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How Ebert Chose His Top 10

How Ebert Chose His Top 10

As more and more critics have weighed in on the best films of 2013, one has been conspicuously absent: This is the first year since 1967 to end without a Top 10 list from Roger Ebert. But at RogerEbert.com, Roger’s widow, Chaz, weighs in with some of her favorites, and offers a few insights into how Ebert approached the process of list-making:

He really disliked ranking movies. He managed to cram about 30 movies onto his list by bifurcating his categories and giving Runner Up prizes. He would have preferred that you just keep up with the reviews and make up your own mind. But it was his duty as a film critic to give you a list, and every newspaper editor demanded one. It was a service to the public, and it sold newspapers….

But what I really long for are those eccentric picks that Roger zinged into his list, leaving me scrambling to see a movie I hadn’t seen, or sending me back into the theater to see what I overlooked the first time around. I realize now that I may have taken his lists for granted. Maybe it was because I had attended most of the movie screenings with him and knew his general thoughts about them. But something crystallized when Roger sat down to think about what he valued about one movie over another in order to rank them. He had to refine the filter through which he viewed the movies, which sometimes caused him to put a less than four-star movie on the Top Ten List and leave out movies to which he had given four stars earlier in the year. Roger’s list was sometimes such a surprise. Roger, I miss your surprises.

First-run critics don’t often get a second shot at writing about, or even seeing, a movie. (I used to insist on seeing a movie twice before putting it on my year-end list, but for a variety of reason it’s not as easy as it used to be.) But a Top 10 list is a way of looking at not just which movies made a great first impression, but which have stuck with you throughout the year. Perhaps the most interesting best-of-2013 list would be one compiled in 2014, or 2020.

Of course, we won’t have Ebert’s guidance for any of those years either, but at least his site lets you browse every Top 10 list he filed before his death — all 45 years’ worth. Looking at the very first, from 1967 (which is actually a Top 15), there are three movies you never hear much about these days — Joseph Strick’s Ulysses, Roy Boulting’s The Family Way and Jack Clayton’s Our Mother’s House — proving that Ebert’s lists can serve as engines of discovery for decades to come.

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