The American Film Institute’s best 100 movies

The American Film Institute has revised its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time. I have to say I’m glad I wasn’t on the "panel of experts." It was traumatic enough just tallying up your votes for the hot 100 — imagine actually trying to select the 100 best films from the universe of film based on your own so-called expertise. Jeez. (Technically, the experts chose the 100 best films from a pre-selected list of 400 movies, but let’s not get picky.)

Anyway, my sympathy for the panel won’t stop me from complaining about the list. Let’s just start with the most obvious source of annoyance: Citizen Kane (1941) tops the list. Again.

Fine, fine. It’s a great movie, I guess. I’ve seen it once and don’t particularly care to see it again. The point is, where is the suspense? This movie is No. 1 on every list everywhere. Let’s mix it up a little, eh? Give someone else a chance, Orson.

The Graduate (1967) is at No. 17. Why does everyone love this movie so much? I find it self-indulgent, misogynist and eye-roll–inducing. At least it’s starting to fall out of favor: It was initially No. 7 on the list. Of course I admit that Anne Bancroft was phenomenal (and, incidentally, was only six years older than Dustin Hoffman).

No. 24 is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1984). Really? I loved it at the time, but I haven’t seen it since it was first released. Is this just nostalgia on the part of the voters, or an attempt to curry favor with Spielberg? Or maybe the panel is really composed of aliens rather than experts. That would explain all the science fiction in the top 30: Aliens love to throw us off with inaccurate images of themselves.

Cabaret (1972) is new to the list this year, at No. 63.

Wait. It’s new to the list? That’s insane, especially considering the overrated schmaltzfest Forrest Gump (1994) made the first version of the list and is at No. 76 this year. Ugh.

Speaking of chum, Jaws (1975) is No. 56, down eight spots. Although I recognize the greatness of that flick and the coolness of sharks in general, I don’t like to give Richard Dreyfuss this kind of spotlight. The guy loves himself enough already; in fact, I don’t think we really need to worry about global warming, because we’ll eventually be able to just freeze Dreyfuss’ giant ego and make a new ice cap out of it.

Of course, many of my favorites did make the list, including Casablanca (1942) at No. 3, The Wizard of Oz (1939) at No. 10 and Sunset Boulevard (1950) at No. 16.

More greats: To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) at No. 25, All About Eve (1950) at No. 28 and Annie Hall (1977) at No. 35. And The Sound of Music (1965) is at No. 40, up 15 spots in the list. It’ll get to No. 1 one of these days, I just know it!

I’ll stop listing the good ones now, because there are so many, like West Side Story (1961) (No. 51), Tootsie (1982) (No. 69) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) (No. 74). I was temporarily confused when I saw Swing Time (1936) at No. 90 because I immediately thought of that great Christine Lahti flick Swing Shift (1984). That one’s good, but probably not that good.

Ultimately, it all seems arbitrary. How to explain why The Graduate falls while The Sound of Music rises? AFI chief executive Jean Picker Firstenberg (Picker Firstenberg? Really? Like, she picks ‘em first? I’m surprised her first name isn’t Star.) credits the list itself:

“I’d like to think this entire series has had a real influence on what people think about a film like ‘City Lights,’ ‘The Searchers,’ ‘Vertigo.’ Gotten them talking about these films and going back to watch them again, and if they’ve never seen them, to go watch them for the first time.”

I see: This is an ouroboros-like game. Maybe if I make a list of the 100 reasons I should be Queen of the F—ing Universe, people will just argue about the order of the reasons rather than the very premise of the list.

Of the 400 nominated films, 43 were released in the past ten years, but only four of those made the top 100 (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Titanic (1997) and The Sixth Sense (1999)). Here are some nominees that did not make the list (I’m not saying they all should have made it; I’m just giving you a sampling, though naturally I tend to notice the ones I like!):

  • Alien (1979) — probably because this one does depict aliens accurately, so the panel of aliens is again trying to throw us off
  • Blazing Saddles (1974)
  • Back to the Future (1985)
  • Brokeback Mountain (2005)
  • Carrie (1976)
  • Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (formerly at No. 64)
  • Deliverance (1972)
  • Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
  • Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
  • Funny Girl (1968)
  • Grease (1978)
  • The Hours (2002)
  • The Jazz Singer (1927) (formerly at No. 90)
  • The Lost Weekend (1945)
  • Manhattan (1979)
  • Moonstruck (1987)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968)
  • Out of Africa (1985)
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
  • Saturday Night Fever (1977)
  • This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
  • Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
  • When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Visit the AFI website to see the official ballot and the final list of 100.

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