Friday, June 20, 2008

AFI's 10 Top 10

On Wednesday, June 17th, CBS aired a special put together by the American Film Institute, calling attention to, in the opinion of the Institute and several well-known actors, the ten best films ever produced in ten unique categories in all of filmdom. The categories include Animation, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Sports, Western, Gangster, Mystery, Romantic Comedy, Courtroom Drama, and Epic.
That being 100 movies in total (all of which you should try to watch sometime in your life), I will report to you their top choices with a little explanation and then list the rest in the category, finishing up with some of my own comments for your pleasure.


1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
This was the very first full-length animated film, though, as writer/director (of films like Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous) Cameron Crowe points out, it is difficult to imagine it as such, due to the finely crafted animation, skillful shots, and witty plot devices. The classic love story of Snow White is kind of lost on today's culture as we are no longer used seeing such a plain courtship as we do in that of Snow White and Prince Charming; girl wants boy, boy finds girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again, girl is poisoned by wicked stepmother and is doomed to sleep forever in a glass coffin, boy saves girl from eternal slumber and everyone lives happily ever after.

2. Pinocchio (1940)
3. Bambi (1942)
4. The Lion King (1994)
5. Fantasia (1940)
6. Toy Story (1995)
7. Beauty and the Beast(1991)
8. Shrek (2001)
9. Cinderella(1950)
10. Finding Nemo(2003)

The majority of these animated films were selected due to the appeal to both children and adults, which is understandable. You can't really have a successful picture if it is limited to a particular audience, especially if that audience really couldn't care less that they were watching a movie instead of drooling in a scaly corner somewhere (that's probably an exaggerated generalization of children, but you see my point). These cartoon movies are bright and colorful and fun, but they may also contain very deep and sometimes emotionally distressing
story, such as the violent murder of Mufasa in the Lion King or the even more morose calling of "Mother?" into the empty snowfall by the young prince after a single, unseen gunshot in Bambi.


1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
A true classic, is Dorothy's tale of finding friendship when she thinks she has none and of realizing you have intelligence, compassion, and courage when it doesn't seem so. The issues of the movie are very adult, but are juvenilized. The story is told through the camera, as it shifts from the dark, imprisoning feeling we get in the scenes in Kansas, to a magnificence in the bold color that audiences of the time had not previously seen. Skillful camera angles work along with the color and beautifully wrought music to enhance our perception of the story as well as influence our mood in every scene.

2. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
3. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
4. King Kong (1933)
5. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
6. Field of Dreams (1989)
7. Harvey (1950)
8. Groundhog Day (1993)
9. The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
10. Big (1988)

Motion pictures place us in a world outside of our own. They place us in someone else's life and let us live out the story as we see ourselves inside what was at one time just some character on a script on a desk somewhere. Inside someone else's experiences, we can accomplish fantastic things. This is where the appeal of the fantasy genre comes from. Through fantasy our dreams are realized on film, but the classifications of these films rely on more. (Get ready, I'm going to have a lot to say about fantasy films...)
In 1924, the feats that Douglas Fairbanks performed in The Thief of Bagdad were only dreamed about; no one could arouse an army into existence from nothingness or soar around buildings and high above the streets on a flying carpet or defeat a giant lizard belching smoke and flame. These were all special effects and tricks of the camera that no one had ever seen before on film. Still, today, these tricks seem clever and almost real, if not just purely satisfying when compared to the outrageousness we see in Hollywood's recent computer aided endeavors.
I can't stand Jimmy Stewart but Harvey is one of my all-time favorite movies and I think Mr. Stewart made conversations with an invisible, 6 ft tall, white rabbit more believable than any other actor could. Conversely, It's a Wonderful Life might be my least favorite, most hated movie... ever... of all time. I can't stand it! I find it almost sickening through it's softly contrived character flaws and almost stupid simpleness of dialog. George Bailey, being a successful banker with a great home and a wonderful family would not consider jumping from a bridge into an icy river. However, despite my uncontrollable dry heaves that occur because of holiday traditions, I may be able to see where people could like the warm welcomes and happy home scenes that they believe they can share with those around them.
I have an issue with Field of Dreams being on the list, but only because I think it sucked. It seemed longer than it actually was and I think Costner's Kinsella was just a whiny and unmotivated twerp. I love baseball... this movie isn't really about baseball, which is why I guess it was in "fantasy" as opposed to "sports" but the method used of getting around to showing that a grown man is having a mid-life crisis because of the relationship he never had with his father is a bit cheesy.
Miracle On 34th shows that an ability to act isn't always required to make a practical and great movie. The themes of this film are too solid to pass up; a city imprisons and institutionalizes a man who calls himself Santa Claus and a family (along with the city) trying to understand and develop faith.
Groundhog Day and Big are great because we see the development of a singular character throughout the entirety of both films. This technique really allows the viewer to place themselves in that character and they can feel what Josh feels when it's time to go home, or what Frank feels when he kills himself only to awaken immediately to the same thing over and over and over...
To finally wrap up the second tier, The Wizard of Oz was and always will be a technical and literary masterpiece, but I think there have been more influential pieces and, therefore, does not deserve the number one spot. In fact, I really wouldn't mind if they just scratched a few of the movies on this category and included all movies of the LoTR trilogy.

Science Fiction

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
What can really be said about this movie that can't be gathered from just watching it again and again? Unbelievably glorious music and camera work and writing and special effects. Simply put, it's just beautiful... even when it's ugly, it has this golden aura of beauty. In every way, this movie gives me goosebumps and deserves no less than being number one.

2. StarWars: Episode IV-A New Hope (1977)
3. E.T.-The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
4. A Clockwork Orange (1971)
5. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
6. Blade Runner (1982)
7. Alien (1979)
8. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
9. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
10. Back to the Future (1985)

Science fiction is all about making us, as the audience think and dazzling or scaring the shit out of us at the same time. The best directors and writers are masters of this genre and make us think, dazzle us, and scare the shit out of us the best of anyone else. By using distinct and unique styles and combining their work with sounds from out of this world or dimension, we are taken on an exhilarating, existential enlightenment of our own lives. Not much else can be said apart the aspects of Sci-Fi combine together into a single thing that has a way of delighting everyone in one way or another.


1. Raging Bull (1980)
This film was set in the 40s but shot in 1980. Martin Scorsese, director, filmed the movie on a sort of fuzzy black and white medium that really makes it seem like a film shot in the 40s. There is something very intimate about the way the film was shot that makes this character study, of the angry, self-destructive, boxing force that is Jake La Motta (Robert DeNiro), an eerily truthful perception of what it was to be La Motta in and out of the ring.

2. Rocky (1976)
3. The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
4. Hoosiers (1986)
5. Bull Durham (1988)
6. The Hustler (1961)
7. Caddyshack (1980)
8. Breaking Away (1979)
9. National Velvet (1944)
10. Jerry Maguire (1996)

Sports films have a tendency to be hit or miss a lot of the time. But one thing they seem to be really good at, is capturing the comradery that occurs when a group of people gather for sport. They are also very good at lifting one character up from nothing and showing us that strength and victory are obtained through determination, hard work, and, most importantly, by those around us. Aside from Caddyshack, it's just good at making us laugh for decades.


1. The Searchers (1956)
Many terrible situations reveal themselves to John Wayne's racist, bigot of a character in this movie but ultimately, as he searches for his niece and her kidnappers, he finds some peace in himself. That would be a pretty simple explanation of a complicated man that is Wayne here. He is dark, angry, and almost a twisted soul with out remorse or law other than his own. He is the hero, but not the hero that anyone wants.

2. High Noon (1952)
3. Shane (1953)
4. Unforgiven (1992)
5. Red River (1948)
6. The Wild Bunch (1969)
7. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
8. McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971)
9. Stagecoach (1939)
10. Cat Ballou (1965)

There is nothing more classically American than the classic American Western. They revel in showing off wide open plains, great and pure blue skies, and heroic figures of strength and justice... or evil villains of pure venom filled with a frightening blood-lust and dusty malintent. Westerns bring film to a level of dramatic tension and an emotional stagnation that draws on an audience to feel as a part of the film and we love them for it.

Well, that was a very long half. I'm tired now and have some obligation which I must attend to. I promise to be back soon with the other 50 greatest films of all time.


Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for you if you don't get "It's a Wonderful Life." This movie is a masterpiece and every one of us at some point has felt or will feel the utter isolation of despair that Jimmy Stewart so ably portrayed as George Bailey. You are in a very small minority in your analysis and must lead a sad life come each December.

Kyle said...

No, I just watch really sweet Christmas movies... like Die Hard and Jingle All the Way.

(the latter was a joke, but Die Hard is the best holiday movie ever)

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

Looking back on this, I think I may have approached my hatred for "It's a Wonderful Life" in the wrong way...
I can't stand James "Jimmy" Stewart.
As an actor
As a human
As a horse with linguistic skills...

The stage production of "Wonderful Life" is nice. I would say that I'm okay with being alone in my hatred for the movie, but I'm not okay with that. Everyone should learn to hate Jimmy Stewart just as much as everyone hates Nicholas Cage. They're practically the same person.