A world without Roger Ebert.  It just doesn’t sound right.  I met him on my first trip to Los Angeles, backstage at the Wayne Brady Show.  As a prepubescent film buff, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to discover he was the special guest that day, let alone that he would be around to talk Oscars with me!  “I can’t believe Adrien Brody won!” I exclaimed.  He nodded, but instructed me to tell all my friends I saw it coming. The photo my mom snapped of me and my sister with him remains one of my most prized possessions.

Immediately upon returning home, I bought volumes one and two of The Great Movies, which had the kind of impact on me that I imagine Kael and Sarris had on my parents’ generation.  What grabbed me about these essays was their accessibility, their elegantly simple way of explicating the masterpieces in his canon.  He made me appreciate Casablanca and Citizen Kane and Annie Hall and readied me for the more adult treasures of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Floating Weeds, and so many more.

As I became a teenager, I set these tomes aside and began devouring American independent cinema, where Ebert once again proved to be the ideal guide.  The thumbs up or down was an obviously helpful resource for viewing decisions, if inherently reductive.  But, of course, Ebert was so, so much greater than a digit, and his yearly top ten lists proved to be of the greatest use of all. In formative years when I was figuring out my taste, his championing of Syriana and Me and You and Everyone We Know (#2 and #6 respectively in 2005), or Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (#3, 2007) meant the world to me.

But this is all a meager, selfish reflection on a man whom friends and colleagues (and even I, in our brief encounter) considered an incredibly selfless, kind man.  Let’s look back to the films he loved, and the reviews he loved to write about them, and attempt to feel them as fully as Roger Ebert did.