Well, last month the American Film Institute released its new-and-improved list of the 100 greatest American films ever made. I had the pleasure of watching the broadcast when the list was revealed with a group of film buffs, and I enjoyed participating in the running commentary on the merits of each film as it was revealed. I think everyone in the room had seen at least half of the films on the list, so when a film came up that a certain person had not seen, there were cries of indignation at the ignorance of said audience member ("What do you mean you haven't seen Singin' in the Rain!? You have to watch it!") I thought about compiling my thoughts in a series of top 5 lists as I am wont to do on this blog, but I did not want to limit myself to or force myself to fill 5 slots per category, so, my enumerated readers, here are my random thoughts on the list.
What the List Got Right
-I was pleased to see that two of the films I put on my top 5 list of films that should be included were included (The General - at #18! - and Sullivan's Travels).
-There are more silent films on this list than the previous list. The first one had 4, this one has 6, with The General (#18!) and Sunrise being the most notable additions.
-Some less-than-stellar films (From Here to Eternity, Giant), films that were important/big when they came out but have not withstood the test of time gracefully (All Quiet on the Western Front, Dances With Wolves), and films that are just plain overrated (Doctor Zhivago, Fargo) dropped off the list. Also of note, The Graduate dropped out of the top 10, a film I would put in all three categories. Here's hoping it drops out of the top 50 in 10 years.
-There was a nice selection of films new to the list from the new (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) to the old (The General, #18), and for them most part, I think the choices were good ones. Also, of the 23 films new to the list, I have not seen seven of them. Now I know what to add to the Netflix queue.
What the List Got Wrong
-Of the 23 films that dropped off the list, three are glaring mistakes: Fantasia, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Third Man.
-Chaplin: 3. Keaton: 1. Lloyd: 0. While I can't begrudge Chaplin his three entries, the uninitiated could look at the list and think that Charlie Chaplin was pretty much the only silent comedian, and while the inclusion of The General (at #18) does help to counter that erroneous assumption, the numerical disparity needs to be fixed. I would suggest dropping either City Lights or Modern Times, and adding either Sherlock Jr., Steamboat Bill, Jr., or Our Hospitality from Buster Keaton and at least one of The Kid Brother (my personal favorite), The Freshman, and Safety Last! from Harold Lloyd.
-Of the new films on the list, the one I'm most disappointed to see is Blade Runner. If you're going for a science fiction film from Ridley Scott, Alien would be a much better choice. I'm also not too wild about Titanic making the list, but that one has a lot more deserving aspects to it.
-While I liked seeing Vertigo crack the top 10, I was dismayed to see Raging Bull come in at number 4. I just can't appreciate Scorsese's exercises in unhappiness. I would replace Raging Bull with Star Wars in the top 10.
Some Random Thoughts
-Of the 18 comedies on the list (discounting musicals), only 7 were made in 1960 or later, with the most recent one being Tootsie from 1982. Compare that to 6 comedies from the 1930s alone, and 4 silent (or mostly silent) comedies. I thought it weird that there isn't a single Mel Brooks film on the list, when Blazing Saddles, The Producers (not the musical), and Young Frankenstein would each be worthy additions to the list. It's also interesting that the only two comedies to crack the top 20 were both silent films: City Lights and The General (at #18).
-The big winners of the list are The Searchers, which jumped up 85 spots from the last list to come in at #12, and The General, which didn't even make the last list, but this time around came in at #18. The big losers of the list (other than the ones that dropped off) are The African Queen, which dropped 48 spots to #65, and Ben-Hur, which dropped 28 points to #100.
-Overall I think the AFI 100 list is probably the best top 100 list out there. It does the best job covering the wide range of films that are out there, and most of them are pretty accessible, making it a wonderful primer for the beginning cinephile. It was a bittersweet moment when I finally saw A Streetcar Named Desire since it was the last film on the original list for me to see (discounting A Clockwork Orange; a film I refuse to see at this point in my life). I had the satisfaction of seeing the whole list, but then there was the uncertainty of where to go from there. Now with seven new films on the list I haven't seen, I can tackle the list all over again (though admittedly it's not a very big list to tackle).
Biggest Disappointment With the New List
Fantasia dropped off the list. This is a perfect example of animation as art, and one of the first group of music videos (if not the first). Also, there were only two animated films on the list, though the addition of Toy Story was a good one.
Biggest Improvement With the New List
The General made the list! And did I mention that not only did it make the list, but it made it into the top 20, coming in at #18?
You can see the whole list on afi.com.