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Top 100 Ways to Spoil A Top 100 list...(part 1)

I dislike the AFI - or, properly, their top 100 lists. They're too...for them, something in black and white is always better than something in colour.

To start with, by their very nature they are voting for soley American films - and anyone who know anything about film can tell you you're ignoring 70% of good movies through doing that. For me, a good list must have variety (and, obviously, pick Godfather I above Part II.) While 100 American films is good in theory, it cuts down on that variety. Argue if you like that there's plenty of variation witin the US - all to naught faced with a crowd who will vote for anything with James Stewart or Henry Fonda in it.

I don't feel that I have seen the spread of America's filmmaking ability looking at that list. My goodness, there are three Charlie Chaplin films. Now I've never seen any Charlie Chaplin, so I'm in position to judge, but it strikes me that if you're narrowing every film ever down to a fixed number, you should be throwing the net as wide as possible. They obviously have their own merits, but surely you only need one to get the idea? And don't try arguing it shows development or his comic range - it may be good, but it certainly ain't that complex. As a percentage, it implies 3% of American films are slapstick silents. (In fact, make that 4% - The General is also on that list.)

It suggests the "AFI's blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community" don't know horsedung about movies. Literally, they all won Oscars. There isn't a single one I've never heard of. It's just so desperately worthy - I can't get excited about this list, not that they're not good films, but...
What do you think won it? I'll give you some ALWAYS wins if snobs are voting, but it's not Hitchcock. It's black and white (oooh, there's a suprise...) It's about Power, Age, America and the Human Condition. There's a snowglobe. And a sleigh.
I'm not denying it's good - how can I, I haven't seen it - but that doesn't mean its not a dull end to a dull show. The last top 50 I watched was exciting and vibrant - even the fact they only listed 50 was a measure of quality. Taken from all ages and all over the globe, see all of these and you could call yourself well watched. The highest film I had never heard of was listed at number five. That's a measure of the invention. Lets compare us some top tens:
10 – Manhattan – a smart and slow paced romance
9 – Donnie Darko – an unusual modern classic
8 – A Bout de Souffle - some exciting French new wave
7 -North by Northwest. - yeh, Hitchcock, but an unusual one.
6 – 2001:A Space Odyssey - interminably brilliant
5 – Sexy Beast - nasty but good natured sub-Scorcese Brit gangster flick
4- Chinatown – modern noir
3 – City of God - something foreign and worthy, but still vibrant
2 – The Apartment – a classic romantic comedy
1 – Apocalypse Now - a rock-n-roll protest film come war epic come goodness knows.
It's not so much the varying subject matter as the varying tone. They're brilliant, and good fun at the same time; they don't carry the weight of ages conferred by Cinematic Classic status, but are no less good for it. Lets see what the AFI think are the ten best things to come out of the States...
1 CITIZEN KANE - classic lengthy and serious (fictional) bio-epic
2 GODFATHER, THE - classic slow paced and serious family epic
3 CASABLANCA - classic romance. Not too slow paced or serious, but getting there.
4 RAGING BULL - don't know enough to mock effectively. But it ain't a barrel of laughs.
5 SINGIN' IN THE RAIN - OK, I admit this is brilliant. It's fairly silly, it's pretty short in contrast too. But this the fifth best film American ever came up with?
6 GONE WITH THE WIND - classic, studio-bound MAMMOTH of a historical epic.
7 LAWRENCE OF ARABIA - another classic historical epic, really serious, really long, and really BRITISH.
8 SCHINDLER'S LIST - very worthy film about - what else? - the Holocaust. In black and white. Serious is a given; jury's out on it's length
9 VERTIGO - Hitchcock. Serious, felt long, and has a total absence of joy.
10 WIZARD OF OZ, THE - technicolour musical, but still far too long and lacks spark.
Oh, yawn. Sorry, dozed off there. Even adding the runtimes together would prove something, or scoring the number of Oscars. At some point on all of those films, a comittee sat down. I can name directors for half of them, and actors for most. There's a lack of innovation. They may be good individually, but together they're virtuallly the same film eight times over. The US has animators, comedians, indie filmmakers, purveyors of enthusiasm and energy, and people who make films WITHOUT songs.
And let me reiterate - two musicals in the top ten? Are you serious? Using my illogical percentage trick again, this implies 20% of America's best films are musicals.
It's just so very old school. Perhaps it's the lack of foreign flavour - in that company, even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid seems a bit dull (and that's my favourite film, folks)
Recently, they did a ten-year update of their 100 films list to celebrate what's changed in the past ten years. Bit of a shock for a crowd who are still suprised by the concept of colour television. As such, they made a few basic errors, like not voting Fight Club, The Matrix, American Beauty, Memento, Donnie Darko onto their list.
By the way, those aren't films I especially love - just highly acclaimed crackers from the top of the Imdb 250 which appear on a high percentage of other lists.
They're not remotely in contact with real people. Hate populist lists if you like (and I frequently do), voting Star Wars top and all that - but this is completely out of touch. I'd have a fight on my hands claiming Saving Private Ryan, the Sixth Sense and Fellowship of the Ring were the best three films of the last ten years.
They even voted for Intolerance over Birth of a Nation, which shows an awful tendency towards being PC. This is my problem with this list - there's no suprises, nothing likely to alarm. Just very middle of the road, and very well behaved. Sample dialogue:
"ooooh, what about Pulp Fiction?" Says one panel member, "it's very famous!"
"Put it on the list," says the other, "but not near the top where any human with eyes would - after all, it has revitalised cinema and suggested a new way of doing things, it's in colour, it's unhealthy fun and doesn't involve Orson Welles. No, we can't ignore it, but we'll leave it langishing at 94 to put it in its place...upstarts!"
It's not that I especially care about Pulp Fiction (don't smirk, I meant that!). Just look at that list and tell me it's not the odd one out. We shouldn't cater to da youf, but it's like a big shield for the AFI against the accusation they only vote for cosy 50's fare. Yeh. One. Now what about everything else? Wot, no Coen brothers?
They're not films which are going to get your pulse racing with excitement. Cold blooded admiration, perhaps, but not much spice, and absolutely no quirk.
Perhaps the criteria is at fault. Even though it professes to be America's 100 greatest, the official ballot points you towards films which have:
Formal commendation in print, television and digital media.
Recognition from competitive events including awards from peer groups, critics, guilds and major film festivals. (note that minor film festivals are excluded...)
Including success at the box office, television and cable airings, and DVD/VHS sales and rentals.
A film's mark on the history of the moving image through visionary narrative devices, technical innovation, or other groundbreaking achievements.
A film's mark on American society in matters of style and substance.
None of those make a great film. How many people like it. What the professionals think. What bull. Historical significance and cultural impact I have more sympathy for, but it doesn't matter whether it broke gay rights records if it's still a dull film. (incidentally, as far as I can see, In the Heat of the Night is the only one with any genuine "significance", and it looks brilliant).
Or perhaps its the voters, who ignored these shortlisted films:
Airplane!, Alien, American Beauty, Austen Powers (what was THAT doing there?!), Babe (ditto!), Back to the Future, Being John Malkovich, Brazil, The Breakfast Club, Die Hard, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Fantasia, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Fight Club, Freaks, Ghostbusters, Grease, Harold and Maude, Jurassic Park, Lost in translation, The Matrix, Memento, Moulin Rouge!, Requiem for a Dream, The Rocky Horror damn Picture Show, Scarface, sex lies and videotape, Shrek, Sideways, Stand By Me, the Sting, this Is Spinal Tap, Three Kings, Traffic...
Are they good? Not necessarily. Are they bona fide classics with a meaty message about justice? NO. They're innovative, newfangled, exciting and films which real people watch. Put two of those films back on the AFI hundred, and all of a sudden you have some suprises.
PS - isn't funny how 4/5 of the modern films I said were missing were shortlisted?
At least The Jazz Singer wasn't there...
What makes an "American film" anyway? Splitting these things can be pretty tricky.
They might have The Third Man at no 57., because Orson Welles is God, but as far as I can see that's stealing - it's definitely a British film. And as if to prove my point, the BFI rank it at no. 1 on their top 100. Incidentally, the BFi also have two David Lean films in the top ten, which reinstates my faith - I could have been sure he was a Brit. So I was a little suprised to see Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia listed by the AFI. I was pretty sure Clockwork Orange counted as British as well...
See what I mean? It just does little things to wind me up...

This was all tied up in a big bow by Morgan Freeman - yet again cast as a kind of "voiceover man" - providing some syrupy interludes before and after the ad breaks. Now when the Brits do top 100s, they have John Cleese or some other comedian making lame jokes in between. Accompanied by these horrible strings, that even 50s filmmakers would have rejected as "too sappy and OTT", he gravely intoned about how films touch our lives and influence both our past and our present. Do I smell stilton?

Incidentally, even though this destroys my point, it also got my goat by reaffirming the Oscar's greatest mistake - and listed Titanic at 83, and forgot L.A. Confidential (which was on the shortlist). That's above 12 Angry Men, Goodfellas, Toy Story and Blade Runner folks...

Still, I enjoyed hearing what directors had to say. Spike Lee, famous for his gritty city movies, likes Midnight Cowboy. M. Night, Mr Big Cinematic Emotion, likes The Shawshank Redemption, Rocky and - who'da thought it? - E.T.

In fact, what makes me hate this list more than anything. Two little words:


I ain't saying it's bad, just do something ORIGINAL!

The AFI revised list is here:

And in case my day couldn't get any worse, they're making a sequel to painfully cliched comeing-of-age-thru-dance flick Step Up.


Catherine said...

Agree completement. I watched it withmy sister and at every ad break we said we were going to turn it off and put on a dvd instead, but we kept watching. So predictable. So worthy. So boring.

I'd disagree with your appraisal of Singin' in the Rain though. I'd put it higher than it appeared on the list, for sure.

Citizen Kane. Ugh. Stop the wankery people. It's very good, but I think The Third Man is infinitely better (and more watchable).

Ninquelosse said...

The Third Man is brilliant in every way; it's also BRITISH, something the AFI missed. I do kinda want to see Citizen Kane, so i can feel more justified in complaining about it...

...The problem is, I'd want to come to it fresh without the weight of cinematic history bearing down on it. After all, it's far easier to enjoy a bit of fluff no one's ever heard of than being put under pressure by mobs of snobs who'll lynch you if you say otherwise. Knowing it's the "best film ever" will just make me spot flaws, I know...

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