Just over 2 years ago we lost possibly the greatest film critic of all time. His absence is still felt all over the industry, particularly by amateur film critics and film connoisseurs.
Roger Ebert spent most of his career as an American film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, his last name becoming synonymous with trusted criticism. This very day people are still concerned with what he thought about certain movies, made clear by the fact that he remains the's the most Googled critic in the world.
I use Roger Ebert to help gauge film styles and preferences based on his consistency. Whether I agreed with him or not entirely on any given film, he was extremely consistent in his appraisals. If you learned those nuances of his, you'd be pretty accurate as to figuring out whether a film he's reviewed is one you'd be interested in watching in or not.
There aren't inherent or absolute ways of deciding whether a film is inherently good or bad. Often the topic of many discussions are in the ratings of films, which at the end of the day is a tool used to decide which movies are 'better' than others. When Roger Ebert gave a review, that was as close to a definitive measure as I'll possibly ever know.
In Hollywood, there are many awards shows, giving awards to best films in various genres, actors, actresses, directors, etc. All of these are subjective and thus don't necessarily designate an absolute victor. It is, however, simply a peer or committee review based on opinions as to which category leader wins. Many individuals inside and outside of Hollywood take issue with this process. For example, Joaquin Phoenix has criticized the decision-making process, despising the idea that these groups can pick a film and call it the best. However, he does make the claim that without the award shows his career wouldn't be where it is today. There are other actors who feel very similarly, including Ethan Hawke, who claims he has no desire for winning an award, although happy for others who do. The well-respected actor Anthony Hopkins possesses a treasured Oscar, but once stated:
I can't stand all that. I find it nauseating to watch and I think it's disgusting to behold. People groveling around and kissing the backsides of famous producers and all that. It makes me want to throw up, it really does. It's sick-making. I've seen it so many times. Some great producer-mogul and everyone kissing this guy's backside. I think, 'What are they doing? Don't they have any self-respect?' I wanted to say, 'Fuck off.'
Bill Murray was livid that he lost to Sean Penn in the 2003 Oscars, roles in which Murray played in Lost in Translation and Penn played in Mystic River. Personally I have no issue with this loss, but Bill Murray hasn't been a typical Hollywooder, ever.
Pissed off? You bet I was. I don't approve of award ceremonies, so I was wondering what had persuaded me to attend that one. I was pissed at myself.
Marlon Brando won an award in 1955, and then again in 1973, this time for The Godfather and he sent someone else in his place to inform the crowd that he "very regretfully" couldn't accept the award. He later told the New York Times:
The motion picture community has been as responsible as any, for degrading the Indian and making a mockery of his character, describing him as savage, hostile, and evil.
Surely Brando would extend this perspective beyond American Indians, but did point out that Hollywood's perspective is bent.
Seth Rogen, James Franco, James Cromwell, Woody Allen, Javier Bardem, Sally Field, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Radcliffe, George C. Scott, Jean-Luc Godard, and Julue Delpy are just some actors who resent or have ill feelings toward the award shows and/or their committees.
When Roger Ebert would give a rating of 4 out of 4 stars, that for me was as good as a little golden statue. There are simply too many films each year deserving to be recognized as equally as many winners in each category and often the victor goes to those who have a larger campaign budget, a more popular name, or a larger public presence.
Ebert was a respectful critic who appreciated the medium of film as a spectacular tool to convey deep messages. Ebert too had something witty to say about picking a winner:
...it's all a matter of opinion, right? I think one thing and you may think another. True, criticism is all opinion. Well, almost all. Once, a long time ago a former colleague of mine said in a review that "The Valachi Papers" was better than "The Godfather." The next time I saw him, I told him: 'Every once in a while, matters of opinion stray over into errors of fact.'
The word "subjective" would likely be chosen by a majority of those who either vote, attend, or anticipate the award nominations and announced victors, yet often there's such a massive sting when a film isn't chosen, that people respond as though there was a high level of certainty that one film was indeed superior or inferior to another.
Ebert's critical opinion has been crucial for a great many individuals in how they've judged or been influenced to see a film.
As great and influential Ebert has been for me, like everyone's critical perspective, there are flaws; flaws in both my perspective, and his. I challenge the idea of finding any two avid film critics, whether amateur or professional, who can completely agree on their opinions of a given film. Ebert hated The Usual Suspects for goodness sake, giving it a half star more than Armageddon and Hocus Pocus. He hated Tommy Boy, claiming there weren't any memorable lines, and no one was funny. He placed The Village and The Love Guru in the exact same category of quality as Tommy Boy and gave it just a half star more than Jason X. Sure, like he said it's a matter of opinion, but also like he said "Every once in a while, matters of opinion stray over into errors of fact."
I cannot think of an individual who has expressed themselves so vastly over such an extensive period of time, who comes even close to being so influential to those within the industry and those who simply enjoy movies. Roger Ebert is missed. His absence is still felt, and he left a huge void that no one has come close to filling for me just yet.
I miss Roger Ebert and can't help but wonder what critiques he'd have been giving to various films in just the last two years.
For now, I am led by those who've attempted to fill his shoes on his popular film critic website and Drew McWeeny over on HitFix. Sometime when McWeeny reviews a film I can't help but think of Pulp Fiction's Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson, when he has a conversation with Vincent, played by John Travolta, regarding the eating of pork:
Vincent: Want some bacon?
Jules: No man, I don't eat pork.
Vincent: Are you Jewish?
Jules: Nah, I ain't Jewish, I just don't dig on swine, that's all.
Vincent: Why not?
Jules: Pigs are filthy animals. I don't eat filthy animals.
Vincent: Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.
Jules: Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I'd never know 'cause I
wouldn't eat the filthy motherfucker. Pigs sleep and root in shit. That's a filthy animal. I ain't eat nothin' that ain't got sense enough to disregard its own feces.
Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.
Jules: I don't eat dog either.
Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?
Jules: I wouldn't go so far as to call a dog filthy but they're definitely dirty. But, a dog's got personality. Personality goes a long way.
Vincent: Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true?
Jules: Well we'd have to be talkin' about one charming motherfuckin' pig. I mean he'd have to be ten times more charmin' than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I'm sayin'?
I can't help but imagine McWeeny as Vincent trying to expose me to one of those films he falls victim to as I explain to him how much I don't like wasting time watching crappy movies. Pork here could be many films, perhaps Cloud Atlas, or all the films in his top 10 list for 2014 for leaving out Birdman. Over the many years, I've had many disagreements with McWeeny but I've also felt the same for the majority of films he's reviewed. Today McWeeny is my favorite critic in deciding just how excited I'll let myself get for a film.
I'm glad Roger Ebert was able to express himself in the era he did, allowing his reviews to live forever as a permanent reference. It's going to take my entire life to bite the heels of the films he's seen, but I'll be able to narrow the list by those films he favored most. It's as good a tool as any in deciding a good film and a bad film, but the only real absolute deciding factor in a film being good or bad lies on the personal experience of the individual watching it.
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