Monday, September 10, 2007

The Ten Best American Movies Ever?

The American Film Institute has generated list after list of the best movies ever with their "100 Years" series. Over the past decade, the AFI has tantalized movie buffs like me with lists like 100 Years...100 Stars, 100 Movie Quotes, Laughs, and so on. Tonight on Bravo, AFI updated their original list: "100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition)." I'll spare you the details of all 100 films, but will throw a few highlights at you before revealing the new top 10.

- Several movies that weren't in the original 100 have joined this list, and that doesn't necessarily mean movies that have come out since 1997 or 1998. "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Saving Private Ryan" are two of the films that weren't on the initial list, and I'm more than happy to see them included.
- "The General" was the highest "new" movie, and number 18.
- Some films ascended or descended quite precipitously from 1997 to now. For instance, "The African Queen" was the 17th best movie on the 1997 list. It has dropped to 65th. Could somebody explain to me how a movie that great drops like that in ten years?
- "The Searchers" jumped 84 places up - from 96 to 12. What?
- Animation is part of the list, with "Toy Story" in at number 99.
- The dropouts from the top 10 of 1997 are "The Graduate" (number seven) and "On the Waterfront" (number eight).

Now to the top ten.

10) The Wizard of Oz (1997 rank - 6) - Call me crazy, but I just don't understand why this film gets ranked so high. It's a fine film, even a great film, with a fun, yet creepy story, but is it that great a movie, or am I jaded after all these years?

9) Vertigo (61) - I'm biased here. This is by far one of my favorite movies, so I consider this to be an inspired choice by the AFI. Yes, it's a creepy story (man loves woman, woman dies, man tries to reinvent woman with look-alike) but it is the combination of the brilliant direction of Alfred Hitchcock and the intense acting of Jimmy Stewart that makes it work. Kim Novak heads the rest of the tremendous cast, but this is Stewart's movie - a tour de force that should have netted him an Oscar.

8) Schindler's List (9) - Sometimes I think we overrate things because of their "PC" factor ("Do The Right Thing" at number 96, anyone?). It's tempting to say that here, but it would be wrong. Steven Spielberg painted a picture of sadness and joy, rolled into a big ugly political mess with great acting turns by Liam Neeson, Sir Ben Kingsley, and a scary Ralph Fiennes.

7) Lawrence of Arabia (5) - It would be patently unfair of me to judge this film, so I trust the scholars and experts here. I've never seen it, and I'm not sure I ever will. Perhaps one day I should try. This is my "Lord of the Rings" problem. I'm just not interested.

6) Gone With the Wind (4) - This movie is a landmark, of course, because of its scope , but what sticks out to me is that, as an eight year-old in 1976, I sat in my living room and watched it when it debuted on NBC. I watched every last minute of it, and have seen it a few times since. Olivia de Havilland defies words as Melanie, and most of the rest of the cast is great (with the probable exception of Leslie Howard as Ashley), but this movie belongs to two people who absolutely smolder - Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable. Many initially thought that they were miscast, but nothing could be further from the truth.

5) Singin' in the Rain (10) - I'm not a big musical guy. I liked "Chicago" and appreciate "My Fair Lady" (mostly because of Audrey Hepburn) but it's hard to not smile at the title song, or as Donald O'Connor does "Make 'em Laugh." Since I'm not a true devotee of the film, I'll trust the AFI.

4) Raging Bull (24) - Wow. That's all I can say. Is this the fourth best movie ever? Most men would say "hell yeah!" Robert DeNiro at his best (perhaps).

3) Casablanca (2) - As love stories and dramas go, this is the peak. The quotes alone are legendary ("Here's looking at you, kid"). Now throw in Dooley Wilson singing "As Time Goes By." Plus an exotic African wartime story. Now, let's add a little mix of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Yup, I'm moving on.

2) The Godfather (3) - This is my number one. You want quotes? Got 'em (cannolis?). A legendary cast (Brando, Pacino, Caan, Duvall, Keaton)? Check. Director (Coppola - father, not daughter)? Got it. Great book...great movie. Those who have never seen it amaze me. With only a few minor exceptions (like that horrible fight sequence when Sonny is whooping on Carlo - the timing of the screen punches are laughably bad) this is the masterpiece of American cinema. To me.

1) Citizen Kane (1) - Still at the top. I get it - it was so far ahead of its time that it's mind-boggling. From a technical perspective, it is still amazing - over 60 years later. But the story just doesn't hold. Yes, Orson Wells and company are remarkable, but the whole quest for "Rosebud" just doesn't grab me the way that the Corleone's do. And I never choose sides with anyone against the Family. Ever.

OK, you're up. Let's talk flicks, people! Hope to have some news for you tomorrow...(just a little tease for you)


Sean G. Kilkelly said...


I've actually seen all ten of these movies and I'm not sure how Ragin' Bull is in the top ten or that Citizen Kane is number 1. Godfather II is just as good as the original and some even think it is better. So I don't know how that was left off. Lists usually make good conversation, but I'm usually not in line with them. Although I will say that Lawrence of Arabia is very good!


Rob Adams said...

I think Ragin' Bull is great, but the fourth best ever? Not sure either. Citizen Kane is number one because scholars feel that it changed movie making, and that is true. The story is OK, but it's everything else that makes the movie great.

The Godfather to me is still the full package. Great, compelling story, great cast, great scenery and detail, great direction.