Monday, June 25, 2007

rantings and hollerings

they took it seriously and got it right.
there was no watering-down for the common movie goer; many of the films would be unknown to today's teenagers, just like me ten years ago. there were several changes [23 new entries on the list], and most of the remaining 77 shifted positions, with a handful of surprises, even to the point of me yelling at the tv [usually for the better]. and most of the new movies were in the lower third of the list, reaffirming that the choices made 10 years ago still held. there was no concern of redundancy; if it was still a great movie, it was still a great movie.
the american film institute established its 'top 100' list not as a 'one-hit wonder', but as a continuing institution for serious consideration; being that it is 'american' films only, it is not as esoteric nor scholarly as the bfi's 'sight and sound' top 10 poll, yet similar movies are seen in similar rankings.

what's out: the oldest movie on the previous list, d.w. griffith's 'birth of a nation' [1915] is out. so are other early landmarks, including 'the jazz singer' [1927], 'all quiet on the western front' [1930], and 'mutiny on the bounty' [1935]--kind of sad to see that last one go; it's nothing exceptional, but a good movie that i wouldn't have seen had it not been the first list. perhaps it did its job. 'an american in paris' [1951], 'close encounters of the third kind' [1977] [don't worry, speilberg picked up one, too], 'dances with wolves' [1990], 'fargo' [1996] [the most recent on the previous list], 'frankenstein' [1931], 'from here to eternity' [1953], 'the manchurian candidate' [1962], 'patton' [1970], and 'a place in the sun' [1951] are all out, and fairly so. my biggest frustration of the list was that audrey hepburn was not represented, but i'd rather her be out than have 'my fair lady' [1964] be on the list again. most of these movies were in the bottom half of the list, though the highest to leave entirely was #39's 'dr. zhivago' [1965]. david lean, omar shariff, and julie christie are all represented better elsewhere on the list, though my condolences to those who love the movie. [it never did it for me; my favorite david lean movies remained strong on the list]. my one outcry from those that were knocked out was 'the third man' [1949-previously an appropriate#57]. amazing cinematography, one of the most famous appearances in cinema history--how could this be left out?

what's in: this list is even better than what's out. on the first list, there were eight movies released within the last 10 years. this time, there are only four movies since 1996, though all belong on the list: 'titanic' [1997] at #83, 'saving private ryan' [1998] at #71, 'the sixth sense' [1999] at #89, and 'the lord of the rings: the fellowship of the ring' [2001] at #50. 'titanic' and 'ryan' are where they should be; 'sixth sense' is an expertly crafted movie and has earned its spot--i'm just curious how well it will hold in the next 10 years. and while i love 'lord of the rings', #50 seems a little high.
following the most recent movie on the list was the oldest: griffith's racist 'birth of a nation' was replaced by his apologetic follow-up, 'intolerance' [1916]--good choice. and with one exception, that was the highest any new movie placed on the list. 'sunrise' [1927], the apex of the silent era ellicited a whoop and cheer when it came on the list, though at #82 it was a little underfavored.
16 of the bottom 30 were new, including 'toy story' [1995] at #99, 'blade runner' [1982] #97, 'do the right thing' [1989] #96, 'sophie's choice' [1982] #91, '12 angry men' [1957] #87, 'spartacus' [1960] #81, and 'all the president's men' [1976] #77. the marx brother's gained a movie with 'a night at the opera' [1935] at #85, and fred astaire and ginger rogers were given a place at #90 with 'swing time' [1935]. and i was very happy to see the largely unknown 'sullivan's travels' [1941] appear at #61.
once #49 passed, no new movies were seen for a long time, and i began to get nervous, fearing that, despite 'sunrise' being added, a travesty had occurred, especially since chaplin had already had two movies show up. but buster keaton's 'the general' [1927] came in with deadpan force at #18.
the 'ins' and the 'outs' were done with great skill and care; with the few changes that i already mentioned, my only other recommendation would be to see 'traffic' [2000] somewhere in the bottom 20. but i can wait.

the changes: 'pulp fiction' [1994] only moved from #95 to 94, while 'goodfellas' [1990] hopped from #94 to 92. give it time.... the marx brothers' timeless classic 'duck soup' moved from #85 to 60, which is comforting. happy to see it, the optimistic 'yankee doodle dandy' [1942] survived and moved from #100 to 98. 'a clockwork orange' [1971] fell from #46 to 70 [hooray], but so did 'dr strangelove' [1964] #26 to 39, 'butch cassidy and the sundance kid' [1969] #50 to 73, and 'bridge on the river kwai' [1957] #36 from 13; sad. 'the godfather part II' [1974] and 'the best years of our lives' [1946] rightfully held their places at #32 and #37. and 'the deer hunter' [1978] moved a wonderful 36 places, to #53 from 79.
and, to my happiness, '2001' [1968] moved to #15 from 22.
there were a couple of big surprises in the upper ranks: chaplin's 'city lights' [1931] going from #76 to 11--my favorite of his movies, and deserving of the top 20, i think 11 is too high, especially since he already has two others on here. and, moving up 84 places to come in at #12 is john ford's 'the searchers' [1956]. i didn't know of the movie when i saw it ranked at #96 ten years ago, but after hearing all the reverence for it amongst critics, scholars, and directors, it seems much better appreciated now.
'the graduate' and 'on the waterfront' fell from the top 10--7 and 8 to 17 and 19, respectively , but they felt out of place there anyway. the top 10 did hold the most interesting and corrective changes. the fun thing about these lists is that, once you get to a certain height, you know what has to be on there, and so you can start to deduce what will be where by process of elimination. the first time i saw the list, when were down to the final three, i picked 'the godfather' and my brother named 'casablanca', but we couldn't guess what #1 would be.
the new top 10 is great: 'wizard of oz' [1939] went from 6 to 10, while hitchcock's 'vertigo' burst in from it's previous #61. 'schindler's list' [1993] is still the most recent of the inner circle, up one spot to #8. 'lawrence of arabia' [1961] sadly fell from #5 to 7, but it's got tough competition. 'gone with the wind' [1939] was nudged from 4 to 6, leaving the final five predicted by elimination.
the happy: 'singin in the rain' [1950], timeless, ageless, near-perfect [i usually skip the 'modern' sequence at the end] moved from #10 to 5, where it belongs.
the surprise: 'raging bull' [1980], fighting all the way from 24 to 4. it's nice to see scorsese and de niro honored.
the classics: last time it was 'godfather' [1972] then 'casablanca' [1942]; now they've switched, with the corleone family taking the #2 spot.
the winner and still champion: you can't beat 'citizen kane' [1941]. it may not be your favorite movie, but in the crowds of those who know film, it's the most important thing to us all.

you can see both lists, side by side, here.

how does it breakdown?
robert deniro and jimmy stewart each have five, though deniro's range from #92 to #4, while stewart keeps all of his work in the top 50. and, if you want to count 'american graffiti' and 'apocalypse now', harrison ford also has five movies. marlon brando has four, as does humphrey bogart.
orson welles, peter o'toole, and tim allen each have one.

spielberg has directed the most, again with the magic number of five. billy wilder and alfred hitchcock each directed four, and scorsese and coppola each directed three.

all in all, this is a better list to introduce yourself to the greats of american cinema.
which is good, because i've only seen 68 of this new list.


Alyssa said...

Hi, Jeff... I think you'll appreciate this article.

Reading your blog over the last few years, I've realized that we have different tastes in films and this blog probably confirms that for me. Nonetheless, I respect your opinions. :) I blogged about AFI this week too.

-->jeff * said...

from your comment about us having different tastes, i was expecting you to decry this list all together. my thoughts on your thoughts:
1. when i made my predictions, i suggested 'intolerance' in place of 'birth of a nation', not because of the racism in 'birth' but rather taking the attitude 'one great griffith film in place of another', and that many people consider the second to be a better movie. yes, 'birth of a nation' innovated so much of what has become the language of cinema, but i look at the movie's inclusion as being more of a tribute to the director, not the sole film, and so i didn't think of the change as anything more.
however, there has been a fair amount of discussion surrounding the change for the reasons you listed.
i haven't seen 'the jazz singer' but was a little surprised on its omission, though i didn't think much of it. after considering your points, i agree that it certainly should be on there.
elements of racism in a movie is not grounds for it's omission--acknowledging such movies for other important contributions is not to say that the afi condones all attitudes therein. i agree that it's too bad to see 'guess who's coming to dinner' is gone [the first list got me to see it, thankfully], but it's been replaced by 'in the heat of the night', another sydney poitier movie about racism. funny how we will admit that we fought racism, but we don't want to admit it ever existed.

2. look, i'm finally up to 80 of the original 100; now i'm down to 66. i feel you pain. further, i'm also very upset that i had to sit through 'an american in paris'. however, i'm glad i got to see 'patton', though i'm ok that it's not there anymore. but how can YOU not like 'the third man'??

3. i agree with all that you said about the newbies except that i think 'titanic' rightfully deserves its spot; box office results and awards garnered were two of the judging criteria, and 'titanic' excelled in those areas. and while there are much better movies that didn't make the list ['traffic' comes to mind], it's a fine movie. all that combines to make it worthy on the list.

4. those voted off the island: i've got 'rebel without a cause' on the dvr to be watched--i'll let you know. same with 'stagecoach', actually. [again, this does nothing for my work on the new list]. i love 'amadeus', but i think it'll land on it's feet. and yes, i won't miss the rest, either [i'm halfway through 'wuthering heights' as it is]. how did 'west side story' manage to stick around, i'd like to know....

5. the coen brothers/preston sturges connection is interesting. nice insight.

6. citizen kane is the best. no surprise, and i'd lose almost all respect for the list if it wasn't.

regarding your suspicion of these lists, i like them for just this: it provides discussion. 'guess who's coming to dinner' is no less of a movie now that it's not on the list, and 'sunrise' is no better now that it's among the ranks [could it get any better, really?]. 10 years ago the list opened my eyes and my world to 100 classic movies that i'd never heard of. since then i've seen plenty more that aren't on the list i think should be: certainly this isn't the end of viewing. rather, these lists are often the gate for viewing. anyone who works to see a good portion of the 100 isn't going to go back to solely watching will ferrell; they will learn who william wyler was and will love cary grant and ingrid bergman.
the afi isn't setting up an orwellian world where these are the only movie we can watch and where 'the godfather' must recieve more praise than 'lawrence of arabia'. they asked people for their opinions and shared them with us.

my opinion won't be happy until '2001: a space odyssey' is in afi top 10.

and thank you for the article about orson welles in the original transformers movie--i heard him say that he didn't even know the name of the movie; he was just 'some toy that ate other toys'. actually, that sums it up pretty well.