Sunday, June 22, 2008

"A film biography might let them get to know the real you: virtuous, heroic, nubile..." "[menacing] You left out pleasant!"

Discussing the American Film Insitute's Ten Top 10 Lists: Part Two

...and we're back. Here's the list of nominees, by the way, if you're interested.

Legend: Should Be Higher, Should Be Lower, Should've Been on the List, More or Less in the Right Spot.

Me: [holding my breath as the Gangster segment starts]
AFI Show: "we don't have Casino on the list because it's a total rip off (and poor one at that!) of Goodfellas and we can't figure out why so many people like it so much."
Me: [exhale, pumping my fist]

10. Scarface (1983):
...ok. Pretty overrated, if you ask me (and not just because it's referenced all the time on Entourage and seemingly only enjoyed by the very narrow "boys, 18-22, living on TV shows" demographic). Words really can't describe how bad Michelle Pfeiffer's performance is in this: she's like some sort of hot, coked out, robot actress.

Note: The funniest running subplot by far during these AFI shows is how everyone seems to have sworn an oath to refer to Brian de Palma in the most reverential tone possible, even though the last five movies he's directed (stinkers all) are as follows: Redacted, The Black Dahlia, Femme Fatale, Mission to Mars, and Snake Eyes. You have to go back to 1996 to find something worthwhile from BDP--Mission Impossible--and even that one (which, personally, I loved) was reviled by many. You could argue that he's the most overrated director in the world...were it not for the fact that he's been totally marginalized (although, fun fact, he did direct "Dancing in the Dark," which, next to "I'm on Fire," is the second best extant Springsteen video). Also: The Untouchables is better, and since I can't bear the thought of two De Palma flicks on the list, let's go with that one.
9. Little Caesar (1930): I'm guessing that this is the list that will infuriate Taylor the most, as it has four movies on it that were released in the first half of the twentieth century and he refuses to recognize anything made before, say, 1970 as a masterpiece. I have to say that, here, I don't entirely disagree. Little Caeser, boy, I dunno. If you have to back this far to find ten quality gangster movies, you might as well have Spielberg jumping and down while yelping "the gangter genre is dead! the gangster genre is dead!"
-> Boyz n The Hood (1991):
AFI, you would've gained so much street cred for this.
8. The Public Enemy (1931):
this one I have seen, but only because Tony watched in on The Sopranos and I was intrigued. I'm not sure if it's an altogether great movie--in fact, I'm pretty sure it isn't--but Cagney is riveting as Tom Powers (aka, the Worst Person in the World--see, for instance, the infamous grapefruit scene). Definitely worth checking out. I'll go with a hold here.
7. Pulp Fiction (1994):
Great film, but it's not a gangster flick. If anything, Reservoir Dogs is far more deserving.
-> Reservoir Dogs (1992)
-> Miller's Crossing (1990):
this was in my notes, but I forgot to include it when I posted. Whoops.

6. Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932): note to filmmakers: there are other gangsters aside from Al Capone!
-> The Departed (2006)
-> The Road to Perdition (2002):
not even nominated. Weak.
This movie never got its due.
5. Bonnie and Clyde (1967): awesome. Should be #4.
4. White Heat (1949): never seen this, but I have a hard time believing it's better than Bonnie and Clyde. The clip they used for the AFI show (Cagney being told, in jail, that his mom has died, whereupon he proceeds to absolutely lose his shit), I'll point out, is unbelievably disturbing (apparently director Raoul Walsh didn't tell the rest of the cast that Cagney was going to react that way so the panic-stricken looks on the faces of the inmates are all-too-real).
3. The Godfather Part II (1974):
2. Goodfellas (1990): yup.
1. The Godfather (1972): yup.

MYSTERY: far from perfect (in that lots of deserving movies were left out), but right at the top of the ticket.

10. The Usual Suspects (1995): uh oh! Shuk won't be happy.
-> The Conversation (1974): wedged in between the first two Godfathers is this masterpiece from FFC. Check it out if you haven't yet. It's one of the quietest and most interesting films of the decade. Gene Hackman, with all due respect to his work in The French Connection, has never been better.
9. Dial M for Murder (1954): sure.
8. Blue Velvet (1986):
oh, come on! Give me a fucking break, AFI! The worst inclusion on the list, by far (not to be confused with National Velvet, which is probably the second most egregious pick...but I'm at least willing to concede that NV is probably a good movie, just not one of the best sports movies of all time). I went on big David Lynch kick a few years back after being transfixed by Mulholland Drive (a Lynch movie that, incidentally, should be on the list) and, thus, had high hopes for this one. But, no, it's awful, with zero redeeming qualities. If you are a fan, please begin drafting your spirited
-> Mulholland Drive (2001): this one left some people feeling rather cold, but I loved it. For the record, I maintain that Naomi Watts delivers the single best performance from an actress I've ever seen.
7. North by Northwest (1959): seems very low.
6. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

5. The Third Man (1949): this was very good, although I wanted to like it just a bit more. Notable for Welles' entrance, the chase in the sewers (given that it's nearly 60 years old, it's amazing from a technical standpoint), the following quote:

Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
and not a lot else, yet it's the 48th highest rated movie of all-time on
4. Laura (1944): never seen it...but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's not as deserving as any of the following movies (which had basically no chance of being included:
-> The Manchurian Candidate (1962): not nominated (wtf?).
-> Brick (2005): not nominated.
-> The Big Lebowski (1998): no shot.
-> The Game (1997): no shot.
-> Se7en (1995): no shot.
3. Rear Window (1954): Let me assume my best Jeff Daniels in The Squid and the Whale voice as I prepare to piss off every film major ever: this is minor Hitchcock. My verdict on the film: terrific idea, only moderately well executed. Suburbia did more with less (no offense, Shia). Very, very slow, and only intermittently suspensful. My favorite part by far is the scene where Jimmy Stewart is spying on his sketchy next door neighbor (Raymond Burr), while his companion/love interest (Grace Kelly) is actually in Burr's apartment giving really obvious hand signals. Then the villain turns and looks directly at Stewart and, in a panic, Stewart's other companion (Selma Ritter) turns off the light while Stewart shouts "I think he spotted us!" REALLY? YOU THINK?? You couldn't have turned off the fucking lights in your house when you were surveilling with your comically oversized binoculars? (Scroll to the 0:56 mark here.) You had to spy in broad daylight?? The whole Scooby gang couldn't have been less surreptitious if they tried.
2. Chinatown (1974): niiiice.
-> Memento (2001): no big deal, AFI. It's only the best movie of the last decade. This the part where I point out that no film released in the 00s rates according to AFI voters, with, I believe, Saving Private Ryan (now ten years old) being the most recent inclusion.
1. Vertigo (1958): very nice. The backstory to this film is actually wildly interesting (I couldn't find a proper description online, so here's a scan from an old film guide--that contains some terrific film writing--that I have). And its got one of the five coolest movie posters ever (#1? Memento).

ROMANTIC COMEDY: I'll try to be brief here, since I find this list dreadfully dull.

10. Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
The American President (1995)
-> Shakespeare in Love (1998)
-> Say Anything... (1989):
great movie.
-> The 40-Year Old Virgin (2005):
actually nominated!
-> The Notebook (2004): not, surprisingly.
9. Harold and Maude (1971): skeeves me out, man..
-> Pretty Woman (1990)
-> Bull Durham (1988):
oddly, it's more appropriate here than among the best sports movies. Damn, maybe it is a chick flick.
8. Moonstruck (1987)
7. Adam's Rib (1949):
looks pretty good, actually. May need to check this one out.
6. When Harry Met Sally ... (1989):
question: great movie, good movie, or forgettable movie wrapped around one incredibly memorable scene? I'd say it's somewhere between category #2 and #3. Follow up: was it even remotely plausible that 1989 Billy Crystal could successfully bed 1989 Meg Ryan? 1989 and 2008? Sure. Probably even 2008 and 2008? But '89 and '89? No way.
-> The Wedding Singer (1998)
5. The Philadelphia Story (1940): nice. I'll wager this is the only romcom in history where the male lead grabs the female lead by the face and throws her to the ground (and it's the first scene in the movie, too!).
4. Roman Holiday (1953): pretty good movie; weirdly unsatisfying ending.
3. It Happened One Night (1934)
2. Annie Hall (1977):
one of my dad's favorites. OK, fair enough. He's pretty reliable.
1. City Lights (1931):
kind of a cool (and definitely a suprising) selection.

COURTROOM DRAMA: I'll be honest, I'm just relieved that Legally Blonde isn't listed. Everything else is pretty much a bonus.

10. Judgment at Nuremberg (1961): still need to see this.
9. A Cry in the Dark (1988): isn't this only supposed to be ok?
-> A Civil Action (1998): now, don't get me wrong, this movie is not without its flaws--mainly: it's extremely difficult to watch without wanting to punch Travolta repaeatedly in the face-- and is probably best viewed as almost an anti-courtroom drama, but it's pretty good...and damned if I can't stop myself from watching it whenever I find on TV at 2 a.m.

8. In Cold Blood (1967):
good choice.
7. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
6. Witness for the Prosecution (1957):
haven't seen this, but it looks good. Osgoode film library? Expect a visit.
-> Inherit the Wind (1960): outstanding movie...even if manages to make William Jennings Bryan (Matthew Harrison Brady in the film)--who was actually an amazing man--look like a reactionary, a hypocrite, and, at times, an out-and-out lunatic.
5. A Few Good Men (1992): I'd put this at #3.
-> The Insider (1999)
4. The Verdict (1982)
3. Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979): I've heard that it may not be all that.
2. 12 Angry Men (1957): nice.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962): nice. You could probably flip #1 and #2 here, but I'm not complaining. They're both great movies.

EPIC: A rare misstep for the AFI here, as they really should've split this up into two categories: "war epics" and "just plain epics." That they didn't suggests to me that we may be treated to a "100 Best War Movies" special in the near future (sneak preview of my reponse to that list: The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now). We'll see.

Also. if they intend on doing this again, I'd suggest the following genres (or subgenres): horror; chick flicks/tearjerkers (admit it, this would be entertaining); film noir; action; war movies (if there isn't a planned Top 100); superhero movies; documentary; biopic; political; disaster.

10. The Ten Commandments (1956): sigh...sure.
-> JFK (1991): not nominated...nor is any Oliver Stone movie. Hmmm.
9. Reds (1981): surprising inclusion.
8. Saving Private Ryan (1998): not an epic. Well, wait, I suppose it just doesn't feel all that deserving (even though I really liked it), as it's not on the same level as, say, The Great Escape (which, perversely, wasn't one of the 50 nominated films in this category--how is that possible? I double-checked, and it is an American movie, so I'm frankly baffled as to why it was left out). I think it's safe to presume that SPR's inclusion is only the reason that we're graced with Edward Burns' presence during the three hour telecast. Question: don't you forfeit your right to be a film historian when you appear in such stinkers as One Missed Call, A Sound of Thunder, and 27 Dresses? Answer: Yes. Yes you do.
-> The Great Escape (1963): should probably be no lower than #4 on this list.
-> The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
-> Braveheart (1995)

7. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930): not an epic. Though, if you are including war movies, why these two and not, say, Paths of Glory? It's probably the best anti-war movie ever made.
6. Titanic (1997)
5. Spartacus (1960): Meh. I guess this is ok. I've always found Spartacus to be more important for what happened behind the scenes (Kubrick and Douglas feuding, Kubrick becoming disillusioned with the Hollywood studio system, Kubrick moving to the UK as a result, etc.) than what's actually on the screen (which, at 184 minutes, meanders like a mofo). Also, I'm fairly certain that this is the only movie on the list where the director essentially disowned the final product. Instead, why not...
-> 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)?
4. Gone With the Wind (1939)
3. Schindler's List (1993):
full disclosure: I still haven't seen this. (I know.)
2. Ben-Hur (1959): gah...sorry, Carrie. This movie seemed endless to me.
-> The Bridge of the River Kwai (1957) anyone? This is, far and away, the most egregious omission on any of these ten lists.
1. Lawrence of Arabia (1962): I have no problem with this selection (though BotRK is better).


Jesse said...

How is JFK an epic?

And, where's my personal favourite Romcom, Big Daddy?

RT Murphy said...

"Gangster" is a terrible way to define a genre, where "crime" would be better because where the flip is LA Confidential.

Also, what the crap is an 'epic'.

Mark P said...

For some reason, I commented on your Facebook version rather than your blog. In hindsight, it was a mistake.

Ryan Ward said...

Good call on The Insider! I completely forgot about that movie when I was thinking about court dramas.

Also, I believe LotR is the most recent inclusion, not SPR. Still, where's the millennial love, AFI?

Kyle Wasko said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle Wasko said...

Jesse and Ryan: the "AFI defines 'epic' as a genre of large-scale films set in a cinematic interpretation of the past. Their scope defies and demands [note: it ACTUALLY says this in the description]--either in the mode in which they are presented or their range across time.

(read: period piece. This is why I think JFK applies. Did you not like it?)

Jesse: You and that fucking Big Daddy! I keep telling you: it's not very good.

Ryan M: I would've liked crime and gangster, actually. I mean, did we really need romcom? Word re: L.A. Con. Outstanding film.

Ryan W: I'm so pissed I didn't have the foresight to include Rushmore under romcom. That's inspired.

Could call re: LOTR being the most recent inclusion. The sad thing is, I actually doubled check this the first time through (I thought it was Titanic initially).

Shuk: re: RW--> did you somehow go to university in 1961 and not tell me about it? I just find it a little hard to believe that people could, in this day and age, be so shocked by something that really isn't all that thrilling and is downright plodding in places. Would they have keeled over dead if they watched Se7en?

2. The Insider doesn't spend much time inside the courtroom (though Crowe is deposed at least once), but I think it's fair to consider it a legal thriller. Most underrated (or, as underrated as movie that gets seven Oscar nominations can be) movie of the 90s? I say yes.

3. I love Road to Perdition and I'm not quite sure why it fizzled. Maybe it was Hanks playing against type? Cruise has done this with some success (Collateral, Magnolia), but maybe that's because we all secretly hate TC now.

4. Fine, I'll bite: why do you hate The Usual Suspects so? Ebert famously stated in his print review that, if you think about the ending, it destroys everything that came before it--does that have something to do with it? I'm genuinely intrigued.

5. Third Man looked and sounded cool, but I found it more flash than substance. I think it had been hyped up to me way too much by the time I got to see it.

6. Unfortunately, nothing Richard Curtis has done qualifies as "American" (a stupid distinction, frankly. Isn't it enough that all the voters--I assume--are American?), otherwise Love Actually would easily be my #1. I stand by my praise for The Wedding Singer--what's not to like there?

7. You know how I know you're gay? You talk about Ten Little Indians all the time...

Ela said...

People should read this.