As the number of full-time film critics hovers just above the century mark, Roger Ebert’s prominence in the embattled profession can’t be overstated.
He’s not the last man standing — not yet, anyway. But he is the one critic both known and, to varying degrees, trusted by mainstream moviegoers.
Movie exhibitors will give Ebert their own thumbs up at ShoWest, presenting him with a special award for career achievement in film journalism.
Ebert began reviewing films in 1967 for the Chicago Sun-Times and came to national prominence through newspaper syndication, numerous books and the two television programs he did with Windy City personalities Gene Siskel and Richard Roeper.
“When you tell someone you’re a film critic, invariably they’ll look at you funny and ask, ‘You mean, like Roger Ebert?'” says USA Today film critic Claudia Puig. “No single critic has the impact that Roger has.”
Ebert, 66, has been absent from television since 2006, when complications from cancer sidelined him. Yet he has continued to review movies and write prolifically about film for the Sun-Times and his own website, adding to a career that includes the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a film critic.
“It’s amazing that after 40 years, he still cares about movies as much as he did when he first started,” Associated Press film critic Christy Lemire says. “He never condescends. He walks into every movie with equal enthusiasm without a trace of snobbery. He wants people to love movies as much as he does.”
Indeed, in announcing the honor, ShoWest co-managing director Mitch Neuhauser saluted Ebert for having the “foresight to champion the cause of relatively unknown and budding filmmakers and talent.” Ebert has hosted a film festival for overlooked movies, now known simply as “Ebertfest,” since 1999 in Champaign, Ill., near his hometown of Urbana.
“He still loves catapulting little movies onto the national stage,” Puig says. “He is a friend to film.”