Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Movie Guy: AFI Countdown Top 5

Here we are at the final five movies at the top of the AFI 100! It's been fun for me. I hope it's been fun for you as well.

Singin' In The Rain (1952)
Okay, don't go digging too deep for a plot with this one, but who cares? Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly are dancing up a storm with newcomer Debbie Reynolds who is overflowing with charisma. Jean Hagen is in her funniest role ever. This movie takes off like a shot and never really lets up through such memorable numbers as "Make 'Em Laugh", "Good Morning",  and, of course, "Singin' In the Rain." This is one of my favorite films.

Raging Bull (1980)

I am less enthralled with Scorsese's artistic choice for black & white in this film. I understand that he wanted to distinguish his movie from other movies at the time and he was concerned about the fading color of film stock, but, narratively, it just doesn't work for me. I'd much rather have seen the movie in color. I think that the story of boxer Jake LaMotta would have been better served in color. The boxing scenes work well in black and white, but the rest of the scenes feel gimmicky to me. However, the performances overcome the gimmick, and I still really like this film. De Niro's performance, in particular, is a tour de force. He transformed himself physically to be the lean and mean fighting weight LaMotta and then gained 70 lbs to play the older Jake past his prime. If there had been any doubts left that De Niro was one of the greatest actors of his generation after Taxi Driver and Deer Hunter, they were eliminated after this film.

Casablanca (1942)

This one is another favorite. Bogart is at his best as the cynical Rick, an American owner of a nightclub in Casablanca with a dark past and a broken heart. His former lover (Ingrid Bergman) reappears in his life and draws him into intrigue against the Nazis, though Rick has worked very hard to remain neutral. Great film. make sure that you watch it in the original black and white instead of the version that was controversially colorized in the 80s. Director Michael Curtiz created some wonderful noir effects for this film that are somewhat spoiled by the colorization.

The Godfather (1972)

This movie was a hit with audiences, critics, Academy voters, and, as it turns out, many actual members of the mafia as well. This movie marked breakthrough roles for both Al Pacino and Robert Duvall and was a strong comeback film for Brando. This is the first film that looked at organized crime from the inside, and this voyeuristic element may be a big part of what made this film a blockbuster with audiences - that and some truly shocking sequences depicting the brutal code and methods of the crime families. Terrific movie.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Here we are! Number one on the AFI 100 list! The greatest film ever made. . . as far as some are concerned. It is a technically a very beautiful film. Director/writer/star Orson Welles made some very innovative choices in bringing the rags-to-riches story of Charles Foster Kane. The cinematography in this film is incredible. For me, though, if a film is going to be the best film of all time, I should care more about the central character. Charles Foster Kane is interesting, but as an audience member, I just was not affected by his rise or his fall on a visceral level. This is still an extremely good film, but it's not a top 10 for me, because I'm just not invested.

Well, that's the list. Now, tomorrow - as promised - I will take the small handful of films that I do not think should be on this list, and I will offer up alternative films that would better deserve a place on the top 100.

This film is not on the list, and it won't make my replacement list tomorrow for reasons that will be clearer in that post. It is a favorite of mine. You may have seen the re-make/re-adaptation with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in 2007 (which I also quite like), but I highly recommend that you see the 1957 version in its impeccable noir-Western style. Based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma is a film that just doesn't get enough love, in my opinion.

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