Thursday, June 21, 2007

AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies 10th Anniversary Edition

The American Film Institute has once again released a list of the 100 greatest American films, to see how attitudes have changed in the ten years since their last (better) list - and once again proven just how irrelevant they really are.

Here is the new list:

1. "Citizen Kane," 1941.
2. "The Godfather," 1972.
3. "Casablanca," 1942.
4. "Raging Bull," 1980.
5. "Singin' in the Rain," 1952.
6. "Gone With the Wind," 1939.
7. "Lawrence of Arabia," 1962.
8. "Schindler's List," 1993.
9. "Vertigo," 1958.
10. "The Wizard of Oz," 1939.
11. "City Lights," 1931.
12. "The Searchers," 1956.
13. "Star Wars," 1977.
14. "Psycho," 1960.
15. "2001: A Space Odyssey," 1968.
16. "Sunset Blvd.", 1950.
17. "The Graduate," 1967.
18. "The General," 1927.
19. "On the Waterfront," 1954.
20. "It's a Wonderful Life," 1946.
21. "Chinatown," 1974.
22. "Some Like It Hot," 1959.
23. "The Grapes of Wrath," 1940.
24. "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," 1982.
25. "To Kill a Mockingbird," 1962.
26. "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1939.
27. "High Noon," 1952.
28. "All About Eve," 1950.
29. "Double Indemnity," 1944.
30. "Apocalypse Now," 1979.
31. "The Maltese Falcon," 1941.
32. "The Godfather Part II," 1974.
33. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," 1975.
34. "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," 1937.
35. "Annie Hall," 1977.
36. "The Bridge on the River Kwai," 1957.
37. "The Best Years of Our Lives," 1946.
38. "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," 1948.
39. "Dr. Strangelove," 1964.
40. "The Sound of Music," 1965.
41. "King Kong," 1933.
42. "Bonnie and Clyde," 1967.
43. "Midnight Cowboy," 1969.
44. "The Philadelphia Story," 1940.
45. "Shane," 1953.
46. "It Happened One Night," 1934.
47. "A Streetcar Named Desire," 1951.
48. "Rear Window," 1954.
49. "Intolerance," 1916.
50. "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," 2001.
51. "West Side Story," 1961.
52. "Taxi Driver," 1976.
53. "The Deer Hunter," 1978.
54. "M-A-S-H," 1970.
55. "North by Northwest," 1959.
56. "Jaws," 1975.
57. "Rocky," 1976.
58. "The Gold Rush," 1925.
59. "Nashville," 1975.
60. "Duck Soup," 1933.
61. "Sullivan's Travels," 1941.
62. "American Graffiti," 1973.
63. "Cabaret," 1972.
64. "Network," 1976.
65. "The African Queen," 1951.
66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981.
67. "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", 1966.
68. "Unforgiven," 1992.
69. "Tootsie," 1982.
70. "A Clockwork Orange," 1971.
71. "Saving Private Ryan," 1998.
72. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.
73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969.
74. "The Silence of the Lambs," 1991.
75. "In the Heat of the Night," 1967.
76. "Forrest Gump," 1994.
77. "All the President's Men," 1976.
78. "Modern Times," 1936.
79. "The Wild Bunch," 1969.
80. "The Apartment, 1960.
81. "Spartacus," 1960.
82. "Sunrise," 1927.
83. "Titanic," 1997.
84. "Easy Rider," 1969.
85. "A Night at the Opera," 1935.
86. "Platoon," 1986.
87. "12 Angry Men," 1957.
88. "Bringing Up Baby," 1938.
89. "The Sixth Sense," 1999.
90. "Swing Time," 1936.
91. "Sophie's Choice," 1982.
92. "Goodfellas," 1990.
93. "The French Connection," 1971.
94. "Pulp Fiction," 1994.
95. "The Last Picture Show," 1971.
96. "Do the Right Thing," 1989.
97. "Blade Runner," 1982.
98. "Yankee Doodle Dandy," 1942.
99. "Toy Story," 1995.
100. "Ben-Hur," 1959.

My biggest problem with this new list is the replacing of D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) with his follow-up atonement project Intolerance (1916). That is a chickenshit, cover-your-ass move. I shouldn't be surprised that the AFI would be too cowardly to anoint Birth, even though they did on the last list. But to replace it with Intolerance is a blatant "we want to recognize Griffith so we'll recognize one that won't ruffle feathers."

That's not to say that Intolerance isn't a great film. It's a masterpiece and deserves inclusion on this list. But to ignore Birth of Nation, perhaps the most important and groundbreaking film ever made (it was the first feature length film, it brought cinema to the mainstream, and created the artform as we know it today) is an egregious oversight and an appalling display of cowardice.

Yes, Birth of a Nation is a virulently and despicably racist film. But to ignore its achievement is just as ignorant as the film's warped views, not to mention just plain wrong. You cannot stick your head in the sand and ignore its existence, even though many people do by honoring Intolerance so they can pretend that Birth doesn't exist and still feel as though they are honoring Griffith, the father of cinema.

It is an injustice to film history, proving just how pointless these AFI lists really are...and that's without even mentioning the presence of films like Forrest Gump, The Sixth Sense, and The Shawshank Redemption on the list, while The Birth of a Nation, All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity, and The Manchurian Candidate are kicked off the list.

There were some good things about the list, however. I was pleasantly surprised to see Preston Sturges' wonderful Sullivan's Travels included on the list, as well as F.W. Murnau's silent classic Sunrise, and delighted to see that the turgid The Jazz Singer had been dropped (just because you're the first talkie doesn't automatically make you a good movie). And I was absolutely thrilled to see that Ben-Hur had dropped to #100 (I would like to see it drop off the list completely...but I'll take what I can get), I still think it is one of the most overrated movies of all time. Yes it's a huge spectacle and way ahead of its time, but the acting is wooden and the emotions don't resonate as a result.

I was puzzled to see Cabaret appear on the list. Not that it's bad (Cabaret is one of my favorite musicals), but I would never have considered it for top 100 inclusion.

I was also surprised to see that Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull rocketed from #24 to #4 on the list. Not that I'm complaining, I just wasn't expecting it to finish quite so high.

Of the more recent crop of films eligible for the new list, I was most hoping to see Ang Lee's groundbreaking Brokeback Mountain added to the list. I have a feeling it will show up on later lists though, since AFI apparently plans to continue doing this every 10 years to track changing feelings about movies. Once the film's impact can truly be measured by history, then maybe it will be recognized for the masterpiece that it is.

But my biggest problem with the list remains the fact that only American films are eligible. That ignores such classics as The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Rules of the Game, Battleship Potemkin, 8 1/2, M, Ugetsu monogatri, Seven Samurai, La Strada, L'Avventura, and The Seventh Seal. It creates a skewed perspective on film by ignoring some of the greatest works in cinema just because they aren't American. Movies didn't originate in America, after all. We can thank the French for the movies.

Of course, Citizen Kane remained #1, and I have no problem with that. It deserves it. Few movies actually earn all their ecstatic praise, but Kane defies them all. It may not be my pick for Greatest Film of All Time (Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928] gets my vote), but it is certainly up there. It remains one of the most glorious, fascinating, vibrant examples of the art form we have, and its sheer genius and invention is thrilling to watch. It is THE great American film, and more than holds its own with the rest of the world's best.

It may be the one thing AFI keeps getting right over and over again.

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