Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Movies of Lists, Lists of Movies....

SamuraiFrog, Tosy and Cosh, and Tom the Dog have both commented on this, and I must, of course, follow suit. Last week was the annual American Film Institute teevee show, when they present a list of Top X Movie Whatever's. This year they picked several genres and named the top ten movies in each genre. As always, the point of the show isn't to present some kind of iron-clad canon of film, but just to drum up interest in the movies. If people watching these shows say, "Hmmm, I should watch that again/for the first time", then the show has done its job. For that reason I never really get mad at the AFI's selections; the only one that's ever really bugged me is when the "100 Years, 100 Romances" list omitted Say Anything.

So, here are their lists. I've bolded the ones I've seen and sprinkled my own comment throughout.


Well, right off the bat we've got a bit of a problem. "Animation" isn't a genre, really; it's a film medium. Within the confines of animation you can do SF, romance, fantasy, anything. But we can still talk about the best animated movies, right?

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

I won't quibble with the placement, although I personally wouldn't call it the best animated movie ever. But it's just as iconic as this placement suggests, and it's interesting to watch it now and try to imagine Disney today doing something quite as dark as Snow White. (Yes, it's a dark film. There's some very disturbing stuff in there, amongst the funny stuff with dwarves and the Handsome Princes and whatnot.)

2. Pinocchio (1940)

Again, a movie with lots of darkness. (Hardwick's metamorphosis into a donkey is as horrific a scene as you'll find in a movie.) I've always loved Pinocchio.

3. Bambi (1942)

OK. I love this movie too.

4. The Lion King (1994)

Unlike SamuraiFrog, I like this movie a little bit less each time I see it. Oh, it's definitely very good, but there are things about it that don't hold up well for me. I don't care for Matthew Broderick's voice work, I find a lot of the climax contrived, and some of the exposition stuff at the beginning is pretty dull. There isn't a subtle moment in this film, and there are moments that could have benefited from a less heavy hand.

5. Fantasia (1940)

Yes, it's a mixed bag, but I really do love it. The main weak part is the Beethoven Pastoral Symphony.

6. Toy Story (1995)

Yes, it's a really good movie. And it launched Pixar as a force to be reckoned with. But still, I don't think it's the best Pixar film, so putting it here, ahead of them all?

7. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

This is the best film of Disney's Silver Age, in my opinion. It's far better than The Lion King.

8. Shrek (2001)

Hmmmmm. See, I really like this movie. I also really like its first sequel, and I didn't hate its second sequel (although that one was, admittedly, a pretty tired film). I guess I'm OK with it being here, with its riffs on fairy tales and legends.

9. Cinderella (1950)

I love this movie; I just love it. The animation is some of the best to ever come out of Disney (the bit where singing Cinderella is mirrored in the soap bubbles is visual invention of the highest order, and to animate those mini-Cinderellas so they're identical is great). But you know what? I love Peter Pan more.

10. Finding Nemo (2003)

Pixar's best film, for me. I'm not sure I can name anything wrong with it. (Well, OK, Disney couldn't pony up to license the Bobby Darin version of "Beyond the Sea", choosing instead a cover version that's the same anyway? There, I found fault with Finding Nemo.)

What's missing, then? Well, the most glaring omission is clearly The Iron Giant. I'll second SamuraiFrog's nomination of The Secret of NIMH, and I'll throw in The Last Unicorn, to boot. And really, I'm not one to completely slag a lot of Disney's non-Pixar output after The Lion King. Some of it isn't terribly good, but I still think that The Emperor's New Groove is an absolute classic.


1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

I loved this movie as a kid. And then, as a more jaded teenaged dork, I hated it. And then as a college dork getting in touch with my inner kid again, I loved it again. And there I've stayed ever since. It really is a terrific film, terribly wise in its outlook and full of humor and imagination. (I quoted one of the Wizard's lines in my written eulogy for Little Quinn.)

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

Now, I have to ask something here. The AFI's lists salute American films, but by what standard is LOTR an American effort? Because New Line's an American company? That's pretty weak tea, if you ask me. If we can consider LOTR, then the entire animation category has to thrown open to Hayao Miyazaki and the rest of the anime geniuses. But fine.

Anyway, why not do the right thing here and consider the trilogy as a whole? (Although, if I have to pick a stand-alone, I'd go with The Two Towers. But I wouldn't pick a stand-alone.)

3. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Meh. I'm not a fan of this movie.

4. King Kong (1933)

Yeah, it's quite good. 'Nuff said.

5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

I'm cheating a bit by including this: the one time I saw it I was in second grade and I don't remember much about it at all.

6. Field of Dreams (1989)

Oh, hell yes. No explanations for the strange events in Ray Kinsella's corn field, just total complete faith in it all. It's a great movie. (By the way, it wasn't made into a movie, but in a similar vein is W.P. Kinsella's novel The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, which posits an exhibition game in 1908 between the Chicago Cubs and a semi-pro Iowa team that lasted something like a hundred innings and was the longest baseball game ever played – except that nobody remembers it ever happening.)

7. Harvey (1950)

8. Groundhog Day (1993)

Yes, it's fantasy. And yes, it's a terrific movie.

9. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)

I've never seen the silent one. The one from the 1940s with Sabu is wonderful, though.

10. Big (1988)

Gahhhh. Didn't like this movie. I suspect that if you take out the bit with the piano keyboard on the floor, the movie isn't remembered nearly as well.

So what would I consider for the Fantasy list? Well, since we're including movies of questionable country of origin (not that the countries are questionable, just the notion of what makes an "American" film or not), I'd include Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Princess Bride is pure fantasy. And some superhero movies may fall into this category, no? Superman or Spiderman 2 are fantasies, in my book. Excalibur (not American, but then, we're stretching the definition of an "American" movie already).

Science fiction

Of course, with these two categories, we end up in the classic old debate about what the dividing line is between SF and fantasy. Enough ink, both real and cyber, has been dropped on this topic over the years that I'm not about to add anything earthshaking about it, except to reiterate my view that the best definition of SF is probably "SF is whatever I point at when I say, SF".

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I'd have it on the list. Best ever? For me, that would be...

2. Star Wars (1977)

Oh yeah! Without this movie I wouldn't be me. (Which might not be the worst thing in the world, but still.) I admit that I'm rather horrified by the notion gradually mustering around this movie -- that it stinks too, and that only TESB is any good at all.

3. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Lots of people these days gripe on Spielberg for "Daddy issues". I personally don't care. This is a great movie.

4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Meh. It's not my cup of tea.

5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

Great stuff, really. I like this movie a lot. I haven't seen it in a long time – I should rectify that soon.

6. Blade Runner (1982)

As with SamuraiFrog, I say Meh. I wrote about Blade Runner some time ago, if you really want to know my thoughts on the film.

7. Alien (1979)

Sorry, but I hate the Alien franchise. SamuraiFrog makes the interesting point that he sees it more as a horror film than an SF film, but it's really both. SF's kind of like "animation": it's such a widely defined thing that you can do anything in it at all, really. But as for this movie, I hated it. And its first two sequels. I never bothered with anything Alien related after that.

8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

I love both Terminator movies, really. (No, there was no third. That's a ridiculous notion.)

9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

10. Back to the Future (1985)

I love this movie too, although I'm not sure I'd put it in the Top Ten SF movies. For one thing, I'm not sure it's SF. Sure, it's got a mad scientist and lots of made-up technobabble about how the time travel works, but that's complete BS, isn't it? The main working definition here seems to be: "It's fantasy when you wave your hand to make something impossible to happen, and SF if you push a button to make something impossible happen." (Which still doesn't help in the case of Star Wars, where both happen.

So what didn't make the cut here? Close Encounters of the Third Kind is a glaring omission. Twelve Monkeys is great SF. I'd include The Abyss, which always gets unfairly overshadowed by the overrated Aliens. Forbidden Planet and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Total Recall, and, yes, Robocop. (Hell, make it a Peter Weller two-fer and throw in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.)

(SamuraiFrog suggests The Right Stuff, but that's not SF at all. It's a historical film about the early days of the American space program.)


1. Raging Bull (1980)

2. Rocky (1976)

Yes, it's a great movie. The second one's OK. It all goes downhill after that. (I never saw the sixth one, though.)

3. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)

4. Hoosiers (1986)

Yes, it's good. I'm not sure it's that good, but it's really good. (Its score is wildly overrated, though -- the Goldsmith freaks out there tend to worship this one, but to me, it's just pleasant Americana.)

5. Bull Durham (1988)

One of my favorite movies ever. I love the dialogue, the humor, the little baseball touches. (And to me, the only acceptable response to hearing someone talk about what they're going to get someone for a wedding gift is: "Well, candlesticks always make a nice gift. Or we could find out where they're registered and get 'em a place setting or two. Alright, let's get two!")

6. The Hustler (1961)

Didn't see it, although I did see the sequel (The Color of Money), which I liked. I was never offended that the sequel ends before the big confrontation match; I didn't think it mattered.

7. Caddyshack (1980)

Well, duh! Great comedy (if only tangentially a sports movie). I got to make a reference to this movie once at The Store: we found a large beehive in the ground underneath one of our shrubs, and a manager suggested that we blow it up with a stick of M-80. I countered, "I am not re-enacting Caddyshack with a bunch of bees!" Luckily, he got the reference.

8. Breaking Away (1979)

I've seen it, but not in many years – more than twenty – and I don't remember much about it at all.

9. National Velvet (1944)

10. Jerry Maguire (1996)

Yes, the movie holds up very well – in fact, with the money and personality cults in sports getting more and more prevalent, it's even more relevant now.

What else is there? Well, I personally loved Tin Cup, although all the golfers I know are unanimous in their hatred of it. There's White Men Can't Jump, which finally clarified for me why I don't like watching basketball: the game looks better in slow motion. I've always found Major League really funny, and I loved how Will Ferrel's Blades of Glory skewered figure skating. And while it might be stretching the concept of "sport" a bit, Searching for Bobby Fischer is a magnificent film.


1. The Searchers (1956)

Yes, it's a great movie. But I don't want to see it again.

2. High Noon (1952)

3. Shane (1953)

4. Unforgiven (1992)

This was when I realized that Clint Eastwood is a genius. It really is a great film.

5. Red River (1948)

6. The Wild Bunch (1969)

7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

One of the great first hours in movie history. Unfortunately, it's followed by a second hour that's pretty much "Meh" until the very last scene.

8. McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971)

9. Stagecoach (1939)

My parents dragged me to see this in a revival when I was in high school. I owe them for that, as I would probably never have seen it otherwise. It's great.

10. Cat Ballou (1965)

Crikey, I need to see more Westerns. I'm still unapologetic in my love for Dances With Wolves (more here). Silverado's good. Legends of the Fall is a Western, isn't it? I think it is, although that might stretch the definition a bit. And I'm not sure it's a good movie, but The Quick and the Dead is fun to watch.


Well, here's a genre of films that doesn't typically excite me. I just don't care for Mob stories in general.

1. The Godfather (1972)

One of these years I need to watch this all the way through so I can see what the fuss is about. But I keep not making it a big priority. (I like SamuraiFrog's assertion that the only reason the AFI did a Gangster category was so that they could talk about The Godfather again. It does get mentioned every year, doesn't it? Maybe next year's show should be "100 Years, 100 Whackings" and be done with it.)

2. Goodfellas (1990)

One of filmdom's great Shibboleths of recent years is that this movie got robbed at the Oscars (it lost to Dances With Wolves). Personally, I don't see it. Yes, it's a very good movie, but I don't share the enthusiasm about it that everybody else feels. I watched it once, I liked it a lot, and...we're done.

3. The Godfather, Part II (1974)

4. White Heat (1949)

5. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

6. Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)

7. Pulp Fiction (1994)

One of my favorite movies ever. Unlike SamuraiFrog, I do think it's a gangster movie; the gangsters are different types, that's all, and the point-of-view is restricted to those who have to carry out the gangster's bidding.

8. The Public Enemy (1931)

9. Little Caesar (1931)

10. Scarface (1983)

I haven't even heard of Numbers 8 or 9 above. Is Michael Mann's Heat a "gangster" movie? Maybe they should call this the "crime" genre? In that case we could include Dirty Harry. I dunno; I'm just not that into this whole genre.


1. Vertigo (1958)

It annoys me that I haven't seen this. The score is amazing, though.

2. Chinatown (1974)

Sure. Terrific movie.

3. Rear Window (1954)

Another one my parents dragged me to in a revival in the 1980s. Another one I owe them. What a movie this is! I watched it on teevee with The Wife last Thanksgiving, if I recall correctly. It's still awesome.

4. Laura (1944)

5. The Third Man (1949)

On first glance I thought this said The Thin Man, the first in that series of wonderful mystery-comedies featuring Nick and Nora. And then I read the title correctly, and realized, no, I haven't actually seen this.

6. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Nothing I can say. Great stuff.

7. North by Northwest (1959)

Almost my favorite Hitchcock movie.

8. Blue Velvet (1986)

9. Dial M for Murder (1954)

This actually is my favorite Hitchcock movie. I think it's absolutely terrific.

10. The Usual Suspects (1995)

Yuck. I hate this movie. It could have told a fascinating story about interesting criminal characters brought together for a heist and played off those characters in neat ways, but instead, we got the colossally stupid "Who is Keyser Soze?" bullshit. Since I figured out who Soze was within two minutes of first hearing the name mentioned, I spent the rest of the movie glowering at the screen.

Again, what's a "mystery" and what isn't? Is The Silence of the Lambs a mystery? Maybe, maybe not. The Fugitive is a mystery, at least in part.

Romantic comedies

1. City Lights (1931)

2. Annie Hall (1977)

3. It Happened One Night (1934)

4. Roman Holiday (1953)

5. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

There's something wrong with this movie. I just have no idea at all what it is. Maybe it's too good? Yeah, that's it! (Loved it.)

6. When Harry Met Sally... (1989)

One of my favorite movies ever. Crackling dialogue, and it gets its job done in ninety minutes without any filler. (And if you want to see how essential good editing can be, watch the deleted scenes, which are awful.)

7. Adam's Rib (1949)

8. Moonstruck (1987)

9. Harold and Maude (1971)

10. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

OK, yeah, I love this movie. I don't think it belongs on this top ten, though; a really great movie would have figured out a way to have the Bill Pullman character not get, you know, screwed on Valentine's Day. But still, I don't think Meg Ryan has ever been more beautiful than she is here. So there.

Odd that I consider romantic comedies to be one of my favorite genres, and yet, I've seen so few of the films the AFI listed here. I have my work cut out for me, obviously, but by way of other suggestions, I really love Cousins. Roxanne is wonderful, and they're probably not eligible because they're British, but I really adore Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually.

Courtroom Drama

1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Absolutely. (Note to self: re-read the book.)

2. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Also fine.

3. Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

4. The Verdict (1982)

5. A Few Good Men (1992)

I love this movie, although I do concede the point that Roger Ebert made that the film shouldn't have told us right before the big courtroom scene what Tom Cruise's strategy was for questioning Jack Nicholson.

6. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

7. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

8. In Cold Blood (1967)

9. A Cry in the Dark (1988)

10. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

SamuraiFrog mentions Inherit the Wind, and I concur. I'd also add in The People vs. Larry Flint and JFK for consideration.


I'm not sure what an "epic" is; apparently they're long and have lots of spectacle. That said:

1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I really need to get off my arse and watch the entire thing. I've seen half of it. Ugh. I suck.

2. Ben-Hur (1959)

Ahhhh! What a great movie. I love this movie. Love love love it.

3. Schindler's List (1993)

Both SamuraiFrog and Tom the Dog seem to question its epic status, but why not? It tells a pretty big story, involving lots of people, with a good deal of sweep and large set pieces. It's an epic, in my opinion. (It's also one of the very greatest films ever made.)

4. Gone with the Wind (1939)

I don't like it. Sorry, but it's dull and ponderous; all of the performances are overwrought; I watch the film in utter failure to understand why so many people are hanging on Scarlett's every word; and I don't fetishize the South as this movie does.

5. Spartacus (1960)

Another one I need to watch. (By the way, this is probably the single greatest unreleased film score in existence.)

6. Titanic (1997)

If Schindler's List isn't an epic, how is this? Its story takes place in less time and in a single location. But yes, it's an epic. It's also a great movie. Sod off, Titanic haters.

7. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)

8. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

An amazing sequence (Normandy) that's followed by two-plus hours of pedestrian crap. Sorry, but I really think the only reason this movie is so beloved is because it happened to come out right when "Greatest Generation" nostalgia was hitting its stride. (William Goldman's critique is pretty much an exact statement of how I feel about this movie, except that I don't even think the journey to Private Ryan is great stuff.)

9. Reds (1981)

10. The Ten Commandments (1956)

I've never much liked this movie. It's overlong, overstuffed, overwritten, overwrought, and just plain over.

What "epics" did they miss? Braveheart is an obvious one, I think. And it probably doesn't merit "Top Ten" status, but I really dig The Vikings.

And, as always, there we have it. Thanks, AFI!


SamuraiFrog said...

Regarding The Right Stuff as SF, I tend to take a wide view that science fiction is fiction that is motivated in some way by science. Since The Right Stuff is motivated by rocket science, it seems pretty science fiction to me (which is the same reason I put most superhero movies in the SF category; Spider-Man is motivated by a genetic mutation, Superman is an alien, etc.).

Roger Owen Green said...

I've commented on Tom's post, but I would be curious about when/if you see Annie Hall. It was a touchstone in MY life at the time.

redsneakz said...

I am *so* with you on Gone With the Wind. I've never been a big fan of Gothic Romances.

I think "The Public Enemy" is Cagney's breakout movie; it was an absolutely brilliant flick; I think it's the one with the grapefruit in the face. That said, I can't argue with you on any account.