Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A look at AFI's New 100 Years... 100 Movies List

Last week, whilst I was out of town on business, the AFI released a 10 year anniversary updated edition of their original 100 Years... 100 Movies list. I can remember watching the original when it first aired on television. I can remember feeling the swell of pride that came with having already seen Citizen Kane, the poll's pick for the best American film of all time ("It is the best," I can remember thinking. "This proves it."). I can remember printing out a copy of the list and trying to see the films I hadn't yet encountered — and not getting very far.

AFI's website seems to want you to go through a great deal of rigmarole to simply access the list, so I recommend Wikipedia's page on the subject which has both the original rankings and the updated ones side by side for comparison. The differences are fascinating -- at least to me. I love this kind of stuff. Let's break it down.

There are 23 new members of the list: The General (#18, 1927), Intolerance (#49, 1916), The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings (#50, 2001), Nashville (#59, 1975), Sullivan's Travels (#61, 1941), Cabaret (#63, 1972), Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (67, 1966), Saving Private Ryan (#71, 1998), The Shawshank Redemption (#72, 1994), In the Heat of the Night (#75, 1967), All the President's Men (#77, 1976), Spartacus (#81, 1960), Sunrise (#82, 1927), Titanic (#83, 1997), A Night at the Opera (#85, 1935), 12 Angry Men (#87, 1957), The Sixth Sense (#89, 1999), Swing Time (#90, 1936), Sophie's Choice (#91, 1982), The Last Picture Show (#95, 1971), Do the Right Thing (#96, 1989), Blade Runner (#97, 1982), Toy Story (#99, 1995)

And, accordingly, 23 films that no longer made the cut: Doctor Zhivago (#39, 1965), The Birth of a Nation (#44, 1915), From Here to Eternity (#52, 1953), Amadeus (#53, 1984), All Quiet on the Western Fron (#54, 1930), The Third Man (#57, 1949), Fantasia (#58, 1940), Rebel Without a Cause (#59, 1955), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (#64, 1977), Stagecoach (#63, 1939), The Manchurian Candidate (#67, 1962), An American in Paris (#68, 1951), Wuthering Heights (#73, 1939), Dances With Wolves (#75, 1990), Giant (#82, 1956), Fargo (#85, 1996), Mutiny on the Bounty (#86, 1935), Frankenstein (#87, 1931), Patton, (#89, 1970), The Jazz Singer (#90, 1927), My Fair Lady (#91, 1964), A Place in the Sun (#92, 1951), and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (#99, 1967).

Of those lists I find mistakes that have been corrected (leaving Sullivan's Travels off, while having Amadeus on, for example) and new mistakes that will need adjusting in another ten years (The Sixth Sense yes and An American in Paris no?). I have no idea what differences, if any, rest in the voting bodies that determined these two polls. Regardless, I think we still discern a few signs of the times just from this part of the poll: a decrease in interest, for example, in the works of James Dean (both Rebel Without a Cause and Giant get the heave-ho) and sweeping epics (Doctor Zhivago and From Here to Eternity).

Of course, this does not take into account what might be discerned from movies that stayed on list but swapped their positions (interestingly, only three movies remained in exactly the same position as before: Citizen Kane [#1, 1941], The Godfather Part II [#32, 1974], and The Best Years of Our Lives [#37, 1946]). Five films made gains of at least fifty spots, indicating their increasingly canonical status, The General (the highest ranked film to miss the list last time, meaning a jump of at least 82 spots), City Lights (1931, up 65 spots) Vertigo (1958, up 52 spots), Intolerance (up 51 spots, though ironically, Griffith's prior appearance on the list The Birth of a Nation disappeared this time around) and, most obviously, the single biggest spot-jumper, The Searchers, (1956) up a whopping 84 spots to #12. Going to NYU, it was essentially agreed upon that Ford's The Searchers was one of the best two or three Westerns -- if not films -- ever made, and you need to understand that in that environment, NOTHING was agreed upon except the fact that The Searchers was one of the two or three best Westerns (heh) ever made.

There are almost certainly more fascinating discoveries to be found in comparing these lists, particularly by one not horribly jet lagged (like myself). Let this be the starting point for a vigorous discussion!


Blogger Michael J. Anderson said...

Hi Matt,

Our experiences of the list the first time around were more or less identical: I remember watching the show and then finding a copy of the list in a Sunday circular that I held on to for quite some time, trying to see the best movies I had not yet seen. I never did make it to "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Patton," so I'm happy to see them miss the cut. Unfortunately, this may mean I have to see "Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf?" and "Sophie's Choice."

Over time, I came to be quite dissatisfied with many of the choices: "The Graduate" #7 and "The Searchers" #96? (For what it's worth, I agree with Matt's assessment of Ford's masterpiece, though I will also say "Stagecoach" moving off the list was one of the most troubling changes.) "On the Waterfront" #8 and "Vertigo" #62? "From Here to Eternity" - hell anything by Fred Zinnemann - on the list, and no Buster Keaton (apples and oranges, I know). Suffice it say that I see improvement, then: "Vertigo" is one of the ten best American films ever, period. If you don't think so, you're wrong. Likewise, "The General" at No. 18 - how did we get so lucky? And though none of the following are among my all-time favorites, "Nashville," "Do the Right Thing," and "Blade Runner" all deserve a place. Plus, it's nice to see my favorite Preston Sturges and the sublime "Sunrise."

So, in a nutshell, the updated list is an improvement to be sure, but obviously there are still some glaring omissions: for example, my three favorite American films "Trouble in Paradise," "Letter from an Unknown Woman" and "Rio Bravo" didn't make the cut, not that I would expect them to.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Pete said...

I was a little more successful then you guys, as I made it my mission to see all 100 films, and succeded about a year later (I think Giant was the last one I saw, thus ending on a sour note). I'm disapointed that they kicked Fargo, All Quiet on the Western Front, and An American in Paris off the list.

I was shocked at first about the removal of The Third Man, an essential film. I haven't found the answer, but BFI ranks it as the #1 British Film, is it possible that it wasn't even nominated due to the fact that it's no longer considered an American film?

That being said. I agree that the rankings of the 100 make a lot more sense. The rise in silent films (I was worried they'd kick out Chaplin, because people go in Chaplin/Keaton phases, but all his are still on the list), most importantly the addition Sunrise, which ties with North By Northwest and The Apartment as my favorite film of all time. Gooo Sunrise!

I now have to netflix Cabaret and Sophie's Choice. Should I look forward to these?

9:54 AM  

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