Tuesday, June 19, 2007

AFI's 100 movies ... 10 years later

Almost ten years ago to the date, the American Film Institute revealed their 100 Years, 100 Movies list, which at the time seemed like a pretty big deal, but has faded over the years -- partially due to AFI putting out many more, infinitely less relevant lists (100 cheers, 100 movie quotes, 100 laughs, etc.). Tomorrow night, AFI will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the initial list with a re-polling of 1,500 artists and leaders in the film industry to include films made after 1996. AFI plans to do this every 10 years to keep up with the nation's changing movie tastes -- or to ensure more publicity.

What made the first list so accessible was that the ballots were limited to American films in a feature, narrative format. This ensured that a large number of recognizable films comprised the list, and avoided any international incidents. But this format was also a source of great frustration, as the AFI's notion of what films are American was widely inconsistent: largely British films were allowed to scoot in because of their American cast members, but Italian films were shut out despite how many Americans were in their cast. The most egregious example of this was not corrected for the latest ballot, with Sergio Leone's films being left out. Despite it being ingrained in popular American culture, the three title characters being played by Americans, and the movie itself set in Civil War-America, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was excluded from ballots. Same for Once Upon a Time in the West, which features two of the three main characters played by American actors (Henry Fonda and Jason Robards) and the fact that much of the movie was shot in the Southwest United States.

Beyond that disappointment, it will be interesting to see what the new order of the 100 movies shakes out and what more recent movies are included. Have movie tastes changed much in 10 years? I have to think this is true for some of the movies on the list, and a few which were omitted. At the time of the original voting, Forrest Gump and Fargo were still enjoying a wealth of critical acclaim, but it wouldn't surprise me if both were left off the new list since people are finally coming to their senses about Forrest Gump and the Coen Bros.' Miller's Crossing is getting its delayed due. Of the newly-eligible films, I would see these as the most likely to be considered: Titanic, American Beauty, Sideways, The Sixth Sense, Saving Private Ryan and possibly The Big Lebowski (a long shot for sure, but I can dream). The Sixth Sense and Sideways also have long odds, but I think their reputations are still fresh in voters' minds.

Much has been made about the order and the movies included in the original list, notably The Graduate being in the top 10 and the inclusions of Dances With Wolves and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, among others. Snow White illustrates one of the hardest arguments with these kind of lists: does a movie's historic significance and initial reception outweigh how it stands today as a movie? In my mind, Snow White will always take a back seat to Pinocchio as far as Disney movies, and does anyone still consider Dances With Wolves to be any kind of masterpiece? Same goes for The Birth of a Nation, which had an enormous impact on the way films were made when it was released in 1915, but does it really deserve to be ranked No. 44 on a list like this? Before I move to what omitted movies deserve a long look, let's look at the contenders for being bumped off the list: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Dances With Wolves, Forrest Gump, Fargo, High Noon, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Graffiti and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

For High Noon, there's no way it belongs at No. 33 and I wouldn't even put it in my top 10 of favorite Westerns. It definitely had a great cast and superior editing, but I never got the impression while watching High Noon that it was one of the best movies ever made. Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Graffiti and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington fall into the same category: beloved by a generation and certainly good movies, but among the very best?

Off the top of my head, here are some worthy films who could fill those aforementioned spots: Dracula (1931), The Big Sleep, The Night of the Hunter and Red River. Dracula can live on its reputation and impact alone, but it is still a fantastic movie full of technical expertise and eerie performances. The Big Sleep has happily confounded movie watchers for generations, and it will remain a much-watched and loved Bogie-Bacall masterpiece for many more decades. The Night of the Hunter has gained a newfound notoriety with film fans since a much-needed restoration care of UCLA and a better availability on DVD -- you may never see a more beautiful or terrifying movie. Red River is another long shot, but it's simply one of the best Westerns ever made, with one of John Wayne's best characters and an enduring story.

Whatever is included on the new list, you can bet people will be talking about it on Thursday morning.


Damian Arlyn said...

I realize that these AFI lists don't really mean anything, but I still have to admit that I was actually saddened to see Close Encounters, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Fargo (three of my all-time favorite films) taken off. Still, Saving Private Ryan and Shawshank Redemption (also favorites of mine) were added and I was pleased about that.

What most excited me though was that Schindler's List (still in the top 10) moved up a notch from #9 to #8, so the list can't possibly be a complete waste.

Adam Ross said...

I guess I wasn't expecting such wholesale changes, and in that respect the list is kind of entertaining: it sounds like they polled the same 1,500 people this time, did their tastes really change that much?

There are definitely some good additions (The Last Picture Show, Nashville, The General), but I just can't get over The Third Man falling out completely, along with Frankenstein

PIPER said...

It's bad.

Out: North By Northwest, The Third Man, Manchurian Candidate, Close Encounters, Fargo.

In: Titanic

That blows.

TALKING MOVIEzzz said...
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