Ten years ago the American Film Institute kicked off their 100 Years 100 Movies list with the mother of them all, the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time. To nobody’s surprise, Citizen Kane topped the list ten years ago. (How Lawrence of Arabia, a film written, directed, produced and starring Brits even made the nominating stage is still one of the great mysteries of the modern age). Surprisingly, the American Film Institute has decided to issue another list of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time. Since that first list, the AFI has put out such top 100 lists as the best comedies, best villains and heroes, and best romantic movies. Apparently, they ran out of ideas so they’ve returned to where it all began.
What is most shocking about this decision is that in the ten years since the first list came out it is beyond question that no movie has been released that stands to make the new top ten. There’s very little reason to suspect that any new movie will crack the top twenty. I am dubious that any movie released in the last ten years would slide into the top thirty. But that would be if the people making the lists really had an agenda of deciding on the best movies of all time. Remember, folks, these are the same people who chose the original Star Wars over what is universally agreed upon as the best Star Wars movie of all time, at least up till then: The Empire Strikes Back. These are the same people who chose Rocky as one of the 100 greatest movies of all time. These are the same people who decided that Lawrence of Arabia was an American film despite not having one single American in a position of genuine power in its cast or crew.
The question becomes, then, why would the American Film Institute redo their list of the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time when the past ten years have been without question the single worst ten year span for American movies ever. Are they really expecting that the list will be significantly different from what it was ten years ago? Have tastes changed so much that Citizen Kane will fall from the top spot? Will Casablanca overtake Citizen Kane? Have people finally realized that Rocky is a derivative piece of dreck? Or is there actual expectation that such “classics” as Titanic, Gladiator and Lord of the Rings will replace such crap as All the President’s Men, Double Indemnity and Dr. Strangelove?
I can’t think of a single movie made within the last ten years that stands a snowball’s chance in hell of making the top ten. Fight Club and Donnie Darko could possibly crack the top thirty. And yet, I am fully prepared to not be shocked to see such utter paeans to mediocrity as Titanic, Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, and Crash make it. Why? Because those voting honestly think movies such as these and other acclaimed movies made in the last ten years are better than the movies at the bottom of the 1997 list? Before you go nodding your head in agreement that any of the movies I mentioned or your favorite movies of the last decade deserve entry, let me remind you what the bottom ten movies were on that last list:
90. The Jazz Singer
91. My Fair Lady
92. A Place in the Sun
93. The Apartment
95. Pulp Fiction
96. The Searchers
97. Bringing Up Baby
99. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
100. Yankee Doodle Dandy.
Okay, we can drop The Jazz Singer, My Fair Lady, Unforgiven, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Yankee Doodle Dandy right off the bat. (And someone want to explain to me just how in the HELL My Fair Lady ranks above Goodfellas?) So that’s five out the bottom ten. Let’s assume that as we rise up the list there are fewer expendables, so that by the time we reach the top we’ve got about a dozen that never belonged on the list in the first place such as Easy Rider, Rocky, Ben-Hur. But before we automatically make room for movies from this past decade, we’ve got to make room for movies that were unfairly overlooked the first time around like All That Jazz, The Candidate, Strangers on a Train, and Touch of Evil. Let’s say we can find ten movies that were eligible the first time around that for some bizarre reason were left off in favor of such crap as An American In Paris and On the Waterfront. So basically that leaves two openings for movies made in the last decade. You already know my two choices, though I’m sure there’s a significant and vocal element out there that will be heartbroken if Titanic doesn’t make it onto the American Film Institute list of 100 Greatest Movies of All time.
If you want to make your voice heard, go to AFI.com and cast your non-binding vote for your favorite movie of all time and why and what it means to you. You’ll find my choice there already. I’ll give you a hint: “You never got me down, Ray. You never got me down.”
I sure will be down if any movie other than Fight Club or Donnie Darko makes it into the top twenty.