Archive for the ‘afi 100’ Category

The AFI list came out
June 23, 2007

First of all, here’s the AFI’s 100 years…100 movies list in case you missed it last night. They recapped the top 100 films of all time. You can find it hereng it:http://www.usatoday.com/life/movies/news/2007-06-20-AFI-movie-list_N.htm

Now this is basically the only time in 10 years that knowledge of classic film and current events ever mix together, so I better take advantage of that and start writing away. This was such an exciting event for me, because I didn’t even recognize the names of most of those movies the last time around.

So here are some notes:
-I talked to a spokesman for the AFI in an interview and she said the AFI is redoing the top 100 list to account for the last 10 years of film, but she also said that no films from the 400-ballot date later than 2004 because the films do need time to breathe to be properly evaluated and I agree with that. The end result is a little bit low, though. Only 4 films were included: Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, Lord of the Rings and The Sixth Sense. The most frustrating thing about this is the incongruity of this is that since only one of these films was in the 2000’s, this could almost, almost pass for a 20th century list right up to the very last year.

-It also has me worried that perhaps since film critics are exposed to so many more Oscar contenders and there is so much internet criticism out there, that maybe we can’t agree on greatness anymore. During the Great Depression, films like It Happened One Night and 42nd Street pulled people together. I don’t know if that’s the case. We can still all get excited over Spiderman, Pirates of the Carribean and X-Men, and Brokeback Mountain, Dreamgirls and Departed do dominate water cooler buzz, but maybe it’s a fracture between the critics and the public. Spiderman, Shrek and Pirates were all on the ballot as were many of the Oscar nominees. At the very least it’s nice to see a few films added:
– Lord of the Rings is an undeniable safe choice because it has been both part of the Blockbuster culture and the Oscar culture which divides film viewing now more than ever.
-I’ve already seen a lot of complaining about the Sixth Sense on message boards, but I say, let’s just try to agree on something, rather than have this decade not represented. Sixth Sense is an interesting offbeat pick from a director who has a gift for originality. Even if he’s currently struggling a little with where to go with it at the moment (Lady in the Water hit a nerve with audiences and it ended the director’s streak of commercial success), let’s honor how he once showed us something new and original.
-Saving Private Ryan was a film that came along when there was nothing left to say about World War II. It’s another war classic and it shows that the tradition of making great war movies has not been forgotten. Flags of Our Fathers/Letters from Iwo Jima is the recent continuation of this.
-Titanic is such an interesting pick. When the last list came out in 1998, Titanic seemed like the biggest cinematic event to hit the face of the Earth. It broke all box office records and it had the biggest production budget ever and it won a record number of Oscars. Nowadays, box office draw and critical acclaim are two different things entirely. The box office champions of the last few years Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest, Star Wars III, Shrek II, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Spiderman, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Mission Impossible II, have virtually no chance at a best picture nomination and seldom appear on critic’s top 10 lists. But back then, Titanic was unstoppable. Even if you wanted to hate it because it was a Goliath of a film and you tend to root for the Davids, the story was so damn moving and emotional, that you couldn’t deny it’s greatness. If Titanic was eligible for that ballot, who knows how high it would have gotten on the list. Some might have voted it #1 due to the fact that box office draw and greatness might have been more correlated. Nearly 10 years later, Titanic is almost forgotten and its entry onto this list is a fairly heavy reminder of the pervasiveness Titanic once held in our culture that one year. I still think it’s relevant because Titanic was the last box office champ to even be nominated for an Oscar and for that might have been the last true blockbuster before our blockbuster culture got saturated. (Sixth Sense cracked the top 10 all time and it was nominated, however)

-One question that’s been asked on a lot of message boards is what’s the biggest mistake: I think the biggest waste of a choice was Night at the Opera because one Marx Brothers film is enough. Honestly, I can’t even remember if I’ve seen a Night at the Opera. I’ve seen about 4 or 5 Marx Brothers Films and i can’t remember them by name. I think they all just blend into each other. Some have Zeppo and some don’t, that’s the only difference.

-Out with the old and in with the new. To make way for some of the new films on the list, a number of films on the list 10 years ago got displaced. I think it is upsetting that films like “A Place in the Sun,” “Stagecoach,” and especially “From Here to Eternity” (my favorite war film) were omitted from the list but i don’t think that necessarily renders them historically irrelevant. The fact that they were on the first top 100 list cements them as classics, and it’s simply that they wanted to mix it up a little. Mostly what the list did was introduce the public to some films that should’ve made the list last time (and probably almost did):
-Do the Right Thing: Spike Lee has combined his filmic ambitions with his desire to infuse the country with racial awareness
-Blade Runner (Ridley Scott): The film didn’t have enough sci-fi the first time, and Blade Runner was aside from being a great and highly praised film, a great influence in the genre. It also introduced Ridley Scott to the list
-Cabaret (Bob Fosse): I saw this film in my film genres class when we studied musicals and in terms of reinventing the conventions of a genre, it’s hard to top this film. In musicals, the songs are used to celebrate life, courtship, community and vitality. In Cabaret, the musical numbers are used to illustrate decadence and foreshadowdeath.
-All The President’s Men (Alan Paluka): This film was basically the 1970’s version of “Good Night and Good Luck,” only it was actually relevant to the times. A strict docudrama that featured Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford running around and looking busy like the casts of Aaron Sorkin shows traditionally like to do, All the President’s Men was as great of a suspsense thriller as it was a history lesson. All the recent buzz about the story with Mark Felt’s identity revealed as deep throat might have contributed to the film making the list this time around
-Sullivan’s Travels (Preston Sturges): I’ve seen two of the three really famous Preston Sturges films: Palm Beach Story and The Lady Eve and wasn’t much of a fun of either of them. The third, Sullivan’s Travels, looks quite appealling now that I’ve seen clips of it and I’m thinking I might watch it. Perhaps, three times a charm. While I am not yet a fan of Preston Sturges, many film historians consider him to be a historically significant film director. Go figure.
-The General (Buster Keaton): The great silent film star who has been considered 2nd best next to Chaplain for the last 40 or 50 years or so. The General was his most epic film and I believe his most expensive to produce. I did see it and personally did not think it was as great as Chaplain or even Harold Lloyd’s films, but it is certainly a different brand of comedy.
-12 Angry Men (Sidney Lumet): Along with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (also on the list), there is no film that captures the spirit of American Democracy better than this film. It’s also such an impressive film because its setting is pretty much confined to one single room and there’s nothing but the dramatic tension to keep things moving
-Sophie’s Choice: This is the only film on the list that I know absolutely nothing about (there were other films that I knew close to nothing about). All I knew about this film was that it won Meryl Streep an Oscar and I wasn’t even sure of that. Once again, the AFI list made me feel stupid, but that’s ok.

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A new AFI list?
June 20, 2007

This Wednesday, the AFI announced their 2nd edition of their famed Top 100 movies list and I am reminded of how monumental the release of the original AFI 100 Years.…100 Movies list was for me, because it led to my desire to be a film critic.

Back in 1998, when I heard a list was being released of the top 100 films of all time, I tried to guess what might be on the list based on what films I had seen and liked. I thought of films like Cool Runnings, The Mighty Ducks and an obscure Vincente Minnelli musical called Kismet. When I actually looked it up, I was completely taken aback to learn that pretty much all of the films on the list were not only movies I had yet to see, but movies I hadn’t even heard of. I suddenly wanted to know what exactly these films could possibly have that the Mighty Ducks didn’t have. The following summer, I spent a lot of my free time going to the library and checking out films on the list like The Graduate, Who’s Coming to Dinner, The African Queen and Network. The rest is history

It most likely wasn’t just me who gained an appreciation of film around this time. The AFI list came in the middle of a list-making craze occurring around the turn of the century. Between 1995 and 2002, every group from Time Out Film Guide to the British Film Institute to the National Society of Film Critics, in addition to Premiere, Empire, Movieline, TV Guide, and Rolling Stone magazines published lists for the century’s top films. Some might see these lists as arbitrary gimmicks, but the lists act as a reference for sorting between quality and generic drivel for those who dare to venture beyond the new release sections of the video store. Before 1995, the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, awards like the Oscars, and Sight and Sound Magazine’s decennial film poll were the only guides to the history of films and they were all insufficient. The National Film Registry is not particularly well-publicized and the Sight and Sound polls only goes 10 films deep. The Oscars and all other awards that single out great films by the year can often fall into the trap of thinking about what’s big at the moment and selections like Around the World in 80 Days and The Ziegfeld Follies can become dated very quickly.

Of these lists, the AFI remains the most well-known and I’ve come to consider it as a definitive authority. I can’t say the list is perfect but I think that all but two or three (My Fair Lady, Wuthering Heights, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) are pretty safely in the realm of classics. 97 out of 100 is a pretty good mark. The list is also pretty inclusive of all time periods, major actors, significant directors, and runs 8 or 9 films deep in every major American genre. It has everything from recent Oscar winners (i.e. Forrest Gump, Dances with Wolves), popular crowdpleasers (i.e. Rocky, Raiders of the Lost Ark), film milestones (i.e. Birth of a Nation, Jazz Singer), cult monster movies (Frankenstein), literary adaptations (i.e. To Kill a Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath), and the most anti-war (i.e. Mash and Apocalypse Now) and pro-war (i.e. From Here to Eternity) films ever made.

This is why I’m against the notion of the list being tampered with. The tragedy of redoing the list is that some great films will inevitably be left off to make room for the new. Also, other than a film like the 1958 Orson Welles’ classic Touch of Evil, that gained praise only after its original cut was finally released forty years later or the 1962 entry (ranked at #67) “The Manchurian Candidate” which was pulled out of circulation until 1988 due to controversial content, I’m not sure why there is a need to reorder the films either. After all, Citizen Kane hasn’t gotten any worse over the last 10 years. Why not just add 10 films for the last 10 years, even if it means changing the catchy marketing title “100 Years, 100 movies.”

My suggestions on what to add can be found on my personal blog here.