June 15, 2006

The new AFI top 100 list: "most inspiring films."

All the predictable stuff is there. Please try not to look. Oh, go ahead. I'm pointing at it: "It's a Wonderful Life," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "Schindler's List," "Rocky," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,""E.T.," "The Grapes of Wrath," "Breaking Away,""Miracle on 34th Street," "Saving Private Ryan." These American Film Institute lists are always about spelling out the conventional wisdom.

How about some countervailing commentary? Tell me reasons why these things that are supposed to be inspiring are not inspiring and why something that isn't trying to manipulate us into feelings of elevated hopefulness is actually inspiring. Critique the whole concept of "inspiring" as something good about art/entertainment. Please, do anything except take this list they way they want you to take it. Be the antidote.

UPDATE: Here's the whole 100. And here's my GlennReynolds.com post on this theme. (It should be up soon.) [It's up.]

70 comments:

MadisonMan said...

I love the quote in the article: we thought this was an exciting opportunity to recognize those films. Thank goodness we have Natural Disasters, terrorist activity and wars so the AFI can shill some silly list.

Ann Althouse said...

My GlennReynolds.com version of this post is running with that quote. (Still working on it.)

-Peder said...

Seems they had some trouble figuring out what 'inspiring' means. Is 'Close Encounters' really inspiring? Really? What's the message? That with lunacy, an uneven suntan and some mashed potatoes you too can alienate your family?

Atticus said...

I thought American Beauty was an inspiring movie about marriage. Here's this guy who is in a troubled marriage, who takes refuge in the stuff that he loved remembering about his teen years--teen girls, smoking pot and a muscle car. In the end, though, he realizes (too late) that his marriage was more important to him than all that. Even his troubled marriage. It's been awhile since I've seen the movie and I do wonder if my reaction would be the same if I saw it again.

monkeyboy said...

Can any work of fiction be truly inspirational? Behind the movie is a writer trying to inspire. The hero beats the odds because the odds never had a chance. Lows are added to make the highs higher. It seems more manipulative than inspiring.

Against the odds movies that aren't inspiring at all? "The Majestic" I hated that movie.

Atticus said...

...and Saving Private Ryan was NOT inspiring. SPR was beautifully done, nearly a perfect movie--everyone knows that since we've been told that so often--but I wish I had not seen it.

Icepick said...

Thelma and Louise is inspiring ... if you're looking to go on a crime spree and kill yourself. So why not include The Wild Bunch?

And The Bridge on the River Kwai? Who am I supposed to be inspired by, the crazy colonel who does a bang up job helping out the enemy, the lying American enlisted man who goes on a suicide mission to avoid ending up in the stockade, or the commandos that end up having to kill their own troops to accomplish the mission? I LOVE this movie, but inspirational it's not! Too much rye cynicism for that.

Icepick said...

Which is to say, "Inspiration? You kepp using this word, but I do not think it means what you think it means...."

Atticus said...

The Princess Bride...now, there's an inspiring movie! Doesn't get much better.

Ron said...

It's a Wonderful Life: Thinking about suicide? Just wait for a Magical Angel to explain to you how your life has meaning. Go ahead. You just wait for that.

bill said...

"It's a Wonderful Life," 1946. Inspirational, my ass. It's a dark, deeply cynical movie. Guy gives up on his life's hopes and dreams to babysit a town of ignorant bedwetters. Screw showing George what his life would be like if he'd never existed. Let's see what his life would have been like if he'd gotten on that train. Maybe he'd have become a banking genius and come back and bought out Mr. Potter. And that ending. Not only has Potter stolen the money, but the town's people scrape together what little money they have so George can pay him again. Let's see the sequel, where the S&L is closed down six months later and the only jobs available are as spittle collectors at the Potter estate.

Icepick--I'm stealing your description for Bridge on the River Kwai.

Ron said...

Ed Norton at the end of Fight Club. Now that's inspiring!

CB said...

I was unsurprised to see that Fight Club was not on the list. However, it is because of that movie--specifically, the "human sacrifice" scene with Raymond K. Hessel--that I left my dead-end job, returned to college, graduated, and went to law school. I made a little sign that said, "Raymond K. Hessel, D.V.M." and hung it above my desk.

(For those not in the know, in the movie, Tyler tells the nameless protagonist that he is going to make a human sacrifice. He accosts a convenience store clerk named Raymond & interrogates him at gunpoint. He finds out that he wanted to be a veterinarian, but dropped out of school because it was too hard. Tyler takes Raymond's driver's license and tells him that he will be checking up on him, and if he doesn't pursue his dream of becoming a veterinarian, he will kill him. Later in the movie, there is a brief shot of a door with dozens of driver's licenses thumbtacked to it, with "Human Sacrifices" written above them. Even as I type this, I'm getting choked up, thinking of all of those men who had given up on themselves and their dreams, now with a reason to make the most of their lives.

bill said...

"Rocky," 1976. Even an illiterate enforcer can dream about getting his ass kicked in front of a national TV audience.

"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," 1939. Naive idealist goes to Washington and the first thing he does is draft a pork bill to spend money on a pet project.

"Breaking Away," 1979. The most inspirational message of the movie? College girls are easy if you speak with a foreign accent.

"Apollo 13," 1995. If you're a hot shit pilot riding on top of a rocket, you'll get all the fame and glory while the engineers who saved your ass are mostly forgotten.

"Hoosiers," 1986. A man with a violent past and the town drunk find redemption through manipulating teenage boys.

Ron said...

I believe the sequel to It's a Wonderful Life, should highlight how cool the alternate version of the town is! (All the drunks there would have invisible rabbit companions. Oh, wait, Jimmy did that one!) I even have a title for it: "Potter's Way."

Adam said...

God forbid you're looking for an inspiring female on screen, based on this list, or something relating to teenagers. Hell, you'd better be white, unless the steely dignity of Morgan Freeman and Sidney Poitier works for you, over and over again.

Ron said...

'2001' is inspiring if my aspiration is to be a StarChild GodHead, which, I guess, is something we can aspire to...if we have Stanley Kubrick's Ego! The rest of us have bills to pay...

Ron said...

Is Clevon Little in Blazing Saddles inspiring? I think yes!

HaloJonesFan said...

bill: Not really sure that I agree with you on "Apollo 13". The movie went to amazing lengths to depict the effort by NASA engineers to keep things running.

Nor "Rocky". I'm starting to wonder if you're just trolling.

I agree that "Mister Smith Goes To Washington" doesn't need to be in the top five, and I really wonder why it's on the list at all. We've already got our Capra film.

Others on the list:
"2001" All I can say is wtf? Same for "Close Encounters..."

Where's "October Sky"? Actually, let me rephrase. WHY THE FUCK IS OCTOBER SKY NOT ON THIS LIST?

angieoh! said...

I had several problems with the list AND last nights show (I will admit it, I watched. I love movies. Love talking about movies and I was home on a Wednesday night for some tv watching).

First - I hate that Jane Fonda was all over as a commenter. Blech. I changed the channel to the Stanley Cup Finals for a while.

Next. The Right Stuff should have been higher than Apollo 13.

The Wizard of Oz should have been number one. This movie is timeless, full of heart and truly inspirational.

ET - this one has been getting some criticism but for me, it is a sentimental favorite.

What about Braveheart? This movie never ceases to fire me up - THEY'LL NEVER TAKE MY FREEDOM!!!!!! (one of my fave lines in movie history).

I did think it was cool to hear Sally Fields talk about Norma Rae. I mean, not a union gal here but I think that movie is awesome and tough to beat.

Ok. One more thing... I love your description of Fight Club CB. I agree...human sacrafices - one of my favorite movie concepts ever. Very inspirational.

Goesh said...

Schindler's List, yes, but think of the potential if Steven Seagal could have been in it karate chopping nazis.

Ann Althouse said...

"It's a Wonderful Life" surely is the most inspirational film in terms of inspiring parodies.

"Fight Club." I love that movie, but it's really got a post-9/11 problem (the ending).

Tom said...

To follow up on the points about It's A Wonderful Life being dark and cynical, I think it also reflects badly on humanity, not well. The focus is always on how George selflessly sacrifices himself for his town and the town's people sacrifice for him in the end. What people miss, though, is Capra's message that, if people are given a choice between following someone who is good (George) and someone who is evil (Potter), they will follow the good; however, in the absence of someone good, they will eagerly follow the evil, as we saw in Clarence's alternate universe, when Potter turned Bedford Falls into a 1940s Soddom and Gomorrah. I've always thought this was an allegory of Nazi Germany, as Capra tried to figure out why a modern, educated and industrialized country like Germany would follow a mad man like Hitler. HIs conclusion, maybe, is that the German people followed Hitler because they saw no viable alternatives.

AllenS said...

The most inspirational film of all time actually has two titles: March of the Wooden Soldiers and Babes in Toyland, staring Laurel and Hardy. The film has all of the movers and shakers of western civilization: Little Bo Peep, Mother Goose, Mary Quite Contrary, Little Boy Blue, The 3 Little Pigs. Evil Barnaby and his Boogymen are handed their asses when the Toy Soldiers attack, saving western civilizaion. Don't get no better than that.

bill said...

Halojonesfan said: I'm starting to wonder if you're just trolling.

All I can do is redirect you to Ann's instructions. Then suggest you start over.

Norma Rae isn't that inspirational once you find out what happened to Norma Rae. Same with The Grapes of Wrath. Sure, as long as you've never read the book and don't realize the the movie's tacky happy ending subverts the whole story.

bill said...

"In the Heat of the Night," 1967. This one actually is inspirational. A black detective from Philadelphia finds he has a lot in common with a gay southern sheriff:
actual dialogueGillespie: You know, you know Virgil, you are among the chosen few.
Virgil: How's that?
Gillespie: Well I think that you're the first human being that's ever been in here.
Virgil: You can't be too careful, man.
Gillespie:...I got no wife. I got no kids. Boy...I got a town that don't want me...I'll tell you a secret. Nobody comes here, never.

Goesh said...

I particularily liked Bill's assessment of Hoosiers.

tcd said...

Can't say I find any movie inspirational. Entertaining certainly, but not inspirational because what are movies anyway?Movies are play-acting at life. Now CB's post, that's inspirational!

MadisonMan said...

I particularily liked Bill's assessment of Hoosiers.

All of Bill's descriptions call to mind Mad Magazine movie parodies to me.

bill said...

"High Noon," 1952. Great movie, but where's the inspiration? John Wayne called the film's ending "un-American."

There is no time for triumphant celebration - theirs is a hollow victory.

Kane helps Amy board their packed buggy, brought to them by the faithful teenage boy. Then, he disdainfully looks around, reaches for his 'tin' badge, takes it off, contemptuously drops it into the dusty street, and turns to leave.

Without support from the people, Kane will no longer be their leader. Silently, without a backward glance or goodbye, he and Amy ride off into the distance from the community of weak, fickle onlookers in the saved, unremarkable town of Hadleyville ("a dirty little village in the middle of nowhere," according to the Judge). The contemptible crowd that was unwilling to fight to preserve its law and order remains silent as the buckboard goes out of view, accompanied by the title song's famous melancholy ballad.

AJ Lynch said...

What about Gladiator? The music alone made me want to run out of the theater and decapitate some Huns.

Anthony said...

Not sure how this reflects on me, but I think I've only seen two out of the top five.

bill said...

I'm working on all 100 movies, but this will be the last one I leave here:

"Sullivan's Travels," 1941. This would be inspirational, if Hollywood had paid attention to the epiphany of the main character:
He succeeds in understanding that his attitude toward the poor had bordered on patronization. He finally realizes the uplifting power of laughter, and decides to return to his true calling - the making of entertaining comedies to entertain rather than to edify.

...and stopped making moralizing crap like The Best Years of Our Lives and Philadelphia; and idiotic lists like this.

PatCA said...

Watching this list is boring, but the movies aren't. Adam, I believe Madame Curie's story was one of the first inspirational movies mentioned. And if you think 50 Cent is the only one who can inspire teenagers or non-whites, you're wrong. These movies have stood the test of time for a reason.

jinnmabe said...

Anytime I see anything about The Bridge on the River Kwai I want to hear them talk about how the real survivors of that incident hated, hated, hated the movie because of how false it was to real life. The Alec Guinness character was...the list is too long. In any case, the real story is much more inspirational than the movie. Which I think is typical for Hollywood. They take a truly great story and muck it up.

Tristram said...

See, I don't see a lot of these as inspiring.

'On The Waterfront' was inspiring because it showed redepmtion and the ability to stand up to powerful, corrupt forces, but a lot more real than the candy coated 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington'

And I find many war movies much more inspiring. The Battle of Midway, The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Saving Private Ryan, 12 O'Clock High, etc., because they show what men can do under great adversity.

Henry said...

Bill -- good work.

I'm just wondering -- Where are the vigilante movies? What's more inspiring than having a vigilante show up and beat some sense into a bitter world? Who cares about The Majestic, where's Mr. Majestyk?

Adam said...

PATca, what about Malcolm X for an inspirational film? The Matrix? And, surely (though it was too late for this), Akeelah and the Bee.

Or how about just treating Philadelphia as though Denzel Washington were the hero, which he is?

Re teen movies, there's a ton that missed the cut: Dirty Dancing, Back to the Future, Legally Blonde were all well-reviewed at the time and broadly enjoyed, and they belong in this canon too. Breakfast Club?

Eugene said...

A truly inspiring movie? Blade Runner (before Ridley Scott recut and ruined it). Rutger Hauer's death soliloquy ("I've seen things you people wouldn't believe") is suffused with a poignancy and love of life rarely matched by deliberately "inspirational" films.

In the case of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington we have a supposed paean to American democracy featuring a protagonist who, in the first place, wasn't elected to anything. More importantly, set against Senator Paine's (Claude Raines) pork barrel dam project is Senator Smith's idiotic proposal to federalize a boy's camp. Corruption aside, the federal government does have a real interest in building dams, and zero business building Boy Scout camps. Herein we see the justification of a disastrous political philosophy that condones the extension of federal control into any aspect of life as long as our politicians "mean well."

As for It's a Wonderful Life, Greg Kamiya sums it up well.

To which I'll add that the movie proposes a truly insidious thesis--that the impact of a person's life is limited to a handful of documentary moments. If George Bailey didn't exist, none of those particular "lifesaving" moments would have evolved to exist either. But since George Bailey's life is considered by others so important to their own welfare, the world is dumped on his shoulders, in complete disregard to his existence as an individual human being. His "true" happiness comes from the realization that this Borg-like assimilation of his soul is just and deserved because the ends justify the means. Hello Orwell.

Henry said...

Just took a look at the whole list and I'm glad to see that Captains Courageous just squeaked in (#94). Sniveling rich kid gets walloped on the ear by a crusty fisherman -- that's inspiring!

In all seriousnous -- where are the comedies? How does The Karate Kid (#98) beat out Raising Arizona? Does a movie become uninspirational if it is too funny?

The Drill SGT said...

I agree with some of them, and can't figure out why others made the list. Paper Chase for example. I like the flick and have it on DVD, but everybody in it is obsessive about something, and lawyers as inspiring?

I see too much politics of inclusion in the list, but I'm an old white male.

I enjoyed looking at the list of 300 candidates to see some flicks I like that didnt make the list as well.

bill said...

Paper Chase: he did sleep with the professor's daughter.

The Drill SGT said...

yes, that's the one

has a suicide in it and a bunch of weird study group members.

Professor Kingsfield

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0070509/

reader_iam said...

Am I the only who's getting a HUGE kick out of "Harold and Maude" making this list?

I'm inspired to ... I'm inspired to ... I'm ... .

Um, maybe not.

Jennifer said...

I've seen so few of these movies it's ridiculous.

Hotel Rwanda popped into my head before I looked at the list, so I'm glad that's up there.

I don't see how Dances With Wolves is inspiring. Your country forsakes you, but don't worry you can still find a nice girl of your OWN race to run off and go tribal with.

And Pinocchio? WTF? I mean the movie has a good message for kids - the older Disney movies are SO much better this way - but inspiring?

reader_iam said...

I found some of these to be inexplicable, but in most--though not all--the choices began to make more sense when I read the quote containing the words "something to cheer about"; this would, for example, help explain "ET," which otherwise isn't particularly inspiring, by my (not-heart)lights. I suppose it could also explain "Officer and A Gentleman"--but what a stretch, and retro to boot. (That doesn't mean I haven't been known to tear up at the "take her away from all that scene," but that's schlocky sentimentalism on my part, an embarrassing thing, not inspiration.)

"Something to cheer about" isn't necessarily the same thing as inspiring, is it?

bill said...

The Drill SGT: for another take on the Professor Kingsfield (based on an actual professor), I recommend Scott Turow's first book, the nonfictional "One L." It's about his first year in law school and he wasn't too fond of "Kingsfield."

reader_iam said...

And yeah, I'm odd about movies sometimes, but I found "Raging Bull" to be inspiring (though not "cheer about" material). But then, in a twisted way, I find some of John Waters' movie inspiring, so what the hell do I know?

And Ann's own favorite, "My Dinner With Andre," inspired more than few conversations nights back in my own day.

"Inspiring": What a squishy word, the meaning and value of which is pretty much determined by what follows the implied "of/to what." It's really not a concept that lends itself to the "universal," either, as much as we kept being told it does.

Just my opinion.

reader_iam said...

LOLAMS.

I did a double-take there for a second when I misread "Working Girl" as "Working Girl[s]," and entirely different movie (though, in my opinion, a better one) (um, but definitely not inspiring).

XWL said...

Inspiring films?

Kill Bill Vol.1&2 (taken as one film), a truly inspirational story of a mom looking for vengeance and finding redemption along the way (tell me you didn't tear up when she meets her daughter, if you didn't you have no heart).

Trading Places, an inspirational odyssey into the world of finance, plus when I was 12 I found Jamie Lee Curtis' breast arousingly inspirational.

Duck Soup, inspiring irrationality, Freedonia Forever!

Superfly, inspiring not really for the film itself, but Curtis Mayfield's amazing soundtrack.

And in a bit of anticipatory overreach, I'm going to suggest that Snakes on a Plane will undoubtably be the most inspirational American film of the 21st century, of this I have little doubt. It stars Sam Jackson, and it's called Snakes on a Plane, that should be enough for anyone. This film has already inspired huge interest on the internet (best example Snakes on a Blog) and did I mention it's a movie about SNAKES ON A PLANE?!?!?

Joan said...

XWL, as much as I enjoy both volumes of Kill Bill, it can't sustain the weight of its own hypocrisy. Sorry, I just can't buy anyone who so casually snuffs out life the way The Bride can not aborting an inconvenient pregnancy the moment it became known to her. But maybe that's just me. Also, I'm curious about this redemption you speak of: we can not speak of The Bride as being saved, even from herself; she's still the same. All she did was destroy her enemies, which is not at all the same thing as saving herself.

Most inspiring film that I can think of at the moment would be Spider-Man 2, in which Peter Parker has to come to terms with being who he is, and doing what he needs to do: IOW, growing up. It was fantastic.

Ron said...

Belushi in Animal House...
Hopper in Blue Velvet...
Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs
Brodrick in Ferris Buehler...


ah...inspiration!

howzerdo said...

Inspiring, ha! Last time I watched It's a Wonderful Life I wanted to reach into the TV and slap George. His "sacrifice" didn't strike me as selfless at all, more like self-indulgent. Boo-hoo, he didn't follow his dreams. Life involves choices, learn to live with them. He seemed so spoiled and full of himself. As if there weren't a ton of people in 1946 with real problems, who were more deserving of an angel's intervention.

HaloJonesFan said...

bill: the "instruction" was to tell us why these films were not inspiring, not to come up with fashionably cynical reinterpretations of them.

phillywalker said...

Didn't anyone find The Brother From Another Planet inspirational?

I mean, what that guy could communicate without even speaking . . . .

(Truly, no kidding, one of my favorite movies.)

Richard Fagin said...

The Verdict? The first salvo in the Catholic Church culture wars, notwithstanding that the actual scandal brewing therein was a whole lot worse than what was shown in the movile.

Where the heck are "Twelve Angry Men", and "Fail Safe"?

Ann Althouse said...

Halo: The "instruction" got pretty open ended, especially when I got to the "do anything but..." part.

Ron said...

Babe? Future BLT dispenses life lessons.

dave said...

8 Mile didn't make the top 100?

saving Private Ryan was 'inspirational' in a weird kind of way for about 20 minutes - and those 20 minutes are maybe the best war movie in American history, while also the most brutal. after that the movie becomes the kind of soulless, heartstring-tugging cinematic condescension that passes for emotion in post-blockbuster Hollywood.

Biggest omission: United 93.

Henry said...

phillywalker -- thanks for reminding me. I've been trying to figure out how to get beyond the awful camp of stuff like Wonderful Life, and I totally forgot John Sayles. I would put every one of his movies in the top 100. Matewan is probably my favorite, but the Secret of Roan Inish tears me up every time I see it.

reader_iam said...

"Matewan": Yes! (Also, John Sayles: Yes!)

That film also contains the version of "Amazing Grace," of the gazillion I've heard, that I find the most moving.

Michael Farris said...

Harold and friggin' Maude?

Just exactly who does it inspire to do what? Or do I really want to know?

And why isn't American Pie on the list? People? Masturbation with baked goods!

Ann Althouse said...

"Harold and Maude" is an example of a movie that actually has inspired people (not that is inspiring). It was a huge cult film. The inspiration -- despite the elements of suicide and age-inappropriate love -- is about the joy of living -- as personified by Ruth Gordon -- who really is always a lot of fun.

dave said...

but it's so [expletive] cloying

Ann Althouse said...

Well, if "cloying" is disqualifying the whole list -- the whole concept of the list -- is disqualified.

As for H&M, I can't remember it well, even enough to remember if I saw it or just heard/read about it.

Todd said...

What a preposterous category. Why not AFI's 100 most gribbish movies or 100 most light-blue movies?

Meaningless, utterly meaningless.

However, "Breaking Away" is by FAR the most inspiring.

aaron said...

Vanilla Sky?

What about Office Space?

Independance Day?

Dark City?

Wall Street.

PI

atticus, Princess Bride-- Good Call

GATTACA!! How can that not be in there?

Fight Club too.

What about Clockwork Orange? Sticking it to the state.

Monty Python, The Life of Brian.

Lola Run

Princess and the Warrior

Dirty Pretty Things

No Anime???

Caddie Shack

Super Troopers

Dazed and Confused

Ferris Buelher, another good call

Trainspotting

aaron said...

Harold and Kumar

Van Wilder

Good Will Hunting

Old School

aaron said...

No porn?!?

aaron said...

Spy Game