Originally written on July 7, 2007!
The American Film Institute decided that a 10-year anniversary couldn’t actually wait, ya know, 10 years. They decided to reissue their list of The 100 Greatest American Films Of All Time a mere 9 years after the original Top 100 came out in 1998. That first list was a gigantic influence on me and trying to see each & every one of that bunch immediately became a mini obsession. I had seen only 52 of the 100 in June ’98, then managed to see all the remaining 48 by the end of the year. This was my introduction to some wonderful old movies. Before then, I hadn’t seen The Searchers, It’s A Wonderful Life, Singin’ In The Rain, a few of Hitchcock’s finest, or anything by Chaplin.
Still, there were always problems with that list. Not only could it be argued that some films finished too high or others finished too low (while many worthy greats didn’t make the cut at all), there wasn’t much of a representation by some of the very best actors. Only 1 of Spencer Tracy’s films made the original list (Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner) and it barely squeaked in at #99. Other big stars with only 1 AFIer were Henry Fonda, Paul Newman, Peter O’Toole, Peter Sellers, Sidney Poitier, Laurence Olivier, Morgan Freeman, Gary Cooper, Gregory Peck, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, and Bette Davis. Even worse, Fred Astaire, Buster Keaton, Steve McQueen, Michael Caine, Greta Garbo, and Ginger Rogers weren’t represented at all.
Big-time directors were hosed too. Howard Hawks scored with Bringing Up Baby, but that—his lone AFI film—barely even made it at #97. Robert Altman, Sam Peckinpah, Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen, and Vincente Minnelli joined Hawks as One-Timers. And how about the fact that there was nothing at all by David Lynch, Ridley Scott, Sam Fuller, Brian De Palma, James Cameron, Preston Sturges, John Sturges, or Spike Lee? No female directors made it. In fact, all 100 films were directed by white men. That’s not to say that AFI ’98 wasn’t a diverse bunch of American films. It’s just stunning to think that every person in the last 2 paragraphs had only one film—or none at all—make the cut.
So at least the 10-year anniversary (9-year anniversary…whatever) was a chance for critics, scholars, & Average Joes to right some wrongs, stuff the ballot box, & include some recent releases. With many new nominees in the batch of 400—a few dozen of which came from the years 2000-2005 alone—there were bound to be some additions that would satisfy younger audiences. Titanic had just set box office records and won a zillion Oscars when the original list was released in ’98, yet it wasn’t eligible because every original AFI nominee was released in 1996 or earlier. This time Titanic did make the noms list…as did Saving Private Ryan, the 3 films in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and recent Best Picture Academy Award winners such as American Beauty, Chicago, and Million Dollar Baby. Others recognized this time that weren’t in the first batch of 400 noms: Sweet Smell Of Success (one of my all-time favourites), The Great Escape (another all-timer), This Is Spinal Tap, and Halloween. Only 4 of the new nominees wound up on the ’07 Top 100, but we’ll get to that later.
Said Morgan Freeman—the solo host this time, after Jodie Foster, Sally Field, and Richard Gere co-hosted the first show—”a lot has changed in ten years”. Well, yes, that’s true. Movies with social resonance have come to mean more than ever since terrorism, homosexuality, abortion, the right to die, poverty, and war began to dominate newscasts once the new century began…that is, whenever those newscasts haven’t been filled with the dull-ass adventures of Paris, Michael, Britney, Lindsay, and their useless buddies. While many recent Best Picture Oscar winners have been relevant to the lives of American battling their way through Junior’s administration (LOTR is a war epic, Million Dollar Baby focuses on a person’s right to die, and Crash deals with racial prejudice), does that make them worthy of inclusion on this compilation of so-called greatness? Just because they’re important, does that mean they’re actually any good?
Great movies are made every year, of course, and this anniversary show acknowledges that. This AFI anniversary dealie is as much an effort to reach out to younger audiences as anything. It also features some of the same glaring omissions as the ’98 list. I think it’s ridiculous that The Great Escape, The Lady Eve, Cool Hand Luke, Paths Of Glory, Dog Day Afternoon, and Sweet Smell Of Success weren’t honoured in the first go-round (and all were passed over again). On the flip side, I don’t intend to watch Gone With The Wind, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Sound Of Music, or West Side Story ever again because they’re overrated crapboxes. Knowing that I feel that way about those “classics”, take whatever else I say here with a grain of processed salt. I’m a guy who thinks Scarlett, Scout, the singing nun, and the Jets can blow it out their earholes.
So what about the 2007 version of “100 Years, 100 Movies”? Was it a good show and a good list? No and sort of. Let’s talk about the 23 newbies. To start with the good—The Shawshank Redemption (#72), The General (#18!), Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (#67), Sunrise (#82), 12 Angry Men (#87), Nashville (#59), and Sullivan’s Travels (#61) all made it. All deserved to. Blade Runner (#97), Do The Right Thing (#96), Toy Story (#99), All The President’s Men (#77), The Last Picture Show (#95), and Intolerance (#49) are fine additions, although they raised my eyebrows a little bit. LOTR: The Fellowship Of The Ring (#50), Titanic (#83), and Saving Private Ryan (#71) were no-brainers. They’re also 3 of the mere 4 new nominees that were voted onto the ’07 roster (along with a crappy choice, The Sixth Sense at #89).
I’m not gonna punch the wall about the inclusions of In The Heat Of The Night (#75) or Spartacus (#81), but I don’t think they really have what it takes to be in this group of 100. But I am prepared to vomit in terror about this next crop…because even though I like some of them, they just don’t belong anywhere close to a 100 Greatest Films list: Swing Time (#90), A Night At The Opera (#85), Sophie’s Choice (#91), and last and least, Caba-fuckin’-ret (#63). If you want to hear the running commentary in this apartment for 10 minutes after #63 was called, it was, “I can’t believe they picked Caba-fuckin’-ret”. Even through a mouthful of nachos, a disgusted “Caba-fuckin’-ret”.
Nearly a quarter of the flicks on this new list made it that didn’t in ’98. That means, of course, that 23 flicks were bumped off. Some of the notable bumpees include The Third Man (that surprised me), From Here To Eternity, Rebel Without A Cause, Giant, Patton, The Manchurian Candidate, and Stagecoach. Doctor Zhivago tumbled from #39 to no better than #101, which is a pretty incredible nosedive. Zhivago was the highest-ranker from the original list to get the See Ya treatment this time, although Birth Of A Nation wasn’t far behind (from #44 to gonzo).
With those 23 boot-outs, that means that the ’07 version of the 100 Greatest American Films removes all vestiges of the following legends: James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Spencer Tracy, Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Julie Christie, and Audrey Hepburn. James Cagney barely hung on (Yankee Doodle Dandy climbed 2 spots, but that still only puts it at #98) and Paul Newman continues to have only the Sundance Kid keeping his Butch Cassidy company. Still no Garbo or Pickford, no Mitchum or Mae West, no Jane Fonda or Sean Penn, no Cruise, no Mel, no Denzel.
As for the 77 that remain, a few made huge leaps. Rocky hurtled up 21 places (#78 to #57), Shane jumped from #69 to #45, Duck Soup moved up 25 notches (#85 to #60), The Deer Hunter vaulted 26 (#79 to #53), and Unforgiven climbed 30 spots (from #98 to #68). The most remarkable improvements, though, were made by Vertigo, City Lights, and The Searchers. Vertigo had been the lowest-ranked of Alfred Hitchcock’s 4 classics to make the ’98 list. Now it’s his #1 and it even cracked the new Top 10, finishing at #9. City Lights zoomed up 65 spots to just miss the Top 10, placing at #11. The Searchers made such an enormous leap that I figured it wasn’t going to make it at all once we cleared the 50s. It ascended a staggering 84 ticks to go from #96 to #12. Wow, just wow.
On the other hand, some pictures plummeted. Ben-Hur barely made it at #100 after being #72 in ’98. The French Connection dropped 23, going from #70 to #93. Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid fell to #73 after being #50 before. A Clockwork Orange also took a surprising nosedive, falling from #46 to #70. The Bridge On The River Kwai ran its train off the bridge by a stunning 23 points, going from #13 to #36. The biggest collapse of the films that stayed on the list, however, was by The African Queen. It was an undeserving #17 before. It’s #65 now. That’s a drop of 48 spots. Voters must no longer relish the idea of a dowdy Kate & a scruffy Bogie making nice-nice in a shitheap boat. They’re right too—#65 is more reasonable than #17.
I fully expected some films to climb up about 10 or 20 or even 40 places, but they didn’t. Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction were two of those, yet they only climbed up a combined 3 spots and both still sit in the 90s. Huh. The Godfather Part II (#32) didn’t move a muscle. It was one of only 3 movies that ended up in the exact same spot. The other two were The Best Years Of Our Lives at #37 and Citizen Kane, the expected and correct choice to finish #1. (More on Kane later.) Godfather II—arguably the equal of or maybe even superior to the first one—sits 30 places back of the Brando-starring version. While #32 is a respectable number, it seems a bit low for such a legendary work of art, particularly when compared to the Top 5 placement of its predecessor.
Some of my own faves dropped a few notches, even though I hoped they might do some climbing. Those include Jaws (down by 8 to #56), Apocalypse Now (falling by 2 to #30), It’s A Wonderful Life (at #20 now, when it was #11 before), The Silence Of The Lambs (down 9 to #74), Raiders Of The Lost Ark (rolling its boulder from #60 to #66), Dr. Strangelove (bullriding the bomb from #26 to #39), The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (#30 to #38), One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (leaving its lofty #20 and now sitting at #33), On The Waterfront (out of the Top 10, now ranking #19), and The Wizard Of Oz (clinging to the Top 10 at #10, dropping from #6). At least The Graduate is no longer in the Top 10, which is as it should be. Star Wars climbed a little bit (#15 to #13), but it still didn’t rank amongst the Top 10.
I already beefed about which directors were excluded. How about the new inclusions? Ridley Scott now has a film on the AFI list (Blade Runner). So does Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing). Then there’s Preston, Peter, and Peter…Sturges, Jackson, and Bogdanovich, that is, with Sullivan’s Travels, LOTR: FOTR, and The Last Picture Show, respectively. FW Murnau slots in there with Sunrise and big-budgeter James Cameron joins the club too (Titanic). It’s also Hello There to a rich cross-section of acting talent, from the dancing duo of Astaire & Rogers to the stonefaced Buster Keaton (finally!). This list also finds room for Richard Burton, Ellen Burstyn, Kirk Douglas, Jeff Bridges, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Kate Winslet, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The numbers game… With Saving Private Ryan and Toy Story, Tom Hanks now has 3 AFI films (since he already had Forrest Gump…and it still makes it at #76). Dustin Hoffman now has 4 with the inclusion of All The President’s Men. Harrison Ford had 4 films before. Make it 5 with the tack-on of Blade Runner. Jimmy Stewart had 5 and still does. Robert DeNiro had 5 and still does. Robert Duvall had six and still does. Meanwhile, Laurence Olivier and Charles Laughton each lost a movie this time around, but gained one right back by co-starring with Kirk Douglas and many others in Spartacus. The same thing happened for Elizabeth Taylor, who saw A Place In The Sun get ousted, but then had the more-deserving Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf climb aboard. And Sidney Poitier may have lost Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, but In The Heat Of The Night ranks higher on the new list anyway.
As for those directors… The great Robert Altman (aided by his trademark giant cast in Nashville) now has 2 flicks amongst the AFI bunch, since MASH (jumping up 2 spots to #54) was already included. Steven Spielberg lost one (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind), but gained one (Saving Private Ryan). It was also one off / one on for D.W. Griffith, who lost Birth Of A Nation while seeing Intolerance finish second-highest of the newbies at #49. George Stevens lost two (Giant and A Place In The Sun), but gained Swing Time. Stanley Kubrick now has 4 films here, since Spartacus unexpectedly joined the party (he already had 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove, and A Clockwork Orange). His 4 are tied with Hitchcock and Billy Wilder for second (to Spielberg’s 5) for the most films of any director. Mike Nichols gets a 2nd (Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf to go with The Graduate), as does Sidney Lumet (#87′s 12 Angry Men joins #64 Network). And how about Alan J. Pakula? He not only already had a producer’s credit on To Kill A Mockingbird (#25), but now he also has 2 films as a director (Sophie’s Choice and All The President’s Men).
Other pointless stats… One animated film gets bumped out (Fantasia) while another bumps on (Toy Story). Two Academy Award Best Picture winners now find their way on the list (Titanic and In The Heat Of The Night), yet 8—EIGHT!—were tossed off (including An American In Paris, Dances With Wolves, and Amadeus). The decade that saw the most new additions was the ’90s with 5, seconded by the ’70s with 4. The ’50s had the most knock-offs (with 7) and the ’30s and ’60s had 4 bump-outs apiece. The newest film on the new list is LOTR: FOTR and the oldest is Intolerance. [Ironic that they’d be back-to-back at #49 and #50.] The 1998 list’s newest film was Fargo (which was bye-byed in ’07) and Birth Of A Nation was its oldest (which also didn’t stuff enough ballot boxes to make it this time ’round).
Enough stats. This isn’t a baseball boxscore! Let’s talk turkey. What was in the Top 10? Well, this is it:
10. The Wizard Of Oz (#6 in ’98)
9. Vertigo (#61 in ’98)
8. Schindler’s List (#9 in ’98)
7. Lawrence Of Arabia (#5 in ’98)
6. Gone With The Wind (#4 in ’98)
5. Singin’ In The Rain (#10 in ’98)
4. Raging Bull (#24 in ’98)
3. Casablanca (#2 in ’98)
2. The Godfather (#3 in ’98)
1. Citizen Kane (also the #1 film in 1998)
The Graduate is finally outta there (about bloody time) while Vertigo and Raging Bull make surprising appearances. I assumed Star Wars was a Top 10 lock this time, yet it sits at lucky #13. My own Top 10 would find room for Kane for sure and probably Casablanca, The Godfather, and The Wizard Of Oz, but probably none of the rest of these 10. Having said that, this group represents a strong cross-section of American films. You’ve got comedies, dramas, musicals, epics, intrigue, romance, and adventure. You’ve got Hitchcock, Spielberg, Scorsese, and Welles. You’ve got Brando, Garland, De Niro, Pacino, Bogart, Bergman, and O’Toole. You’ve got the Don, Rhett & Scarlett, Arabs, Jews, Nazis, the mafia, the media, sexual obsession, personal demons, movies about movies, and a girl who just wants to go home. Not a bad collection.
Citizen Kane was the right choice to be #1 when the original list came out and it justifiably remains there now. Isn’t it interesting, though, that it rarely makes an AFI list other than the Top 100 Films Of All Time? Sure, it isn’t a comedy or a love story or a thriller or an inspirational message picture, yet it’s odd that it ranks #1 both times in the “100 Years, 100 Movies” group and not at all on any of the other lists. Since Casablanca finishes in the Top 2 or 3 on other lists so often, it seemed to have a reasonable shot at dethroning Kane on this one. The Godfather (at least by virtue of its long-running #1 spot on the IMDb’s Top 250) wouldn’t have stunned anyone if it got the #1 nod. To flip-flop with the much-loved Casablanca speaks volumes, actually.
On a different note, I still struggle to see how Vertigo and Raging Bull could go from where they were all the way into the Top 10. Great pictures both, but they didn’t see this much love the first time. Why the overcompensation now? But I will say this—out of all their great work, these 2 films by Hitchcock and Scorsese best represent what they’re about as filmmakers. Welcome to your lofty perch, Scotty Ferguson and Jake LaMotta, you obsessive creeps.
My Top 5 “biggests” of the night:
1) Biggest and best surprise of the night—when The General’s number was called. Since no new film had made it between Intolerance at #49 and The General at #18, I assumed that was gonna be it for newbies. Smile time!
2) Biggest struggle of the night—having to listen to a spectacular actor like Morgan Freeman read the cheeseball lines in the AFI’s tripe-infested script.
3) Biggest disappointment—that they recycled so many interviews from previous AFI programs. If they’re gonna foist a 9-year anniversary show on us, the least they could do was get all-new interviews.
4) Biggest blunder on my part—thinking they were talking about Top Hat when they were talking about Swing Time. Maybe it’s understandable, though? Is any Astaire/Rogers’ musical that much different from the next?
5) Biggest non-surprise—that I’d spend so much time beefing about what made it but shouldn’t have and what didn’t make it but should have.
So to sum up—if this were my own list of the 100 Greatest American Films Ever Made, I’d find room for The Great Escape, The Bad And The Beautiful, Sweet Smell Of Success, The Lady Eve, Cool Hand Luke, Field Of Dreams, and The Exorcist. Also, The Hustler, The Matrix, Die Hard, Notorious, Deliverance, Back To The Future, Touch Of Evil, Carrie, White Heat, Glory, and The Adventures Of Robin Hood would all have a reasonable chance of making it too. My own Top 10 would include Jaws, Apocalypse Now, It’s A Wonderful Life, Dr. Strangelove, possibly 2001 and Star Wars (better yet, The Empire Strikes Back!), probably The Godfather, and of course Casablanca and Kane. Then again, ask me to name a Top 10 tomorrow and you’d undoubtedly get 2 or 3 different choices.
As for whether or not 1997′s anniversary list is better than the original one…of course it isn’t. But then again, don’t sequels usually suck?
copyright Ryan Ellis 2013