Roger Ebert's Twenty Best Reviews

Roger Ebert was anything but your stereotypical snobbish film critic; he was a man who would review anything. He was also what some have called "a stealth feminist", though perhaps he was less stealth than he appeared. Though he's been praised for his amazing take-downs, Ebert also had a way of delicately lifting up movies that made you feel light inside to read about them. Here are some of his best reviews of the worst and best reviews of the best.

1. On Gone With the Wind:

"[Rhett Butler] tells Scarlett in a key early scene, 'You need kissing badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed, and often, and by someone who knows how.' For 'kissed,' substitute the word you're thinking of." [June 1998]

2. On Dances With Wolves:

"[It] has the kind of vision and ambition that is rare in movies today. It is not a formula movie, but a thoughtful, carefully observed story. It is a Western at a time when the Western is said to be dead. It asks for our imagination and sympathy. It takes its time, three hours, to unfold. It is a personal triumph for Kevin Costner, the intelligent young actor of Field of Dreams, who directed the film and shows a command of story and of visual structure that is startling; this movie moves so confidently and looks so good it seems incredible that it's a directorial debut." [November 1990]

3. On Valentine's Day:

"Valentine's Day is being marketed as a Date Movie. I think it's more of a First-Date Movie. If your date likes it, do not date that person again. And if you like it, there may not be a second date." [February 2010]

4. On Pirates of the Caribbean 4:

"At least no movie has yet been inspired by 'It's a Small World.'" [May 2011]

5. On Almost Famous:

"Oh, what a lovely film. I was almost hugging myself while I watched it." [September 2000]

6. On How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days

"Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson star. I neglected to mention that, maybe because I was trying to place them in this review's version of the Witness Protection Program. If I were taken off the movie beat and assigned to cover the interior design of bowling alleys, I would have some idea of how they must have felt as they made this film." [February 2003]

7. On Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

"As faithful readers will know, I have a few cult followers who enjoy my reviews of bad movies. These have been collected in the books I Hated, Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie; Your Movie Sucks, and A Horrible Experience of Unendurable Length. This movie is so bad, it couldn't even inspire a review worthy of one of those books. I have my standards." [February 2012]

8. On Elephant:

"The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. ‘Wouldn't you say,' she asked, ‘that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?' No, I said, I wouldn't say that. ‘But what about Basketball Diaries?' she asked. ‘Doesn't that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?' The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it's unlikely the Columbine killers saw it. The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. ‘Events like this,' I said, ‘if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn't have messed with me. I'll go out in a blaze of glory.'

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of ‘explaining' them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy." [November 2003]

9. On A Lot Like Love:

"To call A Lot like Love dead in the water is an insult to water." [April 2005]

10. On Minority Report:

"American movies are in the midst of a transition period. Some directors place their trust in technology. Spielberg, who is a master of technology, trusts only story and character, and then uses everything else as a workman uses his tools. He makes Minority Report with the new technology; other directors seem to be trying to make their movies from it. This film is such a virtuoso high-wire act, daring so much, achieving it with such grace and skill. Minority Report reminds us why we go to the movies in the first place." [June 2002]

11. On Speed:

"Films like Speed belong to the genre I call Bruised Forearm Movies, because you're always grabbing the arm of the person sitting next to you. Done wrong, they seem like tired replays of old chase cliches. Done well, they're fun. Done as well as Speed, they generate a kind of manic exhilaration." [June 1994]

12. On the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory:

"Kids are not stupid. They are among the sharpest, cleverest, most eagle-eyed creatures on God's Earth, and very little escapes their notice. You may not have observed that your neighbor is still using his snow tires in mid-July, but every four-year-old on the block has, and kids pay the same attention to detail when they go to the movies. They don't miss a thing, and they have an instinctive contempt for shoddy and shabby work. I make this observation because nine out of ten children's movies are stupid, witless, and display contempt for their audiences, and that's why kids hate them....All of this is preface to a simple statement: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is probably the best film of its sort since The Wizard of Oz. It is everything that family movies usually claim to be, but aren't: Delightful, funny, scary, exciting, and, most of all, a genuine work of imagination. Willy Wonka is such a surely and wonderfully spun fantasy that it works on all kinds of minds, and it is fascinating because, like all classic fantasy, it is fascinated with itself." [January 1971]

13. On The Human Centipede:

"I am required to award stars to movies I review. This time, I refuse to do it. The star rating system is unsuited to this 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." [May 2010]

14. On Mad Money:

"I was noodling around Rotten Tomatoes, trying to determine who played the bank's security chief, and noticed the movie had not yet been reviewed by anybody. Hold on! In the "Forum" section for this movie, "islandhome" wrote at 7:58 a.m. Jan. 8: "review of this movie ... tonight i'll post." At 11:19 a.m. Jan. 10, "islandhome" was finally back with the promised review. It is written without capital letters, flush left like a poem, and I quote it verbatim, spelling and all:

hello sorry i slept when i got back
well it was kinda fun
it could never happen in the way it was portraid
but what ever its a movie
for the girls most will like it
and the men will not mind it much
i thought it was going to be kinda like how to beat the high cost of living
kinda the same them but not as much fun
ill give it a 4 0ut of 10

I read this twice, three times. I had been testing out various first sentences for my own review, but somehow the purity and directness of islandhome's review undercut me. It is so final. "for the girls most will like it/and the men will not mind it much." How can you improve on that? It's worthy of Charles Bukowski. ...The bottom line is some girls will like it, the men not so much, and I give it 1½ stars out of 4." [January 2008]

15. On the remake of Footloose:

"There's one thing to be said for a remake of a 1984 movie that uses the original's
screenplay. This 2011 version is so similar - sometimes song for song and line for line - that I was wickedly tempted to reprint my 1984 review, word for word. But That Would be Wrong." [October 2011]

16. On Once

"Once is the kind of film I've been pestered about ever since I started reviewing again. People couldn't quite describe it, but they said I had to see it. I had to. Well, I did. They were right." [December 2007]

17. On Sex and the City 2:

"Note: From my understanding of the guidelines of the MPAA Code and Ratings Administration, Samantha and Mr. Spirt have one scene that far, far surpasses the traditional MPAA limits for pumping and thrusting." [May 2010]

18. On Raise Your Voice:

"Terri (Hilary Duff)'s new roommate is Denise (Dana Davis), who plans to work hard for a scholarship, and resents [Duff] as a distraction. Sizing up Terri's wardrobe and her smile, she tells her: 'You're like some kind of retro Brady Buncher.' I hate it when a movie contains its own review." [October 2004]

19. On I Know What You Did Last Summer:

"The best shot in this film is the first one. Not a good sign... After the screening was over and the lights went up, I observed a couple of my colleagues in deep and earnest conversation, trying to resolve twists in the plot. They were applying more thought to the movie than the makers did. A critic's mind is a terrible thing to waste." [October 1997]

20. On Freddy Got Fingered:

"This movie doesn't scrape the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't the bottom of the barrel. This movie isn't below the bottom of the barrel. This movie doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence with barrels....The film is a vomitorium consisting of 93 minutes of Tom Green doing things that a geek in a carnival sideshow would turn down." [April 2001]

And as Ebert said in his last blog post, "So on this day of reflection I say again, thank you for going on this journey with me. I'll see you at the movies."

Related: Why Roger Ebert is the best [Feministe]