June 23, 2007

"The doddering American Film Institute has finally updated its list of the best 100 films..."

"... (i.e., best big-studio fiction blockbusters made with white marquee stars and male directors in the good ol' days of Kabuki pomposity like Ben Hur)," writes New York magazine:
For New Yorkers, the Los Angeles–based list is predictably awful, but still worse than the last: Do The Right Thing's token inclusion at pitiful No. 94 stings worse than its omission in 1997 and many of the city's great filmmakers are still missing (Cassavetes, for starters). We never expected to see some of our personal faves (David Edelstein respects no list without Larry Cohen's Q, for instance), but we began fuming when we noticed that mainstream picks like Sweet Smell of Success and Scarlett Street didn't even make the 400-film ballot. Then we noticed Mean Streets was off the list and grew angrier. Our pique peaked when we noticed that Toy Story had been added — and Woody Allen's Manhattan had not.
I love the New York perspective that it's all a big struggle between the two giant coastal cities. It's so Woody Allenish. And the Woody Allen film they put on the list -- "Annie Hall" -- is itself about the struggle between the two cities. One character is deeply, neurotically bonded to New York (and a basket case on his trip to L.A. ) and the other blooms in L.A. By contrast, "Manhattan" fixates on Manhattan. Nowhere else matters.

The AFI's list is obviously not the 100 best films, but a collection of best films fiitting various categories that seem significant enough to include. Although a few directors -- Hitchcock, Scorsese, Chaplin -- are given more than one slot, it's pretty obvious that there is a second level category that the AFI deemed worthy of one slot. Thus, we have one, but only one D.W. Griffith film on the list (and it's not "Birth of a Nation"), and one but only one Woody Allen film. It's not a question, then, of whether "Manhattan" is better than "Ben-Hur," but only which Woody Allen film should get the Woody Allen slot.

***

This is my second post on the AFI list, and in the first, I said I'd tell you the films on the list I haven't seen, so let me do that now:
30. "Apocalypse Now," 1979.
45. "Shane," 1953.
59. "Nashville," 1975.
66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981.
72. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.
73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969.
81. "Spartacus," 1960.
82. "Sunrise," 1927.
90. "Swing Time," 1936.
95. "The Last Picture Show," 1971.
100. "Ben-Hur," 1959.
Four of those movies I've had in my DVD collection for years and keep meaning to watch. I'm not able to admit that I never want to watch them. Three of them have made it into the DVD player. Two of those I tried to watch, maybe for an hour, then paused. I still half think -- months or years later -- that I'm going to finish. The third is the DVD I chose to test out my HDTV when I first set it up. I watched 5 minutes and thought -- brilliant! -- why have I gone all these years without seeing this movie?

One of those movies -- "Sunrise" -- is something I would have seen long ago if it were around and playing in the revival houses back in the 1970s when I did most of my catching up with movies that were made before my time. It's not on DVD either. So my failure to see that says nothing about my preferences.

The rest of them... it just doesn't matter. I've had enough Fred and Ginger in various clips of their dancing and don't need to sit through "Swing Time." And a few of those movies I actively snubbed when they first ran, and I don't feel any more warmly toward them because they made this list.

As for "Shane," well, I used to love the old TV show "Shane," with David Carradine. That's the original for me personally.

55 comments:

Ron said...

"Sunrise" is on DVD; I watched it through Netflix.

Why not finish off watching the list? You're pretty close, and it's got to better to watch "Spartacus" or "Swing Time" than weed out comments from trolls! Less time as well!

George said...

Butch Cassidy's a great movie.

It has a little rape scene, but it's not that bad.

EnigmatiCore said...

Why the aversion or apathy to Raiders of the Lost Ark? Great, great flick, especially if you did not see any of the followups.

AllenS said...

I saw The Last Picture Show in a theatre when it first came out, then, about a month ago, I rented it at Mr. Movies. It's still good. If you rent it, make sure you also rent Texasville. It is supposed to be about the same people 40 years later. A fact that I didn't know, until later. Must see.

steve simels said...

Polish philosopher:

"I've figured out what's the wrong with the world Ignorance and apathy."

Ann Althouse: "I don't know and I don't care."

Ann Althouse said...

Ron, you're right. It's available in this set, which is pretty cheap, but I don't trust Fox to do a decent job. I've been waiting for a quality release of the film. (And I have "All About Eve" which is in the set. Don't like buying it twice!)

By the way, I saw "Intolerance" on a really crappy VHS version.

Allens: "Last Picture Show" is one of the DVDs I've had for years without watching.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark"... I just don't care. When it came out, I was a big snob about commercial movies. Now, I just can't picture myself watching it on TV. It seems to be the sort of thing you should see in a theater and only when you're with a bunch of people who just want to have fun. The chances of me finding myself in that position are very slim!

"Butch Cassidy" is also a movie where I lived through the time when it was popular and I just can see watching it now. I never saw "The Sting" either.

Zeb Quinn said...

I said I'd tell you the films on the list I haven't seen, so let me do that now:

30. "Apocalypse Now," 1979.
45. "Shane," 1953.
59. "Nashville," 1975.
66. "Raiders of the Lost Ark," 1981.
72. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.
73. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," 1969.
81. "Spartacus," 1960.
82. "Sunrise," 1927.
90. "Swing Time," 1936.
95. "The Last Picture Show," 1971.
100. "Ben-Hur," 1959....

....I never saw "The Sting" either.


Add to that, as you indicated in another post, you have never seen anything that Fred Thompson has ever been in.

I'm almost afraid to ask what else there might be.

Wait a minute. Wait just one ding dang minute. You have read the constitution, haven't you?

peter hoh said...

I watched it, but never figured out what the fuss is about "The Last Picture Show." Maybe I missed the scene where it all becomes meaningful.

Dave F said...

Um, of course NYC is the center of the world. Who are you people?

knoxwhirled said...

white marquee stars and male directors

...then they proceed to list a bunch of films they are pissed aren't on the list... which have male directors.
(Casssavetes, Cohen, Scorcese)

hypocritical BASTARDS!!!!!

jane said...

"Last Picture Show" is one of the DVDs I've had for years without watching.

Something to do with the title?

Charlene: We've been goin' steady a year tonight.
Sonny: (tiredly) Yeah? Seems like a lot longer.
Charlene: (pouting) You shoulda got me some anniversary present.
Sonny: You can have another stick of gum - that's all I got on me.

Peter, it's just a bleak, truish movie to enjoy with a great soundtrack. The director also did "Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women" (1968) which may have been overlooked by this list. I'll check.

steve simels said...

I think Ann's just pissed that the AFI didn't include any vegetable porn.

PatCA said...

I'd recommend Shane. The tone is different--way ahead of its time. But I get impatient with movies at home too. I guess going to the theater and sitting in a dark auditorium prepares you better for 2 hours of watching.

I think TV is the new movies anyhow. I just saw The Departed and thought, wow, I really miss the Sopranos. I thought the Chinese film it was based on was better.

rcocean said...

Nashville - You didn't miss anything.

Apocalypse Now /Ben-Hur/Spartacus - Need to be seen on the big screen.

SS Redemption - Never seen it, and have no desire to.

Charlie Eklund said...

Ann, I really think that you would enjoy The Shawshank Redemption. I resisted it for years, not really wanting to see a film that romanticizes criminals. Nevertheless, when I finally put it in the dvd player I was very happy that I had. I am convinced it truly has earned a place on this list.

Unlike Apocalypse Now.

Rick Lee said...

Hehe... I'm not criticizing by any means, but I just had to say how funny it seems to me that any sentient being in American hasn't seen "Shawshank". It runs on tv pretty much continuously and I know I've seen it more times than I can remember. It is one of those films you can watch over and over.

blake said...

The AFI's list is obviously not the 100 best films, but a collection of best films fiitting various categories that seem significant enough to include.

Hey! That was my line.

Apocalypse Now is one of my favorite movies. I saw it at the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood when it first came out.

Shane I saw not too long ago with a bunch of other westerns and I was surprised at how little time was spent distinguishing the good guys from the bad guys. I mean, literally, you're given a guy in a white hat, and you just have to accept it that it's okay for him to shoot anyone in a black hat.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is stupid. If you're in the mood though, and don't object to your hero riding a submarine across the Atlantic, it's okay, I guess.

blake said...

And Woody Allen doesn't belong on any list of greatest films. Neither does Mel Brooks. Or John Cassavetes.

Now, Q...nah, it's surprisingly better than you might think, but that's a far cry from actually being good.

Wade Garrett said...

Raiders is probably the best action film ever made, and I think it still holds up really well. On the other hand, the dated epics of the 1950's and early 60's have became dated long ago. Many of them really aren't very good movies, but, to many people doing the voting, they were just the biggest spectacles people had seen to that point in their lives.

I think Althouse is exaggerating the New York snobbery. One reason there should be more New York movies on the list is because more movies are made about New York City than any other location. I've lived in New York, but I've also lived in the midwest for 21 years, and, I can tell you, there's a reason why there aren't more movies set in Buffalo, Cleveland, Michigan , and Wisconsin. Did anybody in Wisconsin actually watch Picket Fences on a regular basis? I haven't met anybody who did. I knew some people in New York who watched it, thinking it was authentic, even though it was filmed in Southern California, and no small town in Wisconsin would have a black D.A. Similarly, people in Cleveland weren't really fans of the Drew Carey show - it was more of a "here's how the other half lives" sort of show aimed at viewers on the coast. Nobody in Buffalo watched "Jesse."

As a resident of the midwest, I have more interest in watching movies set on the coasts than I do films set in the midwest. You would, too, if you could stop playing the "I'm not a snob, you're all snobs" card.

Tim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim said...

"I love the New York perspective that it's all a big struggle between the two giant coastal cities. It's so Woody Allenish."

Indeed. There isn't a more provincial, insecure town in the U.S. than New York City. It would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

Anyway, "Apocalypse Now" is grossly over-rated, a poor adaptation of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," a lousy depiction of the Vietnamese War (too many idiots think it an accurate portrayal), and finally, an anti-military slur. It is only worth watching to gain insight into a cultural mindset, but if you were at all cognitive during the '60's or '70's, you've already seen it, so to speak.

Law & Order girl said...

Yes, it was propaganda, but funner for me is how Marlon’s line in Apocalypse Now, “The horror, the horror” is just “Stella! Hey, Stella!” Typecast for his final anguish shorthand, the Brando was.

Ron said...

Remember the Martin Sheen of Apocalypse Now winds up being the president on West Wing...the characters that is....

Troy said...

Die Hard is the best action film ever made even though there would only be about 5 minutes of dialogue without the F-bombs.

I concur wholeheartedly with whomever said Spartacus and Ben Hur have to be seen on the big screen. The chariot race -- even though hyped beyond belief -- may still be the best action sequence in American film. At least get it letterboxed with as good a sound system as you can and with as big a screen as you can.

John Stodder said...

My problem with the AFI list starts right at the top, with "Citizen Kane." I used to just love that movie, and the fact that it got Wm. Randoph Hearst's goat made me love it more. But a few years ago I was given some kind of superduper DVD version, watched it and felt there was something really off about that movie. Just to make sure, I watched it again. It left a sour taste in my mouth.

"Citizen Kane" really more of an adolescent prank than a work of art; a Mad magazine parody, and a mean-spirited one at that. The character development is non-existent. At the end of that movie, you don't know anything more about Kane or Jed (Joseph Cotton's character) than the simple fact that at one time they were young and happy, and at some point they became unhappy. The Susan character is abysmal -- a misogynistic invention, two-dimensional and nasty. (Marion Davies, the model for Susan, was actually a remarkably accomplished woman, and a nice person too.)

Welles and Mankciewitz seemed so determined to blow off their little cherry bomb in Hearst's face, they ended up with a story that makes almost no sense. The movie is a steaming pile of envy and pseudo-intellectualism that provides little insight into the issues and themes it purports to address. They certainly missed the point of Hearst's life, if that's what they were going for. But if you'd never heard of Hearst, the story would make even less sense.

Two things about "Kane" are great: The cinematography and the editing. The sets are pretty good, too. They're of such high quality that they mask the emptiness of the movie as a dramatic experience.

It's not that I don't appreciate Welles. I think "The Magnificent Ambersons" is pretty great -- except for the ruined ending -- and I'll always love "Touch of Evil," and "Lady from Shanghai." If it wasn't so overpraised, I'd probably still watch "Kane" from time to time and enjoy individual scenes. But the greatest American movie? Not when you've got "The Godfather," "Casablanca," "Lawrence of Arabia," "Vertigo," "It's A Wonderful Life," "Dr. Strangelove," "Chinatown," and the many masterpieces of Billy Wilder and Preston Sturges to compete against.

Justin said...

72. "The Shawshank Redemption," 1994.

Seeing this on your list reminded me that I haven't seen it in a long time. I just finished watching and I still believe it is the greatest movie of the 90s (and probably my all-time favorite). It's a shame it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Forrest Gump. And yes, it is better than Pulp Fiction.

The novella is good too.

Ann Althouse said...

One thing about "Apocalypse, Now" is that it got bad reviews when it came out. That's the only reason I didn't see it during its original run. Oddly, I've seen the documentary about making it, "Hearts of Darkness." I just like documentaries. (Why aren't there some documentaries on the list?)

John Stodder said...

I understand all the objections to "Apocalypse Now," but when you come right down to it, it's a pretty great mix of an "on the road" type of picture with a horror film. The people on Martin Sheen's boat as it goes upriver to find Brando's character are all very compelling characters, and the things that happen to them are incredibly memorable for various reasons. What it has to say about Vietnam is almost incoherent, but if you stop trying to think of it as a Major Political Statement (like Deer Hunter), it's pretty great.

Cedarford said...

Rick Lee said...
Hehe... I'm not criticizing by any means, but I just had to say how funny it seems to me that any sentient being in American hasn't seen "Shawshank". It runs on tv pretty much continuously and I know I've seen it more times than I can remember. It is one of those films you can watch over and over.


Agree, Shawshank appears to be a movie like Casablanca. It was made businesslike by people never intending for a "high artiste" classic, from a darn Stephen King novella...
But everything clicked.
A compelling morality tale.
Morgan Freeman's narration is mesmerizing.
People do watch it again and again - they know the story, it is their friend. Freeman their beloved storyteller..
Far better than Gump or even Pulp Fiction. It is a movie that has risen as a great favorite, and it appears timeless..

John Stodder said...

For an author I've basically never read, Stephen King's work is the basis for an alarming number of my favorite movies. Shawshank, The Shining, Carrie, Misery, Dolores Claiborne, Christine, Stand By Me. I can't get through more than six pages of his novels, but if a movie is based on one of his writings, I'm there.

Tim said...

" understand all the objections to "Apocalypse Now," but when you come right down to it, it's a pretty great mix of an "on the road" type of picture with a horror film."

Yes, except the setting really is the film - not Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" or your horror film. If you have the misfortune of seeing "Apocalypse Now Redux" (I saw it with one of my liberal Democrat brothers-in-law who never served who is one of those aforementioned idiots [who is otherwise a great guy] who believes the movie is the "truth of Vietnam..." and is therefore, a great movie), you see more of the garbage Coppola's editors force him to cut in the original release. "Redux," the director's cut despite the mild disclaimer, is a Maoist Cultural Revolution snoozer.

Godfather 1 and 2 put Coppola in the pantheon, and deservedly so - otherwise, he should stop with the movies and stick to wine. At least those can be swallowed.

John said...

Sunrise is a beautiful movie. It is on Turner Classic every few months; they show silent movies on Sunday night at 11:00, which is easy to pick up on the DVR.

reader_iam said...

What I find intriguing here is ... I was a big snob about commercial movies, given an eventual ongoing embracing of the commercial, for example, in such things as "American Idol."

This is not a snark. It is what it purports be: a statement of what caught my eye here.

What is, and explains, the trajectory between points "A" and "B"? What are the defining distinctions?

blake said...

Tim,

Perhaps (not "having been there") I lack the cultural perspective to view Apocalypse Now as an anti-military hippie screed, and particularly hard for me to imagine that screenwriter John "Walter Sobchak" Milius meant it that way.

I've known guys who were in Vietnam who felt the movie captured their experience. And one guy, a straight career army dude who was in Desert Storm said the same thing! (And maybe they don't mean it literally but in the sense of the movie's surreal feel.)

I didn't see "redux" precisely because the extra scenes seemed extraneous. For a 2.5 hour movie which many say has no ending, it's actually pretty tight. Set it next to these super-indulgent extra-long films today (say Kill Bill) and even as an action/horror flick it's good.

Anyway, I didn't walk away from it thinking the military was bad; I did walk away thinking the situation was bad. But same could be said for Saving Private Ryan.

blake said...

Wade --

Ah, but we're all snobs in one way or another. Indeed, that's what makes it fun. Sure, it's nonsense, and one man's snobbery is pretty much the same as another's, but we all pretend like ours is better. (I mean, seriously, "Q"? I'm a Larry Cohen fan and I wouldn't put it in the top 1,000 films of all time, probably.

As for filming locations, the brothers Coen seem to do fine whereever they go. O Brother , Blood Simple and The Ladykillers in the South, their home field of Minnesota--Siberia with family style buffets--in Fargo, Los Angeles (The Big Lebowski, Intolerable Cruelty), New York for The Hudsucker Proxy, Arizona for Raising Arizona, and so on.

On the other hand, The Sweet Smell of Success, while it fits perfectly in New York, it wouldn't take much to tell the same story in Chicago or even L.A. Try doing that with "O Brother".

blake said...

John --

Steven King movies, eh? Let me introduce you to a little nightmare called Maximum Overdrive written and directed by Mr. King.

Heh.

Also, while I love Citizen Kane I think, simultaneously, that you're right. It's a cruel movie made by an arrogant, cocky young man, and I've been nursing a theory for years that Welles' subsequent problems stem from that, both for external and internal reasons.

blake said...

And since you've all gone to bed, I'll post another one to reader_iam:

I don't know about Ann, but I've swung back-and-forth between mainstream popular culture and its outlying regions. It's kind of like politics: Sometimes you move, sometimes the world moves around you.

It's also kind of like surfing. Sometimes you catch a wave. I'm totally out of the reality TV show wave and "The Sopranos", but totally into the animation wave, which seems to have mostly crested by now--but which will probably resurge in a few years.

I go to the movies at least once a week (and sometimes 2-3 times!) and last fall I went a month or more without seeing a single film in English, and much longer without seeing a single big-budget studio film.

So I could run with being a snob for a while. But this summer, it's almost all been sequels: Pirates, superheroes, fantasy creatures. That's a kind of snobbery, too, if you frame it right.

You can't do it all, but you can construct an amusing--I don't know what you'd call it, a millieu, perhaps?

I certainly don't take it seriously. I've never gotten the sense she (a law professor!) does either.

Ann Althouse said...

Reader I am: One thing is that the main person I went to the movies with was extremely judgmental about staying away from things he deemed to be beneath him. For me on my own, I go for an instinctive, idiosyncratic mix of high and low culture. I like to finding out what I end up with. And remember, I don't "embrace" "American Idol." I kind of despise it. I have a similar attitude about politics. I can't stand it, but I watch it more than most people do and enjoy writing about it.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I probably haven't seen half of the movies on the list for a varity of reasons.

Apocalypse Now I saw when it came out, and to me it was for the most part a forgetable movie, except for one scene.

I was stationed on a SAC base, with a flightline full of B-52s and saw the movie in the base theater.

When the boat was going up the river and passed by the tail of a crashed BUFF the entire theater fell completely silent. Probably half the audience either worked or flew on B-52s, so the significance of this scene, for us anyway, had a power the film maker never intended.

And I recommend The Sting! a great movie & alot of fun to watch.

That is, I suppose, my prime definition of a great movie- Fun to Watch. I don't want to be lectured to (which is why if a movie has won Best Picture in the last 25 years I haven't seen it; that stautue is seldom given to the best picture, just the one that preaches what Hollywood wants you to hear); all I want is a good story, convincingly told.

I'd rather watch an old John Wayne western ( Big Jake is a favorite) than 9/10 of what Hollywood is foisting off as entertainment nowdays.

I've seen two new releases in probably 10 years- the last Harry Potter film and Cars last year. Neither one preached at me, both were fun to watch and wrapped up all the lose ends in a couple of hours.

Sorry if that makes me sound like an escapist, which I will admit to being, but why pay ten bucks to see reality? I can watch reality all day long for free.

reader_iam said...

Blake: To be clear, I wasn't criticizing Ann on this point. I'd be a little surprised if she thought I was. (I'm a quite the mixer of high and low culture myself, and always have been.)

Ann: I used "embrace" in the not-ignore, refuse-to-participate-in sense. It's the response (then and now) that interested me. Thanks for answering.

reader_iam said...

That should be "not refuse-to-participate."

Luckyoldson said...

Tim said..."...Apocalypse Now" is grossly over-rated, a poor adaptation of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," a lousy depiction of the Vietnamese War (too many idiots think it an accurate portrayal), and finally, an anti-military slur."

duh.

Luckyoldson said...

ann,
actually Apocalypse Now got rave reviews when released.

LoafingOaf said...

Re: Comments on Shawshank

Morgan Freeman's narration is mesmerizing.

Yeah, but sometimes it's over-used to the point of annoyance. For example, why do I need Morgan Freeman to tell me Andy is crawling to freedom through "sh*t-smelling foulness" while I'm watching Andy crawl to freedom through sh*t-smelling foulness?


I still believe it is the greatest movie of the 90s (and probably my all-time favorite). It's a shame it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Forrest Gump. And yes, it is better than Pulp Fiction.

It would take me a long time to put together a list of fave American moviess of the '90s, because just thinking about it for a few minutes brings a flurry of titles into my head making me believe it was an unusually strong decade. Rushmore, Big Lebowski, Goodfellas, and Jackie Brown are amongst my most-viewed, so they'd be high up.

But it's kinda pretentious when people try and turn their personal faves into some kind of objective list of the greatest movies.

Shawshank was pretty good and beautitfully shot and I can see how some people would consider it their fave. What I find odd is the dismissiveness of Forrest Gump. I've only seen Gump one time, but I saw it on opening night suspect it was important to see it before all the hype and backlash. I found it to be a thought-provoking and surprisingly radical movie about stoicism, and pretty original for mainstream Hollywood, on top of it being gimicky fun with top-level acting. Even though I only saw it once, I often think about it when I'm in difficult points in my life, so it must be powerful (to me, anyway).

A lot of people dislike Gump but a lot of the criticism seems closed-minded due to some of the political interpretations. The movie really could be used effectively in a college philosophy class.

Rod said...

I'm startled the recent buzz about "The Searchers" has shot the film higher in the AFI Ten Years Later list. Saw it recently for the first time and was revolted by the racism of it; never acknowledged, never challenged. It's a film with a lot of amazing elements but I'm not sure I could watch it again.

Ann Althouse said...

"actually Apocalypse Now got rave reviews when released."

Prove it!

That's not what I remember and not what I'm seeing in a Lexis search.

By the way, Jim Webb panned it in the WaPo.

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blake said...

Rod,

Yeah, I saw it for the first time recently, too, in a theater, than again a couple of times on cable.

One can argue that the racism is Ethan's but I think it's apparent that the director shares that world view. Eight years with the injuns turns a ten year old girl into an animal? Hmmm.

Revenant said...

Two things about "Kane" are great: The cinematography and the editing. The sets are pretty good, too.

Its got a lot of great lines in it, too, so you can add "dialog" to the list.

Regarding Stephen King -- even if you don't feel like watching "The Shawshank Redemption", I would urge you to read the novella from which it is taken. It is contained in the book "Different Seasons", and all four of the novellas in it are great. The novella, "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", is (in my opinion, at least) better than the movie, although the movie is great.

Robert R. said...

One can argue that the racism is Ethan's but I think it's apparent that the director shares that world view. Eight years with the injuns turns a ten year old girl into an animal? Hmmm.

The fact that Ethan doesn't kill the girl at the end and leaves the film, shut out of the reunited family, is enough for me to say that John Ford doesn't share Ethan's world view. Did you miss the ending?