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Back to Where It Started

I don't know exactly how to write this entry, except to start off with the fact that I miss Roger Ebert.

It's difficult to put into words, mostly because Mr. Ebert is a man I never knew personally. Our physical paths crossed a time or two during his annual film festival in Champaign-Urbana, but we never spoke, we never e-mailed, we never directly communicated in any way. My relationship with him was as a kid watching him spar with Gene Siskel on an old TV in my bedroom, engrossed in their conversations about movies. And then, as an adult, enjoying his written film reviews, his tweets, and his blog entries.

When Roger Ebert died last April, I felt the loss immediately, mostly because he'd been so prolific through social media during his later years. Knowing that we should no longer expect his updates, or journals, or thoughts on the news was enough to make one sad. Oddly enough, his views on film were a bit distant in the things I would miss about his presence. Now, however, that has changed.

The Academy Award nominations were announced recently, and it occurred to me that I don't think Ebert watched or reviewed any of the nine Best Picture nominees. And it left me sad. Couple that with this time of year being a bit of a frenzy for folks like myself, trying to see some of the most talked-about films of 2013, and I really got into a funk at the (continuing) realization that there will never, ever be another movie where we'll get to know Ebert's opinion of it.

Of the nine Best Picture contenders, I've seen three: Gravity, Philomena and Her (in that order). With Gravity, I thought about Ebert a lot. He tended to like sci-fi movies, and here was a good one. It was science fiction with heart, grounded in a fair smidgen of a reality. But that was one film among many. Now, however, we're in the thick of really good films. After watching both Philomena and Her, I -- almost without thinking -- wanted to look online and read Ebert's review, to see what he thought of them. Alas...

So, we come back to where it all began: a portly, bespectacled, intelligent man from Urbana, Illinois reviewing films. That's where my journey with Roger Ebert started and, after everything from his cancer, his Twitter account, his exquisite blog entries and his wonderful memoir, it all comes back to that. The documentary Life Itself, based on his memoir, will be shown at this year's Ebertfest. That's good. I look forward to seeing it. Almost more, though, I'd love to read Roger's reviews of Nebraska, or 12 Years a Slave.


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