The AFI's latest list
What are the best American films ever?
Ten years ago the American Film Institute asked that question. Recently the AFI asked it again. They revealed the fascinating answers on a three-hour program on CBS television on June 20. I had a special interest in the poll for many reasons. One is that I voted in it.
Another is that I feared what changes might take place. Would 2007 America still care about the past and culture of movies anymore, since it doesn’t in so many other areas?
The poll was a revelation. The list was better than in 1997. Twenty-three new films were on the list, which meant 23 dropped off.
As Morgan Freeman, host of the TV show, said, “Films will rise; films will fall.”
Fortunately for me, many of my fears were allayed. I was afraid the western would disappear, and the Duke might be dead.
The Searchers, with John Wayne, was 96th on the previous list. Would this John Ford classic completely fall off the list? Wonder of wonders, The Searchers leapt 84 spaces and is now 12th.
Other westerns hung tough. Stagecoach, which was 63rd, did fall off, but Shane moved up 24 spaces to 45th, Eastwood’s Unforgiven vaulted 30 spaces to 68th and High Noon moved up six spaces to 27th. I had thought High Noon might disappear from the list.
Another wonderful happening was that Robert Altman’s Nashville, which was not on the list, is now 59th.It warms my southern exposure.
And what of Alfred Hitchcock, the director I think has most influenced American movies? How did his rep fare?
Hitch had a lot of movement and ascendancy. Vertigo moved into the top ten—up 52 spaces to 9th. Psycho moved up from 18th to 14th. But North by Northwest dropped from 40th to 55th, and Rear Window dropped from 42nd to 48th.
What also was remarkable was the inclusion of silent films on this year’s list. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927), Griffith’s Intolerance (1916), and Buster Keaton in The General (1926) entered the list.
In one of the few signs of political correctness, Griffith’s classic The Birth of a Nation was ousted. But it was replaced by Intolerance. Irony?
That The General is now 18th is another recognition of what critic James Agee called, “comedy’s greatest era.”
What also may be telling is that the anti-war film The Deer Hunter moved up 26 spaces to 53rd. That’s a surprise.
The last decade made its contribution. Saving Private Ryan was 71st. The highest-rated film released in the last decade was Lord of the Rings at 50th. Titanic was 83rd. The Sixth Sense was 89th.
It was disheartening to see James Dean fall off the list…some things had to go. But should teenage rebellion be one of them?
I’m very happy with the list, because it keeps context alive. Some old friends are still prevailing.
My top five were: Citizen Kane, The Gold Rush, North by Northwest or Vertigo, The Godfather II and The Searchers. They all made the list.
The AFI’s top ten in 2007:
1. Citizen Kane (previously first)
2. The Godfather (3)
3. Casablanca (2)
4. Raging Bull (24)
5. Singin’ in the Rain (10)
6. Gone with the Wind (4)
7. Lawrence of Arabia (5)
8. Schindler’s List (9)
9. Vertigo (61)
10. The Wizard of Oz (6)
Raging Bull and Vertigo are new to the top ten.
Some audiences will be dubious about the choice of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) as the best American film ever made, but to hear Spielberg, Scorsese, Pollock, et al. rave about it was impressive. The relevance, art, and humanity of Citizen Kane make it potent today. It’s still as good a film about the human condition as ever was made.
In this season of sequels and schlock, Hollywood can still be proud. It’s a hell of a list.