Until Thursday, I had never before crossed state lines to watch movies. But the chance to attend even one of the five days of the 16th annual Ebertfest: Roger Ebert’s Film Festival was enough to propel my wife, Ash, and me two hours west to Champaign, Ill.
We arrived in town just after the bronze, $112,500 Ebert statue was unveiled. While the first film of the day, “Museum Hours,” played inside, we had plenty of time to pose for pictures with the Rick Harney-designed sculpture, entitled “C-U at the Movies.”
The beauty of the Virginia Theatre itself was almost enough by itself to justify the trip. At 93 years old, it is an absolutely gorgeous building — with an old-fashioned marquee outside, and an elegant, 24-karat-gold-leafed proscenium inside.
We made it to our seats just in time for the start of “Short Term 12,” presented by the film’s co-stars, Brie Larsen and Keith Stanfield. The 2013 film is set in “a foster-care center for at-risk teens whose troubles run the gamut from depression to substance abuse to self-mutilation,” as Christy Lemire, film critic, wrote in her Aug. 23, 2013 RogerEbert.com review. Ebert himself never had a chance to review “Short Term 12,” but I’m sure he would have approved.
As with each film, after the credits rolled, an exact replica of Roger’s famous hand signal — produced by the same company that manufactures the Academy Awards statuettes — was given to the guests by Roger’s widow, Chaz Ebert.
“Who cares about an Oscar?” said Stanfield, proudly holding his Golden Thumb Award, as he and Larson took the stage for a Q&A.
“Young Adult” was next up. Before introducing Patton Oswalt, Chaz read part of Roger’s Dec. 7, 2011 review. “Oswalt is, in a way, the key to the film’s success,” wrote Roger. “Oswalt’s Matt [Freehauf] is human, realistic, sardonic and self-deprecating. He speaks truth to Mavis [played by Charlize Theron.]” I totally agree with Roger’s Jan. 26, 2012 blog, in which he declared: “Oswalt’s performance … deserved [an Oscar] nomination.”