Thursday, June 12, 2008

About Those Upcoming AFI Lists

A year ago, we talked about how the American Film Institute had run out of ideas for their High Fidelity-styled lists. This coming Tuesday, the American Film Institute is ready to come out with their new list of ridiculousness, live on CBS at 8pm EDT. This year's list? The AFI 10 top 10. That's pretty clearly titled, right? Let me explain in English what that's supposed to mean. They have created ten genres and are looking to narrow down the ten best American films in each one. In late 2007 they released their nomination form (PDF). The ballots were sent to a jury of "over 1,500 leaders from the creative community." But upon inspecting the blank ballot, we've already seen some problems. We'll take it genre by genre since that's apparently what they expect of us.

Before we begin, a few notes on their criteria. (1) One requirement is "English language film with significant creative and/or production elements from the United States." Reasonable as this is the American Film Institute. However, there will be some questions about the way these rules were employed. (2) There is no "comedy" genre. So if you're a slapstick movie without romance, you can't make it on the list - or even if you do, you're competing with dramas. For instance, Caddyshack is the "Sports" genre. Not really fair, is it? (3) Films must be released before January 1, 2008. The categories: Animated, Fantasy, Gangster, Science Fiction, Western, Sports, Mystery, Romantic Comedy, Courtroom Drama, Epic. More on this issue later. Let's take things genre by genre using three categories each. Nice to see -- the films we were happy to see included that may not have been obvious choices. Curious Inclusions -- rather self-explanatory. You forgot -- unforgivable exclusions from the ballot.

Nice to See: The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Iron Giant, The South Park Movie, Waking Life

Curious Inclusions: Robots (6.4 rating on IMDb), Madagascar (6.5), Pocahontas (5.8!),

You Forgot: Ratatouille (#128 all time), Spirited Away (#57 all time)

The lack of a spot for Ratatouille in their ballot was the initial impetus for this posting. It's nothing short of an outrage. It's the best animated movie I've ever seen. It fits all of their requirements and somehow is left out in favor of Pocahontas?!? Astonishing. Spirited Away, a very close second for my favorite animated film, technically isn't American, though it was released in English with American actors. I would concede this point, but as you will see in other categories they were only strict with this when it suited their purposes. And by "their" I mean "probably Disney." There is a spot for write-ins. Let's hope that enough of these 1500 folks thought to put the Rat in there. But if it doesn't show up on Tuesday, you'll know why.

Nice to See: Groundhog Day, Conan the Barbarian, Being John Malkovich, Beetle Juice, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Princess Bride, The Dark Crystal, The Mask

Curious Inclusions: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lionel, the Richie, and the Wardrobe, Clash of the Titans (6.5), Splash

You Forgot:

There's really nothing missing here (many of the best Fantasy films happen to be foreign), and the curious ones aren't even that curious. I'm surprised that they chose Fellowship of the Ring over Return of the King, but I actually liked that one better, so I'm not complaining (though the movie was filmed in New Zealand by a kiwi director, so how is it American?). Narnia was pretty mediocre, as is Clash of the Titans, and Splash doesn't really hold up over time. But all in all, they did a superb job on this category.

Nice to See: Miller's Crossing, Donnie Brasco, Heat, Reservoir Dogs

Curious Inclusions: Some Like it Hot, Bullets Over Broadway, Boyz N the Hood, Bonnie and Clyde, New Jack City (6.2), Bugsy Malone (6.4)

You Forgot: The Sting, True Romance, Carlito's Way, Sin City

This is an extremely narrow category, and the top four are pretty much open and shut, right? Two Godfathers, Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction. But I suppose we have to round out the top ten. Why didn't they simply call it "crime" and therefore be able to include all sorts of film noir and some of the other Coen Brothers movies? Because of that narrow classification, we get a lot of older films. Some Like it Hot belongs in Romantic Comedies, Boyz N the Hood has gangsterism in it, but none of the central characters are involved with gangs. Bonnie and Clyde is a great film, but just a two-person gang, and New Jack City just isn't very good. With such a small genre, overlooking The Sting is a galling mistake, and True Romance and Carlito's way should at least be included for consideration. At least Road to Perdition thankfully didn't make their cut.

Science Fiction
Nice to See: Children of Men, Cocoon, Contact, Robocop, Total Recall, Tron, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Curious Inclusions: Independence Day (seriously), Repo Man, Westworld, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Stepford Wives

You Forgot: Aliens, The Thing, Twelve Monkeys, Gattaca, Pi, Dark City, The Abyss, Young Frankenstein

There is no "Action" category, so you'll see those films split between here, Epic, and maybe even Mystery. So we have Alien in here, but Aliens is out, even though it's possibly a better film, but because Alien fits the genre better. Yet we see "Escape from New York" here, which is clearly an action movie. Whatever, this is getting silly. I fully accept that some people would have Cocoon as a Curious Inclusion, but I happen to dig it, Guttenberg notwithstanding. Independence Day was short on science, big on fiction and big on dumb. They might as well have included Transformers: The Movie. Yes I mean the cartoon. Repo Man has science fiction elements, but that's really quite a stretch. Westworld, too. Maybe it belongs in Western. Or just not mentioned at all. A.I. is fine I guess... There were a ton of borderline titles that I left out of You Forgot. Generally this is a pretty botched category. I hope Terminator 2 cracks the top ten.

Nice to See: Red River

Curious Inclusions: Blazing Saddles

You Forgot: The Man With No Name Trilogy, Once Upon a Time in the West, Brokeback Mountain, Dead Man

Nearly all of these movies are rather old, as you might expect. I'm afraid this is not a genre I'm that familiar with, but it seems like they got most of the major ones here. I contend that if Young Frankenstein didn't make Sci-Fi, Blazing Saddles shouldn't make Western. Again, a comedy genre would have been a good idea. Brokeback Mountain certainly should have made the cut. To have none of Leone's Western films included is a travesty. A Fistfull of Dollars and its sequels were filmed in Spain, so perhaps they don't deserve to be included. However, Once Upon a Time in the West was filmed in Arizona and stars Henry friggin' Fonda and Charles friggin' Bronson! It can't have anything to do with Leone either, because they included his Once Upon a Time in America on their ballot twice. So even though I don't know this category well, I know enough to know they screwed up a bit.

Nice to See: Cool Runnings, The Great White Hope, Horse Feathers, Slap Shot, Breaking Away, White Men Can't Jump

Curious Inclusions: Cool Runnings (6.4), The Color of Money, The Mighty Ducks (5.8!), Personal Best (6.2), Jerry Maguire, Ali (6.5), Any Given Sunday (6.5), Downhill Racer (6.0!),

You Forgot: Hoop Dreams, Kingpin, Cinderella Man, Prefontaine, The Waterboy, The Harder They Fall

Yeah, I put Cool Runnings in there twice. I like it. But it also doesn't deserve to be in this list. In general, this project generally seems to avoid sequels. If that's the case, The Color of Money doesn't belong. Mighty Ducks is the most blatant example of a pro-Disney bend in the entire list. Jerry Maguire belongs in Romantic Comedy and shows up there again anyway. Hoop Dreams doesn't qualify because it's a doc, but any chance I have to mention it, I shall. There aren't a ton of really compelling cases that were passed over in this category. Perhaps there just haven't been that many good American sports movies. So they did an OK job filling up a thin category. Some of the fine English sports movies could have really bolstered this list.

Mystery (aka the Hitchcock division)
Nice to See: The Big Lebowski, The Big Sleep, Blue Velvet, Charade, Mulholland Dr., Murder on the Orient Express

Curious Inclusions: Devil in a Blue Dress (6.5), Gosford Park, Sea of Love (6.6),

You Forgot: The Sixth Sense, The Manchurian Candidate, Deathtrap, Zero Effect, No Country for Old Men

Hitchcock is nominated nine times here. No Big Lebowski and I would have been furious. Incidentally, four of the fifty films in this genre begin with "The Big..." Gosford Park is the only movie that ever caused me to fall asleep in the theater while sober. I am somewhat irate that The Sixth Sense is not nominated in any genre. This seems like the one where it should have showed up. This is probably the category I am most drawn to as a moviegoer, and I have to say that the list is solid here. Gosh I hope Mulholland Dr. somehow makes the top ten.

Romantic Comedy (aka the wedding division)
Nice to See: The 40-year Old Virgin, Harold and Maude, Say Anything..., There's Something About Mary, Sixteen Candles

Curious Inclusions: The American President (6.8), Bridget Jones's Diary, Bull Durham, Clueless (6.6), My Best Friend's Wedding (6.2), My Big Fat Greek wedding (6.6), Roxanne (6.6), Sleepless in Seattle (6.6), Something's Gotta Give (6.8), The Wedding Singer (6.8), Splash (6.2), Working Girl (6.5), 10 (5.7)

You Forgot: Almost Famous, Singin' in the Rain, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, The Graduate, Coming To America, Dave, High Fidelity, Lost in Translation, Knocked Up, Airplane!, Punch-Drunk Love, Sideways, Marty

Bridget Jones's Diary is considered American? Oh, and good? Wasn't Bull Durham a sports movie? My Best Friend's Wedding: are you freaking kidding me? Can't we, as Americans, move forward for once? My Big Fat Greek Wedding: can't we, as Greek-Americans, move forward for once? Roxanne hasn't aged well. Sleepless in Seattle is a rather empty movie, but a downright cornucopia of life compared to Something's Gotta Give. Splash gave us the name Madison, but also hasn't aged very well. Incidentally, Daryl Hannah hasn't aged that well, either. Then look at the large list of omissions. I'm sure I could dig up a ton more, but I'm sick of even thinking about this. Just a horribly botched category. Horrible job on this one. Bad AFI!

Courtroom Drama
Nice to see you:

Curious Inclusions: The Client (6.4), Ghosts of Mississippi (6.4), Legally Blonde (!!!!!! 6.3, which is way too freaking high), The Pelican Brief (6.3), The Rainmaker (6.9),

You Forgot: Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, JFK, Witness,

This needs its own category? The good folks at the AFI know that TV shows aren't included, right? It's just way too narrow a genre. This is how Legally Blonde ends up on the list. Also, their strange fascination with Julia Roberts continues. Frankly, I'm totally bored by the existence of this category. To Kill a Mockingbird will be first, 12 Angry Men second, and then nobody cares. Let's just move on.

Nice to see: All Quiet on the Western Front, The Last Temptation of Christ, Reds

Curious Inclusions: The Bridge on the River Kwai, Gandhi, Gladiator, The Godfather Part II

You Forgot: Hotel Rwanda, There Will Be Blood, Platoon

The Bridge... and Gandhi both had British directors, British stars and were not filmed anywhere near the United States. So how exactly are these American? These rules seemed to be so strict when we were talking Westerns. The Godfather Part II is an epic? Also, I'm not a Gladiator fan, even though I know you all adore it for some bizarre reason. They really did a good job on this genre. I have nothing to complain about. Except Gladiator, but I'll save it for another time.

A few last comments...

As noted above, it seems that they were sometimes extremely strict about rules regarding what makes a movie "American" and also which genre a movie belonged in. Also, the below movies all ended up in multiple categories which seems really unfair to the long list of overlooked films above:
The Usual Suspects
Adam's Rib
Jerry Maguire
Bull Durham
The Godfather Part II
Once Upon a Time in America
Field of Dreams
...and probably a few more
If you're going to bother putting these films into neat little boxes, shouldn't each movie only get to play in one box?

Lastly, there are some seriously classic American films that didnt' show up anywhere, even in the "You Forgot" sections. This list includes (but is not limited to):
Boys Don't Cry
Taxi Driver
Dr. Strangelove
The Shawshank Redemption
Double Indemnity
The Silence of the Lambs
The Night of the Hunter
To miss these and probably countless other films from their list indicates that they really didn't put enough thought into this process at the outset. And then some of the blatant omissions in the categories means there will probably be a lot of outraged movie fans come Tuesday night. Oh well, at least you'll be able to ogle Jessica Alba.


PMaz said...

I don't think ANYONE forgot about "Sin City". Not good.

Kozy said...

I can't believe you have seen Cool Runnings and are willing to make a comment on it. Also, I think you are obsessed with Guttenburg. Didn't you recently choose him as an answer to 20 Questions on a 10 hour car ride?

Other than that, this is quite a fun and thorough analysis. Is The Natural on there under sports? Greatest sports movie ever!!

Reed said...

I must respectfully but vehemently deny any supposed Guttenberg obsession. Firstly, it was a 14 hour car ride which we all know does strange things to men. Secondly, I don't have the faintest recollection of a Guttenberg mention. Perhaps it is you who is obsessed?

Cool Runnings is actually a pretty good movie. I recommend it. But I admit it doesn't belong on the list. Incidentally, one of your favorites didn't make the cut - The Rookie. I haven't seen it and the IMDb rating wasn't high enough for me to put it in "You Forgot."

The Natural is in the list of course. I wouldn't have it in the top sports spot, but I'll reveal the official FtY rebuttal of the AFI's final decision sometime next week. Take a look at the whole big ballot if you have a chance (linked above). With 500 movies listed, it's worth reading.