Life Itself (2014 film)

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Life Itself
Theatrical release poster
Directed bySteve James
Based onLife Itself: A Memoir
by Roger Ebert
Produced byZak Piper
Steve James
Garrett Basch
CinematographyDana Kupper
Edited bySteve James
David E. Simpson
Music byJoshua Abrams
Distributed byMagnolia Pictures
Release dates
  • January 19, 2014 (2014-01-19) (Sundance)
  • July 4, 2014 (2014-07-04) (United States)
Running time
121 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Box office$810,454[2]

Life Itself is a 2014 American biographical documentary film about Chicago film critic Roger Ebert, directed by Steve James and produced by Zak Piper, James and Garrett Basch. The film is based on Ebert's 2011 memoir of the same name.[3] It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and was an official selection at the 67th Cannes Film Festival.[4] The 41st Telluride Film Festival hosted a special screening of the film on August 28, 2014.[5] Magnolia Pictures released the film theatrically in the United States and simultaneously via video on demand platforms on July 4, 2014.[6][7]

On December 2, 2014, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that the film was 1 of 15 films shortlisted in the Documentary Feature category for the 87th Academy Awards,[8] but it was not nominated. It was also nominated for two News & Documentary Emmy Awards, winning the award for Outstanding Editing: Documentary & Long-Form.[9]


The film makes use of footage and interviews with American film critic Roger Ebert during the final months of his life interspersed with interviews of his friends, colleagues, and family including: Chaz Ebert (his wife), Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, A.O. Scott, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Ramin Bahrani, Gregory Nava, Richard Corliss, and Ava DuVernay, among others. Voice actor Stephen Stanton impersonates Ebert and reads his writings. The film features clips from Ebert's popular television show with Gene Siskel, including outtakes, and their many appearances on shows like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman. The film also explores the relationship between Siskel and Ebert, Ebert's friendship with Russ Meyer and their collaboration on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, as well as how Ebert ultimately came to transcend film criticism to become an influential cultural voice.


On September 7, 2012, a film adaptation of the 2011 memoir Life Itself was first announced by Ebert on Twitter: "Whoa! My memoir has been optioned for a doc by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), with Martin Scorsese and Steven Zaillian as exec producers."[10]

Steve James said: "That's what made me want to do the movie: the way in which his life had this extraordinary desire for adventure and then, of course, he did his share of suffering and soldiering on. And all of that informed the kind of critic he became. It informed his reviews. It informed everything about who he was and what we came to collectively love about him."[11]

On April 4, 2013, following Ebert's death, the filmmakers expressed their condolences and promised to finish the film.[12][13][14] On November 20, 2013, an Indiegogo campaign was launched to raise money for the film. Over $150,000 was raised.[15]

Locations seen in the film include the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, the Old Town Ale House, the Chateau Marmont, and Hotel Splendid.


On January 18, 2013, CNN Films announced that it had acquired the rights to air Life Itself on television.[16][17][18] It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.[19] Magnolia Pictures released the film theatrically in the US on July 4, 2014.[20] Dogwoof released the film in the UK on November 14, 2014.[21] The film aired on CNN on January 4, 2015.[20]


Life Itself has received universal acclaim from critics.[22][23] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 98% based on 206 reviews, with an average rating of 8.40/10; the critics' consensus states: "Rich in detail and warmly affectionate, Life Itself offers a joyful yet poignant tribute to a critical cinematic legacy."[24] On Metacritic, the documentary has a score of 87 out of 100, based on 35 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[25]

Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post gave the film 3/4 stars and wrote: "You may not have agreed with Ebert's reviews — you may not have thought he was such a nice guy. But if you aren't moved by "Life Itself," you ought to have your heart examined."[26] Kate Muir of The Times wrote: "Fans of the great populist film critic Roger Ebert will be both moved and amused by Life Itself".[27] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote: "Though Life Itself is a warts-and-all portrait Ebert didn't live to review, my guess is his thumbs would be shooting upward. Mine sure are."[28]

Mark Kermode, writing for The Observer, gave it a score of 4/5 stars and wrote: "this lovely, insightful film is a splendidly watchable tribute to a truly cinematic life. I laughed, I cried; I was inspired and uplifted."[29] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian also gave the film 4/5 stars, describing it as "an inspiring documentary for critics, and anyone who loves cinema."[30] Geoffrey Macnab of The Independent also gave the film 4/5 stars, writing: "A film about a movie critic might not sound an attractive proposition, but Steve James's biographical documentary... is deeply moving."[31]

Antonia Quirke of the Financial Times was more critical, giving it a score of 2/5 and writing: "It's undercooked (we're not even told what movies he loved as a child) and a clip of the great New Yorker critic Pauline Kael speaking made me sit bolt upright thinking "Now you're talking.""[32] Kristy Puchko of CinemaBlend gave the film 2.5/5 stars, writing: "Life Itself is ultimately nowhere near as inspiring, entertaining, or mirth-filled as the man himself. And for me, that is a profound and unforgivable disappointment."[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LIFE ITSELF (15)". British Board of Film Classification. October 22, 2014. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
  2. ^ "Life Itself (2014)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 15, 2014.
  3. ^ Kit, Borys (April 4, 2013). "Roger Ebert Documentary Filmmakers Vow to Finish Movie". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  4. ^ Pavard, Charlotte (May 20, 2014). "CANNES CLASSICS - Life Itself: a critic's life and times". Festival De Cannes. Archived from the original on August 12, 2014.
  5. ^ Feinberg, Scott (August 31, 2014)."Telluride: A Film Fest That Knows How to Party". The Hollywood Reporter.
  6. ^ "Life Itself.". VHX. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  7. ^ Tallerico, Brian (June 30, 2014). "Where You Can See 'Life Itself'". Retrieved July 20, 2014.
  8. ^ The Deadline Team (December 2, 2014). "Oscars: Documentary Feature Shortlist At 15". Deadline Hollywood.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (September 7, 2012). "Whoa! My memoir has been optioned for a doc by Steve James ('Hoop Dreams') and Steve Zaillian, with Martin Scorsese as exec producer". Twitter. Twitter. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  11. ^ Kohn, Eric (July 5, 2014). "'Life Itself' Director Steve James Explains Why Roger Ebert Deserved a Documentary". IndieWire.
  12. ^ Life Itself (April 4, 2013). "We are devastated. But we will continue. We will finish the film". Twitter. Twitter. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  13. ^ Lussier, German (April 6, 2013). "Steve James Vows To Finish 'Life Itself,' The Roger Ebert Documentary". Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  14. ^ Lealos, Shawn S. (April 6, 2013). "Roger Ebert Documentary 'Life Itself' Will be Finished". Renegade Cinama. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  15. ^ "Life Itself - A feature documentary based on Roger Ebert's memoir". Indiegogo. Retrieved December 11, 2014.
  16. ^ "CNN to air Life Itself, our Roger Ebert Doc, in 2014". Kartemquin Films. January 18, 2013. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  17. ^ Patten, Dominic (January 18, 2013). "Sundance: CNN Films Makes Buying Debut; Announces Trio Of Documentaries". Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  18. ^ Fernandez, Jay A. (January 19, 2013). "CNN Films Acquires Roger Ebert Documentary Exec Produced by Martin Scorsese". Indie Wire. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  19. ^ "Life Itself to World Premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2014". Kartemquin Films. December 9, 2013. Retrieved July 7, 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Magnolia Pictures to distribute Life Itself". Kartemquin Films. February 4, 2014. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
  21. ^ "Strolling Through Roger Ebert's 'Perfect London Walk'". November 14, 2014.
  22. ^ Common Sense Media
  23. ^ "Life Itself". MovieMail. Archived from the original on February 13, 2015. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  24. ^ "Life Itself". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved February 6, 2023.
  25. ^ "Life Itself Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  26. ^ Hornaday, Ann (July 3, 2014). ""Life Itself," about the late Roger Ebert, pays homage to a thinker, writer and man in full". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  27. ^ Muir, Kate (November 14, 2014). "Life Itself". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  28. ^ Travers, Peter (July 9, 2014). "'Life Itself' Movie Review". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  29. ^ Kermode, Mark (November 16, 2014). "Life Itself review – a delightful tribute to US film critic Roger Ebert". The Guardian. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  30. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (November 13, 2014). "Life Itself review – documentary tribute to film critic Roger Ebert". The Guardian. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  31. ^ Macnab, Geoffrey (November 13, 2014). "Life Itself, film review: Deeply moving story of the life and death of a Chicago journalist". The Independent. Archived from the original on June 14, 2022. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  32. ^ Quirke, Antonia (November 13, 2014). "Life Itself – film review". Financial Times. Retrieved February 13, 2022.
  33. ^ Puchko, Kristy (July 4, 2014). "Life Itself". CinemaBlend. Retrieved February 13, 2022.


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