Three critics participating in the IndieWire Critics Survey selecting the Best Biographical Documentaries Ever Made chose “Life Itself,” Steve James‘ acclaimed documentary on the life and legacy of Roger Ebert, as their top pick: Mike McGranaghan of The Aisle Seat and Screen Rant; Ken Bakely of Film Pulse; and Danielle Solzman of Solzy at the Movies. In addition, Christopher Campbell of Nonfics, Film School Rejects and Thrillist, also named “Life Itself” as one of the top three biographical documentaries based on books, alongside Brett Morgen and Nanette BurstInein’s “The Kid Stays in the Picture” and James Marsh’s “Man on Wire.” The article, which was published on July 9th, can be read in its entirety here.
“I might be a little biased on this one because he was a personal hero of mine, but I’m going to choose ‘Life Itself,’ the documentary about Roger Ebert,” wrote Mike McGranaghan. “The film gets at everything that made Ebert so influential — his talent, his personality, his cinematic knowledge, the passion for film that drove his career. Most of all, it captures his indomitable spirit in the face of a devastating battle with cancer. When we talk about people who have done ‘great’ things, it’s usually doctors, scientists, or political/religious leaders who come to mind. Film critics are not high up on that list. Having said that, Roger Ebert inspired a generation of kids (myself included) to grow up wanting to pursue a career in writing about movies. He single-handedly changed the face of film criticism in that regard. It’s pretty impressive when you think about it. How many individuals have done something of that magnitude within their fields? ‘Life Itself’ is a wonderful tribute to the man and his enduring legacy. I may or may not have teared up watching it. (I totally did.)”
“There are multiple components to an outstanding biographical documentary—not only does it have to comprehensively tell a life story, but it must use the medium of the movies proactively,” wrote Ken Bakely. “‘Life Itself,’ the documentary about Roger Ebert by Steve James (who also made ‘Hoop Dreams,’ another prime contender for this title), is a look through not only the life and work of one man, but the legacy he would leave, evidencing the construction of his impact while guiding us through his journey. Revisiting the film some five years on from Ebert’s death, his absence is even more apparent: not only for his views on the latest movies, but even more, his caring and thoughtful perspective on humanity. James’s empathetic-yet-unflinching profile provides the same kind of transformative power that its subject championed as one of the great powers of cinema. Sure, it’s primarily about one famous and impactful individual, but it also gorgeously portrays the interconnected world we inhabit, and the value of the passion for life and warmth of spirit we owe each other. Throughout ‘Life Itself,’ James uses the various parts of the standard documentary—interviews, archival footage, and voiceover—to sharply focused heights that move beyond comparison of elements, and into a unified vision of a gifted filmmaker telling a story with both immediacy and universality.”
“Hands down, ‘Life Itself,’ Steve James’ documentary on the late film critic, Roger Ebert, is one of the best that I’ve ever seen,” wrote Danielle Solzman. “It remains a travesty that that the documentary didn’t receive an Oscar nomination. Growing up, what Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert had to say on films played a role in the movie-going decisions. A few years after his passing, Roger’s legacy lives on. Whether it’s the people writing for RogerEbert.com or the approximate 100 film critics in Chicago. Every time that I watch a film in the screening room here in Chicago, I always sit in the seat in front of where Roger used to sit. I never had the chance to meet the legend himself, but through watching the documentary, it’s as if I did.”