Movies can transport you from your life for a little while, but did you ever let the movies transport you in life? Every country and virtually every way of life has been captured on film, so it’s rather irresistible to catch the travelling bug from the silver screen.
Today, let Rotten Tomatoes be your travel guide, as we present 10 places whose architecture, landscape, and beauty have given life to some famous movies in history. Navigate the cities below and fire up your wanderlust!
What is your top movie vacation spot?
News of Roger Ebert’s passing rippled through the community of film critics rapidly yesterday, and before the day was over, many memorial articles and essays had been published. We reached out to several of Ebert’s esteemed colleagues and collected their thoughtful tributes to celebrate his career and to illustrate precisely how influential he was.
“I can’t think about him as anything other than ‘Roger,’ even though I knew him just better than slightly, through the occasional e-mail exchange or seeing each other at film festivals. He’d be jammed into a row with the rest of the pale ghosts, all of us wielding pens and notebooks and attitudes. With Roger, the attitude was simple. He seemed to sit down in front of a screen with a blank canvas of expectation, as if saying to the filmmakers, ‘Show me.’ If the movie did, and it convinced him, and he was convinced of the rightness of what he was being shown, he would spread the word.”
Ty Burr, Boston Globe — Read his article here
“It is impossible to quantify the influence that Roger Ebert has had on anyone who cares even remotely about movies and movie criticism. But why limit it to such a narrow range of interest? Inside or outside the often insular, self-protective ranks of film critics, I can think of no writer who has commanded as wide a readership, or been more deeply invested in fostering a dialogue with that readership — a dialogue that overflowed freely into matters of art, science, religion, morality and politics. There was nothing Ebert couldn’t write about, just as there was seemingly no medium through which his work could not be transmitted.”
Justin Chang, Variety — Read his article here
“In 2010, I got to sit next to Ebert and his sunbeam of a wife, Chaz. We were seatmates at a Sundance Film Festival movie screening. We’d met years earlier covering the Oscars in Los Angeles and exchanged a couple of e-mails. While we waited for the lights to go down, a stream of old friends stopped by to say hello. New York film critic Harlan Jacobson paid his respects; so did a director of the Telluride Film Festival whose name I didn’t catch. Ebert was fully engaged. His eyes sparkled at the jokes, his mind devouring everything people threw at him. He communicated with hand gestures of Italian expressiveness, tilts of the head, dazzling smiles, skeptical squints. He would have made a fine silent-film actor. He wanted to know what I’d seen that impressed me, and, with Chaz adding a little running
commentary, we had a lovely, easygoing conversation about our favorites. It was as unforced as any coffee-shop chat between two movie lovers. If I had been honest about what I’d seen at Sundance that impressed me most, I would have blurted, ‘You.'”
Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Roger Ebert is the reason I became a film critic. He taught me that reviews are more than just mere opinion pieces, but a form of creative writing unto themselves, and convinced me to pursue this professionally. He respected his readers and established an incredibly personal conversation with them over nearly half a century of criticism, revealing little pieces of himself with every review.”
Peter DeBruge, Variety — Read his article here
“Whether he knew it or not, Roger Ebert was there for me at several key moments in my life. He inspired me by living the life he led and by facing illness and mortality with dignity and grace. I’m going to miss him, and so will everybody else who loves movies and enjoys engaging in the cultural conversation about them.”
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap — Read his article here
“I’m tempted to say that if Roger had never written a word, he’d be known for bringing people together. But the writing was what made Roger Roger. He wasn’t just generous with those close to him. He told everyone a lot about himself — sometimes, I think, more than he knew — in the words he published: his reviews, his op-ed pieces, his interviews, his blog, his memoir — even his tweets.”
Jim Emerson, Chicago Sun-Times — Read his article here
“It would be all too easy to position Roger’s passing as some sort of literal manifestation of the much-discussed ‘death’ of film criticism, but no one would object to that idea more than Roger himself, who believed passionately in criticism and was, even in his final days, taking measures to ensure the future of his RogerEbert.com and its army of regular contributors and ‘far-flung correspondents.’ As long as there are movies, and people who feel passionate enough to write about them, and places for them to do so, then Roger’s spirit will continue to flourish.”
Scott Foundas, Variety — Read his article here
“Roger Ebert outranked and outclassed all other movie critics. But he was always just Roger to the rest of us, as he was to his readers and TV viewers. He never tried to pull rank or bully others towards his point of view. If you cared about movies as much as he did, then he was always happy to discuss them with you. He wrote with enviable clarity and grace. Even when you disagreed with his opinions, you couldn’t help but admire how well he expressed them. Losing him feels like losing the best friend the movies ever had.”
Peter Howell, Toronto Star — Read his article here
“As a critic, what characterized Ebert above all was his accessibility. ‘A movie is not what it is about, but about how it is about it,’ he would write. That ‘law,’ repeated throughout his career, is the most useful credo for film-watching ever devised. What matters isn’t subject, he argued, but approach. The Farrelly brothers were just as capable of making a masterpiece as Ingmar Bergman. There’s a generosity and open-mindedness in that attitude that extends to fields beyond movies.”
Ben Kenigsberg, Time Out Chicago — Read his article here
“He loved movies. (His last written words: ‘I’ll see you at the movies.’) And he loved talking about them?in newspapers at first, on TV, and then, in his glorious and productive final years, on the Internet. I felt a not uncinematic frisson when, reading through his writing for Slate, I landed on his sign-off from the 2001 Movie Club: ‘I am departing at dawn,’ he wrote, ‘for a place where it will be hard to get online, but not, I hope, impossible and will try to check in again later.'”
Dan Kois, Slate — Read his article here
“But what I’ll remember most and love best about Roger Ebert was his playful side, and an infectious enthusiasm that was astonishingly alive after decades in a business in which it would have been easy ? and safe ? to be cynical… I’ll miss Roger Ebert, the Pulitzer prize-winning film critic. I’ll miss Roger, my friend, so much more.”
Christy Lemire, Slate — Read her article here
“He was the first movie critic most of us ever heard of, the Critic Next Door/Everyman with Everyman’s Tastes who shared a TV set with the seemingly snobbier Gene Siskel in the Golden Age of Film Reviewing. Roger Ebert turned his Chicago Sun-Times platform into a bully pulpit, arguing for better movies, better subtitling, better Oscar shows, and later in life, a better America and more civil debate.”
Roger Moore, Movie Nation — Read his article here
“There’s no way to say it without sounding slightly treacly, but Roger was pure. He wrote without guile, praised without hesitation and denounced without malice or scorn. It’s easier to remember him in praising mode, since he did so much of it — how he sustained his joyous delight remains a wonder of the movie world — but he could hurl thunderbolts too, and what he said or wrote was grounded in a lifetime of scholarship.”
Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal — Read his article here
“Others have written, and will continue to write, about Ebert’s extraordinary longevity and productivity as a critic, about his singular role in shepherding the tastes of American moviegoers, about his courage in the face of illness, about his importance to the city of Chicago. But what has always struck me about Ebert is the way he approached criticism not as a theorist but as an enthusiast. The movies he loved, he truly loved. And the movies he hated, he truly hated.”
Christopher Orr, The Atlantic — Read his article here
“Roger Ebert had a passion for the movies that was contagious — you’d read his reviews, or his essays on the classic films, and want to run out and see them again — or discover them for the first time, thanks to Roger. Never pretentious, always razor-sharp and insightful and often furiously funny, he wrote with clarity and grace. A man of generous spirit and tireless energy, he was the best kind of film critic: you always learned something reading him, and never felt excluded from the conversation. In fact, just the opposite: he invited you to engage — in his writing, and in the films he was writing about.”
Steven Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer — Read his article here
“A lot of critics today blame Siskel and Ebert for ‘dumbing down’ criticism and turning it into a matter of star ratings and whatnot. They’re wrong. S&E turned film criticism into a populist art form. They reached people who didn’t read Pauline Kael or Film Comment and made them consider movies as more than just a way to kill two hours. They were so entertaining to watch. I probably would have never chosen this career if it wasn’t for them. And Ebert’s reviews were a must-read, week in and week out. The man was a workhorse, yet it was rare to come across a hastily-written review. The first time I met him, I was completely starstruck, and he couldn’t have been nicer and friendlier. He truly was one of a kind, and he felt like family.”
Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald — Read his article here
“The only thing better than seeing movies with Roger in the screening room on Lake Street in Chicago was talking about movies with Roger in the studio on State Street in Chicago. Years into the job, I’d be sitting there, wondering when someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and tell me to get the hell off the set. To this day, I shake my head in wonder when I look back at all the time I spent with such a great and wonderful presence.”
Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times — Read his article here
“I feel this loss in my heart, not only as a fan and one of the many inspired writers, but as a colleague: In my earliest days on the beat, as a cub critic in Chicago, I made my way to the Lake Street Screening Room, where Ebert could be found in his favorite seat in the back row, left aisle. He loved to chat with anyone; I sometimes had to pinch myself. We talked about American Psycho, Road to Perdition, the varying quality of the pizzeria downstairs. Far from being all-encompassing, his film love was a conduit to a greater engagement with the world. I had no better role model.”
Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out New York — Read his article here
“Roger didn’t just see movies, he inhaled them. And even that wasn’t enough. He had to take each one on, in the ring of his criticism. Roger didn’t just write about movies. He couldn’t shut up about them. On the snowy streets at Sundance, where Roger was always experimenting with one of his new digital cameras, he’d still take the chance to tell me Blue Velvet was nowhere near as good as I thought it was. You could run into Roger anywhere and he’d start right in: ‘Did you see . . .?'”
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone — Read his article here
I have a distinctly joyful memory at seeing new Roger Ebert reviews after his long break at the end of 2006. “Thank God he’s back!” I thought. This was after the complications of his jaw surgery that took away his ability to speak, but the start of what may have been his most prolific period of writing. I didn’t always agree with his stance on a movie, but it was always worth reading what he had to say. And he really capitalized on the opportunities for communication on the internet. In addition to writing his reviews, he wrote on his blog and had a must-follow Twitter account. Ebert’s legacy will always loom large over anyone that’s writing about movies, and I don’t think anyone’s going to fill his shoes anytime soon.
-Matt Atchity, Editor-in-Chief
I don’t know what it is about Siskel & Ebert that hooked me the first time I saw their show on a Saturday evening. It’s just two guys arguing and discussing movies. It was entertaining and informative. Just as I liked to see how my favorite actors fared at the box office, I also liked to see how they fared with critics.
When I was looking for a name to call my movie review aggregation site, I was thinking “Thumbs Down” – as a tribute to the show. How cool would it be to have a big thumb squashing a bad movie? I was naive. Luckily, Ebert, Siskel, Disney and cybersquatters had already bought domain names for every permutation of “Two Thumbs Up.” I had to find a more obscure name — Rotten Tomatoes — and not have to face lawsuits by the show I revered.
I’ve only met him twice, but we’ve corresponded via email throughout the years. The first time I met him was at an event about online videos, and I think he was representing Yahoo! Internet Life magazine. What struck me immediately after our brief conversation was how enthusiastic and accepting of the internet he was. The second time was when we were at Cannes at one of those media parties; Chaz was with him.
He had always been very generous. He wrote about Rotten Tomatoes on Yahoo! Internet Life, the Chicago Sun-Times website, on his show, and even when he was on Jay Leno.
I feel grateful and privileged to have known him, a hero who has influenced me to watch movies and build movie websites. It’s a sad day. Condolences to his wife Chaz and their grandkids.
-Senh Duong, Rotten Tomatoes Founder
I’ve probably spent more hours reading Roger Ebert than any other writer. My love affair with his writing began in high school, when I pulled my parents’ copy of his Video Home Companion off a dusty shelf. Ebert had a way of writing about movies that was infectious, and his taste in movies was generous and accessible. Whether he was reviewing blockbusters or obscure foreign films, his writing was so nuanced and inviting that you could visualize specific moments with uncanny clarity; years later, when I finally got around to actually watching movies he’d reviewed, I was amazed at how similar they were to his descriptions. But above all, Ebert codified a philosophy of watching movies that’s been a guide for me throughout the years: “A film is not what it’s about, but how it’s about it.”
To make a long story short, I’m now a professional movie review reader, and I owe a lot to Roger Ebert. May he rest in peace.
-Tim Ryan, Senior Editor
My relationship with Mr. Ebert began when I was a kid sitting in front of a TV screen, wondering why he was speaking so passionately at that other gentleman about something as silly as movies. Back then, in the good old days of my softer, slightly less-formed skull, I just stared at the gorgeous big, glowing screen for laughs or something to do (unless I was watching the spaceship landing in E.T., which for some reason elicited such deep, bellowing screams of fear my parents said it was hard to imagine them coming from a little girl).
Siskel and Ebert reminded me of Bert and Ernie, so I liked them. But as new neurons formed in my brain and movies started to affect me more profoundly than the E.T. screams, the puzzle pieces fell into place. These guys were intelligent, articulate, and entertaining, just like the movies I enjoyed.
As I got older, I gravitated towards Ebert’s writing, which served as a blueprint for how to really look inside a film and discuss it through an emotional, technical, and historical lens. His love of movies never seemed to waver, which I am truly in awe of. Once I had to sit through Dave Matthews picking a coconut up his butt in an Adam Sandler movie, I seriously reconsidered the whole “professional critic” thing. The fact that Ebert did it for decades is a testament to a man in his element, making the world a smarter place.
And to make things better, he not only inspired me to keep learning and striving to be better informed and focused in my work, he also helped me figure out how to maximize the potential of my rice cooker at home (seriously, if you haven’t read The Pot and How to Use It, get thee to Amazon post-haste). Roger Ebert was such a bright star in this world, you didn’t even have to see him in person to bathe in his light. Thank you for the inspiration, Roger.
-Grae Drake, Senior Editor
I’ve played video games my entire life and, before joining Rotten Tomatoes, was set on a career in game criticism. Thus, I have had a
contentious interpretation of Roger Ebert, the man who, for whatever reason, took any chance to pillorize video games as a legitimate
medium. Ebert’s most infamous strikes lay in his 2005 review of Doom, and a combative 2010 blog post titled “Video games can never be
art” which featured lines like, “Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”
On this particular topic, I did not learn much from him.
On other topics, I did. The way he wrote — breathlessly consistent, his homespun wit instantly recognizable — suggested he held the most honest-working relationship between a critic and the words he/she put on paper that this business had to offer. He wrote what he felt, he felt what he
wrote. Ebert was multifaceted, offering long opinions on subjects nobody thought a man who had devoted his soul to cinema would have. I
disliked many of these opinions, but they were reminders of how complex we all are and, given the talent or forum, how much we may have to say.
Ebert had the most to say on Twitter, a second home he seemed to never leave. I was heavily involved with the Rotten Tomatoes Twitter account for several
years, and I closely studied Ebert on how to do it right.
The great lesson from Ebert came in 2006. You know where this is going: Losing the ability to speak, health never to be fully recovered. Life is tragic. So is fate. And rarely do the two collude to be this ironic. “Roger Ebert, the on-
air personality who revolutionized how we watched and made movies, has lost his voice.” But a man in full faith of his self is not lost for long. I
think Ebert took particular delight with the success of the internet, being an early supporter of Google search and a lifelong sci-fi fan. Ebert took to the web,
dominated Twitter and the blogosphere in a way that was surprising to no one, dominating the same way as with his lot on television.
Ultimately, Ebert cooled down the rhetoric on video games, conceding that while his opinion remained, he did not have the time,
will, nor experience with video games to deliver definitive arguments. Around the same time, his friend Martin Scorsese (who is producing a film
on Ebert’s life) shot Hugo in 3D, in his way claiming that a limit on what one could/should do (as Scorsese previously stated on 3D and digital) limits their own humanity.
Ebert began strictly as a writer and he died strictly writing. He could not have predicted the external pain of his final years, but emotionally
I could see he was the strongest he had ever been. And so, Roger Ebert’s parting lesson for me: Be open to new experiences, be humble enough to re-examine your own, be curious, steadfast, and philosophical, for all this is a means to be young forever.
-Alex Vo, Editor
While I haven’t kept up in recent years, I will always have fond memories of Mr. Ebert. It was expected nightly that my family would be tuned into “Sneak Previews,” and then “At the Movies,” on TV during dinner. Growing up, Siskel and Ebert were right there in the kitchen with us as we ate.
We all got excited about seeing the trailers and preview scenes for films we were looking forward to seeing (this was way before web instant magic). Hearing Siskel and Ebert discuss, debate and quarrel about each film provided more fun icing on the cake. So Siskel and Ebert really were pretty much like guests at our dinner table.
In anticipation of the Return of the Jedi episode of “At the Movies” in 1983, I fondly recall my brother and I specifically scheduling out the time to be home to watch it. Our parents were not allowed to schedule anything while the episode was on. No events, no activities and NO PHONE CALLS! We were flipping out when we realized the entire 30 minute episode would be devoted to RotJ. Nobody else was doing that at the time. We couldn’t get this type of media anywhere else.
And that “two thumbs up” became a huge catchphrase in modern vocabulary further stresses what a huge influence Siskel and Ebert have had on our entire culture.
I often debate critic opinion but I tended to agree with Ebert more than some others, so I felt an extra bit of kinship there. It always seemed to me that he had a very open mind, even when it came to films that may not be so critically acclaimed.
When Siskel passed, I was saddened. And now I’m even more saddened because both of our dinner guests from my youth are gone. RIP Roger. Two thumbs way up.
-Kerr Lordygan, Contributor
Most people age, but it takes a special sort to become an elder statesman. Roger Ebert will be remembered by most for his long career in film criticism. For the generation of writers that came up in the 1990s and 2000s, Roger has a special distinction. Ebert was way ahead of the rest of the mainstream in encouraging the new generation of online writers. Upcomingmovies.com was a website that I started in my apartment in Oshkosh as a way of organizing what I knew about new movies before their release so that my online friends wouldn’t have to see me in chatrooms reposting the same things ad infinitum. Roger Ebert was one of the site’s earliest proponents, but it wasn’t just one plug. When you were lucky enough to get Roger’s attention, he was lavish with his promotion. I went on to be quoted several times in Roger’s “Movie Answer Man” column, and was invited to be a V.I.P. guest at his Ebertfest in his hometown of Urbana-Champaign. My favorite memory of Roger, however, came when the “anime expert” didn’t show up for the planned discussion of Grave of the Fireflies at Roger’s 2nd Overlooked Film Festival in 2000. Roger asked me if I would join him on stage, and I said that I was honored, but I wasn’t sure how much of an “anime expert” I was. He said, “Well, you know what anime is.” Looking back now, I guess the point wasn’t so much that Roger needed an expert, but that he saw in me a member of the new generation, and he wanted to give me a chance. That’s what Roger meant to me, I think, and others of our generation. He was the established film writer who went out of his way to help us up the ladder, in a way that almost no one else among his peers ever did. I will also always watch out for the left aisle seat on the left aisle, second row from the back, at any film festival I ever attend. Everyone knows, that’s Roger’s seat.
-Greg Dean Schmitz, Contributor
Ebert began writing film reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1967. His fame grew when he teamed with Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel for Sneak Previews (later renamed Siskel & Ebert & the Movies); launched in 1975 as a local program in Chicago, it went national in 1977 on PBS and featured intelligent (and often contentious) discussions about new films. Each movie was rated with a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down,” and for many viewers, “two thumbs up” was considered a seal of cinematic quality. When Siskel died in 1999, Ebert continued the show with guest critics before teaming with fellow Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper in 2002; Ebert’s last appearance on the show was in 2006, when his illness made it difficult for him to speak.
Born in Urbana, IL in 1942, Ebert began his journalism career in his teens, working as a high school sports reporter for the News-Gazette Champaign-Urbana. He studied at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he would eventually edit the school’s campus paper, The Daily Illini. It was also where his first review was published — he critiqued La Dolce Vita, a movie that would become one of his favorites.
Ebert’s rise in popularity coincided with the auteurist “movie brats,” a group of filmmakers that included Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, and others; like those directors, Ebert championed unique and unconventional cinematic ideas while maintaining a healthy enthusiasm for more traditional Hollywood fare. In 1975, he was the first film critic to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
In 1970, Ebert wrote the screenplay for Russ Meyer’s exploitation classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the trashy story of a female rock band. In addition to his newspaper and television work, Ebert published lengthy columns on politics and personal reflections on the web. He also wrote a number of books; his annual Movie Yearbook collected his newspaper reviews, and he also devoted volumes to his “Great Movies” columns, his most scathing reviews (I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie), and occasionally, to non-cinematic subjects (including The Pot and How to Use It: The Mystery and Romance of the Rice Cooker). His autobiography, Life Itself: A Memoir, was published in 2011.
Ebert is survived by his wife Chaz.
For all of Roger Ebert’s reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, click here.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times — and now, At the Movies — is one of America’s best-known and most trusted film critics. Scott’s tenure with the Times began in 2000; prior to that, he was a book critic for Newsday, and contributed to a number of other publications. Beginning in 2006, he filled in for Roger Ebert on At the Movies; on Sept. 5, he and the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips took over as the hosts of the show, replacing Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz.
In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Scott shared some of his favorites (he particularly likes long movies and Italian films), and discussed the differences between appraising movies in print and on television, as well as what the new At the Movies has in store for audiences. (Be sure to check back next week, when we present Michael Phillips’ Five Favorite Films.)
I would say number one is probably Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, which I never get tired of. Even though parts of it are very grim and depressing, I think if there was a movie I would want to live in, it would be that. You know, if the world could be the Trevi Fountain in black and white, with Anita Ekberg holding a kitten on her head.
RT: As a newspaperman, don’t you kind of live in that world?
[Laughs] It kind of is; that sort of mixture of romanticism and cynicism that Marcello has is very much a journalist’s world view. And also the way he’s thinking, “What I really am, deep down, is a poet or a philosopher, but I have to be in this vulgar world of paparazzi.” The origin of the paparazzi is in that movie.
It’s great to go back to, because whenever I remember it, I remember it a little bit out of order, and it seems like it’s been slightly reshuffled or certain things come to the surface that I didn’t notice before. Everything about it, too – the visuals, the setting. I am generally a sucker for Italian movies. If it’s in Italian, I have trouble disliking it too much.
I would cheat and say the two Godfather movies, The Godfather part I and II, edited in whatever order; I like the way they were sort of edited together in a single movie, but I also like them as they were released separately. And I think that that, for me, is the pinnacle of movies as a popular art form in America. It’s like a great novel, but it’s a super entertaining movie. It’s always funny to think that that was — you know, if you talk to Francis Ford Coppola, that was sort of his commercial movie that he got hired to make, and that was the one he did to make a lot of money. I have nothing original to say about it, but again, a movie that I cannot imagine ever getting tired of watching. When you come across it on TV, you stop and suddenly two hours have gone by, and you’re still with it. If you think about it, the performances in that… Everyone in that movie, just about, is as good as they ever were.
RT: So in general, do you like long movies?
Generally yes. I’ve been accused sometimes of having a kind of “the longer, the better” [attitude]. [A while back] I wrote a piece on the restored Berlin Alexanderplatz, and that was just a few months after Jacques Rivette’s legendary Out 1, which is 13 hours long. [laughs] There was a cut-down version of Out 1 that was five and a half hours, but I think 13 hours is the full length, and they screened it at the Museum of the Moving Pictures here in New York, and they did press screenings over three days. And by the end it was kind of like we had been POWs together, who maybe didn’t know each other or didn’t like each other before, but were huddled, sharing food, and making these kinds of inside jokes. Yes, I do like long movies. I mean, I kind of like that feeling of getting absorbed and completely entering into the movie’s reality. But I don’t think I only like long movies.
I guess I would say, again, to choose among a lot of different ones, I love Sullivan’s Travels. I love a lot of Preston Sturges movies. It’s a movie about movies, and I just think it’s just so funny. I love it. The first five minutes of the movie are among the funniest five minutes ever. Like when he’s in the studio boss’s office; it’s the fastest dialogue. [laughs] How they managed to do that scene, it’s just flying.
There’s always an Altman movie on the list. Currently I think it’s probably McCabe and Mrs. Miller. I love westerns; there are actually a lot of westerns I could add. A sort of deconstructed western. Altman’s one of my favorite directors and someone even whose lesser work I find really fascinating and had an intelligence about filmmaking and also about human behavior that’s kind of unmatched.
In the number five position, I would — again, choosing among many possible candidates — I think I would put The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. There are John Ford westerns that are more picturesque, that are more sweeping, but that’s a movie that distills an idea of history and depicts — granted, in a kind of mythologizing way, but in a very astute and complicated way — the process of historical change in the American West. That movie is just fascinating to me, and it has sort of a dissertation’s worth of ideas in it, but they’re so well embedded and dramatized, and the performances are so interesting. Jimmy Stewart, to me, is such an interesting and in some ways misunderstood actor, because when you see him, he’s so angry so much of the time. In Winchester ’73 and even in It’s A Wonderful Life. When he comes back to the house in that movie, he says, “Why do we have all these kids anyway?” and he’s just furious.
Next, Scott talks about the differences between being a critic in print and on TV, as well as what the new At the Movies will be like.
RT: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the new show. What can we expect from you guys? Is it just two guys talking about movies, or is there a new format?
AS: The format is basically the same. It’s two guys, two critics, basically two writers, talking about movies. What we’re hoping is that it will be really idea-driven. There are a lot of places — including Rotten Tomatoes — but also a lot of shows on television where you can find out about movies. By the time people get to the show, they know the movies that are out there, and we’re figuring what they want it is to hear someone say something interesting about these movies and hear people arguing, not necessarily in the sense of quarreling, but in the sense of engaging each other’s ideas and opinions about these movies. What we’re hoping is that the show will be structured and driven by what we think is most interesting and what are the sharpest and most interesting arguments that we have. Sometimes that means that when there’s not a lot to say about a movie, we’ll deal with it pretty quickly, and when there’s more to say, we’ll try to open it up and talk about it more. Within the format — you know, it’s a half-hour show, it’s interrupted by commercials, we try to cover as much as we can, and it’s going to be about these five movies a week — but within that, we’re trying to vary the length of the segments, to mix it up so that it’s always the liveliest discussion and the most noteworthy movie that’s being talked about the most.
We’re also using the DVD segment not so much to focus on new releases on DVD as to use what we’ve been talking about on the show as a way in to talking about some of our favorite movies from the past. In the first show, we talked about movies that were important to us as kids who would someday grow up to be critics; in an upcoming show, we’re reviewing some lame current romantic comedies, so the DVD segment, we picked a couple of our favorite classic romantic comedies. Just to give it a kind of breadth and range.
Also, for every show, we’re doing a web video exclusive, where we kind of extend the discussion, where we take something we were talking about in the show and open it up in a more informal, uninterrupted conversation. You know, in an upcoming show when we’re doing The Informant!, the new Steven Soderbergh movie, Soderbergh is such an interesting director and he’s done so many different kinds of things that we spend some time talking about him and his career and our favorite and less favorite of his movies in a way you couldn’t on the show, because you just don’t have the time. That feels worth doing and we think viewers will be interested in seeing that online.
RT: How long have you been doing TV? And what was the biggest challenge in terms of getting your ideas across while not diluting what you say in your print reviews?
AS: I think there’s a kind of streamlining and simplifying that has to happen on TV, because TV is very linear. You know, when you’re writing something, you can refer back to something a few paragraphs earlier, or you can write a very complex, nuanced sentence with a lot of allusions buried in it, or if something doesn’t make sense, people can go back and read a sentence again. On TV, it is all coming and going very quickly, so you have to simplify. Also, what’s fun about doing it with a partner, with Michael Phillips, is that there’s a degree of spontaneity and surprise and playing off each other. You know, it’s different. When you’re writing, you’re just inside your own head and having maybe imaginary arguments with people [laughs], but it’s not quite the same. So there’s a kind of improvisational quality to it that is really fun, but you have to be on your toes in front of the camera. It’s not taped live, obviously, but we want that quality of spontaneity and real conversation. When you’re writing, you know, you can get up and pace around, and go get a snack, and read some blogs, or whatever it is that you’re going to do to clear your head, but with TV there’s that immediacy. I’m finding it fun. There’s definitely a new set of skills to learn and communication techniques, but it feels like a new way of trying out what I’m interested in doing anyway.
RT: Was your substitute gig on the Ebert & Roeper show your first extensive TV experience?
AS: I’d done guest spots on Charlie Rose, and interviewed on various TV shows, but I hadn’t ever sat in a regular host’s chair. I think I learned a lot doing it then, just even in terms of how you sit, and how you look at the camera, and what you do with your face, and how you convey energy on television. I feel like I still have a lot to learn from that. I’ve done a lot of video for the Times’ website, and that has been extremely helpful, too, just in terms of thinking about how to take ideas that you might express one way on the page and get them across on camera, talking to someone.
RT: Where do you see the state of contemporary film criticism?
AS: I think it’s in a very exciting state. I mean, I think that I don’t actually lament the supposed demise of a single, authoritative critical voice. I think that the idea of critics having authority has always sort of been a misguided one. Critics obviously have to know their stuff and express themselves well, and bring a certain seriousness and expertise, but I think that criticism is one of those things that, people who do it professionally are also doing something that everyone does. It’s an activity, and it’s a communal activity, and it’s often sort of a messy and chaotic and argumentative one, and I think we’re in a very good time for the activity of criticism. It’s a very hard time for people who are trying to make a living at it, and I think that’s really too bad. But I think the proliferation of voices — sometimes, you know, somewhat obnoxious voices — is a great thing, and what I really like about it is that it makes what was always kind of a virtual, imaginary conversation that you were having with your readers an actual one. So it’s not as if I send out my copy and wonder what people thought of it; I hear, and I hear very quickly.
Check back next week for Michael Phillips’ Five Favorite Films.
For more Five Favorite Films articles, check our archive.