roger ebert (1 thumb up)*The best way to sum up the life and career of Roger Ebert, the extraordinary film critic and and writer who passed away far too young last week? Let’s paraphrase a lyric from the title track of the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me to properly describe him: nobody did it better.

He was – hands down – the greatest movie critic to ever walk the earth. No one even comes close. His reviews were always accessible and entertaining; positive, neutral or negative, they always contained an element that was often missing from other critics – a deep and true love and appreciation for the art form in his soul. His positive reviews burst at the seams with enthusiasm and joy about what he has just seen. Take his review of Fargo, for example.

“To watch it is to experience steadily mounting delight,” Ebert says, “as you realize the filmmakers have taken enormous risks, gotten away with them and made a movie that is completely original, and as familiar as an old shoe – or a rubbersoled hunting boot from Land’s End, more likely.”

His negative reviews have become legendary, for good reason. Ebert brought an unmatched, withering wit to his reviews of the movies he detested. From his now-legendary North review: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.” For The Mummy Returns, a mediocre sequel, he went ahead and analyzed the logic of its ridiculous action scenes: ” I have written before of the ability of movie characters to outrun fireballs. In “The Mummy Returns,” there is a more amazing feat. If the rising sun touches little Alex while he is wearing the magical bracelet, he will die (it is written). But Rick, carrying Alex in his arms, is able to outrace the sunrise; we see the line of sunlight moving on the ground right behind them. It is written by Eratosthenes that the Earth is about 25,000 miles around, and since there are 24 hours in a day, Rick was running approximately 1,041 miles an hour.”

Of course, Ebert was much, much more than a critic. He was a champion of the movies. His reviews and enthusiasm for films like Do The Right Thing and Boyz N’ The Hood helped to bring their African-American filmmakers into prominence, and his passionate review for Hoop Dreams brought that astonishing documentary to a light for wider audience. His At the Movies show with Gene Siskel was appointment weekend television for any movie buff. He was also an incredible writer on any subject, as anyone who followed his Twitter feed could attest; you could take a look at his post-9/11 column or pick up his extraordinary autobiography for proof. Even in the twilight of his life – as he was ravaged by all manner of ailments – Ebert remained as captivating as ever, turning out strong, opinionated and entertaining pieces at a rate that would shame any other writer. He was a legend, and the world is a lot less interesting now that he’s gone. Two thumbs up on a great life, Roger.