This site loves nothing more than to collect top 10 weird movie lists from directors and critics, but I chickened out of soliciting one from Roger Ebert, until it was too late. Perhaps it was the certain knowledge that he wouldn’t return my calls or e-mails. Perhaps I had read this quote—“Despite the entreaties of countless editors, authors and websites, I decline to make lists of the best comedies, horror films, Christmas films, family films, Westerns, musicals, political films, silent films, films about dogs, and so on. That way madness lies”—and taken it to heart. Whatever. Never mind. Roger Ebert is beyond madness now. I’ll leave it to others to compile his posthumous lists of best comedies, horror films, and so on. By way of tribute to one of the great proselytizers of the movies, we’re going to reconstruct a list of ten films that, based on available evidence, very well might have comprised Roger Ebert’s Top 10 Weird Movie List, had he deigned to compose one for us.
Some may assume that an overstuffed shirt like Ebert could never appreciate a truly weird movie. In cult movie circles Ebert is notorious for his one-star review of David Lynch‘s Blue Velvet, which he almost admire but complained was irredeemably “marred by sophomoric satire and cheap shots.” Nearly every hip movigoer throws that one back in Ebert’s face at one time or another; that embarassing slam of a beloved classic confirms the stereotype of movie critics as nerdy old white guys with no sense of humor when it comes to gratuitous nudity, violence and general transgressiveness.
People forget that, as a Russ Meyer screenwriter, this same Roger Ebert was the creator of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls‘ Z-Man, the acid-tripping, broadsword wielding hermaphrodite manager of the big boob babe band The Carrie Nations. The man knew his weird. And although he necessarily covered the mainstream movie beat, he constantly challenged his readers to seek out new cinematic experiences, recommending they see black and white movies, silent movies, campy movies, foreign movies, surreal movies… anything different, and anything bizarre. “We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds” Ebert said in answer to the question of who would possibly want to see the sadomasochistic Korean fishing story The Isle.
Constructing a ten weird movie list that Roger Ebert would probably sign off on is a tall order, but not an impossible one. First off, we have access to Ebert’s ten votes in Sight & Sounds’ greatest movie poll. Strikingly, two of the movies he considers the greatest of all time also fall under the general heading of “weird movies” (and cases could even be made for some of his other choices like Aguirre: Wrath of God, La Dolce Vita, Vertigo and Apocalypse Now, although I wont make them). If they’re among his top ten movies of all time regardless of genre, we’ll assume they would also make his top ten weird movies of all time. Ebert also reveals a runner-up film for the poll which is substantially weirder than all of the others that made his list—so there’s a third entry right off the bat. We also have access to Ebert’s year-by-year top ten lists for the decades he reviewed films, from 1967 to 2012; whenever he considered a weird film to be the best movie of the year—which happened a remarkable four times—I presumed it would make his all-time weird film list.
That procedure left us needing only three movies to fill out his quota, which (besides the difficulty of ordering the selections) is where the trouble comes in. Ebert created a canonized list of over 300 films he considered “Great Movies.” Obviously his remaining three favorite weird films would be found there—but which ones? I eliminated any movies that came from his reviewing career of 1967 on, assuming that if a movie was one of his favorite weird films, it would have topped his overall movie list for that particular year. That methodology eliminated a number of perfectly honorable weird films, including Mulholland Drive (2001), two Alejandro Jodorowsky efforts (1970’s El Topo and 1989’s Santa Sangre—never say anyone who includes two Jodorowsky movies in their top films of all time doesn’t appreciate his weird movies), and Persona (1966) (one of his very first reviewing assignments which, I suspect, he might have reassessed more glowingly if he had redone his yearly lists).
That left me with only a handful of remaining movies that were both weird, and unranked by Ebert in other venues, to consider. Here is where the arbitrary element of the process creeps in. I tried to select from these movies the ones that seemed most important, the ones about which Ebert was most effusive, and the ones that actually incorporated the word “weird” in a complimentary way somewhere in the body of the review. That procedure meant overlooking a good number of movies that Ebert might very well have honored if he’d had the chance to compose the list himself. I’ll mention the five most important of those omissions here as Ebert’s unofficial honorable mentions: Un Chien Andalou, Orpheus, The Exterminating Angel, Last Year at Marienbad, and Belle de Jour.
Although this project may seem like a self-serving act of public necrophilia to steal clicks away from more deserving and original pieces of film criticism, I honestly intend this hypothetical compilation as a tribute to a great movie lover whose advocacy of the offbeat has been under-appreciated. Spending time with his writing, trying to put myself inside the mind of Roger Ebert, has been an honor and a gift.
Without further ado, here is Roger Ebert’s unauthorized, conjectural Top 10 Weird Movies:
10. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, d. Guillermo del Toro). Ebert’s top movie of 2006. I have placed it in the tenth position because, although it’s as good Continue reading ROGER EBERT’S (UNAUTHORIZED, CONJECTURAL) TOP 10 WEIRD MOVIES