Wednesday, June 27, 2007

AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies -- 10th Anniversary Edition (Part 1)

Last week, I watched the TV special for AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies -- 10th Anniversary Edition. And before I get to anything else, let me note that, since the original version of this list came out in 1998, this is actually the 9th anniversary. Also, if this is supposed to be the 10th anniversary (which it isn't), shouldn't it now be AFI's 110 Years...?

Anyhoo. The original list was the American Film Institute's attempt to catalog the 100 greatest American movies ever produced. The updated list reflects changes in opinion over the past ten years, as well as considering for inclusion films made during that decade. As anyone could tell you, putting forth a list like this is an exercise in sheer folly; anything it gets right will be undone by the inevitably huge amount it gets wrong.

And yet I love lists like this, and I love this list specifically. For two reasons: #1, it serves its purpose by getting me swept up in the wonder of brilliant moviemaking, and reminding me of the many landmark films I still have yet to see, and #2, it includes a lot of idiotic decisions I get to rip apart.

Over the next few days, I'm going to look at:

1) The new movies on the updated list
2) The old movies bumped off the list
3) Some of the films' changes in position on the list
4) Which of the films on the list I've seen

So buckle in for a lot of movie talk, is what I'm saying.

For much of my reference material, I'm using the chart on this Wikipedia page. It's a nifty resource... assuming, of course, it's not completely wrong (this is Wikipedia, after all).

Here we go!

The New Movies

There are 23 new movies on the updated list. So nearly a quarter of the old list was wrong, is that what you're saying, AFI? Then why should we believe what you're telling us now?

The highest debut is Buster Keaton's The General, at #18. So, ten nine years ago, nobody at AFI had ever heard of Keaton, is that it? Then, all of a sudden, everybody was like, "Oh, yeah, Buster Keaton existed, didn't he? And he was pretty much a genius! Gentlemen, we have our number eighteen!"

At #49 and #50, we have D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, which is the oldest film on the list (1916), and The Fellowship of the Rings, which is the newest film on the list (2001). I find it very interesting that Griffith's Intolerance joins the list at such a high spot, while his Birth of a Nation was the second-highest ranking film (#44) to be dropped from the list. Seems to me AFI wanted to recognize Griffith's importance to filmmaking, but political correctness overwhelmed them, and they suddenly became overly-sensitive to the racism of Nation. Look, any film that seriously posits the Ku Klux Klan as American heroes is obviously deeply flawed; nobody's going to argue that. But that doesn't mean it's not still historic, revolutionary cinema. This feels like cowardice on AFI's part to me. So there.

As for Fellowship -- when the 20th anniversary list is created, in nine or ten or eight years, I'd be very surprised if it doesn't drop severely, perhaps even right off the list. Sure, I loved the movie, but this ranking seems more a product of proximity to its release than a true judgment of its historical significance.

Nashville, a shameful oversight on the original list, is added at #59. Which makes two whole Altman movies on the list (the other being M*A*S*H). Maybe someday his actual best movie will get added, too (that would be McCabe & Mrs. Miller, FYI). Sullivan's Travels, perhaps bolstered by the recent success of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, whose title and various plot elements are taken from Sullivan, joins the list at #61. (More on O Brother and the Coens later.) Cabaret is added at #63; I've never seen that film, but this seems questionable to me. I've also never seen Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but its inclusion at #67 seems right to me. In at #71 is Saving Private Ryan, the second of the four new films made in the last decade, which I think is an appropriate addition.

At #72 is The Shawshank Redemption, which I think is silly. It was okay -- I would even go so far as to call it pretty darn good -- but I really don't understand the cult of worship which has built up around it. I know a few people who think this is literally the best movie ever made. Sorry, guys -- but these are the kind of people who have never watched a black and white film; these are the kind of people whose second favorite movie is something starring Adam Sandler. Or Scarface. These are the kind of people who have made the film #2 on IMDb's top 250, and who clog IMDb's message boards with passionate defenses of its genius -- some bloated with delusions of grandeur:

Can Hollywood, usually creating things for entertainment purposes only, create art? To create something of this nature, a director must approach it in a most meticulous manner, due to the delicacy of the process. Such a daunting task requires an extremely capable artist with an undeniable managerial capacity and an acutely developed awareness of each element of art in their films, the most prominent; music, visuals, script, and acting. These elements, each equally important, must succeed independently, yet still form a harmonious union, because this mixture determines the fate of the artist's opus.
...and some, raving morons:

youre stupid. ive the audiance wants this film to ahve high ratings thatn u and the minority of ppl that dont have to deal with it.
These are the kind of people who mistake Shawshank's dimestore philosophy, sledgehammer emotion, and magical Negro for originality and brilliance. These are the kind of people who have never watched a truly great movie.

Not that I've given this any thought before.

In at #75 is In the Heat of the Night, at #77 is All the President's Men. Never seen 'em. New at #81 is Spartacus, which is fine by me, but I wasn't much bothered by its previous absence. #82 is F.W. Murnau's Sunrise, a silent film from 1927 that's supposed to be brilliant. (I began to wonder why Nosferatu isn't on this list, but then I realized it's a German film, not American.)

Titanic is new at #83, and if you know me, you know I have two words for that: HORSE. SHIT. The worst thing is, I knew it was going to be added to this list. I fucking knew it. And it is such a bad, bad movie. Some of the worst acting, writing, and directing ever. But it grossed a half a billion dollars domestic, so on the list it goes. This just infuriates me. Hopefully, within the next ten years, the stink of this crapfest will become evident to the populace at large, and we'll never have to hear a serious suggestion that Titanic belongs in the ranks of movie greatness ever again. (Hell, more likely, in ten years Titanic and Shawshank will be #1 and #2. America is dumb, is my point.)

A Night at the Opera enters the list at #85, and I wholeheartedly concur with its inclusion. 12 Angry Men is at #87, and I guess that's okay. The Sixth Sense comes in at #89, and I think that's a temporary fluctuation, a recognition of the "twist ending" school of film that has flourished since its debut. I fully expect it to drop back off the next version of the list.

Swing Time, from 1936, is apparently considered by many to be the best Astaire/Rogers production; it's new at #90. #91 is Sophie's Choice, which feels like an attempt to throw some recognition to perhaps the greatest actress in film history, Meryl Streep, who is otherwise only represented on this list by a supporting role in The Deer Hunter. And I can live with that.

#95 is The Last Picture Show. Eh, I don't know about that. #96 is Do the Right Thing, which is outrageous, both in that it wasn't on the list before, and that it's barely on the list now. Should be much higher, and will be in future revisions, I expect. #97 is Blade Runner. Which version? Interesting choice, and one I don't disagree with, though I expect many will.

The last new film to be added is Toy Story, at #99. I can agree with that; though I think a few later Pixar films are better, the CGI animation boom started here, and that's worth noting.

I was originally going to try to fit all my notes on this list into one post. You can see by the already-bloated length of this post why I changed my mind. You people have suffered through enough gigantor-sized entries over the past couple weeks as it is. More on the list tomorrow.

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