RIP film critic Andrew Sarris, 1928-2012.
Sarris wrote film criticism—meaningful, real writing, not just film “reviews”—for half a century, publishing several books, and writing regularly for first The Village Voice and then The New York Observer. Sarris was one of the earliest proponents in the US of the auteur theory of film (he’s credited with coining the word in his essay “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962“), first put forward by Truffaut and other persons active in the French New Wave. In 1971, Sarris got into a good ole fashioned fight with fellow film critic Pauline Kael over the auteur issue when he responded to her Citizen Kane essay “Raising Kane,” contending that, yes, the film was guided by the unique vision of Orson Welles (even if others helped). His response essay is still worth reading.
In his 1968 book The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, Sarris famously named a “pantheon” of 14 top-tier directors: here’s that list:
Joseph Von Sternberg
Sarris later added Billy Wilder to this pantheon.
If you like lists, check out this archive of Sarris’s favorite films by year—from 1958 to 2006.
Like any great critic, whether or not one ultimately agreed with Sarris was beside the point—his scholarship and criticism was insightful and enlightening the kind of writing that frankly makes for better film audiences.
For a more detailed obit, check out Scott Tobias’s piece at AV Club.