Mute Chicago film critic Ebert "voices" Oscar picks

Tue Mar 2, 2010 12:35pm EST
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By Andrew Stern

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Film critic Roger Ebert, rendered mute by several cancer surgeries, delivered his Oscar picks on Oprah Winfrey's television chat show on Tuesday using his newly synthesized voice fashioned from old audio clips.

"I can't remember a year when it was easier to pick the Oscars. Those may be famous last words," the now cancer-free Ebert, 67, said in a recorded segment on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

"The only dicey category is Best Picture," said Ebert, who copyrighted his famous "thumbs-up" or "thumbs-down" ratings created for his pioneering televised review show with Chicago Tribune critic Gene Siskel, who died of cancer in 1999.

Ebert predicted Kathryn Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" would win the Oscar for best picture, and Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock would win for best actor and actress, respectively.

Ebert won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, the first film critic to do so. Since being diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2002 he has undergone numerous surgeries that have left him without most of his lower jaw and cost him his voice.

But he communicates by writing notes, uses crude sign language and "speaks" with the aid of a software program loaded onto his laptop computer that generates a generic voice.


A Scottish company, CereProc, that was spun off five years ago by University of Edinburgh researchers, is developing a program just for Ebert that culled hours of his old movie commentaries to give him back a semblance of his own voice.   Continued...

<p>Actor, director and Sundance Film Festival founder Robert Redford (R) smiles next to film critic Roger Ebert following a news conference on the first day of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 21, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>