16. M*A*S*H (1970)
Ebert: #2 movie of 1970
Siskel: #2 movie of 1970
At the age of 45, having been working in the picture business for well over a decade, director Robert Altman struck it big with M*A*S*H (1970), which continued the irreverent, personal qualities that made Easy Rider a hit the previous year and helped kick off a decade full of interesting works.
Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, and Tom Skerritt star as army doctors in the Korean War who resort to humor and jokes to help deal with the hellish futility of the war itself. Sally Kellerman is ‘Hot Lips’ O’Houlihan, one of their targets, and Robert Duvall is the upright Maj. Frank Burns. Altman’s style, which incorporated wide shots, random zoom-ins, and a collage of overlapping sounds, was incredibly fresh and daring, and helped the movie seem like more than just a routine slapstick comedy.
Siskel wrote, “For me, M*A*S*H contains as much depression as humor.” And Ebert said, “One of the reasons “M*A*S*H” is so funny is that it’s so desperate… Gould and Sutherland and the members of their merry band of pranksters are offended because the Army regulars don’t feel deeply enough.” The movie won an Oscar for its screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr., and received nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editing, and Best Supporting Actress (Kellerman).
15. Last Tango in Paris (1972)
Ebert: #2 movie of 1973
Siskel: #2 movie of 1973, one of the best of the 1970s
Pauline Kael’s review of Last Tango in Paris is the most famous one, wherein the famously cranky critic proclaimed it a landmark in cinema history. But Siskel and Ebert were not immune to its power either. Ebert called it “one of the great emotional experiences of our time.” Bernardo Bertolucci was a young upstart ready to take the world by storm, and star Marlon Brando had just been in the powerhouse The Godfather.
The movie seemed entirely new, frankly sexual and dramatically daring. It told the story of a middle-aged American widower in Paris who wanders into an apartment for rent at the same time as a 20 year-old Jeanne (Maria Schneider). They have sex and agree to keep coming back for more sex, but anonymously, and no names.
Kael predicted that it would usher in a new era of adult sexuality in movies, but instead viewers tittered uncomfortably about lines like “get the butter.” It did receive Oscar nominations for Bertolucci and Brando. In the years before the show, Siskel and Ebert rated it highly in their respective newspapers, and then later, on their “Best of the 1970s” show, mentioned it again.
14. One False Move (1992)
Ebert: #2 movie of 1992
Siskel: #1 movie of 1992
As a testament to their sheer critical power, Siskel and Ebert rescued several movies over their careers, and this was one of the best ones. Surely, One False Move would have been doomed to sit on video shelves unwatched if not for our boys on TV. It was not a huge hit, but it had a decent run in theaters.
Director Carl Franklin had been an actor on television and a director in Roger Corman’s camp, and co-writer and co-star Billy Bob Thornton had been an actor in random projects of varying quality. Together they teamed up, along with Thornton’s co-writer Tom Epperson, to create this mature, intelligent, suspenseful, dramatic crime film.
It tells the story of three criminals on the run (Thornton, Cynda Williams, and Michael Beach), and a cop on their trail (Bill Paxton), but goes much deeper than that cursory outline. Ebert said, “No words of praise can quite reflect the seductive strength of One False Move.”
13. Amadeus (1984)
Ebert: #1 movie of 1984
Siskel: #2 movie of 1984
Milos Forman’s adaptation of Peter Shaffer’s play could have been a stuffy movie about costumes and classical music, or a routine biopic with the usual Cliff’s Notes treatment. But instead it’s a vibrant, sexy, funny, and passionate. It’s a movie that really understands artistry; it knows how to make Salieri’s music sound ordinary and Mozart’s extraordinary. It knows how to depict Salieri’s jealous suffering and Mozart’s giggly joy.
Siskel wrote that the movie “treats the subject of creativity in a fresh way. Mozart creates easily and gloriously, and his genius is presented here refreshingly as a gift from God. It’s as simple and as awe-inspiring as that.” 1984 was a big year for serious movies that were awarded — as well as for great comedies that were not awarded — and Amadeus was the refreshing bridge between the two.
It was an Oscar juggernaut, receiving 11 nominations and winning eight. F. Murray Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart competed against one another for Best Actor, and Abraham — the older of the two — won. Otherwise, it won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Art Direction, Costume Design, Sound, and Makeup. It lost Cinematography and Editing to The Killing Fields.
12. My Dinner with Andre (1981)
Ebert: #1 movie of 1981, #5 of the decade
Siskel: #2 movie of 1981, #4 of the decade
My Dinner with Andre is perhaps the most famous example of a movie that Siskel and Ebert rescued from obscurity. Directed by Louis Malle and written by and starring Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, the movie is very simply shows two men meeting and talking over dinner. Gregory has been around the world exploring life and its connections with theater, and he tells some magnificent stories, so powerful that they’re almost visual, and then Shawn responds in his own way.
Even if it wasn’t a box office smash or an Oscar winner, the movie at least became famous enough to be parodied. Siskel wrote, “With its colorful language, My Dinner with Andre is to overproduced Hollywood films what radio is to television. Our minds supply the pictures.” Ebert said, ” They are alive on the screen, breathing, pulsing, reminding us of endless, impassioned conversations we’ve had with those few friends worth talking with for hours and hours.” The movie is now over 30 years old, but it hasn’t lost any of its power.
11. Crumb (1995)
Ebert: #2 movie of 1995
Siskel: #1 movie of 1995
Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb (1995) may be the greatest documentary ever made about a living person. With incredible patience and fearlessness, Zwigoff explores the way that the three Crumb brothers, the famous Robert Crumb as well as the equally fascinating Charles and Maxon, used art and comics as a necessary outlet, a channeling of their most disturbed fears and desires. (Distributors wanted Charles cut out of the finished film, but he provides an essential perspective into the Robert Crumb story.)
The movie wonders at the strange family dynamic that could have resulted in such artistry, and goes forward to look at Robert’s children. Zwigoff also films comics and the creation of comics in close-up, sustained, so that they can be savored. Siskel predicted, in the spring of 1995, that he would not see a better movie for the rest of the year, and Ebert agreed. Siskel did choose it as the year’s best, but Ebert was slightly more impressed by Leaving Las Vegas, and dropped it to #2. Ebert later wrote, as part of his Great Films series, “We leave the film convinced there are no secrets still concealed in this family.”
10. Z (1969)
Ebert: #1 movie of 1969
Siskel: #1 movie of 1969
In Ebert’s third year as a critic and Siskel’s first, a year in which they might not have even spoken to each other yet, they both chose Costa-Gavras’s Z as the year’s best film. Apparently, neither had their eye on what might be a lasting achievement, but rather chose the most incendiary movie of the moment.
It was based on a then-recent event, the attempted assassination of a left-wing deputy (Yves Montand) by the right-wing military government, and the subsequent investigation by the examining magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The movie opens with an audacious scene, a lecture on mold and mildew that actually pertains to the left, and goes on with a complex array of lithe cinematography and editing.
Siskel said, “It is a great film for many reasons, not the least of which is that it can be enjoyed as a political thriller as well as a political statement,” while Ebert agreed: ” “Z is at the same time a political cry of rage and a brilliant suspense thriller.”
9. Nashville (1975)
Ebert: #1 movie of 1975, one of the best movies of the decade
Siskel: #1 movie of 1975
Robert Altman scored again in 1975, and although Nashville wasn’t quite the hit that M*A*S*H was, it was considered an even greater film, a portrait of America itself. Some 25 actors had speaking parts, and the ones who played musicians were encouraged to write their own songs, in character. Keith Carradine’s song “I’m Easy” won the movie’s only Oscar.
Woven together like a tapestry, the movie tackled themes of music, business, politics, and love in ways that were beautiful, funny, shocking, and moving. Siskel and Ebert were still a few months away from beginning their show, but from their competing newspaper offices, they agreed once again. Ebert called it the best American film since Bonnie and Clyde.