Without a doubt, Roger Ebert is the best and most influential populist film critic in the world.
With a clear writing style that never condescends to the reader (The filmmaker on the other hand…), Ebert discusses the quality of a film on an everyman level, never dipping into too esoteric film theory. In the process, he has made critiques accessible to the average reader and has set the mold for most film writers who have followed. Unfortunately, several bouts with cancer over the past few years have slowed, and in some cases temporarily stopped, his prestigious output. But all of that is about to change.
Earlier this week, Ebert celebrated his 41st anniversary as a film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times by announcing on his website that his most recent round of health issues was nearly over and that he would be returning to his film reviewing duties by the end of the month, just after he hosts his annual Overlooked Film Festival, which opens on the 23rd.
He made the announcement with the wit he has continued to show through his long ordeal, by asking readers “Are you as bored with my health as I am?” He goes on to briefly report on his latest round of surgery and he can’t wait to have the whole ordeal put behind him. “I am still cancer-free, and not ready to think about more surgery at this time. I should be content with the abundance I have.”
Ebert’s Overlooked Film Fest always features a lineup of interesting films and it is only its close proximity to the Philadelphia Film Festival that keeps me from schlepping out to Champaign-Urbana, Illinois to spend a few days taking in what he has to offer. For the uninitiated, the films at Ebert’s festival are handpicked by him based on just two criteria- he thinks deserve critical reappraisal or just wider exposure.
This year’s crop of films is no exception ranging from Josef von Sternberg’s Underworld (1927) to recent films like John Turturro’s karaoke musical Romance & Cigarettes and the indie drama Shotgun Stories. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he has included Ang Lee’s superhero flick Hulk to the lineup, a film that I admire for its ambition, even though it never fully achieves what it tried to do. No surprise is the inclusion of Tarsem Singh’s 2000 film The Cell, as Ebert was one of the very few positive voices when the movie was released.
You can check out the complete lineup at the festival’s website.