Thursday, June 21, 2007

AFI 100: My Thoughts

Ten years ago the American Film Institute celebrated 100 years of film making in America by releasing a list of the 100 Greatest American Films. Since then, it has periodically released similar "100 Greatest" lists including Greatest Stars, Greatest Heroes & Villains, and Greatest Movie Quotes. Last night CBS aired a 10th anniversary revision in which the institute essentially threw out the old list and ranked the 100 Greatest American films all over again (See the complete list here). Frankly, I was a little surprised with the amount movement when comparing the two lists. Raging Bull jumped from 24 up to 4, Vertigo moved from 61 up to 9, and the John Wayne western The Searchers made a huge leap from 96 all the way to 12. There were 23 films new to list, but only four of those have been released since 1997: The Fellowship of the Ring (50), Saving Private Ryan (71), Titanic (83) and The Sixth Sense (89). The others are just older movies that have apparently grown in stature, the most notably being the 1927 Buster Keaton film The General which debuted on the list at 18 (how a movie is perceived 80 years after its release can be that different from how it is perceived 70 years after its release is beyond me). Of course, 23 new films means 23 films were taken off the list. James Dean seems to be the big loser here as two of his movies, Rebel Without A Cause and Giant, are no longer among the elite. More recent movies to get dropped were Dances With Wolves and Fargo.

Those were the facts. Now here's my opinions. I could just rank my 100 greatest films or say which ones are too high, but that's exactly what the AFI would want me to do. That's why they air these specials, so people will debate them next day. Instead I'll just focus on a handful of films from the list and issue my own recommendations for you to watch. Take them for what they're worth.

Citizen Kane (1), The Third Man (Dropped): Orson Welles was a genius. His problem is he made the greatest movie ever at age 26. Where do you go from there? Citizen Kane is a great example of excellent film making. The camera angles, the editing, the acting are all brilliant. For a follow up watch The Third Man, which features Welles in one my favorite scenes of all time. His acting in that movie is nothing short of incredible.

The Godfather (2): I've previously commented on Al Pacino's performance in this movie. It's very different from the over-the-top Pacino you see these days. Brando is excellent as well. Some people like the sequel better, and the parts with Robert De Niro are great, but I think Part I is still the better of the two.

Casablanca (3), The Maltese Falcon (31), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (38): Here we have three contrasting performances from Humphrey Bogart. Sure he plays a tough guy in all three, but in a different way. The stoicism in Casablanca is what he's best known for, but in Falcon he shows a little more personality. In Treasure he goes mad.

Lawrence of Arabia (7), The Bridge on the River Kwai (36): David Lean was so far ahead of his time it's ridiculous. These two movies are definitely worth viewing, even though they are both really long. Peter O'Toole is amazing as T.E. Lawrence and Alec Guiness out performs William Holden, who was the first actor to receive a million-dollar paycheck for his role in Bridge.

On the Waterfront (19): Here we see a young Brando in his other Oscar-winning role. Watch this and then watch The Godfather.

To Kill a Mockingbird (25): While we're talking about AFI, the institute named Atticus Finch as it greatest film hero of all time. It's a good choice and Gregory Peck is legendary in this movie.

High Noon (27): Gary Cooper was in quite a few good movies, but this one sort of stands alone, no pun intended.

Dr. Strangelove (39): I'm not much of a Stanley Kubrick fan, but this movie is hilarious. Peter Sellers plays three characters and each one is more over the top than the previous.

It Happened One Night (46): They don't make movies like this anymore. In the height of the studio contract days, Frank Capra managed to "borrow" Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert from MGM for two weeks to film this little movie that went on to big things. Though nearly 75 years old, it's is still a lot of fun.

Rear Window (48): Vertigo may have climbed way up on the list, but of the four collaborations Jimmy Stewart had with Alfred Hitchcock, it's probably my least favorite. I like Rear Window and The Man Who Knew Too Much more. I even like Rope, a movie that was filmed in only eight shots, more than Vertigo.

Jaws (56): The original shark movie is still a classic. The editing and pacing in this movie are excellent, even if the shark does look fake.

In the Heat of the Night (75): It's all too easy these days for filmmakers to make racism the bad guy. This movie goes a little further and gives its characters enough flaws to seem more realistic without detracting from the overall sense of right and wrong.

12 Angry Men (87): Henry Fonda is really good in this movie. It's interesting to watch as his character, just trying to do his duty as a juror, goes through and creates reasonable doubt in the minds of the other jurors one-by-one.

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