AFI Top 100 Movies: Mostly Harmless

So, the American Film Institute put out a revision to it’s 100 Greatest Movies list. They’re wrong about everything of course… Nah, actually, I’m surprised to agree with them as often as I do. They place way more emphasis than they “should” on things like cinematography, groundbreaking technique, and cultural impact. I mean — why should I have to take into account that a movie was made in 1940 in order to find it “good”? I don’t have to do that with literature, so… Fine, I’ll say it: it’s an imperfect world.

They also seem to be ridiculously enthralled with Anything Old.

1. Citizen Kane – How does a movie get named the best movie of all time based exclusively on its camera angles? Ugh. I found it unengaging and sleep-inducing. Which I guess could be a good thing, depending on your need for sleep. Oddly, whoever wrote this piece for E! online seems to sort of agree. But they put it more nicely than I did — “doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings” and “not always engaging”.

2. The Godfather – Liked it mostly.

3. Casablanca – Never saw.

4. Raging Bull – Never saw. Don’t like Scorsese. Can only imagine.

5. Singin’ in the Rain – Never saw, but won’t be able to without thinking about A Clockwork Orange.

6. Gone with the Wind – Never saw.

7. Lawrence of Arabia – Liked it mostly, but haven’t seen it since high school.

8. Schindler’s List – Overrated. A documentary about the same subject matter would have been far more effective. There was no plot and real life footage is more gripping, more harrowing, and more telling. There was no reason to make this movie other than exploitation. Um — IMHO.

9. Vertigo – Never saw.

10. The Wizard of Oz – Ugh. To be fair, it’s hard to take this movie seriously in modern times due to its pervasiveness in our culture. And I’m not exactly its target audience. Good concept. Friendly characters. An easy read.

11. City Lights – Never saw.

12. The Searchers – Never saw

13. Star Wars – Ugh II. I guess AFI cares about “cultural impact” more than quality of movie and fine enough for them. But this movie is unwatchable to me as an adult with its stilted dialogue and razor-thin characterizations. OTOH, it helped spawn LEGO Star Wars II, so I guess all in all I’m okay with it.

14. Psycho – Never saw.

15. 2001: A Space Odyssey – As a vision of the future it’s interesting. As a movie? No story aside from the 15 minutes spent with HAL trying to kill Dave, which makes the pacing of the thing downright glacial. But, you know, nice visuals.

16. Sunset Boulevard – Liked it. Didn’t even mind William Holden. His wooden, overly dramatic delivery works for this role. And this role only.

17. The Graduate – Never saw.

18. The General* – Never saw.

19. On the Waterfront – Unengaging and doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings. And I don’t think the camera angles are all that great either. Slow. Dull. One “classic” line in the film, which I guess is what earns it its praise. Or…? You tell me.

20. It’s a Wonderful Life – Never saw.

21. Chinatown – Just like On the Waterfront. Was never sure what part of the movie I was supposed to like, although it’s possible that its effect was muted by 30+ years of copy-cat TV shows or something.

22. Some Like It Hot – Never saw.

23. The Grapes of Wrath – Never saw.

24. E.T. – Haven’t seen since I was a kid. I think I liked it back then.

25. To Kill a Mockingbird – Saw in ninth grade after reading the book. Liked the book, don’t remember the movie.

26. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – Never saw.

27. High Noon – Never saw.

28. All About Eve – Never saw.

29. Double Indemnity – Never saw.

30. Apocalypse Now – Great movie. In my own Top 5. Not the Redux version though. Original only. Funny, tense, and thematically deep. Not entirely unlike Captain EO.

31. The Maltese Falcon – Never saw.

32. The Godfather Part II – Never saw.

33. One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest – Don’t get the appeal. Found it dull, slow, unengaging. Probably another one that hasn’t benefited from getting ripped off a hundred times since it came out, but still, I don’t see where the excitement comes in. I guess I just didn’t care whether dude lived or died.

34. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Never saw, I don’t think. Wait — maybe.

35. Annie Hall – Never saw.

36. The Bridge on the River Kwai – In my Top 10, in spite of William Holden’s acting. It’s like he’s afraid that viewers will think they’re watching, like, a Real Person and stop noticing that it’s Him, William Holden. Oh well. IMHO, a movie that has everything. Love movies that can pull off funny, intense, and serious. Favorite line: “I thought you were the enemy, sir!” “I’m an American, if that’s what you mean.”

37. The Best Years of Our Lives – Never saw.

38. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Never saw, but — another Old movie and if we’re going to select Old movies that are sort of westerns, how is A Long Time Ago in the West not on here? (Not old enough, that’s how.)

39. Dr. Strangelove – Probably my favorite Kubrik movie, although you have to be in the right mood.

40. The Sound of Music – Haven’t seen since I was a kid. Will therefore recuse myself.

41. King Kong – The Peter Jackson version? Haven’t seen either of them.

42. Bonnie and Clyde – Never saw.

43. Midnight Cowboy – Never saw, but raters like me on Netflix only give it 2.8 stars and generally raters like me on Netflix are reasonably close.

44. The Philadelphia Story – Never saw.

45. Shane – Sigh. Never saw.

46. It Happened One Night – Never saw. What year, like 1934? Bogart in *this* one, too? (Yikes: I was right on with ’34, but it’s Clark Gable rather than Bogart. As if they were different people.)

47. A Streetcar Named Desire – Never saw.

48. Rear Window – Doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings. But at least it was fun the first time around. Still, if I’m creating this list, the “repeat viewings” thing is the A-#1 criterion. Also, if I’m creating this list, I probably stop after about eight movies.

49. Intolerance – Never saw.

50. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – If they had to put a LotR movie in here, at least they chose the right one. I really liked it when I saw it and would probably still have a lot of positive associations with it if not for the unedited, ham-dialogued, crazy-padded, self-indulgent crapfests that followed it. There was actual tension in this one. And character development. And only one poop joke. And fewer than eight endings.

51. West Side Story – Never saw.

52. Taxi Driver – Never saw.

53. The Deer Hunter – Never saw, but I think I’ve read enough negative reviews to think that the “brilliance” of this one comes from the fact that it talked about Vietnam in a “hard-hitting”, “unflinching” manner (read: negatively). Which is well and good, but doesn’t make it a great movie. Of course, I should probably watch it before deriding it, but what’s the point of that now?

54. M*A*S*H – Never saw.

55. North by Northwest – See #48. And then apply that to every Alfred Hitchcock movie except The Birds, which wasn’t worth watching the first time either.

56. Jaws – Never saw.

57. Rocky – Haven’t seen since I was a kid.

58. The Gold Rush – Saw when I was in college and was really surprised that I liked it. Of course, I was stupid back then, but you never know. It might still be brilliant.

59. Nashville – Never saw.

60. Duck Soup – I’m guessing ’48 and Cary Grant. (Heh: ’33 and Marx Brothers — oh well.)

61. Sullivan’s Travels* – ’36 and Bogart? (’42 and Joe McRea? Who the heck…?)

62. American Graffiti – Never saw.

63. Cabaret* – Never saw.

64. Network – You gotta be kidding me. This movie never knew what it wanted to be. Pick a zebra indeed. If it’s a comedy, it needs to stop trying to be serious. If it’s a drama, it needs to have some dramatic integrity. A mess. A crapfest of Jacksonian proportions. Smaller budget, though. Really over-the-top, but not in a good way. Bad.

65. The African Queen – Never saw, but Bogart, pretty sure.

66. Raiders of the Lost Ark – One of those “cultural impact” movies on the list. Was great when I was a kid. As an adult? Unwatchable. Unengaging. Sleep-inducing. Trivial.

67. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Never saw.

68. Unforgiven – Top Five, easy. Deep, engaging, contrary, textured, and brilliantly light-handed. Really fun performances, really tight script. Neat.

69. Tootsie – Saw when I was a kid, but I can’t imagine that it’s truly one of the 100 best movies *ever*… Although maybe I’m confusing it with 9 to 5. As if they were different movies.

70. A Clockwork Orange – Anyone who read my cat-killing story and didn’t appreciate it — well, probably wouldn’t appreciate this movie either I guess. It’s not like I *enjoyed* Clockwork Orange, but man, it’s fantastically effective. A wonder. A wonder that I maybe won’t ever voluntarily watch again, but still.

71. Saving Private Ryan – Doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings. Still, I liked it the first time and, really, the opening Operation Overlord scene remains pretty engaging. Although, yes, it does manage to depict every D-Day cliche in the books. And it’s hard to see how anyone ever thought the cowboy ending was a good idea. Oh well.

72. The Shawshank Redemption – Also in my Top 5. Holds up to repeat viewings — surprisingly, given it’s “surprise twist” toward the end (at least, I was surprised the first time I saw it). IMHO, a great example of a “hard-won, happy ending”.

73. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Never saw.

74. The Silence of the Lambs – Never saw.

75. In the Heat of the Night – Never saw.

76. Forrest Gump – Ugh. Doesn’t hold up to repeat viewings. Liked it the first time, though, admittedly. But ultimately the message of “success in life has more to do with luck than any amount of talent or good decision-making” seems pretty cynical, doesn’t it?

77. All the President’s Men* – Never saw.

78. Modern Times – Never saw. Chaplin? ’30? (Wow, Chaplin indeed, but ’36.)

79. The Wild Bunch – Never saw.

80. The Apartment – Never saw.

81. Spartacus – Never saw.

82. Sunrise – Never saw.

83. Titanic – Uh… Cultural impact? Did this have a cultural impact? Otherwise, I’m gonna assume AFI are just a bunch of, what, Leo DiCaprio fans? Celine Dion fans? Idiots?

84. Easy Rider – Never saw. Average of raters like [me]: 2.7 stars.

85. A Night at the Opera – Marx brothers? (Yes, ’35.)
86. Platoon – Idiots. They’re idiots. Predictable plot. Little story. Unengaging. Over-hyped, overrated, under-good.

87. 12 Angry Men – Liked it, although it ends up feeling like a “small” movie. Or one that you use for corporate training or something.

88. Bringing Up Baby – Never saw. Cary Grant, ’49? (Yes, Grant, no, ’38).

89. The Sixth Sense – Didn’t hold up to the initial viewing, either. Cultural impact, I *guess*, but I figured out the game within 15 minutes of the opening frame, which rendered the rest of the movie toothless and uninteresting. My bad.

90. Swing Time – Never saw.

91. Sophie’s Choice – Never saw.

92. Goodfellas – Never saw, but it’s Scorsese, so I’d hate it.

93. The French Connection – Never saw.

94. Pulp Fiction – Was surprised by how much I liked it and that it didn’t seem like just another overhyped, under-interesting treatise on directorial self-indulgence. Seriously.

95. The Last Picture Show – Never saw. No idea who or when (’71 and Timothy Bottoms? Didn’t see that coming).

96. Do the Right Thing – Never saw.

97. Blade Runner – Liked it, original > director’s cut. Still don’t get how Harrison Ford was himself a robot, though.

98. Yankee Doodle Dandy – Never saw.

99. Toy Story – Er… Liked it, but II was better than I and if we’re just looking to give Pixar a nod, The Incredibles was a fantastic movie from every angle, whereas Toy Story’s mostly just a kids’ movie. Oh, right, cultural impact…

100. Ben-Hur – Old but watchable.

That’s all.



  • Alex

    Never saw Raging Bull, Goodfellas, or Taxi Driver? Is the reason you hate Scorsese because he cut you off in traffic? It can’t be because you didn’t like his films.

    (Just teasing, but those three are not only Scorsese’s best, but among the best films of their respective decades IMO.)

  • bkdunn

    Thanks for checkin’ in.

    All I’ve seen are his later works which appear to be weak excuses to film fist-fights and overuse the f-word. When I give him another try, which of those three movies is gonna do it for me do you think?

  • Alex

    I have no clue, based on your assessment of the above list. I’m with you on Unforgiven and a few of the Kubricks, and then we part ways for the most part. But if you’re not a fan of the way Scorsese or certain others on the AFI list above play with film as a medium, you might not like the stuff that interests me about Scorsese.

    With his later work–Aviator, the Infernal Affairs trilogy remake (as The Departed), Gangs of New York, and the like–they’re not his best work, but they’re still more challenging (and to me more fascinating) than 95% of the other stuff that come out the same year. The fist fights and f-bombs are the least interesting things about them. If those two things create stumbling blocks for you (and that’s totally cool if they do; I’ve got my own issues with what might otherwise be fine works of art–certain New York accents in Last Temptation for example), then you probably won’t like any of those three. There’s always Kundun.

    One thing though: I do plenty of non-creative busywork in my day-to-day that doesn’t require a lot of concentration. So I might have a movie going in the background every so often. It works with mediocre or just plain fun movies (or TV) that don’t ask me for much, or sometimes films that I’ve already seen and are familiar with.

    But with most of these above, excelling as they do in their visual medium, I’d find precious little to like about them if I had a laptop on my lap and/or I look away from the TV too often. So if you do give one of Scorsese’s “big three” a shot, do yourself a favor and give it your full attention, turn the internal critic off until the end, and THEN rip it to shreds. You’ll be wasting your time if you don’t, IMO.

    But I dunno. Try Goodfellas. Oh, and see The Deer Hunter. You still might not like it, but if so then you won’t like it for different reasons than you think you will. Or won’t.

  • bdunn02

    I don’t think the internal critic would like it if I turned him off — I’d ask him, but I fear angry, angry reprisals.

    FWIW, two of the three were already in my Netflix queue (and so was/is The Deer Hunter — the actual issue I’ve heard is that it’s structurally messy). I’ll get to ’em.

  • Alex

    Structurally messy?


    Uninterested in satisfying a specific audience expectation some might have about a war movie starring Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken?


  • bkdunn

    I know Christopher Walken primarily from his work in the “Weapon of Choice” video. So you’re saying Deer Hunter is *not* like that?

    BTW, I’m okay with f-words and fistfights, so long as they’re getting somewhere. But in Gangs and Departed, it felt like they were there for their own sake and didn’t advance story, character, or setting — just advanced the running time.

  • Alex

    Weapon of Choice is the modern remake of Deer Hunter, where back flips = Russian Roulette and references to Dune = helplessness as somebody you love goes insane. Cuz if you walk without rhythm…

    The language and violence didn’t have that effect on me in Gangs or Departed, so much so that I don’t remember it being excessive at all (and I can think of other films where I felt it didn’t advance the story, so it’s not just that I’m desensitized to it, I don’t think), except for, say, the last ten minutes of The Departed.

    If anything, with Scorsese I feel almost everything–language, action, music, and any other cinematic choice–comes _from_ character: these driven, often self-destructive type As that posture (language) and/or act out (fist fights) depending on how powerless or powerful they feel. YMMV.

  • bkdunn

    How could you not notice the superfluous swearing and fistfights-as-padding? Ah well: I suppose there’s a chance we have different sensibilities. Outside chance, sure, but still, a chance.

  • Walter Sanders

    Wow, for someone with such strong opinions about movies, you sure haven’t seen very many. It’s interesting to me that in another post you’re so critical of your acquaintances who don’t know where Guadalcanal is (or its significance). (“People are idiots” you say.) Maybe in your next post you could regale us with your opinions on some other topics you’re obviously not that educated about — may I suggest nuclear physics? The migratory routes of spawning fish in the Red Sea? Or maybe just human nature?

  • bkdunn

    Hey Walter: Uh, what? First off, as an admitted human, I’m not exactly excusing myself from idiocy. Second off — what? Oh well, I’ll bite: who the heck *are* you? Which of my many, many, *many* enemies sent you? Just curious.

  • bkdunn

    I dunno, could’ve been Nicholson, although I’ve been getting the evil eye from Michael Moore a lot lately.

  • Walter Sanders

    >>>First off, as an admitted human, I’m not exactly excusing myself from idiocy.

    Yes, you are. That’s precisely what your Guadalcanal post is about: /You/ know about WWII and no one else does. People are idiots, I guess, but you’re not.

    Who am I? I told you, didn’t I? And what difference would that make anyway?

    >>> Why should I have to take into account that a movie was made in 1940 in order to find it “good”? I don’t have to do that with literature …

    Are you asking why you have to take in account a movie’s age before determining its value? The answer, no doubt, is yes. Movies like KANE or PSYCHO — movies that created a new vocabulary for film — are landmarks in part because they were the first to do something. The movies that “borrowed” that vocabulary are therefore less groundbreaking. Duh. And yes, this happens with books, too. Check out the Modern Library’s list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. (You can find it here: Beware, though — lots of old stuff on here, too.

    Just discovered you call yourself an “editor,” too. Well done. Read much?

  • bdunn02

    Giving the name “Walter Sanders” doesn’t tell me much, eh? If I knew better where you were coming from, maybe I could understand why you’re trawling random blogs straining for things to be offended by. Otherwise, I’m left to make assumptions based on types, which might not allow for careful contemplation of what may, in fact, be a complex situation.

  • Michael Heald

    Wow! Strong comments!

    I’ve decided to go through the AFI for several reasons.

    1) Most of the films are worth watching, whether I agree with the ratings or not. When I go to my local DVD store, I can’t say that about most of the current releases that I haven’t seen.

    2) I’ll learn a bit about the era that the film was made, why it was considered important, etc.

    3) I can try and expand my children’s vision of movies so that they can appreciate that not all movies need light sabes! Best regards.

    Michael Heald

  • bkdunn

    Honestly and fwiw, I’m happy AFI puts out their Top 100. It’s cool to go through and see where I happen to overlap with them and it’s an interesting guide by which to find other movies I might want to see.

    My “disagreements” with their selections are only a matter of a difference of criteria. They put a lot of worth in a movie’s historical and cultural importance — and from that standpoint it’s hard to argue their selections. Just that I’m not much of a film historian, so for me, personally, I’m interested in what a movie’s doing for *me*, right now, in the present. Which necessarily puts a lot of classic films at a disadvantage.

  • bdunn02

    Saw #27 High Noon last night. Liked it a lot. Great dialogue, a script that doesn’t need to explain everything, and somehow a story that packs more into 85 minutes than most do in 2.5 hours plus. Was kind of hoping for a more subtle and transcendent ending — but heck, it’s a western, right? Possibly a new member of my top 10.