Roger Ebert reviewed thousands of films over the years, influencing moviegoers across the country with his uncomplicated, yet intelligent reviews that were breezy and often quotable. Along with fellow film critic Gene Siskel, Ebert, who died on Thursday at the age of 70, created and made famous the thumbs-up, thumbs-down style of reviews. Here are excerpts of some of his memorable reviews for both film classics as well as movie duds.
There are greater movies. More profound movies. Movies of greater artistic vision or artistic originality or political significance. There are other titles we would put above it on our lists of the best films of all time. But when it comes right down to the movies we treasure the most, when we are — let us imagine — confiding in the secrets of our heart to someone we think we may be able to trust, the conversations sooner or later comes around to the same seven words:
“I really love Casablanca.”
“I do too.”
“THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS,” 1991
If the movie were not so well made, indeed, it would be ludicrous. Material like this invites filmmakers to take chances and punishes them mercilessly when they fail.
James Cameron’s 194-minute, $200 million film of the tragic voyage is in the tradition of the great Hollywood epics. It is flawlessly crafted, intelligently constructed, strongly acted and spellbinding. If its story stays well within the traditional formulas for such pictures, well, you don’t choose the most expensive film ever made as your opportunity to reinvent the wheel.
“THE GODFATHER,” 1972
Although the movie is three hours long, it absorbs us so effectively it never has to hurry. There is something in the measured passage of time as Don Corleone hands over his reins of power that would have made a shorter, faster moving film unseemly. Even at this length, there are characters in relationships you can’t quite understand unless you’ve read the novel. Or perhaps you can, just by the way the characters look at each other.
“E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL,” 1982
This movie made my heart glad. It is filled with innocence, hope, and good cheer. It is also wickedly funny and exciting as hell. “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” is a movie like “The Wizard of Oz,” that you can grow up with and grow old with, and it won’t let you down.
“STAR WARS,” 1977
Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie. When the ESP people use a phrase like that, they’re referring to the sensation of the mind actually leaving the body and spiriting itself off to China or Peoria or a galaxy far, far away. When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it’s up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them.
As for Shaquille O’Neal, given his own three wishes the next time, he should go for a script, a director and an interesting character.
Ishtar is a truly dreadful film, a lifeless, massive, lumbering exercise in failed comedy. … This movie is a long, dry slog. It’s not funny, it’s not smart and it’s interesting only in the way a traffic accident is interesting.
“HEAVEN’S GATE,” 1980
It is so smoky, so dusty, so foggy, so unfocused and so brownish yellow that you want to try Windex on the screen.