Roger Ebert, the Yoda of movie critics, passed away today. I've been a fan of his since the late 70s, when he and colleague/adversary Gene Siskel bickered on Sneak Previews, the very first TV show dedicated to film criticism. It aired in my hometown of Portland on PBS every Saturday night. I never missed it.
In the days before the internet (unless your local paper printed his syndicated reviews), the only way to enjoy his genius as a writer was through his annual movie yearbooks, initially titled Roger Ebert's Movie Home Companion. These hefty volumes were simply awesome, containing every movie he wrote a review for that year. What made these books so great, aside from their obvious value as bathroom reading, was that Ebert was entertaining, whether he liked a film or not. He wasn't just a great critic...he was a great writer, and even his reviews of the films he hated demonstrated the same attention to craft as those he loved. In fact, Ebert was always at his best when writing about something he disliked (his books, I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie and Your Movie Sucks, are entertaining and often hilarious). I didn't always agree with his assessments of particular films, but he always provided solid and legitimate reasons for his opinion. In fact, I think some of my favorite Ebert reviews were the ones I disagreed with entirely.
He never jumped on any bandwagons. He never blindly kissed a filmmaker's ass (even if he was a big fan). He was never afraid to openly praise a movie everyone else hated (such as Speed 2: Cruise Control or Knowing), nor did he automatically heap accolades on something universally-lauded by his peers. Whenever you read an Ebert review, you knew you're reading something honest. I think that's why he was always so highly-regarded. There are countless critics on TV and the internet right now who can only dream of attaining the respect & status of Roger Ebert (including yours truly). He was one-of-a-kind and will truly be missed.