June 21, 2007

Thoughts on the new AFI Top 100

The American Film Institute's list of the top 100 American movies of all time is a big deal to me, probably a bigger deal than it should be. I periodically count how many on the list I've seen, and taking into account the absolute subjectivity of any type of list, I respect it as one of the more authoritative lists out there. The original list was compiled in 1997/8, and they've just released a revamped edition for the new milennium, which is available here. Reading this new list caused me, at various intervals, to literally scream with joy, anger, or shock. Mostly though, I prefer the old list. Here are my thoughts.

Things that make me happy

- Singin' in the Rain moved up five spots, from 10 to 5. Nice.
- There were some overdue and previously overlooked additions, such as Cabaret, 12 Angry Men, and In the Heat of the Night.
- Crash was not added, as threatened.

Things that make me unhappy

- Prior to this new list, I read the list of the 400 nominees they were considering, available here. In addition to the usual suspects, there were a bunch of old movies deemed worth reconsidering, plus movies released since the first list. Of the newcomers, I knew they would add at least one Lord of the Rings movie, which they did. I was praying for them to add Rushmore, which they didn't. There were several other very respectable candidates, such as A Beautiful Mind, Lost in Translation, Mystic River, and Saving Private Ryan (which was added). But do you know what were the only other newbies to get added? TITANIC and THE FUCKING SIXTH SENSE. I will deal with each of these separately.
- The Sixth Sense. You see dead people. We get it. This movie gave the world some thrills and chills, and Haley Joel Osment. But these are the greatest American movies EVAR. Over half a century after Gone With the Wind, people still quote "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" - will people really be saying "I see dead people" in 68 years? A good genre piece it may be, a legendary classic it is not. Another thing that made me angry: in the corresponding TV special for this list, Stephen Spielberg said, "Psycho was the original Sixth Sense," which in addition to being blasphemous is just illogical. Just because they're both suspenseful? I don't walk around saying that Some Like It Hot is the original Norbit just because they're both comedies!
- Titanic. This film was significant for three reasons: it was inexplicably nominated for a shitload of Oscars, it won Leonardo DiCaprio a shitload of fans, and it made a shitload of money worldwide. But seriously guys, this movie is SOOOO CHEESY. It was a sensation at the time, but can anyone watch this now without a healthy sense of irony? Who still cries when Jack dies, instead of laughs? There are other cheesy movies on the list too, such as Jaws. But Jaws has two key things to augment its cheesiness: a sense of humor, and the nostalgia factor. Titanic is just a bloated joke that has been deservedly forgotten (until now).
- Some of the films that dropped off the list are absolutely criminal: Rebel Without a Cause is a brilliant piece of cinema that made a star out of James Dean and brought teenage angst to light as a real issue; An American in Paris is beautiful, fun, and revolutionized the American musical; Fantasia changed animation forever; From Here to Eternity is a star-studded and Oscar-laden epic that brought up deep questions about morality and war. But the worst omission this time around is Birth of a Nation. It could be included for historical and social influence alone, but it is also a technically and cinematically amazing masterpiece. Maybe Griffiths' battle scenes don't stand up to modern-day ones, and the acting methods seem overwrought compared to the nuanced methods favored today, but for the time, this stuff was incredible, and still packs a punch.

Things that just completely baffle me

- The AFI's sudden and inexplicable boner for Westerns. Most notable is The Searchers' jump from 96 to 12, but Shane, High Noon and Unforgiven also had big jumps. This is pretty random, considering that there's no apparent Western revival now or anything.
- Why did some things move up or down one or two spots? That's just silly.
- I noticed that a lot of the films that dropped off the list deal with "big issues": Guess Who's Coming To Dinner tackles interracial romance, The Manchurian Candidate deals with government brainwashing, Birth of a Nation is still controversial for its racism, From Here to Eternity and All Quiet on the Western Front paint decidedly unglamorous depictions of war, Rebel Without a Cause legitimizes teen problems, etc. A lot of a new additions can be considered "safe" by comparison.
- Sullivan's Travels added? Weird.

Another impact this new list will have on my life is the necessary reorganization of our AFI Top 100 section at the video store where I work. And they're all numbered - grunt. Wish me luck.


IWitnessEd said...

nice analysis, even though i disagree with much. for example, there was a time a couple of decades back when The Searchers was routinely viewed as one of the top 5 of all time--the racist outsider who fits in nowhere, etc. as Freeman noted, opinions and audiences change, and so do ratings. Titanic? ridiculous, but the AFI probably haslots of Hollywood hacks voting (as at Oscar time). anyway, many thanks!

Scott Nye said...

Okay, let me say this about Titanic. I had the chance to watch it for the first time long after all the hype had died away from it and people had gone from feeling intensely either way about it to just being like "what're you gonna do." And I really liked it. It's a really, really well made movie with enjoyable characters, and it's REALLY not so much cheesier than so many movies from the classical era.

Westerns get underrated generally, so I was happy they got some props finally.

But really, after they put Raging Bull at #4 nothing could make me mad.

Anonymous said...

i love your blog
i will comment some more later

Anonymous said...

i basically have the same opinion as you on the list

when the sixth sense/titanic came up i wanted to throw my dinner at the tv and send an angry letter to AFI

which i did

but you forgot to mention how they absolutely horrible it was of them to bump the graduate out of the top ten

vertigo was a nice add
but raging bull?

it was a great film but it didn't give me that warm fuzzy "damn that is one hell of a movie" kinda feeling that the graduate did for me

personally i liked taxi driver and goodfellas better than raging bull

and i never really liked the searchers that much but since the only decent men in my family are in love with this movie (and john wayne) i consider it a "great"

Anonymous said...

okay excuse me for my horrible spelling and grammar

brian said...

Raging Bull is an amazing film. I guess people don't like it because Lamotta is such an unlikeable character. Whatever, it doesn't make him any less fascinating. Moriarty and Pesci provide stellar support and the b&w photography is superb. It deserves a place in the top 5. It should have won best picture. Does anyone even watch Ordinary People anymore?