Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the greatest movies

i love lists.
i've usually got my 'top 5 cds', 'top 10 movies', and whatever else suits my fancy. and i think that's why i like the oscars so much--it's something to talk about. did sean penn really deserve 'best actor' over bill murray or johnny depp [of course not!] interesting that 'how green was my valley' beat out 'citizen kane' for best picture; could anyone have topped audrey hepburn for 'best actress' in 1953?

in the summer of 1998, the american film institute aired a special called '100 years,100 movies', listing the 100 greatest movies in the century since the invention of the movie camera [1896-1996]. my interest in film had been ignited a few months earlier, but this was like diving head first into the waters. for three hours listening to industry professionals discuss their favorite movies and why they were so influential. looking through a published list, i think i had seen about 20 of the movies, but that soon changed. for the remaining weeks of the summer, i went to the local video store and, thanks to their '7 movies, 7 days, 7 dollars' special, watched a lot of really good movies. i was surprised at how good the 4-hour lawrence of arabia was, didn't quite appreciate 'the philadelphia story' the first time, and was not at all expecting what i saw in '2001'. that weirded me out.

it is now 9 years later and i've seen 79 of the top 100 and the afi has decided it's time for another list, airing tonight at 7 p.m. adding ten years means that movies up through 2006 are now eligble, which has is interesting. when the original list came out, i knew nothing much about movies [i was hoping 'the nightmare before Christmas' would be on there, but understood when it wasn't] and so the list has always been a special collection to me: my introduction to a new world. so a new list has me feeling a little protective, especially to more recent movies. does 'fight club', 'eternal sunshine of the spotless mind', 'finding nemo' or 'harry potter and the prisoner of azkaban' belong among the ranks of 'casablanca', 'butch cassidy and the sundance kid' and the third man'? this is getting to be touchy stuff. and i'm starting to understand the controversy over putting 1993's 'schindler's list' at #9 of all time.

the afi selects 400 american movies [with 'lawrence of arabia' and 'lord of the rings', this is a fuzzy line] and asks voters to make their choices based on the film's critical appeal, major awards, popularity over the ages, historical import, and cultural significance. looking over the nominees is interesting. during an IM conversation with my brother [we looked through the list yesterday and debated what should and shouldn't make it], i broke down the selections by decade--it felt like the 90's and 2000's were too favored. thankfully, i was wrong:
silent era [up to 1929, actually]- 22 movies
1930's- 49
1940's- 57
1950's- 50
1960's- 41
1970's- 55
1980's- 55
1990's- 43
2000's- 28

will 'citizen kane' be #1 again? hard to say. certainly nothing has changed in the eyes of the critics, but for a mass-appeal list, will they change it up to make it interesting? when rolling stone magazine put out their 500 greatest albums list, 'sergeant pepper's lonely hearts club band' was #1; not much suprise, nor is there much room to argue. but when vh1 did a top 100 list a few years ago, they chose 'revolver', stating that they want to simply choose something different. 1998, the afi list didn't surprise many people [well, didn't guess it, but i didn't know what to expect then]. if it isn't 'kane', my guess will be for either 'casablanca' [prev. #2] or 'gone with the wind' [#4]. 'the godfather' was #3 before, but it too dark to be crowned the greatest movie of america. ...not that 'citizen kane' is a really picker-upper....

what do i think?
the silents: first and foremost, if 'sunrise' is NOT on the list, there is a serious flaw here [it wasn't on the first list]. 80 years later, this is still a relevant and accessible movie. and one of the few movies to show the redemption of a marriage. chaplin had three on the list last time; i'll let him keep 'city lights'. keaton was sorely absent. either 'sherlock jr.' or 'the general' will be acceptable. and harold lloyd's 'safety last' will be another wise inclusion. 'birth of a nation' was on there 10 years ago; why not griffith's follow-up, 'intolerance'?

1930s: marx brothers' 'duck soup' again, of course. and 1933's 'king kong' is a better movie that peter jackson's. 'mr smith goes to washington' is another requisite. the uniquely titled 'i am a fugitive from a chain gang' is a surprisingly good and poignant movie still. and representative of the great verbal comedies, i'd add 'my man godfrey' and [sadly missing from the first 100] greta garbo's 'ninotchka'. for fun, what about tod browning's 'freaks'. it get points for originality.
1940s: 'yankee doodle dandy' came in at #100 last time; with it's over-zealous patriotism for an unfallible america, it could easilly be seen as nieve in the modern politcal climate. 'best years of our lives' is still strong and worthy about the difficulties of coming home after the second world war. 'casablanca' and 'citizen kane' of course, but what about welles's next movie, 'the magnificent ambersons'? bogart and bacall's first movie together, 'to have and have not', another great noir along with fred mcmurray's 'double indemnity'? 'miracle on 34th street' is as classic as 'the wizard of oz'. and how about a couple of lesser-know hitchcock greats, 'notorious' and 'rebecca'?
1950s: 'all about eve', 'sunset boulevard', and 'singin in the rain' are all guarantees for the top 20 ['singin' should be in the top 10 again]. martin scorsese thinks 'the searchers' is one of the absolute greatest movies ever [as does spielberg]--i don't see it. but i would like to add 'night of the hunter', 'touch of evil', and delightfully charming 'roman holiday'. and of course, 'bridge on the river qwai'.
1960s: 'lawrence of arabia' belongs in the top 10 again, and '2001' deserves to be higher than #22. i don't think much of 'my fair lady' or 'dr. zhivago', and 'the graduate' is much too high at it's former #7. 'psycho' again deserves the top 25, and 'cool hand luke' is worthy of a spot on the list. 'night of the living dead' and 'goldfinger' are worthy of consideration, too.
1970s: 'godfather' part I and II are among the greatest films in the world ever, as are 'jaws' and 'star wars'. 'apocalypse now' and 'the deer hunter' are transgenerational war movies, certainly worthy of the list again. 'rocky', for sure, but it'd be fun to see 'rocky horror' on there, especially considering 'cultural impact' [in it's own way]. terrance malick is arguable, and 'days of heaven' is one of the five most beautifully shot movies ever. mel brooks? 'young frankenstein'? maybe.
1980s: 'raging bull' and 'raiders of the lost ark' for sure. please, don't let 'born on the fourth of july' be on there; i'm not even sure if 'platoon' should be back again. instead, 'the breakfast club', 'back to the future', and 'field of dreams' are worth considering. action movies? 'die hard' is one of the best. and 'this is spinal tap' seems funnier 20 years later.
1990s: 'goodfellas' again, and 'pulp fiction' should be much higher than its previous #95. 'saving private ryan' deserves a spot if its votes aren't split to 'schindler's list'. 'jurassic park'? it's notable. 'the matrix' revolutionized special effects like nothing since 'star wars', and fight sequences have never been the same since. 'the lion king' is not only the apex of disney's second golden age, but one of the greatest movies ever. 'toy story' is noteworthy, 'T2' is possibly the greatest action movie ever, and 'titanic' should be included on basis of cultural impact, box office records, and academy awards. does all this leave room for 'shawshank redeption', 'good will hunting,' and 'fight club'? i don't know, but i hope 'sleepless in seattle' can slip in a spot next to the great classic romances.
2000s: 'american beauty' will most likely make it, though i won't vote for it. my votes go to, first and foremost, 'traffic'. 'erin brockovich' is also very good, but soderbergh won't get two movies from the same year. 'mouin rouge' has potential, creating the post-modern musical so cooly. certainly a 'lord of the rings' belongs on the list, and my vote goes to 'fellowship of the ring' [or else 'return of the king', but the first usually gets the credit]. 'shrek', 'spider-man 2'? congratualtions on making the 400 nominees. 'eternal sunshine of the spotless mind' and 'lost and translation' each bring a worthy argument to their consideration.

the afi list isn't the definitive list to cinephiles, though; many film snobs look at it with disdain, it peddling too much to the popular masses. if you really want to see the serious list, check out the british film institute's top 10 list, updated every 10 years. 'citizen kane' has topped the list every year since 1952, and i'm happy that many of my favorites are often on there [including '2001', and, at #2, 'the rules of the game']. and if you don't think 'citizen kane' is the greatest movie of all time [different from your 'personal favorite'], watch it with roger ebert's commentary--the movie's strength rests largely on all the ground that it broke for the future of cinema.

1 comment:

Em said...

Yeah, I guess the problem with lists is that by nature they can only exist by excluding things.

Think of all the great ones that you and I have yet to find, that we will surely think (with indignation) belong on some "list".