Wednesday, July 11, 2007

More blogs about movies and lists.

The laudable organization that is the American Film Institute comes out with a list every year. Every year, I am interested to see what the list is going to be. The first year, they listed the greatest 100 movies of the 20th century. Then it was 100 action movies, romance movies, actors and actresses, songs, heroes and villains...all kinds of stuff. Every year the lists are meant to spark controversy and dsicussion about American movies. I rarely find too much fault in the lists - like, yeah, I think Close Encounters of the Third Kind is over-rated, and yeah, I think Cool Hand Luke ought to be in the top 100 movies of all time, but these are minor quibbles. What I take issue with are the lists themselves. If you're going to pick the 25 greatest actors and the 25 greatest actresses, choose from all of them, not just those whose careers started before 1950. So now, in the tenth year of these fairly meaningless lists, there are a few things I could have thought of doing. Maybe the 100 best directors - Hitchcock through Mel Brooks or something. Or maybe the 50 best actors and actresses whose careers started AFTER 1950. That way DeNiro, Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman could be included.

But no. They have decided to revise their original "100 best American movies" list for a new generation. You would think that they put enough effort into choosing the original 100 movies that the list would stay pretty much the same. But no, apparently they really half-assed the first list, and the new one is very different. Citizen Kane retains top spot, but the Godfather is now deemed to be better than Casablanca. Fine. It's pretty arbitrary and very apples-and-oranges anyway, this list business. How does one decide between a gangster movie and a romantic comedy, a western and a period piece? I would suggest it is a fairly impossible task. There are some adjustments with which I wholeheartedly agree. Ragin Bull has moved up from #24 to #4. Absolutely. Vertigo has gone from #61 to #9. Also terrific.

But I guess they decided they needed to insert a few new films as well. Lord of the Rings, of course, must now make an appearance on the list. Same with Saving Private Ryan, the Sixth Sense and Toy Story. All new films that have been made SINCE the last list. So fine. But here's my problem. How much credibility does this list have, really? Buster Keaton's classic The General was omitted the first time around. A shame. But ten years ago it wasn't in the top 100, now it's #18? It was made in the 30s, I think it's had enough time to attain relevance, and that extra ten years made little difference. Cabaret, Titanic, The Shawshank Redemption, Sophie's Choice and ten others have been added. Ten others that were around at the time of the first list. Why wouldn't they just call these the fifteen honourable mentions the first time around or something, and that's it? And this year do 100 westerns, or 100 gangster movies, or SOMETHING new?

I know, this really isn't something to worry about or even write about. Who really cares, right? But I remember when that first list came out a decade ago, people actually paid attention. People who liked movies but never cared to really seek out the great ones were going by the list. They were starting at Citizen Kane and moving down to Yankee Doodle Dandy or whatever was #100. They were watching stuff that they NEVER would have watched otherwise, and many of the classics were reborn. Most people had seen Casablanca and The Godfather, but how many had seen Duck Soup or All About Eve? Many less, I would wager. But now there is nothing to recommend the new list, because there is nothing that gives it credibility any longer. C'mon AFI, do directors next year. I promise I will watch your engaging TV special once again.

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