Thursday, June 26, 2014

Movie Guy: AFI Countdown 100 to 96

I am a list-maker when it comes to movies. I am always adding to my checklist of "to-watch" movies from various other lists that exist out there: cult films, sci-fi films, westerns, etc. Perhaps one of the most respected lists is the American Film Institute's 100 Years 100 Movies - updated in 2007 for the 10th anniversary of the original list. The list is selected by a jury of 1500 film artists, historians, and critics.(Perhaps 2017 will see yet another revision.)
Looking over that updated list, I realize that I have seen all 100 films, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the top 100. (Spoiler alert: I don't agree with everything on the list.)
Starting with number 100 on the list:

Ben-Hur (1959)
The revenge story of wronged Jewish Prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) is epic in just about every sense of the word. The ship battles, the gladiator scenes, and the climactic chariot race would not even be attempted now without CGI, and, of course, in 1959 CGI wasn't an option. Some have criticized this movie for being over-long, with some sequences prolonged unnecessarily, and I suppose I could see that argument, but, overall, this is just a great movie, and, personally, I'd put it much higher on the list.

Toy Story (1995)
Pixar showed us what a computerized animated film could be with this unusual story of jealousy and friendship among a group of toys when a newer, shinier toy is introduced. If you think about it too long, the central conceit of this film - that our toys can think and feel - is a little creepy, and some of the repercussions of sentient, "immortal," plastic beings would be explored in the sequels. However, this is not a movie that warrants a great deal of thought. It's just a familiar story of friendship explored in a very unique way. It's a pleasure to look at, and it is a lot of fun. Again, I would put this higher on the list than #99.

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
This film's rampant patriotism was just what was needed in 1942, as we were a country heading into the Second World War. Many wars later, the sentiment seems a little on the hokey side. Still, Cagney's performance as George M. Cohan in this "biopic" is pure, unbridled song-and-dance man. Even if the veracity of the story is a bit suspect, the musical numbers were painstakingly recreated to look like Cohan's originals, and they are . . . pretty spectacular. I do think this movie belongs on the list, and position 98 seems appropriate.

Blade Runner (1982)
I do like this film, and, at first blush, I would like to see it much higher on the list. However, which version? There are as many as seven different versions of this movie. Why so many versions? Well, studio pressures and changes to Ridley Scott's original version are the easiest to blame, but this is a difficult film. Audiences continue to be confused about the ending, and there is much disagreement among critics about the pacing of the film. Again, I have great affection for this neo-noir, futuristic, moody thriller about a washed-up Blade Runner (Harrison Ford) hunting down a group of rogue androids ("replicants" as they are called in the film), but I do have to admit that it is a problematic film for many. I should just be thankful it's on this list at all, even if it's just #97.

Do The Right Thing (1989)
This quirky, slice-of-life comedy drama film from Spike Lee explores racial tensions in a Brooklyn neighborhood during a very hot summer. This film was a reminder to mainstream (white) audiences that 25 years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, we still had a long way to go. I think the title refers to the difficulty of knowing which is the right path to ending oppression: non-violent protest or violent uprising? The movie doesn't so much answer the question as highlight its complexity. Twenty-five years since this film was made, the question should be asked: now how far have we come? I don't know, but I do think that the fact that this film falls a dozen spots behind a lesser (in my opinion) film like Easy Rider on this list is kind of telling.

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