January 19, 2011

BOOKS: The Great Movies III, Roger Ebert (2010)

Every couple of weeks, Roger Ebert selects another film and writes another essay for his "Great Movies" series; every hundred essays, they get compiled into a book. Here's the third volume.

The principal question raised this time around is a simple one: Just how many truly great movies are there, anyway? There are moments in GM3 where Ebert acknowledges that he doesn't even much like the movie he's writing about, but is including it for reasons of cultural ubiquity (The Godfather Part II), historical significance (Triumph of the Will), or sheer age (the 1914 silent epic Cabiria). I shudder to think what depths he'll have to stoop to by the time the next hundred essays are compiled: "While The Break-Up is not a great movie in the traditional sense, it represents a career pinnacle for both Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, two stars whose careers must be understood to truly appreciate the cinema of the burgeoning 21st century."

(And when it comes to Triumph of the Will, "doesn't much like" is an understatement. "It is a terrible film," he writes, "paralyzingly dull, simpleminded, overlong, and not even 'manipulative,' because it is too clumsy to manipulate anyone but the true believer.")

He's including a greater number of recent movies than the earlier volumes did, movies for which a bit more historical perspective might be useful before elevating them to the canon (Pan's Labyrinth, Chop Shop), as well as titles which more obviously than ever show his odd quirks of taste (Dark City, for instance, which he has always loved more than any other critic).

Ebert is always an entertaining writer; who else would tell you that Withnail & I "conveys the experience of being drunk so well that the only way I could improve upon it would be to stand behind you and hammer your head with two-pound bags of frozen peas"? And making your way through the movies in the book would be an entertaining and informative film festival, but only if you've already seen the real classics from the first two volumes.

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