a movie, I like the movie. I really think he understands both the nuances of great filmmaking, and the joy of being a standard movie-goer.

Jman

I was really impressed by his “Scooby-Doo” review. He pretty much said, look, I’m really not the guy to review this movie – I don’t know anything about the cartoon so I don’t know why stuff is supposed to be funny. He didn’t try to bullshit his way through just because he’s a famous movie reviewer.

And not only is he a great movie reviewer, he is a great speaker. I saw him give a speech at the University of Illinois at Champaign for a showing of 2001. I’ve seen this movie countless times, and Ebert launched into a speech about how good this movie is, and why it is good… the speech blew me away with it’s insight into this movie.

Afterwards, he answered questions, and showed remarkable grace when a grad student asked him a very involved and artsy point someone was making which was sounded like complete B.S. to me. He blew it off at first, and then after answering another question promptly apologized to the grad student and said he must not have understood the question, and that the grad student was probably right in her theories. Very classy.

Ebert is my favorite “big name” critic, but I think he is dead wrong in a lot of his reviews of more “fringe” type movies. For example, he gave The Cell a good review citing it’s inventive imagery- said inventive imagery being blatantly copied from well known paintings and sculptures. A movie with genuinely inventive imagery, Tank Girl got a bad review with a passing mention of the animated sequences looking good.

My favorite critic is Tim Lucas, publisher of Video Watchdog magazine. Before starting his own magazine his reviews appeared in Film Comment and Fangoria- the most pretentious movie magazine, and the most low brow. His reviews tend to be very insightful and detailed, but he doesn’t review everything- mostly horror and foriegn art-house films.

What makes a critic great is not the ability to tell which movies are good and which are bad, but the ability to explain a movie, whether it is good or bad or whatever. I doubt that I agree with Ebert any more (or less) often than with other critics, but I have the Sun-Times Ebert review page bookmarked because this is the first place I look after I see a movie I liked. I don’t need reviews to tell me what movie to see and what one not to see (though they are helpful there, too), but the best can deepen your appreciation for a film.

However, I will agree somewhat with grendel72 that for movies he doesn’t like, his reviews are a bit more insubstantial. But that makes sense, and I am far more interested in reading discussions of good movies than of bad or mediocre ones anyway. I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking through the Great Movies section of the website, which features much longer reviews of great classics. Excellent stuff.

As for why they pair him up with a hack, it may be because thats just what most film critics are. The Newsday reviewer who wrote that the theme of Forrest Gump was “that you would have to be a fool to not be affected by the last 30 years of American history” is still writing reviews for that paper. (I can only guess that the reviewer made the back-assward choice of reading the book so he wouldn’t have to see the movie.)

Huh? One of the reasons I’ve never liked Ebert much was because of his review of 2001. He started out with a 2-star rating, then went on with a fairly long review and concluded by admitting that he just didn’t understand the movie.

In retrospect, I guess I respect that he had the stones to admit that he didn’t get it – instead of just being defensive, he took the risk of sounding dumb and just said that he didn’t get it. But I guess he’s changed his tune since then; that review was pretty old when I read it and that was several years ago. I don’t mind the guy so much, now, although I almost never agree with him.

[hijack]

Ummmm, Are you sure you’ve got the right reviewer? 2001: A Space Odyssey is listed on the Great Movies, albiet the second hundred movies. His review of it is pretty enthusiastic as well. If he’s changed his opinion, it’s been a while since he did so.
[/hijack]

One thing I like about Ebert is that he is open to new styles like anime . In particular he is one of the few reviewers to appreciate the genius of Miyazaki.

OTOH he isn’t perfect; I still can’t believe that he gave a really good rating for the Phantom Menace while giving a much lower rating to Clones which ,compartively, was half-decent.

My favourite reviewer is probably Edelstein of Slate; I like his literary style and he produces fresh insights in comparison most reviewers; check out his review of Clones which I thought was really interesting about what Lucas was going for.

About Roeper I think he is there to represent a more populist point of view. Generally when they disagree I prefer Ebert.

I love all of Ebert’s reviews, but those of the truly bad movies can really be spectacular at times. How can you not love paragraphs like this:

Every once in a while a movie comes along that makes me feel like a human dialysis machine. The film goes into my mind, which removes its impurities, and then it evaporates into thin air. “Erik the Viking” is a movie like that, an utterly worthless exercise in waste and wretched excess, uninformed by the slightest spark of humor, wit or coherence.

or this (about the movie North):

I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.

Ebert panned U.H.F. That’s enough to get him on my “reviewers who are off their rocker” list. :wink:

Seriously, though, I like him most of the time, but I have had several instances where I thought his review was entirely off-base. And the death of Gene Siskel removed one of the few critics with the stones to stand up to his ego.

I also bookmark him, but he boggles my mind sometimes. In general I like his reviews because he doesn’t go off into pretentious film-student speeches, he generally sticks to the tangible attributes of the film. He knows alot about the mechanics of shooting a film, his commentary on the Citizen Kane DVD is excellent for someone wanting to learn a little about that aspect of filmmaking. In fact, he has a general enthusiasm about informing the moviegoing public, helping us learn about films and become better fans of the cinema.

As for his review of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I still fail to see how he finds anything redeeming in that film. I consider myself an educated filmwatcher. I’m a big fan of Stanley Kubrick, his Dr. Strangelove would be #1 on my greatest films list if I had one. That said, 2001 is totally unwatchable. Most people I know who claim to like it can never explain why they like it, and when I ask for a reasonable explanation for that horrendous ending they can never supply it. Ebert takes a shot at it, I suppose his review tries to find tangible reasons for liking the film. Still, there is no excuse and never will be for the godawful 10 minute long acid trip of streaming colors that passes for an ending is this crummy film. Ebert is right to remark on the innovation this movie marked in the use of a classical music score to help tell the story, but thereafter he’s got to be off his rocker to find anything worth appreciating in that 2 hour borefest.

He tends to include more plot points than I appreciate. And occasionally he’ll mention something from the third act in his review, which just sucks and doesn’t belong in a review. Plus, he loves to mention when there is a twist, and whether it is good or not. Which I personally consider a spoiler of sorts.

So I usually only read the first and last paragraphs.

Get his book, “I hate, hate, hated this movie.” It’s a great collection of his reviews of movies he hated. I think Dave Barry has a quote on the back that is dead on. “There is nothing greater than reading a good reviewers review of a bad movie.”

Actually, that “First 100” link on the “Great Movies” page is just the introduction to Roger’s book “The Great Movies,” which is a compendium of the first hundred movies in the series. He reviewed “2001” very early on in the series.

One night back in '94 or '95, AMC was showing a restored print of “Citizen Kane” and interviewed Roger for the introduction. He said (paraphrasing) “Why do I consider ‘Citizen Kane’ to be the greatest movie ever made? It’s kind of arbitrary. I could just have easily said ‘The Third Man’ or ‘2001.’”

So, it certainly isn’t in his “second hundred.”

As a serious movie fanatic myself, I have very little respect for Ebert. And what respect I do have for him diminishes daily.

Here’s a thread I started a while back:

Hmmm. Gone.

Anyway, I complained that he almost always gives a movie three stars, and that he almost always gets some little factual detail wrong in a review. I’ve seen him in a movie theater twice, and both times he left the movie in the middle to get ANOTHER load of concession food. Once he panned a movie because of a plot twist he’d missed while he was getting popcorn.

Roger is better than most…I like the fact that he can tell you that the blockbuster hit is stupid, but still fun for a mindless, eat popcorn in an airconditioned theater hot summer day.
However, he will also let you know if a film is really worth going out of your way to see - especially some of the smaller films that will not be showing on 32 screens in your neighborhood.
Of course I don’t always agree with him (I thought Beautiful Mind was horrible - but I am really, really in the minority there) but I still find his reviews honest. He isn’t afraid to blast a big name director or actor, or praise a sitcom actor who surprises him in a film with unexpected talent.

BTW does Roeper write film reviews at all? I was surprised to find that he seems to write general columns for the suntimes.

http://www.suntimes.com/index/roeper.html

I’m with SmackFu, in that I think Ebert tends to be spoilerish in his reviews. I can see how this might be difficult to avoid in some cases though, if a nice plot twist is what made the movie work. I do have to say that I generally like him better than most.

It also seems like he used to include a bit more trivia in his movie reviews. I don’t watch/read him enough to say he doesn’t anymore, but I haven’t seen it lately. As an example, I watched him review a new movie about Napoleon (don’t remember the movie title), and the guy playing the role of Napoleon is the same guy who played Napoleon in Time Bandits. I was really surprised he didn’t mention this.

I always like it when a film critic comes right out and says he/she doesn’t like a movie though, so I have to give him credit for that. I still remember a hilarious review (by a local critic in Seattle) about Independence Day. It said something along the lines of “…don’t bother going, you can stay at home, put a bucket on your head and have a friend bash it several times with a golf-club.” :smiley: