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I always found that my taste tended to line up quite a bit with Roger Ebert's, particularly when it came to our favorite movies of all time. His list of 10 best ever overlapped with mine in three instances, while other films he loved -- such as "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" -- were certainly among those I held sacred.
With the unfortunate news of his passing this afternoon, I thought I'd go back and read his thoughts on the films that popped up on my list, which I published for the first time last May. Many of them were a part of his "Great Films" series and soaking up his insight seemed like the best way to remember him today. Check out blurbs on each, linked to his respective pieces, below.
"Citizen Kane" (Orson Welles, 1941):
"It is one of the miracles of cinema that in 1941 a first-time director; a cynical, hard-drinking writer; an innovative cinematographer, and a group of New York stage and radio actors were given the keys to a studio and total control, and made a masterpiece. 'Citizen Kane' is more than a great movie; it is a gathering of all the lessons of the emerging era of sound, just as 'Birth of a Nation' assembled everything learned at the summit of the silent era, and '2001' pointed the way beyond narrative. These peaks stand above all the others."
Speaking of which -- "2001: A Space Odyssey" (Stanley Kubrick, 1968):
"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."
Sticking with the maestro -- "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" (Stanley Kubrick, 1964):
"Kubrick made what is arguably the best political satire of the century, a film that pulled the rug out from under the Cold War by arguing that if a 'nuclear deterrent' destroys all life on Earth, it is hard to say exactly what it has deterred."
(Side note on that one: Ebert once said, "Every great film should seem new every time you see it." The first film I thought of when I read that quote today was "Dr. Strangelove." Sure enough, the opening statement of the 1999 "Great Movies" entry on the film quoted above reads, "Every time you see a great film, you find new things in it.")
"Metropolis" (Fritz Lang, 1926):
"'Metropolis' does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world. The ideas of 'Metropolis' have been so often absorbed into popular culture that its horrific future city is almost a given…Lang filmed for nearly a year, driven by obsession, often cruel to his colleagues, a perfectionist madman, and the result is one of those seminal films without which the others cannot be fully appreciated."