In preparation for the ATFAs, I’ll need to watch many canonical films I’ve either never seen or haven’t seen in quite some time in order to encompass what is generally considered to be the cream of cinema–adding, of course, my idiosyncratic candidates.
The American Film Institute’s Top 100, while a long, long way from a definite list of the best of American cinema, is a pretty good resource for such a project, since it encompasses so much of the popular canon. I’m going to run through the list and give my viewing status and thoughts, when applicable, on each one. I’ll use the 10th anniversary version of the list, which was compiled in 2007, and after I’ve done the list I’ll cover the films which were removed from the list for the revision.
1. Citizen Kane – It’s a great film, of course, a brilliantly inventive and energetic portrait of a self-proclaimed quintessential American. I don’t think it’s the greatest film ever made, or even Welles’ best (I prefer Touch of Evil and possibly The Magnificent Ambersons as well), mostly because while the brash young Welles beautifully captured the spirit of the brash young Kane, he falters a little when dealing with Kane’s old age; Touch and, I’d imagine, Chimes at Midnight more than compensate for this. I get the acclaim, I do, it’s just not one of my very favorites. It may factor into the ATFAs, it may not. (93 – *****)
2. The Godfather – It’s in my top 50. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen it, and I don’t have a fixed score for it, but it’d be high up there. I do think the timeline in the second half gets a bit muddled, but this is a true American classic for a reason. (*****, almost certainly)
3. Casablanca – And this made my Overrated Films list. Which is not to say it’s at all a bad film. It’s a fine film. Well made across the board. But I just don’t see how this is one of the greatest films ever made. Maybe someday. (82 – ****)
4. Raging Bull – Honestly, I probably should see it again. I’ve only seen it once, whereas I’ve seen GoodFellas many times and Taxi Driver two or three times at least. And as great as it is, I don’t think it quite reaches the greatness of those two (or The King of Comedy, but I’ll get to that another time). It’s maybe too…mournful, maybe? It’s a 5-star film, but a low one. (90 – *****)
5. Singin’ in the Rain – Utterly delightful. One of the greatest of all musicals. Absolutely deserves to be here. I even like the “Broadway Melody” number. I haven’t seen it in full in a few years, so no score, but this is ***** for sure.
6. Gone With the Wind – I’ve seen it (or, like, 95% of it), but I never gave it a score. I’d probably put it in the high **** range, maybe low ****½. I honestly don’t have any thoughts on it, though. So I’ll rewatch this and sort it out later.
7. Lawrence of Arabia – I got to see this on the big screen a couple of years ago. It was awesome. Long, yes, but so beautifully made. A major contender for sure–especially for Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, and Original Score. (97 – *****)
8. Schindler’s List – I saw it when I was about 15, in preparation for my confirmation. I recall being fairly impressed, if not unreservedly blown away, but I can’t say what score I’d give it. I’ll be rewatching it.
9. Vertigo – The Sight & Sound poll recently picked this as the greatest film ever made, topping Citizen Kane, which had been #1 for a solid 50 years. I don’t even think it’s Hitchcock’s best Jimmy Stewart film of the 50s. It’s very good, of course, but it’s got issues (in my opinion) which keep it from being an absolute masterpiece. (85 – ****½)
10. The Wizard of Oz – My father is an Oz buff, about as big as they come (he read all 40 of the original books to me), and so growing up I saw this…God knows how many times. And then I didn’t see it for years. Then a few years back I caught part of it on TV and found myself quite enthralled with it. I’ll be rewatching it in the coming months, and it’ll probably make ***** easy. How it’ll do in my awards is another matter, but…”Over the Rainbow” will probably get noticed at the very least.
11. City Lights – I’ve never seen it. In fact, the only Chaplin film I’ve seen in full is The Great Dictator. I’ll fix that, of course, but for the time being…
12. The Searchers – I saw this over a decade ago and don’t remember it too well. John Ford is a bit hit and miss with me (I love The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, though), and I recall not being that blown away by it, but I don’t really trust my memories. I’ll rewatch it.
13. Star Wars – I’ll rewatch this as well. I last saw it a solid 5 years ago, and liked it a lot, but didn’t love it. I think I scored it around an 85 then–it’ll probably be a high ****½ for me now. I just don’t have the sentimental connection most do to it.
14. Psycho – Another one I saw long ago. I remember the iconic moments, of course, but I don’t have any strong opinions about it. So I’ll get back to you on this one.
15. 2001: A Space Odyssey – When I did my Top 50 list, I suggested this be my objective choice as the greatest film ever made. I got to see it in a theater quite recently, and now…I’m not so sure. It’s a masterpiece, no doubt about it, but I do see a few flaws that I didn’t previously acknowledge (like the trip from the space station to the moon; it feels redundant and a bit tedious), so instead of being perfect, it’s just amazing. C’est la vie. (97 – *****)
16. Sunset Boulevard – Haven’t seen it in many years. I recall liking it pretty well, if not being blown away by it. I’ll reserve further comment until later.
17. The Graduate – Oddly enough, I’ve never seen the whole thing. And what I have seen I don’t remember well enough to comment on. Whatever I think of it, I bet it’ll be up for Best Song.
18. The General – I was a huge Buster Keaton fan when I was younger. So I saw this a long, long time ago, and I’m sure I loved it. But until I see it again, I can’t really say anything educated about it.
On the Waterfront – Pretty damn good. Weirdly enough, I can’t think of much to say about it, but I thought it was incredibly directed and acted, and it may well factor into a couple of categories. I really should see it again to confirm this, but I was very much impressed. (93 – *****)
20. It’s a Wonderful Life – Seen it, never gave it a score. Probably it’d be in the high **** range, but hell, who knows? I enjoyed it, that’s all I can say. I’ll see it again (and I may not even wait until Christmas!).
21. Chinatown – This is like Casablanca to me. It’s really well made, it’s engaging, it’s got its iconic moments…but I don’t quite see the all-time greatness. Maybe I should go back to it. What I will say is, Robert Towne might have been right about the ending. (84 – ****)
22. Some Like it Hot – Need to see it afresh to give it a more mature opinion, but this is one hell of a funny movie. One of the funniest. Can’t imagine it wouldn’t be *****.
23. The Grapes of Wrath – Haven’t seen it. I know, right?
24. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial – Saw this once, loved the hell out of it, gave it ***** (when I was reviewing movies with Flixster), haven’t seen it since. So I’ll refresh my memory and see where it lands.
25. To Kill a Mockingbird – Haven’t seen it since high school. No comment.
26. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Ditto, actually. Though I can actively recall enjoying it–particularly the weird effect used when Smith punches out the muckrakers.
27. High Noon – Another one I haven’t seen since I was much younger. I’ll just say that this scene, mostly for the music, has long been a favorite of mine.
28. All About Eve – I saw so many of these canonical films in my middle and high school years and really need to revisit them. I know I’ve seen them, I remember moments and lines, but I can’t really say anything about them besides “I remember liking them”. I do recall having a particularly hard time saying anything about this one even then, but maybe it just went over my head.
29. Double Indemnity – Somehow, never saw this one. Pathetic.
30. Apocalypse Now – I actually tried rewatching this a year or so ago and found myself surprisingly unengaged. Maybe it was just the wrong day for it. I’ll make time for a proper viewing soon.
31. The Maltese Falcon – I’ve tried to watch this one a few times and have, in all likelihood, seen the whole thing. I remember not being that big on it (maybe I’m just not a big noir fan?), but I’m not at all sure of that opinion. So I’ll go back to it.
32. The Godfather Part II – I’m not sure if I’m one of those who’d say it tops the first film, but it’s close either way. ***** for sure.
33. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Very fine film. I don’t rank it as highly as some would, but I can’t argue with its classic status. (87 – ****½)
34. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – One I haven’t really given a proper viewing in years. It’s a great film and a landmark of cinema–but when we get to the films cut from the initial list, I’ll explain why this probably won’t get much notice in the ATFAs.
35. Annie Hall – Probably Woody Allen’s greatest achievement. I loved this as a teenager, and I bet I’ll love it on revisiting. He’s a bit hit-and-miss with me (I hated Midnight in Paris), and the controversies in his personal life are hard to overlook, but can anyone deny how great this particular film is? *****? Quite possibly.
36. The Bridge on the River Kwai – The one time I saw this (years ago, natch), I actually found it fairly underwhelming. I almost certainly saw Lawrence first and this just seemed so…ordinary in comparison that it couldn’t help but disappoint. Now, that may be unfair, and I won’t deny there aren’t some powerful moments (“What have I done?”), but I’m not banking on loving this.
37. The Best Years of Our Lives – Haven’t seen it. Will soon. It’s weird–it’s such an acclaimed film, yet it doesn’t seem to have the kind of cultural stature that it should. No one ever really quotes it, you never really see famous moments in montages…yet it’s probably the definitive film about postwar life.
38. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Haven’t seen it, either. Not sure how I managed that.
39. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb – At one time, I’d have said this was Kubrick’s second-best film. Now it’s almost tied for first. It actually took me a few viewings to really embrace this film; for a long time, I thought Strangelove himself was a little too over-the-top. Now I think it’s one of the finest satires ever created. (97 – *****)
40. The Sound of Music – Seriously? I get that it’s a beloved classic, but on a list of the greatest films ever made? No way. I need to see it again, but I imagine this wouldn’t get higher than the low 80s. It’s fun, it’s got great songs (especially “Do Re Mi”), but the fact that this got on over Mary Poppins is absurd.
41. King Kong – Amazingly, I’ve never seen this. I’ve seen Peter Jackson’s version, I’ve seen some of the iconic moments, but I’ve never actually seen the whole thing (or even come close).
42. Bonnie and Clyde – I haven’t seen this in full either, but I have seen a decent amount of it. From what I’ve seen, I might not put it terribly high, but I’ll reserve comment until I see it all.
43. Midnight Cowboy – Haven’t seen it. This is another canonical film that you don’t seem to hear much about. “I’m walking here!” is decently iconic, and it features (but did not introduce) “Everybody’s Talkin'”, which is a great little song, but otherwise, how much do people really talk about this movie?
44. The Philadelphia Story – Haven’t seen it. At all, really. Some of the films I haven’t seen in full I’ve still seen major chunks of. This, on the other hand…nope.
45. Shane – When we get to the castoffs, this being here will look weird. Not that it’s not a good film, it is–but there’s not really enough here to make it an all-time masterpiece. It’s well-directed (George Stevens was a great craftsman) and solidly made as a whole, but it’s not on the level of some of Stevens’ real classics. (78 – ****)
46. It Happened One Night – I think I saw a decent amount of this on TV years ago. I know my mom was a big fan of it. But I haven’t really seen it. (Weird how there’s this big clump of films I haven’t seen right in the middle.)
47. A Streetcar Named Desire – And another one! This one is pretty shameful on my part, but…haven’t seen it.
48. Rear Window – So incredible. Hitchcock’s direction here is so insanely innovative. I can’t imagine how this must have seemed in 1954. I was actually going to see this in a theater recently but wasn’t able to. No matter. This is a masterpiece. (93 – *****)
49. Intolerance – Haven’t seen the whole thing. I’m sure I’ll love it, though.
50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – Of course this blew me away in 2001. I haven’t really gone back to these films in years, though. So I’m going to reserve comment until I rewatch them.
51. West Side Story – I haven’t rewatched the whole thing in a long time, but I’ve got some of the musical numbers pretty well burned into my head. At its best, it’s pretty incredible (“Tonight” in particular is an absolutely brilliant piece of filmmaking), but it’s hard for me to overlook some of its weaker points; Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood are one thing, but the horribly dated, blatantly sanitized slang really grates on me. But we’ll see if I can’t forgive it.
52. Taxi Driver – This should be much higher. I need one more viewing to really affirm my feelings about it, but (aside from a few points that seem to drag a little) this is right up there with GoodFellas in my book as Scorsese’s most perfect film. The score (that saxophone solo over the main theme…holy shit), the performances from De Niro and Foster, the overwhelming atmosphere…it’s going to be *****, no doubt about it.
53. The Deer Hunter – More 70s De Niro. I think I once saw the first 45 minutes or so and never finished it. It’s certainly got its critics, especially in the wake of Heaven’s Gate (which, to those revisionists who say it’s really a great film: fuck no), but it’s obviously one I need to watch.
54. MASH – Haven’t seen this in a while either. I remember thinking it was really funny, but that it lost steam after Robert Duvall exits. So probably more ****½ than *****. That’s fine.
55. North By Northwest – Pretty sure I rewatched this a few years ago. I love it, but I need to see it again to determine just how much.
56. Jaws – I’ve only seen it twice, but it’s in my official top 10. So even if I’m not quite as blown away when I see it again, I can’t see it not being *****.
57. Rocky – Nah. It’s good, to be sure, and Stallone is great, but it’s really kind of messy in retrospect, and the supporting characters who became fixtures of the series (especially Mick and Adrian) don’t have much to do. So I liked it, but it’s definitely not a great film. (78 – ****)
58. The Gold Rush – Haven’t seen it, but I just got a copy!
59. Nashville – I saw this once, ages ago, and thought it was brilliant. I tried rewatching it more recently, got about half an hour, and just wasn’t compelled by it. I think I also had to leave, but that experience has me concerned about my eventual rewatch.
60. Duck Soup – Magnificent. The Marxes at their purest. I loved the hell out of this when I was younger. So I need to give it an official rewatch, but I’m fairly sure I’ll still love it.
61. Sullivan’s Travels – Haven’t seen it.
62. American Graffiti – Or, shockingly, this.
63. Cabaret – This feels like a weird inclusion on this list, but whatever. I don’t remember it that well, other than liking some of the songs and thinking it was overall pretty good. But probably this is a low ****½ at best.
64. Network – Another one that made my Overrated list. There are some great scenes, but it’s just too preachy. I’ll give it another chance, but I doubt it’ll break into the ATFAs. (79 – ****)
65. The African Queen – A charming little adventure? Sure. A great film? Not as far as I could tell. I never officially scored this, so I might rewatch it first, but I think this is a safe bet for an expansion of the Overrated list.
66. Raiders of the Lost Ark – Not so much this one. I’m sure this will sneak in somewhere. Because it’s Raiders. I need to give it an official score, but I’m sure it’ll be high.
67. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Haven’t seen the whole thing. (I know.)
68. Unforgiven – Saw it on TV years ago and was pretty impressed. Need to rewatch it, but I bet I’ll like it (I also need to rewatch The Outlaw Josey Wales. I think I saw those on the same day.)
69. Tootsie – Haven’t seen it.
70. A Clockwork Orange – I need to refresh my memories, but I’m sure I’ll approve (I also need to rewatch O Lucky Man! That’s a fascinating film).
71. Saving Private Ryan – I’ve seen it, but I don’t feel like I gave it a proper viewing when I did. I do recall thinking (as many have) that it peaks at the start, but I want to give it a fair chance.
72. The Shawshank Redemption – Took me forever to actually see this one. I really like it–not to the degree that so many do, but at the same time I can see the appeal. I’ll leave it to others to exalt. (84 – ****)
73. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – I positively adored this film at 13. Will I still think so highly of it whenever I go back to it? I sure hope so.
74. The Silence of the Lambs – You know…I get it, and I don’t totally get it. This probably seemed fresher at the time, but now it just looks like a really good thriller. Not to be a genre snob or anything, I just didn’t see it as transcending the genre, so much as being an excellent example of it. (85 – ****½)
75. In the Heat of the Night – Another film that feels a little weird being on this list. Not because it’s not good, but it feels like enough of the bloom has gone off the rose that it doesn’t need to be here. And as powerful as its take on race relations is, I recall the mystery aspects as being forgettable. But I’ll see it afresh and see if that still holds true.
76. Forrest Gump – This is a really weird film if you really think about it. I like it, but it’s a really bizarre mix of satire and sentiment and special effects that don’t hold up at all and weird humor and historical coincidences and…yeah. I’ve never given it a score (how do you score a film like this?), but I’ll guess low 80s? I really don’t know.
77. All the President’s Men – Saw it twice in high school (once for a history class, once for a journalism class), and have only seen parts of it since. But those parts impressed me. I’m not sure if it’ll make my awards, but it might sniff at my revised Top Films list.
78. Modern Times – As with the other Chaplin films, I’ve never seen this in full (though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen sizable parts of it).
79. The Wild Bunch – Saw it once, wasn’t really impressed by it. Then I saw Ride the High Country and loved it, and sampled this to see if I was more intrigued. I wasn’t, really. I still need to officially rewatch it, but maybe I prefer Peckinpah when he’s a bit more disciplined.
80. The Apartment – This is one of those films I saw in my adolescence that I was probably too young for, but I mean to go back to it and I think I’ll dig it.
81. Spartacus – I’m sorry, but Kubrick was right. Spartacus is really a pretty boring, overly-perfect character. Crassus, Gracchus, and Batiatus are all great, and there are impressive elements, but I’d actually say The Fall of the Roman Empire is the better “thinking man’s epic” (as my father describes Spartacus).
82. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans – I haven’t seen the whole thing, but from what I have seen, it’s tremendous. The finale is remarkably beautiful. I’m sure I’ll love this.
83. Titanic – I haven’t really gone back to this in ages. Great as a splashy epic, but as a truly great film? I doubt that. (Apparently when I saw this in theaters (at age 8), I audibly went “Eww!” during the big sex scene. Should’ve seen it in 3D and done that again.)
84. Easy Rider – Oh, God. To be fair, it’s been over a decade since I saw it. And to be more fair, I realize it’s very much a time capsule (I fear future generations will regard Spring Breakers as such). But it’s really not a good film at all. I hated the ending especially–it’s not that I’m against downbeat endings, but a lot of late 60s and 70s films, to me, have dark endings which feel as contrived as the proverbial “happy ending”. And this is a prime example. Maybe I’ll be more forgiving whenever I next see it, but I still might consider this the worst film on this list.
85. A Night at the Opera – The best parts are incredible. But it’s way too watered down by young lovers and pointless musical numbers for me to consider it in the same league as Duck Soup (even A Day at the Races nails the mixture better). I’d like to do a piece someday on canonical films with significant caveats, and this seems to be an excellent example. (Historical note: when I was a kid, I did the contract scene from this movie for a synagogue talent show. When I took a bow, I fell off the stage and broke my arm.)
86. Platoon – Saw this in high school. I sampled some of it recently and wasn’t too motivated to see the whole thing (I think JFK and Nixon are stronger films), but I will sometime this year.
87. 12 Angry Men – It’s an iconic film, for sure, and a compelling one. I think it’s a bit hard to swallow at times (there’s a reason juries are urged not to emulate it), but the acting and direction make up for it. It probably won’t make my awards, though, unless I do one for Best Tagline (“It EXPLODES like 12 sticks of dynamite!” is up there with “Rated X by an all-white jury”). (86 – ****½)
88. Bringing Up Baby – I actually saw this recently but didn’t score it. I’ll say…high 70s, low 80s, maybe? I found Katherine Hepburn pretty tiresome, and the plot maybe a little too dependent on people being oblivious, but it definitely had its laughs. I’ll give it another shot before I give it an official rating.
89. The Sixth Sense – I’ve only seen the first…half hour, maybe? Not that I don’t know what happens, but I’ve still never really seen it. Not sure how well it holds up, especially given Shyamalan’s eventual decline (The Last Airbender may be worse, but I hate Lady in the Water more), but I’ll give it a chance.
90. Swing Time – This feels like the most random choice on this list–why this instead of Top Hat or The Gay Divorcee? Granted, I’ve never seen any of them, but this feels like it was meant to represent all of the Astaire-Rogers films rather than stand on its own.
91. Sophie’s Choice – I’ve seen the “choice” scene, but that’s it. Probably not going to be an easy watch, but I’ll get around to it.
92. GoodFellas – This being this low is disgraceful. It’s a personal top 10. Probably an all-time top 10. It’s pure greatness. I haven’t scored it, but could this not be a high *****? Maybe Taxi Driver edges it out on an objective level because it’s more thematically complex, but this is about as perfect as they come.
93. The French Connection – Another one I don’t have a score for, but I’m familiar enough with it to say I’d put it pretty high. Maybe it has a few weak patches (comparatively speaking, of course), but overall, it’s a hell of a movie. And Don Ellis’ score is insanely underrated. Give it a listen, it’s really quite brilliant.
94. Pulp Fiction – How is this not top 10? I may subjectively like Inglourious Basterds a hair better, but this is Tarantino’s masterpiece. Like 2001, it has one scene I don’t really like, the dance contest (I can tolerate Tarantino’s performance because it’s obvious Jules is putting up with him out of necessity), but that’s one minor quibble in a sea of genius. (96 – *****)
95. The Last Picture Show – Haven’t seen it, actually. Need to fix that, no?
96. Do the Right Thing – And this should be higher, too! I sort of watched it again after Ruby Dee died, but it wasn’t a dedicated viewing. I’m not sure if it’s a perfect film, but it’s not like I can deny its impact. And it’s just so well written, directed, and acted. So I’ll probably give it *****.
97. Blade Runner – Visually, it’s almost perfect. I got to see it in a theater recently, and was only further convinced that the production design is, if not the greatest ever put on film, a certain ATFA nominee. And the cinematography shows it off magnificently. Dramatically, though, I think it falls a bit short. The acting, especially the line deliveries, feels stilted and artificial a lot of the time, and I’m not sure if that’s by design or just proof that Ridley Scott is a fundamentally problematic director. And the story is really pretty simple, though that in itself is not an automatic drawback. It’s still a compelling film, but it’s the visuals (and Vangelis’ magnificent score) which make it great. (91 – *****)
98. Yankee Doodle Dandy – Started watching it once, got maybe 20 minutes in and never finished it (I think the scene where cocky young Cohan gets his ass kicked and it’s treated as a good thing put me off). I’ll fix that, of course, but it bears mentioning.
99. Toy Story – This came out the day I turned 6. I don’t know if I saw it that day, but it was definitely a part of my childhood (there was a great computer game based on it that I played a bunch as well), and it’s an incredible film. *****? Probably.
100. Ben-Hur – Yet again, I saw it a bit too long ago to give a firm opinion. I loved it then, I suspect I’d still think decently highly of it. Probably more in the ****½ range, but we’ll just have to see.
And now for the films that got cut from the list (with their old rankings):
39. Doctor Zhivago – Probably got cut because it’s generally regarded as a step below Kwai and Lawrence. It’s been too long since I’ve seen it to say how it compares to them, but I recall having thinking well of it, if not being dazzled.
44. The Birth of a Nation – Obviously, the racism and the fact that they had Griffith covered with Intolerance helped knock it off. I’ve never actually seen it, but I will, if only for its historical relevance.
52. From Here to Eternity – Surprised this was booted, especially since the beach make-out scene is so iconic. Another one I haven’t seen (it just seemed a little too much like a soap opera, I guess), but I’ll fix that.
53. Amadeus – No idea how this got cut. Haven’t seen it in ages, but I think we all know how amazing it is.
54. All Quiet on the Western Front – It’s weird–for everyone who says how much of a punch this film still packs, there are those who say it really doesn’t hold up. I’m curious to find out for myself (that’s right, I haven’t seen it). Also, three films in a row got cut. That’s bizarre.
57. The Third Man – I’m guessing this got cut because it’s really a British film. Admittedly, I haven’t seen it since I was like 13, but I can’t imagine this was cut on the basis of quality.
58. Fantasia – Remember what I said about Snow White? How it was a great film but probably wouldn’t get much ATFA attention? This is why. This film, so breathtakingly ambitious, so stunningly animated, featuring such incredible music, this is the jewel in Disney’s crown, and how the AFI decided Snow White should stay but this, possibly the greatest animated film ever made, should go passes human understanding.
59. Rebel Without a Cause – Another three in a row. What the hell? I saw this long, long ago, and in retrospect would say it’s probably the weakest of Dean’s three big films, but I can’t say how good it really is, or deny how iconic it remains. Probably should’ve stayed (at least over, say, Shane).
63. Stagecoach – Actually, I’m kind of okay with this getting cut. It’s a good film and all, and a truly archetypal Western, but on its own I didn’t think it was that memorable. Again, give me Liberty Valance over this any day. (83 – ****)
64. Close Encounters of the Third Kind – I saw this (in, like, 2001), had mixed feelings about it, mostly due to the ending (parental abandonment is one of those themes that tends to bother me), then I think I softened towards it, but never really went back to it. I’m not sure I wouldn’t still find Roy Neary’s obnoxiousness an obstacle to my enjoyment, but I owe it another visit. It was cut, I guess, because Spielberg was already well-represented.
67. The Manchurian Candidate – I first saw this years ago and liked it. Then, about three years ago, I saw it again and was totally blown away by it, and gave it a 98. Then I saw it yet again a few months ago and was a bit less dazzled, and I’m not sure if that wasn’t just me. Either way, it’s a great film, brilliantly made, with some of the best dialogue in film history. So however high I rank it, I think damn well of it, and damn poorly of the AFI for cutting it.
68. An American in Paris – Did they cut films at random or what? This is so weird. Anyway, this actually deserved to be cut. It’s nice, and the final ballet is really cool, but Singin’ in the Rain is so much better. I don’t have an official score for it, but I’ll say mid-high 70s.
73. Wuthering Heights (1939) – Never seen it. I don’t know, it seems like it doesn’t get talked about much these days, so it probably made sense to cut it. I’m more interested in seeing the 2012 version, honestly.
75. Dances With Wolves – Yeah, I’ve seen parts of this, and it seems to be a mix of weird (Maury Chaykin), awful (Costner’s narration, which is pathetically terrible), and passable (the rest). I also grew up hearing my dad talk about how weak it was, which doesn’t convince me I’ll much like it.
82. Giant – Now, I actually like Giant. It’s admittedly uneven, but by and large, it’s a damned impressive film. And it’s a great American film. So cutting it was a terrible idea (also: where is The Right Stuff?). I’m not sure just how high I’d rank it, but definitely it belongs on the list more than Shane (same director).
84. Fargo – Rewatched this just the other day (in preparation for seeing Kumiko). It’s good, of course, and Frances McDormand is wonderful, but I think the Coens have solidly surpassed it. And those over-the-top “Yer darn tootin’!” accents get old quick. So, good as it is, I actually don’t mind it getting cut, though the lack of Coen films on the current list is unacceptable. (85 – ****½)
86. Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) – This actually kind of makes sense. I haven’t seen it, and I’m sure it’s good, but it just feels weird on a “greatest films” list.
87. Frankenstein – This could represent Universal horror. It could represent horror in general (The Exorcist doesn’t even make the cut). It could stand on its own as an iconic film. At the very least, replace it with Bride or Dracula or The Invisible Man. No matter how you look at it, removing it was a bad idea. (I’m not sure I’ve seen the whole thing, however. But I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Bride.)
89. Patton – What the fuck. One of the great American biopics, with George C. Scott’s magnificent performance at the center of it, beginning with one of the greatest speeches in film history…and it gets cut. Totally, utterly unacceptable. My score might be a touch out of date (I gave it a 93, but that may have been from memory), but it’s definitely *****. One of the worst omissions from the new list.
90. The Jazz Singer (1927) – This makes a little more sense. It’s generally regarded as being primarily of historical interest (though what I’ve seen of it looks pretty good), and it might not hold up as a “great” film. So I won’t object too much.
91. My Fair Lady – I absolutely adored this film as a kid. I think the musical itself is brilliant, and an improvement on the source material. I’m not sure how the film holds up, though, especially the increasingly obvious dubbing for Audrey Hepburn’s singing. I can’t imagine I won’t still like it, but I can see why they took it off.
92. A Place in the Sun – Poor George Stevens. Not that I’ve seen this, and to be fair it doesn’t seem to have the same place in popular culture as some of the films that stayed on, but I feel like there are other films I’d have removed first.
99. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner – A very entertaining film. An extremely well-acted film. Not a great film, however (it just doesn’t hold together logically), and I’m all right with the removal. Besides, we didn’t need two 1967 Sidney Poitier films about race relations.
To recap, here are the Top 100 films I have official scores for, in order:
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (97)
- Dr. Strangelove (97)
- Lawrence of Arabia (97)
- Pulp Fiction (96)
- Rear Window (93)
- Citizen Kane (93)
- On the Waterfront (93)
- Blade Runner (91)
- Raging Bull (90)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (87)
- 12 Angry Men (86)
- Vertigo (85)
- The Silence of the Lambs (85)
- The Shawshank Redemption (84)
- Chinatown (84)
- Casablanca (82)
- Network (79)
- Spartacus (79)
- Rocky (78)
- Shane (78)
An even 20. And I’ve seen a further 54 but don’t have official scores for them. That leaves 26 films which I outright have never seen start-to-finish:
City Lights, The Graduate, The Grapes of Wrath, Double Indemnity, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, King Kong, Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, The Philadelphia Story, It Happened One Night, A Streetcar Named Desire, Intolerance, The Deer Hunter, The Gold Rush, Sullivan’s Travels, American Graffiti, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Tootsie, Modern Times, Sunrise, The Sixth Sense, Swing Time, Sophie’s Choice, The Last Picture Show, Yankee Doodle Dandy.
That includes 5 Best Picture winners (and 18 nominees, two of which predate the Oscars). How some of these snuck past me (especially all the Chaplins) I do not know. I will see all of these films before year’s end, and rewatch as many of the 54 unscored films as I can.
Having gone over the whole list, I won’t deny it’s got some issues. I don’t know the AFI’s methodology for adding or removing films, but as much as I applaud the inclusion of films like Blade Runner, Sunrise, and Do the Right Thing (all added for the second list), I wonder at the addition of films like Cabaret, Titanic, The Sixth Sense, and Swing Time at the expense of Amadeus, Fantasia, The Manchurian Candidate, and Patton. I’d attempt to conflate the two lists and create a happy medium, but it’s late and this post is already over 6000 words. Suffice to say, my list, even of American films, will be very different.
As for how the films in question will factor into the ATFAs and my revised top 50/100 list: 9 of the 20 films I have solid scores earn a 90 or higher–that is, they are officially ***** films. That’s pretty good, actually, and another 12 or so have merited a comparably high level of regard from me. So let’s assume I’ll have, at the very least, 35 ***** films off this list alone. Any film that scores 95 or higher is a lock for some recognition: 2001, Strangelove, Lawrence, and Pulp Fiction are among the finest films ever made, so their presence should surprise no one.
It’s the films that will surprise people that I want to find.
Dare I tackle They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They?‘s Top 1000?