|Born||Roger Joseph Ebert|
June 18, 1942
Urbana, Illinois, U.S.
|Died||April 4, 2013 (aged 70)|
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Education||University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (BA)|
University of Chicago
|Notable awards||Pulitzer Prize for Criticism|
Roger Joseph Ebert (//; June 18, 1942 – April 4, 2013) was an American film critic, film historian, journalist, screenwriter, and author. He was a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times said Ebert "was without question the nation's most prominent and influential film critic," and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called him "the best-known film critic in America."
Ebert was known for his intimate, Midwestern writing voice and critical views informed by values of populism and humanism. Writing in a prose style intended to be entertaining and direct, he made sophisticated cinematic and analytical ideas more accessible to non-specialist audiences. While a populist, Ebert frequently endorsed foreign and independent films he believed would be appreciated by mainstream viewers, which often resulted in such films receiving greater exposure.
Ebert and Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel helped popularize nationally televised film reviewing when they co-hosted the PBS show Sneak Previews, followed by several variously named At the Movies programs. The two verbally sparred and traded humorous barbs while discussing films. They created and trademarked the phrase "two thumbs up," used when both gave the same film a positive review. After Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued hosting the show with various co-hosts and then, starting in 2000, with Richard Roeper.
Ebert was diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid and salivary glands in 2002. He required treatment that included removing a section of his lower jaw in 2006, leaving him severely disfigured and unable to speak or eat normally. However, his ability to write remained unimpaired and he continued to publish frequently online and in print until his death on April 4, 2013. His RogerEbert.com website, launched in 2002 and originally underwritten by the Chicago Sun-Times, remains online as an archive of his published writings and reviews while also hosting new material written by a group of critics who were selected by Ebert before his death.
Roger Joseph Ebert was born in Urbana, Illinois, the only child of Annabel (née Stumm, 1911–1987), a bookkeeper, and Walter Harry Ebert (1901–1960), an electrician. He was raised Roman Catholic, attending St. Mary's elementary school and serving as an altar boy in Urbana.
His paternal grandparents were German immigrants and his maternal ancestry was Irish and Dutch. Ebert's interest in journalism began when he was a student at Urbana High School, where he was a sportswriter for The News-Gazette in Champaign, Illinois; however, he began his writing career with letters of comment to the science-fiction fanzines of the era. In his senior year, he was class president and co-editor of his high school newspaper, The Echo. In 1958, he won the Illinois High School Association state speech championship in "radio speaking," an event that simulates radio newscasts.
Regarding his early influences in film criticism, Ebert wrote in the 1998 parody collection Mad About the Movies:
I learned to be a movie critic by reading Mad magazine ... Mad's parodies made me aware of the machine inside the skin – of the way a movie might look original on the outside, while inside it was just recycling the same old dumb formulas. I did not read the magazine, I plundered it for clues to the universe. Pauline Kael lost it at the movies; I lost it at Mad magazine.
Ebert began taking classes at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign as an early-entrance student, completing his high school courses while also taking his first university class. After graduating from Urbana High School in 1960, Ebert then attended and received his undergraduate degree in 1964. While at the University of Illinois, Ebert worked as a reporter for The Daily Illini and then served as its editor during his senior year while also continuing to work as a reporter for the News-Gazette of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. (He had begun at the News-Gazette at age 15 covering Urbana High School sports.) As an undergraduate, he was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and president of the U.S. Student Press Association. One of the first movie reviews he ever wrote was a review of La Dolce Vita, published in The Daily Illini in October 1961.
Ebert spent a semester as a master's student in the department of English there before attending the University of Cape Town on a Rotary fellowship for a year. He returned from Cape Town to his graduate studies at Illinois for two more semesters and then, after being accepted as a PhD student at the University of Chicago, he prepared to move to Chicago. He needed a job to support himself while he worked on his doctorate and so applied to the Chicago Daily News, hoping that, as he had already sold freelance pieces to the Daily News, including an article on the death of writer Brendan Behan, he would be hired by editor Herman Kogan. Instead, Kogan referred Ebert to the city editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, Jim Hoge, who hired Ebert as a reporter and feature writer at the Sun-Times in 1966. He attended doctoral classes at the University of Chicago while working as a general reporter at the Sun-Times for a year. After movie critic Eleanor Keane left the Sun-Times in April 1967, editor Robert Zonka gave the job to Ebert. The load of graduate school and being a film critic proved too much, so Ebert left the University of Chicago to focus his energies on film criticism.
Ebert began his career as a film critic in 1967, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times. That same year, he met film critic Pauline Kael for the first time at the New York Film Festival. After he sent her some of his columns, she told him they were "the best film criticism being done in American newspapers today." That same year, Ebert's first book, a history of the University of Illinois titled Illini Century: One Hundred Years of Campus Life, was published by the university's press. In 1969, his review of Night of the Living Dead was published in Reader's Digest. Ebert was one of the first critics to champion Bonnie and Clyde, calling it "a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance. It is also pitilessly cruel, filled with sympathy, nauseating, funny, heartbreaking and astonishingly beautiful. If it does not seem that those words should be strung together, perhaps that is because movies do not very often reflect the full range of human life." Years later, he'd call Bonnie and Clyde "the first masterpiece I saw on the job. I felt an exhilaration beyond describing. I did not suspect how long it would be between such experiences, but at least I learned that they were possible." He wrote Martin Scorsese's first review, for Who's That Knocking at My Door?, and predicted the young director could become "an American Fellini."
In addition to film, Ebert occasionally wrote about other topics for the Sun-Times, such as music. In 1970, Ebert wrote the first published concert review of singer-songwriter John Prine, who at the time was working as a mailman and performing at Chicago folk clubs.
Ebert co-wrote the screenplay for the Russ Meyer film Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) and sometimes joked about being responsible for the film, which was poorly received on its release yet has become a cult film. Ebert and Meyer also made Up! (1976), Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979), and other films, and were involved in the ill-fated Sex Pistols movie Who Killed Bambi? In April 2010, Ebert posted his screenplay of Who Killed Bambi?, also known as Anarchy in the UK, on his blog.
Beginning in 1968, Ebert worked for the University of Chicago as an adjunct lecturer, teaching a night class on film at the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.
In 1975, Ebert received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism.
In October 1986, while continuing to work for the Sun-Times and still based in Chicago, Ebert replaced Rex Reed as the New York Post chief film reviewer.
As of 2007, his reviews were syndicated to more than 200 newspapers in the United States and abroad. Ebert also published more than 20 books and dozens of collected reviews.
Even as he used TV (and later the Internet) to share his reviews, Ebert continued to write for the Chicago Sun-Times until he died in 2013.
Also in 1975, Ebert and Gene Siskel began co-hosting a weekly film-review television show, Sneak Previews, which was locally produced by the Chicago public broadcasting station WTTW. The series was later picked up for national syndication on PBS. The duo became well known for their "thumbs up/thumbs down" review summaries. Siskel and Ebert trademarked the phrase "Two Thumbs Up."
In 1982, they moved from PBS to launch a similar syndicated commercial television show named At the Movies With Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. In 1986, they again moved the show to new ownership, creating Siskel & Ebert & the Movies through Buena Vista Television, part of the Walt Disney Company.
After Siskel died in 1999, the producers retitled the show Roger Ebert & the Movies and used rotating co-hosts including Martin Scorsese, A.O. Scott, and Janet Maslin.
In September 2000, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper became the permanent co-host and the show was renamed At the Movies with Ebert & Roeper and later At the Movies.
In 2000, Ebert interviewed President Bill Clinton at The White House. Clinton spoke about his love for the movies, his favorite films of 1999, and his favorite films of all time, such as Casablanca (1942), High Noon (1952) and The Ten Commandments (1956). Clinton named Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, and Tom Hanks as his favorite actors.
In 2005, Ebert became the first film critic to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ebert ended his association with the Disney-owned At The Movies in July 2008, after the studio indicated it wished to take the program in a new direction. On February 18, 2009, Ebert reported that he and Roeper would soon announce a new movie-review program, and reiterated this plan after Disney announced that the program's last episode would air in August 2010.
On January 31, 2009, Ebert was made an honorary life member of the Directors Guild of America. His final television series, Ebert Presents: At the Movies, premiered on January 21, 2011, with Ebert contributing a review voiced by Bill Kurtis in a brief segment called "Roger's Office," as well as featuring more traditional film reviews in the "At the Movies" format presented by Christy Lemire and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky. The program lasted one season, before being cancelled due to funding constraints and the subsequent death of Ebert.
The last review by Ebert published during his lifetime was for the film The Host, which was published on March 27, 2013. The last review Ebert wrote was for the film To the Wonder, which he gave 3.5 out of 4 stars in a review for the Chicago Sun-Times. It was posthumously published on April 6, 2013. In July 2013, a previously unpublished review of the film Computer Chess appeared on Ebert's website. The review had been written in March but had remained unpublished until the film's wide-release date. Matt Zoller Seitz, the editor for Ebert's website, confirmed that there were other unpublished reviews that would be eventually uploaded to the website. A second review, for The Spectacular Now, was published in August 2013.
Ebert and Siskel were known for their many appearances on late night talk shows including appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman sixteen times and The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson fifteen times. They also appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Arsenio Hall Show, Howard Stern, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In 1982, 1983, and 1985, Ebert, along with Siskel, appeared as themselves on Saturday Night Live. For their first two appearances, they reviewed sketches from that night's telecast and reviewed sketches from the "SNL Film Festival" for their last appearance.
In 1991, Ebert, along with Siskel, appeared in a segment on the children's television series Sesame Street entitled "Sneak Peak Previews" (a parody of Sneak Previews). In the segment, the critics instruct the hosts Oscar the Grouch and Telly Monster on how their thumbs up/thumbs down rating system works. Oscar asks if there could be a thumbs sideways ratings, and goads the two men into an argument about whether or not would be acceptable, as Ebert likes the idea, but Siskel does not. The two were also seen that same year in the show's celebrity version of "Monster in the Mirror". In 2004, Ebert appeared in the Sesame Street franchise's direct-to-video special A Celebration of Me, Grover, delivering a review of the Monsterpiece Theater segment of "The King and I".
In 1995, Ebert and Siskel guest-starred on an episode of the animated TV series The Critic. In the episode, Siskel and Ebert split and each wants protagonist Jay Sherman, a fellow movie critic, as his new partner. The episode is a parody of the film Sleepless in Seattle. The following year, Ebert appeared in Pitch, a documentary by Canadian filmmakers Spencer Rice and Kenny Hotz. He made an appearance as himself in a 1997 episode of the television series Early Edition, which took place in Chicago. In the episode, Ebert consoles a young boy who is depressed after he sees a character called Bosco the Bunny die in a movie.
In 1999, Ebert founded his own film festival, Ebertfest, in his hometown, Champaign, Illinois.
In 2003, Ebert made a cameo appearance in the film Abby Singer. On May 4, 2010, Ebert was announced by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences as the Webby Person of the Year, having taken to the Internet following his battle with cancer. On October 22, 2010, Ebert appeared on camera with Robert Osborne on the Turner Classic Movies network during the network's "The Essentials" series. Ebert chose the films Sweet Smell of Success and The Lady Eve to be shown.
For many years, on the day of the Academy Awards ceremony, Ebert appeared with Roeper on the live pre-awards show, An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Arrivals. This aired for over a decade, usually prior to the awards ceremony show, which also featured red carpet interviews and fashion commentary. They also used to appear on the post-awards show entitled An Evening at the Academy Awards: The Winners, produced and aired by the ABC-owned KABC-TV in Los Angeles.
Ebert was one of the principal critics featured in Gerald Peary's 2009 documentary film For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. He is shown discussing the dynamics of appearing with Gene Siskel on the 1970s show Coming to a Theatre Near You, which was the predecessor of Sneak Previews on Chicago PBS station WTTW. He also expressed his approval of the proliferation of young people writing film reviews today on the internet.
Ebert provided DVD audio commentaries for several films, including Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Dark City, Floating Weeds, Crumb, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Ebert was also interviewed by Central Park Media for an extra feature on the DVD release of the anime film Grave of the Fireflies. A bio-documentary about Ebert, called Life Itself, was released in 2014.
Though not making a personal appearance, an honorary effigy of Ebert co-starred in the 1998 reimagined version of Godzilla, played by actor Michael Lerner as New York City Mayor Ebert.
Ebert described his critical approach to films as "relative, not absolute"; he reviewed a film for what he thought it would be to its prospective audience, yet always with at least some consideration as to its value as a whole. He awarded four stars to films of the highest quality, and generally a half star to those of the lowest, unless he considered the film—for example, Death Wish II—to be "artistically inept and morally repugnant," in which case it received no stars.
When you ask a friend if Hellboy is any good, you're not asking if it's any good compared to Mystic River, you're asking if it's any good compared to The Punisher. And my answer would be, on a scale of one to four, if Superman is four, then Hellboy is three and The Punisher is two. In the same way, if American Beauty gets four stars, then The United States of Leland clocks in at about two.
Metacritic later noted that Ebert tended to give more lenient ratings than most critics. His average film rating was 71%, if translated into a percentage, compared to 59% for the site as a whole. Of his reviews, 75% were positive and 75% of his ratings were better than his colleagues. Ebert had acknowledged in 2008 that he gave higher ratings on average than other critics, though he said this was in part because he considered a rating of 3 out of 4 stars to be the general threshold for a film to get a "thumbs up." Although Ebert rarely wrote outright-scathing reviews, he had a reputation for writing memorable ones for the films he really disliked, such as North.
Ebert emphasized that his star ratings had little meaning if not considered in the context of the review itself. Occasionally, Ebert's star rating may have seemed at odds with his written opinion. Ebert acknowledged one such case in his review of Basic Instinct 2, which he gave 1.5 stars, and about which he wrote "I cannot recommend the movie, but ... why the hell can't I? Just because it's godawful? What kind of reason is that of staying away from a movie? Godawful and boring, that would be a reason." In his review of The Manson Family, Ebert gave the film three stars for achieving what it set out to do, but admitted that did not count as a recommendation per se. He similarly gave the Adam Sandler–starring remake of The Longest Yard a positive rating of three stars, but in his review, which he wrote soon after attending the Cannes Film Festival, he recommended readers not to see the film because they had access to more satisfying cinematic experiences. He declined to give a star rating to The Human Centipede, arguing that the rating system was "unsuited" to such a film: "Is the movie good? Is it bad? Does it matter? It is what it is and occupies a world where the stars don't shine."
Ebert's reviews were also characterized by what has been called "dry wit." In August 2005, after Rob Schneider insulted Los Angeles Times movie critic Patrick Goldstein (who had criticized Schneider's film Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo) by commenting that Goldstein was unqualified because he had never won the Pulitzer Prize, Ebert intervened by stating that, as a Pulitzer winner, he was qualified to review the film, and bluntly told Schneider, "Your movie sucks." He later used this phrase as a title for one of his books. Ebert and Schneider would later reconcile regarding this matter.
Ebert often included personal anecdotes in his reviews when he considered them relevant. He occasionally wrote reviews in the forms of stories, poems, songs, scripts, open letters, or imagined conversations. He wrote many essays and articles exploring in depth the field of film criticism. Will Sloan argued that the reason for Ebert's popularity was that he struck a balance between being respected among film scholars and appealing to a wide audience. For example, he noted how Ebert and Siskel may have given "thumbs up/thumbs down" verdicts on their show, but they also used the show to promote foreign and independent cinema.
Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, wrote of how Ebert had influenced his writing: "I noticed how much Ebert could put across in a limited space. He didn’t waste time clearing his throat. 'They meet for the first time when she is in her front yard practicing baton-twirling,' begins his review of Badlands. Often, he managed to smuggle the basics of the plot into a larger thesis about the movie, so that you don’t notice the exposition taking place: 'Broadcast News is as knowledgeable about the TV news-gathering process as any movie ever made, but it also has insights into the more personal matter of how people use high-pressure jobs as a way of avoiding time alone with themselves.' The reviews start off in all different ways, sometimes with personal confessions, sometimes with sweeping statements. One way or another, he pulls you in. When he feels strongly, he can bang his fist in an impressive way. His review of Apocalypse Now ends thus: 'The whole huge grand mystery of the world, so terrible, so beautiful, seems to hang in the balance.'
In his appearances on The Howard Stern Show, he was frequently challenged to defend his ratings. Ebert stood by his opinions with a couple notable exceptions: when Stern pointed out that Ebert had given The Godfather Part II a three-star rating in 1974, but had subsequently given The Godfather Part III three and a half stars. Ebert later added The Godfather Part II to his "Great Movies" list in October 2008 stating that his original review has often been cited as proof of his "worthlessness" but he still had not changed his mind and would not change a word of his original review. He also originally gave a negative review to Stanley Kubrick's horror classic The Shining, stating that it was hard to connect with any of the characters. He subsequently added it to his "Great Movies" list. When reviewing the 2009 remake of The Last House on the Left, Ebert noted how he had given the controversial 1972 original three and a half stars and declined to make a comparison between the two versions: "I wrote that original 'Last House' review 37 years ago. I am not the same person. I am uninterested in being 'consistent'."
In an essay looking back at his first twenty-five years as a film critic, Ebert wrote:
If I had to make a generalization, I would say that many of my favorite movies are about good people... Casablanca is about people who do the right thing. The Third Man is about people who do the right thing and can never speak to one another as a result... Not all good movies are about good people. I also like movies about bad people who have a sense of humor. Orson Welles, who does not play either of the good people in The Third Man, has such a winning way, such witty dialogue, that for a scene or two we almost forgive him his crimes. Of the other movies I love, some are simply about the joy of physical movement. When Gene Kelly splashes through Singin' in the Rain, when Judy Garland follows the yellow brick road, when Fred Astaire dances on the ceiling, when John Wayne puts the reins in his teeth and gallops across the mountain meadow, there is a purity and joy that cannot be resisted. In Equinox Flower, a Japanese film by the old master Yasujiro Ozu, there is this sequence of shots: A room with a red teapot in the foreground. Another view of the room. The mother folding clothes. A shot down a corridor with a mother crossing it at an angle, and then a daughter crossing at the back. A reverse shot in the hallway as the arriving father is greeted by the mother and daughter. A shot as the father leaves the frame, then the mother, then the daughter. A shot as the mother and father enter the room, as in the background the daughter picks up the red pot and leaves the frame. This sequence of timed movement and cutting is as perfect as any music ever written, any dance, any poem.
In 1989, Ebert argued for the aesthetic values of black-and-white photography and against colorization, stating:
Black-and-white movies present the deliberate absence of color. This makes them less realistic than color films (for the real world is in color). They are more dreamlike, more pure, composed of shapes and forms and movements and light and shadow. Color films can simply be illuminated. Black-and-white films have to be lighted...Black and white is a legitimate and beautiful artistic choice in motion pictures, creating feelings and effects that cannot be obtained any other way.
He championed animation, particularly the films of Hayao Miyazaki. In his review of Princess Mononoke, he wrote: "I go to the movies for many reasons. Here is one of them. I want to see wondrous sights not available in the real world, in stories where myth and dreams are set free to play. Animation opens that possibility, because it is freed from gravity and the chains of the possible. Realistic films show the physical world; animation shows its essence. Animated films are not copies of 'real movies,' are not shadows of reality, but create a new existence in their own right." He concluded his review of Ratatouille by writing: "Every time an animated film is successful, you have to read all over again about how animation isn't 'just for children' but 'for the whole family,' and 'even for adults going on their own.' No kidding!"
Ebert indicated that his favorite film was Citizen Kane, joking, "That's the official answer," although he preferred to emphasize it as "the most important" film. He insinuated that his real favorite film was La Dolce Vita. He said seeing The Third Man cemented his love of cinema: "This movie is on the altar of my love for the cinema. I saw it for the first time in a little fleabox of a theater on the Left Bank in Paris, in 1962, during my first $5 a day trip to Europe. It was so sad, so beautiful, so romantic, that it became at once a part of my own memories -- as if it had happened to me." His favorite actor was Robert Mitchum, and his favorite actress was Ingrid Bergman. He also considered Buster Keaton, Yasujiro Ozu, Robert Altman, Werner Herzog, and Martin Scorsese to be his favorite directors. He expressed his general distaste for "top-10" lists, and all movie lists in general, but nevertheless contributed a top-10 list to the 2012 Sight and Sound Critics' poll. Listed alphabetically, those films were 2001: A Space Odyssey; Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Apocalypse Now; Citizen Kane; La Dolce Vita; The General; Raging Bull; Tokyo Story; The Tree of Life; and Vertigo. His favorite Bond film was Goldfinger (1964), and he later added it to his "Great Movies" list.
Ebert compiled "best of the year" movie lists beginning in 1967 until 2012, thereby helping provide an overview of his critical preferences. His top choices were:
Ebert revisited and sometimes revised his opinions. After ranking E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial third on his 1982 list, it was the only movie from that year to appear on his later "Best Films of the 1980s" list (where it also ranked third). He made similar reevaluations of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Ran (1985). Three Colours trilogy (Blue (1993), White (1994), and Red (also 1994)), and Pulp Fiction (1994) originally ranked second and third on Ebert's 1994 list; both were included on his "Best Films of the 1990s" list, but their order had reversed.
In 2006, Ebert noted his own "tendency to place what I now consider the year's best film in second place, perhaps because I was trying to make some kind of point with my top pick," adding, "In 1968, I should have ranked 2001 above The Battle of Algiers. In 1971, McCabe & Mrs. Miller was better than The Last Picture Show. In 1974, Chinatown was probably better, in a different way, than Scenes from a Marriage. In 1976, how could I rank Small Change above Taxi Driver? In 1978, I would put Days of Heaven above An Unmarried Woman. And in 1980, of course, Raging Bull was a better film than The Black Stallion ... although I later chose Raging Bull as the best film of the entire decade of the 1980s, it was only the second-best film of 1980 ... am I the same person I was in 1968, 1971, or 1980? I hope not."
Since Ebert died, his website has continued the practice, with the site's primary contributors each offering individual top-10 lists, with their rankings combined into a communal top-10 list.
Ebert was often critical of the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system (MPAA). His main arguments were that they were too strict on sex and profanity, too lenient on violence, secretive with their guidelines, inconsistent in applying them and not willing to consider the wider context and meaning of the film. He advocated replacing the NC-17 rating with separate ratings for pornographic and nonpornographic adult films.
Ebert also frequently lamented that cinemas outside major cities are "booked by computer from Hollywood with no regard for local tastes," making high-quality independent and foreign films virtually unavailable to most American moviegoers.
Some horror movie fans accused Ebert of elitism and prejudice against the horror genre, especially because of his dismissive comments about "Dead Teenager Movies." In 2007, Ebert responded to a question from a horror movie reviewer by saying that he did not disparage horror movies as a whole. He wrote that he drew a distinction between films like Nosferatu and The Silence of the Lambs, which he regarded as "masterpieces," and those that had no content other than teenagers being killed. In his review of The Exorcist, he wrote that "I’ve always preferred a generic approach to film criticism; I ask myself how good a movie is of its type. The Exorcist is one of the best movies of its type ever made."
Ebert occasionally accused some films of having an unwholesome political agenda, such as his assertion that the film Dirty Harry (1971) had a fascist moral position. He was wary of films passed off as art, which he saw as lurid and sensational. He leveled this charge against such films as The Night Porter (1974).
Ebert commented on films using his Catholic upbringing as a point of reference, and was critical of films he believed were grossly ignorant of or insulting to Catholicism, such as Stigmata (1999) and Priest (1994). He also gave favorable reviews of controversial films with themes or references to Jesus Christ and Catholicism, including The Passion of the Christ (2004), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and to Kevin Smith's religious satire Dogma (1999). Ebert was described as an agnostic in 2005, but preferred not being "pigeon-holed".
Writing in an online magazine Hazlitt about Ebert's reviews, Will Sloan argued that "[t]here were inevitably movies where he veered from consensus, but he was not provocative or idiosyncratic by nature." Examples of Ebert dissenting from other critics include his negative reviews of such celebrated films as Blue Velvet ("marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots"), A Clockwork Orange ("a paranoid right-wing fantasy masquerading as an Orwellian warning"), and The Usual Suspects ("To the degree that I do understand, I don't care").
He also gave a one-star review to the critically acclaimed Abbas Kiarostami film Taste of Cherry, which won the Palme d'Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Ebert later went on to add the film to a list of his most-hated movies of all time. He was dismissive of the 1988 Bruce Willis action film Die Hard ("inappropriate and wrongheaded interruptions reveal the fragile nature of the plot"), while his positive 3 out of 4 stars review of 1997's Speed 2: Cruise Control ("Movies like this embrace goofiness with an almost sensual pleasure") is one of only three positive reviews accounting for that film's 4% approval rating on the reviewer aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes (one of the two others having been written by his At the Movies co-star Gene Siskel).
Ebert was an admirer of director Werner Herzog, whom he supported through many years when Herzog's popularity had declined. He conducted an onstage public "conversation" with Herzog at the Telluride Film Festival in 2004, after a screening of Herzog's film Invincible at Roger Ebert's Overlooked Film Festival. Herzog dedicated his film Encounters at the End of the World (2008) to Ebert, and Ebert responded with a heartfelt public letter of gratitude. Herzog said he once exhorted Ebert to watch the television reality sitcom The Anna Nicole Show, featuring the former Playboy Playmate, so he could gain a better understanding of the decline in American culture. Ebert did watch it.
Ebert was also an advocate and supporter of Asian-American cinema, famously coming to the defense of the cast and crew of Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) during a Sundance Film Festival screening when a white member of the audience asked how Asians could be portrayed in such a negative light and how a film so empty and amoral could be made for Asian-Americans and Americans. Ebert responded that "nobody would say such a thing to a bunch of white filmmakers: How could you do this to 'your people'? ... Asian-American characters have the right to be whoever the hell they want to be. They do not have to represent 'their people'!" He was a supporter of the film after the incident at Sundance, and also supported a number of Asian-American films, having them also screen at his film festival (such as Eric Byler's Charlotte Sometimes).
Ebert was a strong advocate for Maxivision 48, in which the movie projector runs at 48 frames per second, as compared to the usual 24 frames per second. He was opposed to the practice whereby theaters lower the intensity of their projector bulbs in order to extend the life of the bulb, arguing that this has little effect other than to make the film harder to see. Ebert was skeptical of the resurgence of 3D effects in film, which he found unrealistic and distracting.
In 2005, Ebert opined that video games are not art, and are inferior to media created through authorial control, such as film and literature, stating, "video games can be elegant, subtle, sophisticated, challenging and visually wonderful," but "the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art." This resulted in negative reaction from video game enthusiasts, such as writer Clive Barker, who defended video games as an art form. Ebert wrote a further piece in response to Barker. Ebert maintained his position in 2010, but conceded that he should not have expressed this skepticism without being more familiar with the actual experience of playing them. He admitted that he barely played video games: "I have played Cosmology of Kyoto which I enormously enjoyed, and Myst for which I lacked the patience."
At age 50, Ebert married trial attorney Charlie "Chaz" Hammelsmith (formerly Chaz Hammel-Smith) in 1992. He explained in his memoir, Life Itself, that he did not want to marry before his mother died, as he was afraid of displeasing her. In a July 2012 blog entry titled "Roger loves Chaz," Ebert wrote, "She fills my horizon, she is the great fact of my life, she has my love, she saved me from the fate of living out my life alone, which is where I seemed to be heading." Chaz Ebert became vice president of the Ebert Company and has emceed Ebertfest.
Ebert was a recovering alcoholic, having quit drinking in 1979. He was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous and had written some blog entries on the subject. Ebert dated Oprah Winfrey and was a longtime friend of hers. Winfrey credited him with persuading her to syndicate The Oprah Winfrey Show, which became the highest-rated talk show in American television history. He was also friends with film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, and considered the book Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide (final update in 2014) to be the standard of film guide books.
A supporter of the Democratic Party, Ebert publicly urged leftist filmmaker Michael Moore to give a politically charged acceptance speech at the Academy Awards: "I'd like to see Michael Moore get up there and let 'em have it with both barrels and really let loose and give them a real rabble-rousing speech." During a 1996 panel at the University of Colorado Boulder's Conference on World Affairs, Ebert coined the Boulder Pledge, by which he vowed never to purchase anything offered through the result of an unsolicited email message, or to forward chain emails or mass emails to others. Ebert endorsed Barack Obama for re-election as president in 2012, citing the Affordable Care Act as one important reason for his support of Obama.
Ebert was critical of intelligent design, and stated that people who believe in either creationism or New Age beliefs such as crystal healing or astrology are not qualified to be president. Ebert also expressed disbelief in pseudoscientific or supernatural claims in general, calling them "woo-woo," though he has argued that reincarnation is possible from a "scientific, rationalist point of view."
Discussing his beliefs, in 2009, Ebert wrote that he did not "want to provide a category for people to apply to [him]" because he "would not want [his] convictions reduced to a word," and stated, "I have never said, although readers have freely informed me I am an atheist, an agnostic, or at the very least a secular humanist – which I am." In the same blog entry, he also said, "I am not a believer, not an atheist, not an agnostic. I am still awake at night, asking how?[a] I am more content with the question than I would be with an answer." In March 2013, he wrote, "I support freedom of choice. My choice is to not support abortion, except in cases of a clear-cut choice between the lives of the mother and child. A child conceived through incest or rape is innocent and deserves the right to be born." He also stated, "I consider myself Catholic, lock, stock, and barrel, with this technical loophole: I cannot believe in God. I refuse to call myself an atheist, however, because that indicates too great a certainty about the unknowable". He had previously identified as Catholic in his reviews of movies about Jesus, most notably in his review of Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.
He wrote, "I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."
On April 25, 2011, he achieved one of his long-time goals: winning one of the weekly cartoon-caption contests in The New Yorker after more than 100 attempts.
In early 2002, Ebert was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer which was successfully removed in February 2002. In 2003, he underwent surgery for cancer in his salivary gland, which was followed up by radiation therapy. He was again diagnosed with cancer in 2006. In June of that year, he had surgery to remove cancerous tissue near his right jaw. A week later he had a life-threatening complication when his carotid artery burst near the surgery site. He was confined to bed rest and was unable to speak, eat, or drink for a time, necessitating the use of a feeding tube.
The complications kept Ebert off the air for an extended period. Ebert made his first public appearance since mid-2006 at Ebertfest on April 25, 2007. He was unable to speak, instead communicating through his wife. He returned to reviewing on May 18, 2007, when three of his reviews were published in print. In July 2007, he revealed that he was still unable to speak. Ebert adopted a computerized voice system to communicate, eventually using a copy of his own voice created from his recordings by CereProc. In March 2010, his health trials and new computerized voice were featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Ebert later proposed a test to determine the realism of a synthesized voice.
Ebert underwent further surgery in January 2008 to try to restore his voice and address the complications from his previous surgeries. On April 1, Ebert announced his speech had not been restored. Ebert underwent further surgery in April 2008 after fracturing his hip in a fall. By 2011, Ebert was using a prosthetic chin to hide some of the damage done by his many chin, mouth, and throat surgeries.
In December 2012, Ebert was hospitalized due to the fractured hip, which was subsequently determined to be the result of cancer.
Four years before his death, Ebert wrote:
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear. I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.
On April 4, 2013, Ebert died at age 70 at a hospital in Chicago, shortly before he was set to return to his home and enter hospice care. Reaction came from celebrities both in and out of the entertainment industry. Then-President Barack Obama wrote, "Roger was the movies ... [he could capture] the unique power of the movies to take us somewhere magical. ... The movies won't be the same without Roger." Steven Spielberg stated that Ebert's "reviews went far deeper than simply thumbs up or thumbs down. He wrote with passion through a real knowledge of film and film history, and in doing so, helped many movies find their audiences. ... [He] put television criticism on the map." Martin Scorsese released a statement saying, "The death of Roger Ebert is an incalculable loss for movie culture and for film criticism. And it's a loss for me personally ... there was a professional distance between us, but then I could talk to him much more freely than I could to other critics. Really, Roger was my friend. It's that simple." Robert Redford called Ebert "one of the great champions of freedom of artistic expression" and said, "His personal passion for cinema was boundless, and that is sure to be his legacy for generations to come." Christopher Nolan said of Ebert, "He never became jaded… even while bringing a very thoughtful critical eye."
Hundreds of people attended the funeral Mass held at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral on April 8, 2013, where Ebert was celebrated as a film critic, newspaperman, advocate for social justice, and husband. Father Michael Pfleger concluded the service with "the balconies of heaven are filled with angels singing 'Thumbs Up' ".
A nearly-three-hour public tribute, entitled Roger Ebert: A Celebration of Life, was held on April 11, 2013, at the Chicago Theatre. It featured in-person remembrances, video testimonials, video and film clips, and gospel choirs, and was, according to the Chicago Tribune's Mark Caro, "a laughter- and sorrow-filled send-off from the entertainment and media worlds."
In September 2013, organizers in Champaign, Illinois, announced plans to raise $125,000 to build a life-size bronze statue of Ebert in the town, which was unveiled in front of the Virginia Theatre at Ebertfest on April 24, 2014. The composition was selected by his widow, Chaz Ebert, and depicts Ebert sitting in the middle of three theater seats giving a "thumbs up."
The 2013 Toronto International Film Festival opened with a video tribute of Ebert at Roy Thomson Hall during the world premiere of the WikiLeaks-based film The Fifth Estate. Ebert had been an avid supporter of the festival since its inception in the 1970s. Chaz was in attendance to accept a plaque on Roger's behalf.
At the 86th Academy Awards ceremony, Ebert was included in the in memoriam montage, a rare honor for a film critic.
In 2014, the documentary Life Itself was released. Director Steve James, whose films had been widely advocated by Ebert, started making the documentary while Ebert was still alive. Martin Scorsese served as an executive producer. The film studies Ebert's life and career, while also filming Ebert during his final months, and includes interviews with his family and friends. It was universally praised by critics. It has a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Werner Herzog told Entertainment Weekly that Ebert was "a soldier of the cinema": “I always loved Roger for being the good soldier, not only the good soldier of cinema, but he was a wounded soldier who for years in his affliction held out and plowed on and soldiered on and held the outpost that was given up by almost everyone: The monumental shift now is that intelligent, deep discourse about cinema has been something that has been vanishing over the last maybe two decades...I've always tried to be a good soldier of cinema myself, so of course since he’s gone, I will plow on, as I have plowed on all my life, but I will do what I have to do as if Roger was looking over my shoulder. And I am not gonna disappoint him.”
Ebert was inducted as a laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois. In 2001, the governor of Illinois awarded him the state's highest honor, the Order of Lincoln, in the area of performing arts. In 2016, Ebert was inducted into the Chicago Literary Hall of Fame.
The website RogerEbert.com contains an archive of every review Ebert wrote, as well as many essays and opinion pieces. The site, now operated by Ebert Digital (a partnership between Chaz and friend Josh Golden), continues to publish new material written by a group of critics who were selected by Ebert before his death.
Ebert received many awards during his long and distinguished career as a film critic and television host. He was the first film critic to ever win a Pulitzer Prize, receiving the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1975  while working for the Chicago Sun-Times, "for his film criticism during 1974".
In 2003, Ebert was honored by the American Society of Cinematographers winning a Special Achievement Award. In 2005, Ebert received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work on television. His star is located at 6834 Hollywood Blvd. In 2009, Ebert received the Directors Guild of America Award's for Honorary Life Member Award. In 2010, Ebert received the Webby Award for Person of the Year.
In 2007, Ebert was honored by the Gotham Awards receiving a tribute and award for his lifetime contributions to independent film.
On May 15, 2009, Ebert was honored by the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival by the renaming of its conference room, "The Roger Ebert Conference Center." Martin Scorsese joined Ebert and his wife Chaz at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
|1979||Chicago Emmy Awards||Outstanding Special Program||Sneak Previews||Won|
|1984||Primetime Emmy Award||Outstanding Informational Series||At the Movies||Nominated|
|1987||Siskel & Ebert & the Movies||Nominated|
|1989||Daytime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Special Class Program||Nominated|
|1992||Primetime Emmy Awards||Outstanding Informational Series||Nominated|
|2005||Chicago Emmy Awards||Silver Circle Award||—||Won|
Each year from 1986 to 1998, Ebert published Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion (retitled Roger Ebert's Video Companion for its last five installments), which collected all of his movie reviews to that point. From 1999 to 2013 (except in 2008), Ebert instead published Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook, a collection of all of his movie reviews from the previous two and a half years (for example, the 2011 edition, ISBN 978-0-7407-9769-9, covers January 2008 – July 2010.) Both series also included yearly essays, interviews, and other writings. He also wrote the following books:
I always worked on newspapers. Harold Holmes, the father of my best friend Hal, was an editor at The News-Gazette, and took us down to the paper. A linotype operator set my byline in lead, and I used a stamp pad to imprint everything with "By Roger Ebert." I was electrified. I wrote for the St. Mary's grade school paper. Nancy Smith and I were co-editors of the Urbana High School Echo. At Illinois, I published "Spectator," a liberal weekly, my freshman year, and then sold it and went over to The Daily Illini. But that was after my father's death.
In the Spring of 1997, I did a guest appearance on the show, consoling a little boy who was depressed that Bosco the Bunny had died.
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