December 20, 2014

Review: The Great Movies

The Great Movies
The Great Movies by Roger Ebert

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I own Roger Ebert's autobiography, and that book, along with this one, reminded me of what a treasure we lost when he died. That made reading this book bittersweet, to say the least. I think Roger's voice fully flowered after his cancer treatment and the loss of his ability to speak; his mastery of prose and emotion is there in every entry to his blog, which remains online. However, glimpses of the greatness to come are here in this collection of his movie reviews.

There are 100 movies reviewed here, many of which I've never heard of. The listing is, perhaps, weighted towards foreign films, which I've never had much of an opportunity (or the inclination, to be truthful) to watch. But if these lovely, poetic reviews don't turn you into a foreign-film buff, nothing will. I was also rather surprised to find Star Wars on the list; sure, it's popular, and sure, it changed the course of cinema and special effects, but I never thought anyone would call it a “great movie.” Ebert does, though: “The films that will live forever are the simplest-seeming ones. They have profound depths, but their surfaces are as clear to an audience as a beloved old story...If I were asked to say with certainty which movies will still be widely known a century or two from now, I would list 2001, and The Wizard of Oz, and Keaton and Chaplin, and Astaire and Rogers, and probably Casablanca...and Star Wars for sure.”

From his review of 2001: “Only a few films are transcendent and work upon our minds and imaginations like music or prayer or a vast belittling landscape. Most movies are about characters with a goal in mind, who obtain it after difficulties either comic or dramatic. 2001: A Space Odyssey is not about a goal, but about a quest, a need. It does not hook its effects on specific plot points, nor does it ask us to identify with Dave Bowman or any other character. It says to us: We became men when we learned to think. Our minds have given us the tools to understand where we live and who we are. Now it is time to move on to the next step, to know that we live not on a planet, but among the stars, and that we are not flesh, but intelligence.”

See what I mean? Damn, I wish I could write like that. (This is also the only review I've seen that made any kind of sense out of 2001.) I'll have to get more of Roger's review volumes; I bet the ones where he talks about bad moves would be even more fun than this one.

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