January 12, 2006


Roger Ebert’s Movie Yearbook 2006. By Roger Ebert. Andrews McMeel. $22.95.

     Years after you have forgotten the mostly forgettable movies about which Roger Ebert writes – years after you have decided that you don’t want to waste two hours of your life on this one or that one – you can still turn to Ebert’s writing itself for a much better time than you would likely have had with those unwatched films.

     No one but Ebert and other movie critics is going to watch (or have watched) every film Ebert discusses in his latest annual wrapup: there are some 700 here.  No one, perhaps even including Ebert, would want to watch all these films: Catwoman is “tired and dated,” Scary Movie 3 “understands the concept of a spoof but not the concept of a satire,” the cast of Masked and Anonymous “wanders bewildered through shapeless scenes,” and so on.  Say what you will about Ebert: you always know where he stands.

     The consistency of Ebert’s reviews makes it easy to use them to choose a film to rent or buy.  Whether you like his approach or hate it, he applies the same standards to everything he sees.  So if you find yourself disagreeing with his evaluation of one type of movie – say, Quentin Tarantino films, about which he never seems to have anything bad to say – then you can make your view-or-not decision just as easily as if you agree with everything Ebert writes.

     True, Ebert does sometimes get a little too far into the “in” side of the film world.  His review of The Brown Bunny is all about Cannes, Venice and Toronto film festivals; the cutting-room floor; long takes, “especially by Ozu”; and Ebert’s own weight loss.  It’s self-referential as all getout.  Also true, Ebert is too much a part of the Hollywood “in” crowd to see the gaping holes in such anti-Bush-administration films as the three-star The Day After Tomorrow: “Of the science in this movie I have no opinion.  I am sure global warming is real” – which apparently means he takes it on faith.  And Ebert’s three-and-a-half star review of Michael Moore’s overt propaganda piece, Fahrenheit 9/11, seems to have been written in a world where Moore’s frequent camera tricks and misleading editing have never been discovered: Ebert calls Moore “a populist rabble-rouser, humorous and effective,” though the John Kerry supporters who had such hopes for Fahrenheit 9/11 may respectfully disagree.

     But if Ebert has his blind spots, so do all movie reviewers – and viewers, for that matter.  Because Ebert consistently puts his out in the open for all to read, he is entertaining as well as informative.  He spins a mean phrase (sometimes literally).  He also spins some exceedingly clever ones: “One of the fundamental philosophical questions of our time is why Goofy is a person and Pluto is a dog.”  “Every genre has its cadre of moviegoers who think they dislike it.”  “The jolly reds, yellows and blues of the classic Superman and Spiderman have been replaced in these grim days with black and gunmetal gray.”  It is writing like this that makes Ebert more than a fine guide to films.  It also makes him so enjoyable to read that you may decide to skip the movie and spend a few hours with this book instead.

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