Thursday, June 19, 2008

AFI's 10 Top 10

On Tuesday, the American Film Institute released their annual list of 100 great movies. Apparently, there was a TV special on CBS that night, but I was watching instead the Lakers playing like crap, and getting their asses handed to them by the Celtics in game 7. Stupid Lakers! (Note to many of my friends reading this: the Lakers and the Celtics are basketball teams.)

Anyhoo. This year, the list is the top 10 films in 10 different genres. As you already know, I love nitpicking on AFI's film lists. I appreciate the way they cherish film classics, while I also enjoy ripping on their more idiotic choices, of which there are always a plethora. For example: "romantic comedies" is kind of a lame genre to single out, especially since these days the term has become synonymous with "disposable garbage starring Matthew McConaughey and/or Kate Hudson" more than anything else. Why not, say, the horror genre instead?

So here's their list -- or lists, I guess. I'll bold the ones I've seen, and pepper a few notes throughout. And for extra credit, I'm going to note where each of these movies ranked on last years AFI list, "100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary)," or whether they didn't rank at all (N/A). It's fascinating (to me, at least) how critical opinion seems to have dramatically reversed on a great number of these films in just one year -- how the "consensus" is such an inconstant thing, basically indicating: "This is what we pulled out of our asses today; for a different consensus, check back tomorrow."

Feel free to comment on the movies yourself, or on my goofy notes about the movies.

This is the only category for which I've seen all 10 movies. Not surprising.
1. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, 1937 (34)
Good choice to kick things off! The first feature animated film ever, and still (possibly) the greatest. (I personally would rather rewatch films from the Disney renaissance begun in the late '80s, starting with The Little Mermaid, or almost any Pixar film, but there's no denying the beauty and power of this original.)
2. Pinocchio, 1940 (N/A)
3. Bambi, 1942 (N/A)
4. The Lion King, 1994 (N/A)
My favorite of that Disney renaissance. I've watched this thing dozens of times.
5. Fantasia, 1940 (N/A)
This film was #54 on the original list, in 1998; for the 10th anniversary list, it was dropped. And yet here it is, ranked above a movie that was added for the 10th anniversary! You see what I mean? Inconstant.
6. Toy Story, 1995 (99)
The only film beside Snow White on the 10th anniversary "100 Movies" list, but four other unranked Disney movies beat it out on this list? Weird. Though frankly, I won't argue that those four movies (and the one below) are arguably worthier than this one, if only by a slim margin.
7. Beauty And The Beast, 1991 (N/A)
8. Shrek, 2001 (N/A)
Negative. If you're going to have more CGI animation on this list (and you probably should), a film packed full of soon-to-be-if-not-already outdated pop culture references is not the way to go. The Incredibles is exponentially more deserving than Shrek (though I'm not even saying I don't like Shrek; I do, but I'm also aware of its flaws).
9. Cinderella, 1950 (N/A)
10. Finding Nemo, 2003 (N/A)

Save Shrek, those are all great picks. Other films which could've made this list, in no particular order: Lady and the Tramp, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Toy Story 2, Sleeping Beauty, The Iron Giant, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, The Nightmare Before Christmas.

1. The Wizard Of Oz, 1939 (10)
What else could be at #1? One of my all-time favorites. I can watch this movie endlessly.
2. The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring, 2001 (50)
When going over the "100 Movies" list, I questioned the inclusion of this film; I thought it might be too soon to be calling it the 50th greatest American film. Well, time will tell. But it seems a lot more natural on this list.
3. It's A Wonderful Life, 1946 (20)
Not a movie I would've though of in the context of "fantasy," but I guess it is.
4. King Kong, 1933 (41)
5. Miracle on 34th Street, 1947 (N/A)
I haven't seen this. What's the story? A department store Santa proves he's the real Santa? Something like that? Is it really a fantasy, or is it left vague? I don't know. You tell me.
6. Field Of Dreams, 1989 (N/A)
I would've put this on the sports list, but it works fine here.
7. Harvey, 1950 (N/A)
SPOILER ALERT, probably: This seems an odd choice. There is nothing "fantastic" about this movie until literally the final seconds; up to then, everything out of the ordinary has just been in Jimmy Stewart's head. And the imaginary Harvey opening the gate at the end can once again be seen as something out of Stewart's delusions. So... fantasy or not? I'm just playing devil's advocate here: I love this film, and am always glad to see it praised, even if it might not necessarily fit this genre.
8. Groundhog Day, 1993 (N/A)
I wouldn't have expected to see this here, but I totally dig that it is. The more this movie ages, the clearer it becomes what an absolute classic it is. Very cool.
9. The Thief Of Bagdad, 1924 (N/A)
10. Big, 1988 (N/A)
I call bullshit on that one. Big??? No. No way. Don't be absurd.

Off the top of my head, here's two missing from the list that crush Big into dust: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Princess Bride. Come on! Who doesn't love The Princess Bride? I'll tell you who: NOBODY. Also, a lot of Terry Gilliam's stuff could go here: Time Bandits, Brazil, and especially The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, for example.

Science Fiction
1. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968 (15)
2. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, 1977 (13)
See, why is Star Wars ranked higher than 2001 on the "100 Movies" list, but lower on this list? Also, what possible reason could there ever be for Star Wars to be ranked higher than 2001?
3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, 1982 (24)
4. A Clockwork Orange, 1971 (70)
It's weird to think of this movie as "science fiction," but I guess that's what it is when you get down to it. It's just so much more as well.
5. The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1951 (N/A)
Does this really hold up all that well? I'd have to imagine it looks incredibly cheesy these days. I should watch it.
6. Blade Runner, 1982 (97)
7. Alien, 1979 (N/A)
Ridley Scott, back-to-back!
8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991 (N/A)
9. Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, 1956 (N/A)
10. Back To The Future, 1985 (N/A)
I say no to Back To The Future, even though I was a huge fan at the time (and I still think it's good, just not "top ten" good).

Other good selections for this list would be The Empire Strikes Back (now and always the best of the series!), Twelve Monkeys, Children of Men, Wrath of Khan, First Contact (showing my Trek nerdiness here), Aliens, and Cronenberg's The Fly. And of course, how could they possibly have excluded the greatest film in the history of sight and sound -- ROBOCOP!!! It will be recognized as the work of genius it is in my lifetime, this I swear.

This is the only one of the ten lists in which the ranking from the "100 Movies" list is unchanged. That's because there were only two sports films on the "100 Movies" list.
1. Raging Bull, 1980 (4)
When talking about the "100 Movies" list, I said I needed to watch this movie again, to try to increase my appreciation for it. I respect the movie, but I have never loved it. Well, I tried rewatching it recently, got about 20 minutes into it, and quit. I just can't embrace it the way I have so many other Scorsese films.
2. Rocky, 1976 (57)
This film has gotten knocked a lot over the years, primarily due to the lackluster sequels (though I think Rocky II and Rocky Balboa both capture a lot of what made the original so special). I say nuts to you. This is a damn good movie.
3. The Pride Of The Yankees, 1942 (N/A)
4. Hoosiers, 1986 (N/A)
5. Bull Durham, 1988 (N/A)
6. The Hustler, 1961 (N/A)
7. Caddyshack, 1980 (N/A)
A lot of expected titles above; this one, not so much. I mean, I love it, but top ten greatest sports films? Nobody loves this movie because of the dramatic golf action.
8. Breaking Away, 1979 (N/A)
Wait -- that cheesy bike-racing movie from the '70s? Really? Is this actually worth watching?
9. National Velvet, 1944 (N/A)
10. Jerry Maguire, 1996 (N/A)
I praised this movie the other day while talking about Jay Mohr, but I don't think I'd include it on this list. Eh... maybe. I can't think of much else.

What other great sports films aren't included here? Let's see... Eight Men Out, maybe. Um... how about Slap Shot? Do documentaries count? If so, then definitely Hoop Dreams. TV movies? Then Brian's Song, for sure. Anything else I can think of, I don't think I'd put forward as "top ten."

My favorite genre. Let's see how badly they screw it up.
1. The Searchers, 1956 (12)
This is pretty much the default choice for "greatest Western" at this point, though even a few years ago, I don't think that was the case. I'm perfectly fine with it.
2. High Noon, 1952 (27)
Not one of my faves, as I've said before, but man, that Grace Kelly is purty.
3. Shane, 1953 (45)
I really don't care for this film, aside from Jack Palance's awesomely evil character. I don't know why so many people love it so much.
4. Unforgiven, 1992 (68)
Probably my personal favorite Western, though Rio Bravo, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and #6 below also vie for the honor. Also, see my note on #8.
5. Red River, 1948 (N/A)
It's really shameful I haven't seen this yet.
6. The Wild Bunch, 1969 (79)
7. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, 1969 (73)
8. McCabe And Mrs. Miller, 1971 (N/A)
I've called this one of the best films ever, so why would I name other movies as my favorite Westerns rather than this? Because it's hard for me to think of this as a Western, despite its having all the trappings. It's a Western, yes, but (as with Clockwork Orange and sci-fi) it's so much more. Forgive my inability to phrase it more eloquently, but: it transcends the genre. It's more of the Altman genre than anything else (as Clockwork is of the Kubrick genre).
9. Stagecoach, 1939 (N/A)
10. Cat Ballou, 1965 (N/A)
I've only seen parts of this, but I still think this is a crazy choice. Maybe I should watch the whole thing.

There's a number of overlooked titles I can come up with for this category -- even taking into consideration that most of Sergio Leone's films don't qualify, because they're Italian productions, not American. First of all, the omission of Rio Bravo is a crime. Other fine picks would've been: My Darling Clementine, The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Magnificent Seven, Once Upon a Time in the West (which I believe is an Italian/American co-production, and thus should qualify for this list), and (I'm not kidding here) Blazing Saddles.

1. The Godfather, 1972 (2)
2. Goodfellas, 1990 (92)
3. The Godfather Part II, 1974 (32)
4. White Heat, 1949 (N/A)
5. Bonnie And Clyde, 1967 (42)
6. Scarface: The Shame Of The Nation, 1932 (N/A)
7. Pulp Fiction, 1994 (94)
I wouldn't really call this a "gangster" movie. Crime, yes; gangster, no.
8. The Public Enemy, 1931 (N/A)
9. Little Caesar, 1931 (N/A)
10. Scarface, 1983 (N/A)

Don't have much to say on this one. The top three are just as they should be, I think. I haven't seen #4, but I still suspect Bonnie and Clyde should outrank it, with Pulp Fiction taking its place at #5 (again, if it really counts as a gangster film at all). And the only film I can think to add, other than Casino, which is probably rightfully out of the running, is The Untouchables.

With all these Hitchcock films, this category perhaps should more properly be called "Mystery/Suspense." Hitchcock is rarely about unraveling a mystery so much as tying your stomach in knots with dreadful anticipation.
1. Vertigo, 1958 (9)
I have similar problems with this film as I do with Raging Bull. I've never loved it, but I can understand those who do.
2. Chinatown, 1974 (21)
I just watched this again last week, and I'd put it in first place on this list by miles. Sheer brilliance, beginning to end. One of the, let's say, five best films ever made. (Other four, according to me? McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca. And RoboCop!)
3. Rear Window, 1954 (48)
My favorite Hitchcock. And again: Grace Kelly, purty like a flower.
4. Laura, 1944 (N/A)
5. The Third Man, 1949 (N/A)
6. The Maltese Falcon, 1941 (31)
7. North By Northwest, 1959 (55)
8. Blue Velvet, 1986 (N/A)
Wow. Did not see this one coming. Very bold and awesome pick. I need to see this again.
9. Dial M For Murder, 1954 (N/A)
10. The Usual Suspects, 1995 (N/A)

I don't know what else I would suggest for this list. Oh, wait: Double Indemnity leaps to mind. Also, The Thin Man.

Romantic Comedies
I really should see all four of the films on this list I haven't yet.
1. City Lights, 1931 (11)
An odd choice. When you think "romantic comedy," do you think "Charlie Chaplin"? I haven't seen this, though I don't doubt it's a great film. But pigeonholing it as a "romantic comedy" seems to diminish it.
2. Annie Hall, 1977 (35)
Only seen it once. Not my favorite Allen film, though I wouldn't mind seeing it again, see if it's grown on me.
3. It Happened One Night, 1934 (46)
Absolutely! Love this film.
4. Roman Holiday, 1953 (N/A)
5. The Philadelphia Story, 1940 (44)
One of my very favorites. Completely wonderful. Great choice.
6. When Harry Met Sally..., 1989 (N/A)
This one grows less in my eyes the older it gets. Maybe I'm just growing more cynical.
7. Adam's Rib, 1949 (N/A)
8. Moonstruck, 1987 (N/A)
9. Harold And Maude, 1971 (N/A)
Another great choice.
10. Sleepless In Seattle, 1993 (N/A)
A not so great choice. Or am I being cynical again?

I could much more easily single out shitty romantic comedies that everyone else loves than I could romantic comedies that I think are actually deserving of this list. Pretty Woman, You've Got Mail, My Big Fat Greek Wedding: awful, awful, awful. What would I add? About a Boy, maybe. Princess Bride, definitely. Two great picks from Billy Wilder: Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. I'm stalling out after that.

Courtroom Drama
Apparently, I don't much care for courtroom dramas! I've seen parts of pretty much all of these ten films, but never the whole thing.
1. To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962 (25)
2. 12 Angry Men, 1957 (87)
3. Kramer Vs. Kramer, 1979 (N/A)
This? Really? Isn't this horribly dated and cheesy by now?
4. The Verdict, 1982 (N/A)
5. A Few Good Men, 1992 (N/A)
I did see the stage version of this; an amateur production, in which my friend played the murdered soldier. Good stuff! I should see this movie.
6. Witness For The Prosecution, 1957 (N/A)
7. Anatomy of a Murder, 1959 (N/A)
8. In Cold Blood, 1967 (N/A)
9. A Cry In The Dark, 1988 (N/A)
10. Judgment At Nuremberg, 1961 (N/A)

Nothing to add here.

1. Lawrence of Arabia, 1962 (7)
Of course. What a fantastic film. I'd like to see it on the big screen again.
2. Ben-Hur, 1959 (100)
3. Schindler's List, 1993 (8)
Does this really fit into the "epic" category? Aside from being really long? Just asking; never seen it.
4. Gone With The Wind, 1939 (6)
5. Spartacus, 1960 (81)
6. Titanic, 1997 (83)
I'll spare you my usual Titanic ranting other than to say: no, no, a thousand times no.
7. All Quiet On The Western Front, 1930 (N/A)
8. Saving Private Ryan, 1998 (71)
9. Reds, 1981 (N/A)
Again: this is "epic"? I literally have no idea.
10. The Ten Commandments, 1956 (N/A)

Well, at least nobody suggested Gladiator. I'm a little stumped for additions, especially since Kurosawa doesn't qualify. Apocalypse Now would fit. Patton, too.

Your turn now! What did you think of this year's AFI collection? What would you change? What stupid thing did I say to piss you off? Leave a comment!

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