Roger Ebert's feelings about movie lists are well documented, but he really loves The Tree of Life. In fact, he loved it enough to add it to his list of the greatest 10 movies of all time. Ebert participates every ten years in Sight & Sound magazine's poll to decide on the greatest films by submitting his top 10 picks, and in the past decade, he's found just one movie worthy of displacing a selection from his 2002 version of the list: The famously obtuse Terrence Malick film The Tree of Life. (Dekalog by Krzysztof Kieślowski got cut.)
In 2010, Ebert wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal expounding on his well-publicized hatred for movie list-making, and though he admitted to "grudgingly" participating in Sight & Sound's exercise, he named a few problems with it:
Originally all the votes were tallied together, but nooooo, that was too simple, so in 2002 the magazine separated critics and directors and made two lists, and we could ponder the significance of the directors placing "Godfather I and II" in second place, while the critics voted them No. 4. Both groups placed "Citizen Kane" first, which is fitting, because it is the Official Best Film of All Time.
This list is notoriously elitist and slow to recognize newer films. Now that the cinema is well into its second century, it is good to maintain a historical perspective.
He's certainly answered his criticism of the list being too slow by picking a movie from the past year, but not so much on the elitist front. Tree of Life definitely got a lot more praise from critics than audiences. Compare the movie's 88 percent "Top Critics" approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a 65 percent approval rating from the Rotten Tomatoes audience. But that seems to be Ebert's point. He writes on his blog:
Apart from any other motive for putting a movie title on a list like this, there is always the motive of propaganda: Critics add a title hoping to draw attention to it, and encourage others to see it. For 2012, I suppose this is my propaganda title. I believe it's an important film, and will only increase in stature over the years.
So, do as Ebert says and go see Tree of Life, we suppose. And check out his blog for the rest of his picks and a whole lot more grumbling about this whole list-making exercise.