I’m reading Awake In The Dark: The Best of Roger Ebert, borrowed from my local library. The book is an interesting example of some of the problems inherent in assessing many ‘Best Of’ collections.
It doesn’t seem to be a collection of the guy’s greatest work. About 120 pages are devoted to reprinting Ebert’s reviews of the films that he later determined to be the best of the year. It seems a bit arbitrary to choose entries this way, as there’s no indication that these are his most insightful pieces. He also has sections devoted to documentaries, foreign films and underrated movies, where critiques are assembled based on the quality of the work he covered, rather than the quality of the actual review.
Ebert’s a talented enough writer that a completely random collection of his work would still be worthwhile. And while this probably isn’t the best work of a Pulitzer prize winning critic, it’s certainly going to include above-average examples of his work. Presumably, he’s going to be more perceptive and going to have more to write about when he’s discussing a film he really likes than one that wasn’t particularly remarkable. His review of Mississippi Burning, his favorite film of 1988, is probably better than his reviews of Crocodile Dundee 2 and Oliver & Company, both of which made more money int he box office.
So It’s a good book, even if doesn’t truly reflect the man’s best writing. Complaining about this is ultimately pointless. “Best of” volumes may be imperfect, but these tend to to be quite good, simply due to the effort involved of sifting out some material, even if the final results don’t represent the actual pinnacles. This often applies to Greatest Hits albums, short story collections and anything with “Best Of” on the cover.
I would recommend Alone in the Dark to anyone with an interest in film. There is the argument that there’s more value with the book that they published than with something that actually has the critic’s best writing. A film buff who uses the book to get an year’s worth of Netflix recommendations is going to get a lot out of the $29 cover price. They might disagree with whether or not David Mamet’s House of Games (Ebert’s favorite movie of 1987) was better than The Last Emperor, Broadcast News, Wall Street or The Untouchables, but it’s a good enough film that they would be unlikely to regret renting it, or coming across the review, even if Ebert may have offered more interesting commentary about a work that wasn’t as memorable.