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Citizenfour

Though superlatives can mischaracterize any movie’s qualities, it is not an overstatement, I think, to call “Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras’ film about Edward Snowden, the movie…

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Private Violence

A look at the complexity of domestic violence, especially when it comes to the difficulty of prosecuting abusers in a court of law, "Private Violence"…

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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.

The Unraveling of a Loveless Heart

There is a 20 second moment in Jason Reitman's "Young Adult" that just floored me. Here is the story of a High School Prom Queen -- Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) - revisiting her hometown on a targeted mission to reclaim her old boyfriend. She walks through her parents' house and sees a large wedding photo. I thought it was a photo of her parents; her mother looks just like her? But, no, it is her own wedding. Not only do her parents keep the photo, but her father casually praises her ex-husband. I don't remember how long she's been divorced, but I was devastated just listening to his comments. Any normal parent would break his or her back to provide the child with every benefit; any child knows this. Still, the child also needs to hear the "I love you" and the "I value you" and the "I'm proud of you." But, when the child's ears hear, "I like your ex-spouse," from the two people she needs validation from, they are saying, "I like your ex-spouse, though he is worth nothing compared to you." What she instead hears is, "You're no good. You failed. I'm siding with him."

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The best films of the decade

"Synecdoche, New York" is the best film of the decade. It intends no less than to evoke the strategies we use to live our lives. After beginning my first viewing in confusion, I began to glimpse its purpose and by the end was eager to see it again, then once again, and I am not finished. Charlie Kaufman understands how I live my life, and I suppose his own, and I suspect most of us. Faced with the bewildering demands of time, space, emotion, morality, lust, greed, hope, dreams, dreads and faiths, we build compartments in our minds. It is a way of seeming sane.

The mind is a concern in all his screenplays, but in "Synecdoche" (2008), his first film as a director, he makes it his subject, and what huge ambition that demonstrates. He's like a

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TIFF #6: Oy vey, such a film you should see

There is something about the Jewish way of humor and storytelling I've always found enormously appealing. I memorized material by Henny Youngman and Myron Cohen at an age when, to the best of my knowledge, I had never met a Jew. I liked the rhythm, the contradiction, the use of paradox, the anticlimax, the way word order would be adjusted to back up into a punch line. There seemed to be deep convictions about human nature hidden in gags and one-liners; a sort of rueful shrug. And the stories weren't so much about where they ended as how they got there.

The serious man is consoled by the friend who has stolen his wife

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TIFF #1: Darwin, Herzog, the Coens and the Antichrist

I've just finished combing through the list of films in this year's Toronto Film Festival, and I have it narrowed down to 49. I look at the list and sigh. How can I see six films a day, write a blog, see people and sleep? Nor do I believe the list includes all the films I should see, and it's certainly missing films I will see. How it happens is, you're standing in line and hear buzz about something. Or a trusted friend provides a title you must see. Or you go to a movie you haven't heard much about, just on a hunch, and it turns out to be "Juno."

Nicolas Cage in "Bad Lieutenant"

I can't wait to dive in. Knowing something of my enthusiasms, faithful reader, let me tell you that TIFF 2009's opening night is a film about the life of Charles Darwin. The festival includes the film of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." And new films by the Coen brothers, Todd Solondz, Michael Moore, Atom Egoyan, Pedro Almodovar, Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Alain Resnais and Guy Maddin--and not one but two new films by Werner Herzog. Plus separate new films by the three key talents involved in Juno: The actress Ellen Page, the director Jason Reitman, and the writer Diablo Cody.

Okay, I've already seen two of those. They were screened here in Chicago (Page as a teenage Roller Derby in "Whip It," Cody's script for "Jennifer's Body," starring Megan Fox as a high school man-eater, and that's not a metaphor). I already saw more than ten of this year's entries at Cannes, including Lars on Trier's controversial "Antichrist," Jane Campion's "Bright Star," Gasper Noe's "Enter the Void," Almodovar's "Broken Embraces," Bong Joon-Ho's "Mother," Lee Daniels' "Precious," Mia Hansen-Løve's "The Father of My Children," and Resnais's "Wild Grass." A lot of good films there. Not all of them, but a lot.

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Ebert's predix, Oscar's results

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In theory, if I correctly predicted every single Oscar race, nobody could outguess me, and by default, I would win the prize. Alas, that has never, ever happened, and it's unlikely again this year, because as usual I will allow my heart to outsmart my brain in one or two races, which is my annual downfall. In any event, for what they're worth, here are my Academy Award predictions in a year rich with wonderful films.

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Don't let this affect your opinion of Juno...

View image ... whatever it may be.

UPDATED (below): There's Ellen Page on the cover of Entertainment Weekly next to the headline: "Juno: The Little Movie That Did." Subhead: "How a Teen Rebel Delivered Oscar's 100 Million Dollar Baby." This is when I feel a little sorry for people who didn't see the movie back when they could still at least feel like they were discovering it for themselves -- even if the "Little Movie That Could" was just a Fox Searchlight marketing ploy all along. Anyway, it turned out to be a great way to sell the movie: 4 big-time Oscar nominations (Best Picture, Actress, Director, Original Screenplay) and triple-digit milliones in theaters. (And that's a digit that can't be undid.)

Game blogger Surfer Girl even started a hilarious rumor that "Juno: The Video Game" was in development, "the most realistic teenage pregnancy simulation to date, for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC, and Wii. Crave could not get Ellen Page for the game, so in her place will be Jamie-Lynn Spears. For portable fans, a track-and-field title set in the Junoverse will hit DS and PSP."

(Just imagine wielding a Wii pork sword. Can you impregnate Juno -- and win?)

The post was labeled "joke," but that didn't stop Gamespot News from reporting it as a really maybe sorta true story, straight outta DICE Summit. (BTW, just above the "Juno" item, Surfer Girl offered this: "For the Blu-Ray release of 'There Will Be Blood,' Backbone Entertainment is working on 'an epic milkshake drinking adventure' that will feature the likeness of Daniel Day-Lewis, it will take up an estimated 5GB and feature at least twenty hours of slurping action, plus multiplayer.")

"I drink your milkshake!" is the golden ticket that will sell this thing with the people who are too lazy to read reviews and don't care that much about awards. It's simple, it's viral, it's primitive...it will travel. Make the "I drink your milkshake" T-shirts, hand out the buttons and bumper stickers, cut the TV and radio ads that emphasize the line over and over, and sell this brilliant but undeniably gnarly film as a kind of half-melodrama, half-hoot." -- Jeffrey Wells, January 9, 2008

The proper response to this hype and hoopla would be: "So what?" It's all after-the-fact anyway, and it has nothing to do with the movies themselves. Although, at least, the now-ubiquitous "I drink your MILKSHAKE!" catchphrase from "TWBB," which by now even USA Today has reported as a viral phenomenon, was inspired by the delivery of a line that's actually in the movie. (The brief "Friend-o" fad seems to have passed.)

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Toronto #10: Cinderella story with a twist

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TORONTO, Ont.--It's the Cinderella story of this year's Toronto Film Festival. Girl is born in Chicago, grows up, graduates from college, moves to Minneapolis to join her boyfriend Jonny, who she met on the net. Works in advertising, finds it boring. Starts working as a stripper, doesn't find it boring. Changes her name to Diablo Cody. Starts a blog. Works as a phone sex voice. Writes book, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. Quits the sex biz, marries Jonny, moves to suburbs. His daughter is their flower girl at wedding.

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Toronto #5: Great performances, strong stories

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TORONTO, Ont. -- I don’t know when I’ve heard a standing ovation so long, loud and warm as the one after Jason Reitman’s “Juno,” which I predict will become quickly beloved when it opens at Christmas time, and win a best actress nomination for its 20- year old star, Ellen Page.

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