Monday, June 16, 2008

AFI's 10 Top 10

Tomorrow the American Film Institute will unveil its latest top 100 list. Last year they did the top 100 American films of all time, and previously they've done the top 100 comedies, romances, thrills and chills, and songs. So what could be left after all these lists? Well there are several genres that deserve mention but do not have enough films to warrant a top 100 list of their own. So this year the AFI is taking ten of these genres and compiling 10 Top 10 lists. So without further ado, I give you, my cataloged readers, my thoughts on each list along with the film I think will come in at number one, the one I think should be number one, a film that I think should make the list but won't, and one film that I think shouldn't make the list but will.

Looking at the list of nominees, is is pretty much a roll call of all the Disney and Pixar films. In fact, only 16 of the 50 nominees are not Disney, Pixar, or Touchstone. And I think the final 10 will reflect this as well. I predict only one film in the top ten will be from a non-Disney (or Disney connected) studio, with An American Tale (1986) and The Secret of Nimh (1982) being the most likely candidates. I have also managed to see all but 4 of the 50 nominees, making this list the one I am most qualified to have an opinion on.
Will Be #1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - It's the first full-length animated feature, has many iconic characters and songs, and the animation is still top-notch.
Should Be #1: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - See above.
Should But Won't: The Incredibles (2004) - It has surprisingly mature themes, yet is still accessible to kids, but as great as their films are, I don't see Pixar scoring more than two spots on the list, and those spots are most likely going to Toy Story (1995) and Finding Nemo (2003).
Will But Shouldn't: The Lion King (1994) - An underwhelming rip-off of Bambi (1942, which wasn't that great either), it made too much money at the box office to not be included.

Courtroom Drama
These are really more like Legal Dramas as several of the nominees spend very little time in the courtroom, but have lawyers as main characters (The Client (1994) and The Pelican Brief (1993) for instance). I have only seen 16 of the nominated films, so I am interested in seeing how this list turns out.
Will Be #1: 12 Angry Men (1957) - It is the ultimate courtroom film, with all but the last scene taking place within the confines of the courtroom. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) might unseat it as Mockingbird is widely considered the better film, but the courtroom aspects of the film are a much smaller part of the story.
Should Be #1: 12 Angry Men (1957) - Over 90% of the film takes place in just one room, and yet it is completely engaging and never dull.
Should But Won't: There are no candidates that really stand out to me.
Will But Shouldn't: Adam's Rib (1949) - AFI will get a kick out of putting a comedy on this otherwise very serious list, but the battle of the sexes themes turn me off.

Biblical films abound on the list of nominees, with seven telling the story of Jesus in some form or fashion: Ben-Hur (1926 & 1959), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Intolerance (1916), The King of Kings (1927), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), and The Passion of the Christ (2004). While I think the second Ben-Hur and Intolerance will make the final cut, the list will be heavily slanted towards more military fare.
Will Be #1: Lawrence of Arabia (1962) - A sweeping story combined with a larger-than-life protagonist and camera work that can only be fully appreciated in 70mm make Lawrence the epic that all others are judged by. Gone With the Wind (1939) runs a close second.
Should Be #1: Ben-Hur (1959) - The chariot race at the end is one of the greatest action pieces ever committed to film, and it features one of the best portrayals of Jesus as well.
Should But Won't: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003) - It handles both action-packed sea battles and intimate character drama with equal excellence.
Will But Shouldn't: Doctor Zhivago (1965) - Hey, let's celebrate an extramarital affair and put an annoying film score behind it!

This has my favorite list of nominees, with several of my favorite films of all time on it. I have also seen 36 of the films on the list, and of those 36, only 4 get a "thumbs down" from me. It also has a very wide range of films on it, from the epic, immersive The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), to the almost entirely effects-free It's a Wonderful Life (1946), from the bright and happy Mary Poppins (1964) to the dark and twisted Brazil (1985).
Will Be #1: The Wizard of Oz (1939) - It creates the world of Oz in radiant Technicolor, contains several immediately recognizable songs and quotes, and has embedded itself into American society more than any other film in history.
Should Be #1: The Wizard of Oz (1939) - Even though Fellowship of the Ring is my favorite film on the list, I have to vote for Oz for the above reasons.
Should But Won't: Mary Poppins (1964) - I don't see the AFI picking a happy Disney kids' musical, even considering its many memorable songs and eye-popping effects. (I'm going out on a limb and optimistically saying that The Princess Bride (1987) will make the list.)
Will But Shouldn't: Ghost (1990) - This film is so dumb, I don't see how anybody likes it, yet it cleaned house at the box office.

The gangster genre has been woefully underrepresented in my film watching history, so I am definitely looking forward to seeing what makes the list so I have a better guide on what to check out.
Will Be #1: The Godfather (1972) - The question here is not "Will The Godfather come in at number one?" but "Will Godfather I and II go numbers one and two?"
Should Be #1: The Godfather (1972) - Mention the phrase "mob boss," and I think most people will get an image in their heads of either Al Capone or of Marlon Brando stroking a cat.
Should But Won't: Oscar (1991) - Normally the words "Sylvester Stallone" and "comedy" are not included in the same sentence, but this comedy about a mobster who tries to go straight is a riot.
Will But Shouldn't: The Godfather Part II (1974) - It is dark and depressing, and borrows far too much from the first Godfather. Besides, with only ten films making the final cut, how about a little variety?

With 9 Hitchcock films on the list of nominees, I wouldn't be terribly upset if the final 10 included all 9 Hitchcocks and either The Thin Man (1934) or Charade (1963). Of course that's not going to happen, but I can dream, can't I? I do expect both Vertigo (1958) and Rear Window (1954) to make the list, and North by Northwest (1959) could squeak in as well.
Will Be #1: Vertigo (1958) - Critics drool (and rightfully so) over Hitchcock's dark tale of obsession and intrigue, full of twists and turns. The Maltese Falcon (1941), the ultimate film noir, will run a close second and could edge out Vertigo for the top spot.
Should Be #1: Vertigo (1958) - Few movies have sucked me in as well as Vertigo did on my first viewing.
Should But Won't: Memento (2001) - Thought this film should get plenty of consideration, there are too many Hitchcock and film noir movies on the nominee list for it to crack the top 10.
Will But Shouldn't: Chinatown (1974) - It is one of the best crafted screenplays ever written, but the film is so nihilistic that I can't stand it.

Romantic Comedy
AFI did both a romance list and a comedies list with many films overlapping between the lists, so this category seems a little redundant. A live-action children's film top 10 list would have been interesting (with The Wizard of Oz (1939) and E. T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) coming in at numbers one and two) but they didn't ask me. I'm hoping the list is filled with screwball comedies from the 30's and 40's, as those are some of my favorite films.
Will Be #1: Annie Hall (1977) - Critics inexplicably can't get enough of neurotic Woody Allen and space cadet Diane Keaton.
Should Be #1: The Philadelphia Story (1940) - Great comedy, good romance, and the greatest 3 star billing of all time with Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart. It edges out Bringing Up Baby (1938) for me, because while Baby has more laughs, Story does the romance better, and it's more essential to the plot.
Should But Won't: Our Hospitality (1923) - This is probably Buster Keaton's best romance, so it gets my vote over The General (1927). Tragically, Keaton is completely absent from the list of 50 nominees. Also missing is the equally valid The Princess Bride (1987).
Will But Shouldn't: Annie Hall (1977) - Two people who love each other but are unable to make adjustments for the other person. Sounds more like a tragedy than a comedy to me.

Science Fiction
I have seen 40 of the 50 nominees, making it my second most watched list after animation. It will be interesting to see how the more high art films dealing with ideas and philosophies like The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) balance out with the ones more interested in giving the audience a good time like Jurassic Park (1993).
Will Be #1: Star Wars (1977) - It introduced the world to a fully realized universe that audiences had never seen before, made huge strides in the business of movie special effects, became the template for the Summer blockbuster, and is still the second-highest grossing film in America. And it's highly entertaining.
Should Be #1: Star Wars (1977) - See above.
Should But Won't: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) - It didn't even make the short list! It is one of the best sequels of all time (that might make an interesting top 10 list as well) and takes all the fun of the first Star Wars and adds more serious and darker elements to it.
Will But Shouldn't: 2001: A Space Odyssey - Monkeys jump around, playing with bones. Then a space ship docks and there is a long conversation about something. Then a computer kills a crew member and is then killed by the final crew member. Then there is an acid trip. Then the credits roll. How is this a great film!?

An underdog comes out of nowhere, makes a big splash, all of which leads up to a final competition. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Will Be #1: Rocky (1976) - No other movie follows the above formula more iconically than Rocky, and a best picture Oscar doesn't hurt, either. I also expect Raging Bull (1980) to take the number 2 spot. This does not make me happy, as I don't care for boxing, or boxing movies, at all.
Should Be #1: Hoosiers (1986) - After attending a small school in rural Indiana, I have a certain affinity for this film. Rudy (1993), another Indiana film, scores high for me as well.
Should But Won't: The Sandlot (1993) - This love letter to baseball that features a bunch of kids playing baseball simply for the fun of it did not even make the short list. Grr!
Will But Shouldn't: Field of Dreams (1989) - It was a tossup for me between this one and Raging Bull, but Field wins out simply because it is so dumb. What scares me is that Field of Dreams might be the only baseball movie to make the list.

I have only seen 17 of the nominated films, making this my second-least seen category. I have not seen very many westerns at all, so I am really excited to see what westerns AFI will recommend to me. I just hope they don't go overboard with the revisionist westerns, filling the top 10 with Unforgiven (1992) and its thematic cousins.
Will Be #1: The Searchers (1956) - A classic journey tale with Monument Valley as the backdrop. It also inspired many of today's filmmakers, most notably George Lucas, who watched it constantly while making Star Wars (1977). If the voters are more in the mood for a smaller, more personal film, High Noon (1952) could take over the top spot.
Should Be #1: Stagecoach (1939) - This is a wonderful ensemble piece with heroes and villains taking various shapes and sizes. The Magnificent Seven (1960) comes in at a close second for me since it best follows the conventions of a western.
Should But Won't: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) - I don't know why this one failed to make the list of nominees: it has an American cast and was at least partially made by an American film company. It has more atmosphere and style in five minutes than most westerns have over their entire running time.
Will But Shouldn't: The Searchers (1956) - None of the characters are particularly compelling, the passage of time is conveyed only through dialog, and, while I am not one to be overly sensitive of racial attitudes in film, I found John Ford's treatment of the American Indians to be overly broad and degrading.

All ten lists of 50 nominees are available for download at


Adam said...

so, for those of us who don't check anywhere on AFI regularly, are you going to boast- err... POST again about how well your predictions match up with reality?

Herch said...

I plan to. Of course I have to watch the show, first.

Evade said...

Godfather II is a great film and should be on the list- its a morality tale on a grand scale- the cinematography is wonderful and the line- " I know it was you Fredo"

can you name 10 better gangster films?

Nate said...

6 of 10. Not bad. In fact, that's really quite good!

Major surprises of the evening include:

City Lights as #1 Romantic Comedy (Don't demean Chaplin by grouping him with the likes of Tom Hanks!)

Raging Bull as #1 Sports (Where the heck is Chariots of Fire? Too British?)

Oh, well. Now I'm going to have to watch A Cry in the Dark. It's almost sickening how much AFI loves Meryl Streep.

Herch said...

The first Godfather is a tragedy in which Michael gains the world but loses his soul. The third Godfather has Michael reaching for redemption. In the second Godfather, Michael is stagnant, endlessly brooding, doing nothing interesting. If Coppola had just made Godfather 1/2, focusing solely on the young Vito, it would have been a much better film.

The 10 Gangster Films I Would Have Voted For
The Departed
The Godfather
Key Largo
On the Waterfront
The Public Enemy
Some Like it Hot
Touch of Evil
The Untouchables
The Usual Suspects