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Roger Ebert: The Great Movies II, by Roger Ebert

Review by Jeffrey M. Anderson

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It's important to note that Roger Ebert's newest book, The Great Movies II, isn't a list of the second greatest 100 films ever made. It's a second list of 100 great films, each reviewed in the Chicago Sun-Times as part of his bi-weekly column. Actually this second book is quite a bit more eclectic than the first, and contains several arguable choices, whereas the first book contained most of the expected classics. Ebert helpfully reviews Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar, a film that has not been released on DVD in America and deserves to be better known. He takes a helpful stab at describing the confusing plot of John Huston's Beat the Devil and gives a nearly intoxicating appreciation of W.C. Fields in The Bank Dick. And his essay on the racism in D.W. Griffiths' The Birth of a Nation is possibly one of the best things he's written.

He includes an appropriate number of silent films (The Man Who Laughs, The Fall of the House of Usher, an essay on Buster Keaton) and foreign films (The Firemen's Ball, The Leopard, Le Boucher) as attempts to defend cult favorites like Sam Peckinpah's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. In 1974, Ebert was one of the few defenders of that film and now he gets to bask in the glory of being right, but without being condescending.

I can even forgive the inclusion of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, on the charge that it's an up-and-coming holiday favorite. And I can forgive the inclusion of my least favorite Powell/Pressburger film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. But I cannot forgive Leaving Las Vegas, a very bad film by a very bad filmmaker that was quickly overrated in 1995, thanks partly to Ebert. It's too bad that he was unable to re-assess the film and find its faults today.

Indeed, many of the films on this list are inspired by DVD releases, or current theatrical releases. His review of Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew will now be forever tainted by a comparison with Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (which Ebert adored).

But any list of 100 films will cause debate by virtually anyone who looks at it, and overall I very much enjoyed reading this book. In it, I found much of the old Ebert that I first admired when I began to fall in love with film. Reading Ebert's new reviews today, that old fellow can often disappear, but when he takes time away from deadlines for The Great Movies, he comes back.

Buy Roger Ebert's The Great Movies: Vol. 1
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