Tag Archives: Roger Ebert

Top Ten: Roger Ebert’s Great Movies

Today would have been Roger Ebert’s 71st birthday had he not recently passed away. What better way to celebrate his life than to remember the films that he singled out for particular praise in his Great Movies series? Ebert did not rank these films; in fact, he added them only after he had a chance to reevaluate them and write about them, so there’s no hierarchy here at all. The ones he identified as Great Movies are likely only a fraction of what he would consider the Greatest Movies of All Time, and possibly not even the top fraction. But because the list of Great Movies is unranked by Ebert, it’s a perfect filter for Flickchart, letting us see how I personally and Flickchart users globally rank the conglomerate.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – The Thin Man (1934)

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it many more times in the future – Nick and Nora Charles are my favorite on-screen married couple. They flirt and joke with each other, get through disagreements and have friendly competitions, are totally secure in each others’ love, and each is ready to take a bullet for the other if it becomes necessary. And oh, it does, because this is a murder mystery that crosses the Hammett-style detective story (Hammett actually wrote the novel the film is based on) with a touch of Agatha Christie, and a whole lot of ’30s-style witty comedy. The balance is perfect, and this is a film I can watch over and over and never get tired of.

9 – Vertigo (1958)

Alfred Hitchcock is my favorite director, and a whole bunch of his movies are in my Top 100, so it’s not surprising to find two on this list. First up, Vertigo, which is one of the first Hitchcock films I remember watching, when my cousin decided we should watch it when I was probably much too young for it. I liked it anyway, and I’ve only liked it better with every (frequent) rewatch. I love everything about this movie – the dark side of Jimmy Stewart, the lush and unrealistic colors, the slow burn, and perhaps especially the tragic Midge, who gave Scottie everything she had knowing he’d give her nothing in return. The fact that Midge’s story exists alongside and underneath the Scottie/Madeline/Judy story simply shows the breadth and nuance of Vertigo.

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Links I Like: June 6, 2011

I‘m starting to get back in the swing of reading other blogs again (I know, I’m a bad blog citizen), and wanted to start sharing some of my favorite things I’m reading – mostly film blogs, naturally, but if I find something in other areas that I think is particularly noteworthy I’ll probably give it a shout-out, too. Like this week, there’s one on gaming that I thought was pretty good. I’m gonna try to get some variety in there, but don’t be surprised if you see some of the same people popping up over and over. What can I say, some people just give good blog. So anyway, go check out these posts and bloggers and leave them some comment love if you like what you see!

Note: Photos and videos I particularly like may show up in my Tumblr rather than here, or at least earlier than here. The newest Tumblr entry is always showing at the bottom of my home page, but the rest is always there, waiting.

A prayer beneath the Tree of Life – Roger Ebert

A post on Roger Ebert’s personal blog rather than a review, this reverie on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life points out the film’s prayer-like attributes and discusses the very personal ways the film touched Ebert, and explores how well the film evokes one’s own memories. I don’t even have memories of growing up in the 1950s, and yet Malick’s film allows me the same “memories,” or similar ones – not as real as Ebert’s, of course, but nonetheless true. This is the power of Malick’s film.

Review: The Tree of Life – Jake at Not Just Movies

A more indepth look at The Tree of Life, and a review that said most of what I think without me having to formulate words (which I’m not sure I can do yet). I find most intriguing the effect that the film is having on non-religious people (which both Ebert and Jake are), because it’s not very different from the effect it had on me, in terms of being able to evoke a deep spirituality and even religiosity without actually having any dogmatic particulars at all. Jake compares it to a wordless piece of music, like Bach’s Mass in B minor, a comparison which makes an awful lot of sense.

Opening Shots: The New World – David Nicol at scanners::blog

From the most recent Malick to the first Malick I personally saw. Jim Emerson has started up (or revived, to be more accurate) a series on his always-excellent scanners::blog analyzing opening scenes of movies, and invited others to submit their own analyses. This one from Dr. David Nicol gets a surprising amount of depth out of the very simple water-reflection shot that opens The New World.

Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme Seeks to End Language – Landon Palmer at Film School Rejects

With Godard’s latest opus coming out in theatres this month, we’re getting another rash of reviews, both positive and negative. Landon Palmer hits the nail on the head, I think, and in an eminently readable way.

George Stevens’ Giant, in One Scene – The Self-Styled Siren

The Siren provides a close reading on the diner fight scene Giant, which she convincingly argues incapsulates the whole of the film in its treatment of anti-Mexican bigotry and of main character Bick Benedict’s changing attitude toward it that comes to head in this scene. It’s been a long time since I saw Giant, and I wasn’t a huge fan, but this piece definitely makes me want to go give it another look. She also includes the YouTube clip of the scene.

Thumbnail Reviews: Douglas Fairbanks in 1916 – The Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies

The Mythical Monkey has been going through the 1910s, providing tons of invaluable and well-presented information about the first decade of feature-length filmmaking. This post has short reviews of almost all of the dozen movies Douglas Fairbanks was in during 1916. I consider it a remarkable achievement to even see all these films (it’s also somewhat remarkable that only one is lost), and I’ve definitely added a couple to my list to check out if Cinefamily ever plays them.

Alignment, Allegiance, and Murder – David Bordwell

Bordwell takes a bit of time to introduce concepts of narrative point of view and character identification, which he recasts (following Murray Smith) as alignment and allegiance, then does a close reading with an abundance of screencaps of a scene from Fritz Lang’s House by the River, showing how the audience’s alignment and allegiance are subtly shifted from one character to another throughout the course of one scene, merely by how Lang sets up the shots and blocking. A great example of formalist criticism, showing how important composition is, even though we rarely realize it consciously while watching films.

The Forgotten: Negative Space/Capability/Attitude – David Cairns at Mubi

David watches Von Morgens Bis Mitternacht (From Morn to Midnight), a 1920 German Expressionist film that, judging by the screencaps, is pretty much the most extreme German Expressionist film I’ve ever seen. He also watched it without subtitles, yielding musings on “negative capability,” or the ability to enjoy things without fully understanding them. For that thought and for the glorious screencaps, I share this post.

What Adults Want From Games – Matthew Keast at GamesRadar

As the average age of gamers is now solidly in the mid-30s, I kind of wonder why so many games still seem steeped in immaturity and adolescent fantasies, and so does Matthew Keast. Well, he’s got a bunch of things that he’d like to see more of (or less of) as an adult gamer, and I agree with almost all of them, from better age controls for online play to more games based on story and character instead of violence and titillation. Several commenters on his piece pointed out that they are under 18 (thus not adult according to his criteria for the post) and agree with him, suggesting that the kinds of experiences he’s calling for are desired by even more of the population. Game developers, please listen!

Ebert on How to Read a Movie

I’ve mentioned to many acquaintances my distaste for Roger Ebert’s binary thumb system of film reviewing, and I often tend to have a knee-jerk reaction against his overall film ratings. On the other hand, his criticism (rather than his reviewing) is highly sound, readable, and I wish he’d do more of it.

Just to be clear, reviewing is the week-to-week activity of watching and recommending (or not recommending) films, especially new releases, to audiences that haven’t yet seen the films. It’s intended to tell you whether or not you should go see a given film, whether a film is good or bad. Criticism is more indepth analysis of a film intended to help those who have already seen a film to better understand or appreciate it (or not). Criticism is not inherently negative; in fact, it’s often not evaluative at all. Rather, it’s analytical.

On his blog, Ebert recently posted an article entitled “How to Read a Movie”, in which he gives a few basics of visual composition, explaining how he goes through a film with his students shot by shot. This is criticism, and I’m always thankful when he writes something like this. It reminds me that there’s so much more to him than thumbs.

He talks about how we instinctively understand the way shots are laid out and blocked (people moving to the left feels negative, while people moving to the right seems positive – as I read this, I happened to be watching 12 Angry Men and noted that when the jurors leave the courtroom to deliver their “not guilty” verdict, they’re walking, yes, to the right), then gives an example from Hitchcock’s Notorious. This is right when spy Cary Grant learns that he’s basically condemned Ingrid Bergman to sleep with the enemy for the sake of gathering intelligence, and that she’s willing to do it.

In the Rio office of U.S. intelligence, Grant’s chief is positioned on the strong axis. Grant enters and talks to him, standing on the right (positive). Bergman enters, and begins to discuss her relationship with Rains [the enemy]. As she speaks, Grant walks to the left of the composition. She continues. He turns his back to us. We all instinctively read this as negative/rejecting/angry. Bergman goes into still more detail. Grant walks into the background. Wow. Now the picture has the intelligence chief as the stable presence on the strong axis, Bergman in the positive right foreground, Grant in the negative left background, and the “movement” from right front to left back, underlining the central emotional reality of the film, which will inform all of Grant’s behavior.

These are things that we as viewers subconsciously “get”, but having someone go through a scene like this and explain why we have the reactions we do (or at least, what within the shot triggers the reactions we have; I suppose it would take a psychologist to take the next step – a direction some film criticism has gone) is invaluable. In my experience with Ebert (to be honest, I rarely read his current reviews all the way through, in large part because I simply don’t like reviews as much as criticism), he tends to do this more in writing about older film, probably because of the seen/haven’t seen dilemma – it’s difficult to do quality criticism if you’re worried about spoiling the film for an audience that hasn’t seen it yet. His The Great Movies books are excellent, as are several of his articles about criticism collected in Alone in the Dark. I just wish his popular legacy could be those rather than his thumbs.

(Read the rest of the post and comments as well; I only quoted a bit, and it’ll make more sense in context. If the general topic is interesting, David Bordwell has written a number of good books on visual style and cinematic staging, and James Monaco’s How to Read a Film is a touchstone.)