Tag Archives: AFI top 100

AFI Top 100 List finally COMPLETE!!

3 Feb

Truth be told, back in November I only had 2 films left to watch.  Then Netflix decided that it did NOT want me to complete my list, and despite the last two films being at the top of my queue, and it being very unlikely that there were tons of subscribers clamoring over them, Netflix nonetheless kept sending everything and anything else EXCEPT those films.  Last night, I realized that I could, ta-da, finish the list by watching films through Amazon’s streaming service, and TA DA, here we are!!  I have now watched all 100 films on AFI’s Top 100 list.

AFI 100 yearsThe 100 films are all great films, but Westerns as a genre are overrepresented, as are films from the 1960s and 1970s.  The films from the 1940s and before are very clearly classic films, but once you get into the 1960s-1970s, it seems like several of the films selected were a function of just being the favorite films of the AFI members.  I think a top 100 film should be timeless and resonate with the viewer, regardless of the viewer’s time or background or circumstances, due to universal themes.  Many of the films from the 1960s and 1970s on the list were so heavily dependent on context that they were boring and virtually meaningless to me.  In particular, All the President’s Men, Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show stood out as films that hardly spoke to me at all, and I think just didn’t belong on the list.

There were a number of films that I absolutely loved that I probably would not have watched at all, were it not for my quest to finish this list.  Singin in the Rain, Sunset Blvd., The General, Network and Do the Right Thing all stood out as amazing films that I only picked up because of this project.

A Separation (2011) and Network (1976)

25 Aug

I’ve been down lately about my Netflix movies, because everything I’ve picked has been bo-ring.  I’ve been working on the AFI Top 100 list, and many of the movies have failed to catpture my attention.  Often the plot is dated, and while the film technology may have been cutting edge at the time of the release, it is also long since dated.  My enthusiasm about the list, however, was rekindled with Network.

Network is the dawn of trash television.  As an aging nightly news anchorman has a total mental breakdown on air, ratings-starved network execs exploit his insanity as television takes its turn from dignified to sensationalistic.  Decrying the erosion of morality in popular culture is a beloved topic for letters to the editor and message boards, but Network confirmed my inkling that there never was any “golden age” when everyone was polite and classy.  Sesationalism, violence, sex, betrayal all of that make entertainment.  It always has (for goodness sakes, go pick up the Canterbury Tales!)  Culture isn’t devolving, there was never any “high” culture to begin with.

Network was skillfully acted, and brings to mind how drastically acting styles and appearances have changed since, say, the early 1990s.  In the 1970s, actors still had imperfections.  Sure, Faye Dunaway is rail thin and beautiful, but her teeth are yellowed and her hair kind of frizzy.  Those imperfections make the actors feel more real.  Nowadays, those teeth would have been bleached and her hair treated, homogenized and purified.  And boring.  Films in the 1970s are also not afraid of awkward silences.  They pop up here and there in such films, just like they do in real life.  I feel like films today iron out all the awkwardness of real life, to streamline the content for impatient audiences, but it no longer feels as human.

A Separation is also an intense drama, but a totally different kind of film than Network.  Since the Oscars, I’ve been waiting for A Separation to hit DVD.

A Separation is an Iranian film that won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Feature Film.  That award was well deserved.  A Separation portrays family struggles, love and loss, tensions between economic classes.  It follows a husband and wife, with a 12 year old daughter, who are trying to find their way after separating.  After 18 months of bureaucratic red tape, the wife obtained visas for her family to leave the country.  But the husband won’t leave, because he needs to care for his father, who is suffering the late stages of Alzheimers.  The husband hires a woman as a caretaker for his father.  She leaves his father unattended one afternoon to run an errand.  The husband and the caretaker get into a fight, and he kicks her out.  Later that evening, he is informed that she was tragically injured.  The caretaker and her husband decide to press charges.  The film then follows the ensuing court battle, and attempts to figure out the facts of what exactly happened.

It’s obvious this film is hard to adequately summarize, because the film is amazing and my summary was really really boring.  I loved seeing everyday life in Iran.  Little things like seeing what Iranian kitchen appliances look like, or  what a typical drive down the street is like are fascinating to me.  Films about the American court system usually bore me to tears (I don’t want to spend my entertainment time re-living my workday), but I was fascinated to see how legal proceedings work in Iran.  If this film is at all accurate (I know American films often botch law related stuff), Iranian courts are much more informally structured, and a proceeding is determined by one judge, who has great leeway in ordering testimony and examining evidence in order to get to the bottom of the issue.  Although in American law, all the formalistic evidence rules are designed to narrow the evidence to that which is central to the issues.  However, I feel like the Iranian approach, with one person who is educated in the law making all the calls and given broad investigative leeway, is more focused with getting to the bottom of the facts.

A Separation is available now on DVD.  It is well worth a bump-up on your Netflix queue or a trip to the Redbox.

Double Indemnity (1944)

4 Jan

Only Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler could make life insurance sales so interesting.  Double Indemnity is the classic “Killed Him for the Insurance Money” story.  Unwitting insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) falls hard for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).  They are blind with love after only moments together, and decide that nothing–especially not Phyllis’ husband– can keep them apart.  They secretly insure her husband’s life, and then execute the perfect murder.  It looks exactly like a freak accident, that just happens to be covered by a “double indemnity” clause in the policy, causing the policy to pay off double….everything is going perfectly….until…..BAH BUM BUM……

I love everything about film noir– the brooding voiceovers, the longing glances, the clever banter, the climbing suspense in tiny movements, the shadows and secrets.  Double Indemnity plays them all perfectly.

I can’t decide whether its a flaw of the film, but Barbra Stanwyck was so easy to dislike.  In so many other films, the femme fatale grows on you, and you are disappointed when she is revealed as bad.  Her evilness is a betrayal.  Stanwyck, however, seems a little sleazy from the get go.  It’s not surprising when she goes rotten, and it’s not disappointing either.

I feel foolish even writing a review for Double Indemnity, because it’s the quintessential film noir. It’s been reviewed over and over and over, I’m certainly not adding a new voice to the crowd.  Still, I feel like the timeless appeal of film noir is often lost with all the big-ticket explosion films today.  If you have any interest in film, a viewing of Double Indemnity is essential.

City Lights (1931)

31 Dec

I’ve fallen considerably behind on my quest of watching the AFI top 100 movies.  I got
City Lights from Netflix almost a month ago, and just haven’t been in the mood to watch a silent film.  Watching an old movie is like going to the gym.  I often moan and groan and put it off, but when I finally get around to it, it’s an enjoyable experience.

City Lights is clever and charming, and Charlie Chaplin’s role in this film is by far his most famous.  Chaplin plays the “Little Tramp” who falls for a blind flower girl, and vows to scrounge up the money for a surgery that will restore her eyesight.  The downfall is that once she has the surgery, she’ll be able to see the real him, and learn he’s not really a millionaire.

Most of the film is physical goofs.  They really are funny, I laughed out loud a few times.  Chaplin is, well, Chaplin…but I do think Buster Keaton is funnier.  Chaplin tries harder to be funny, while Keaton played the straight man, who falls into funny situations–which I find to be a whole lot funnier.

I am glad for my AFI goal, because I would have never bothered to watch this film otherwise.  I probably won’t go out of my way to watch many more Chaplin movies (although I will be seeing Modern Times, since it’s on the list) but I’m glad to have seen this one.

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

26 Oct

Lawerence of Arabia is a long movie (nearly 4 hours) and just wasn’t my kind of film.  I did watch the whole thing, even though I had to split it up over 4 or 5 sittings.

Lawrence of Arabia is based on the real-life Englishman T.E. Lawrence who worked during WWI to get Arab tribes to work together and topple Turkish control.  Lawrence also happens to go slightly bonkers in the process.

I’m not interested in war movies, I’m only interested in biopics if the subject is someone I’m interested in (i.e. not T.E. Lawrence), and movies dripping with colonialism make me feel icky.  It was hard for me to stay interested in this film.  If you are interested in war movies as a genre, I could possibly understand loving this film…but that’s not me, so this is a very short review. The End.

The General (1926)

17 Oct

The overarching theme of the AFI Top 100 List, for me at least, is that these are a bunch of movies that I never in a million years would have even thought to watch.  Not that there is something about them that I find specifically boring, or offensive, or what have you…they just never would have caught my eye.  A number of them, including The General, have ended up being quite good films and I’m glad I’ve taken the time to watch them. I suppose that’s a no-brainer remark, they are on the Top 100 list, so someone’s  bound to like them.  I am finding that it is nice to discover so many enjoyable stories from films I would have never bothered to pick up otherwise.

Buster Keaton plays Johnny Gray– a man who loves two things: his locomotive and his lady.

The civil war starts, and being a southerner, Johnny’s lady friend expects him to enlist in the army.  He tries to enlist, but they refuse to take him because he will be more helpful to the South driving trains.  After receiving some mistaken information that Johnny didn’t even get in the enlistment line, his lady friend (ok, I can’t remember her name) tells him that she won’t speak to him again until he’s in uniform.

Johnny then gets entangled in a mass of mis-adventures, in which he chases down and heads off a maneuver by the Northern Army, learns some secret information about their plans, then chases them down, heads off their attack and saves the day.  All the while, the audience is awash in laughter because Johnny is accident prone and hapless.

I had never seen a Buster Keaton film before this, and everything I knew about Keaton I learned from Benny & Joon.  Keaton is skillful and hilarious, but he never gets so over the top to be ridiculous.  I really would like to see more of his films, you know, with that copious free time I have.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

3 Oct

Young sometimes-lovers tear through the Depression Era Midwest, robbing banks, and leaving corpses in their wake.

That’s all I have to say about Bonnie & Clyde, because there wasn’t much more to the movie than that.  Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman, and Gene Wilder all put forward good performances.  The characters were entertaining, but not particularly engaging or funny.

The ending is surprising but also, well, not surprising.  I suspect the level of sex and violence may have been shocking for its time, but it’s not a shocking film under 2011 standards.

It wasn’t a waste of my time, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to watch it again.  I’d give it 2.5 of 5 stars.

Gone with the Wind (1939)

15 Sep

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

A 4 hour movie full of melodrama and racism? Next time I’ll pass.  Scarlett O’Hara is the worst kind of obnoxious.  There are some self-absorbed, destructive characters that I get wholly wrapped up in.  Not her. I wanted to punch Scarlett in the face, and that’s about it.  Rhett was mildly interesting, but not 4 hours worth of movie interesting.  I had to watch this in 3 sittings, because it was so ridiculously long.  This is a short review because there was nothing I could get into about this film.

If you love Gone With the Wind, please share why.  I don’t see it.


All About Eve (1950)

4 Sep

I discovered this morning that quite a few of the AFI Top 100 films are available on Netflix streaming.  My life is feast or famine– if I have time to watch anything at all, it’ll present itself in a weekend (like this one) where the focus is getting lots and lots of laundry done, so I’ll have time to watch a solid 5 or 6 films at a go.  Then the week will start again, and my life will resume its usual insanity, and I won’t have time to watch a film for a good 6 weeks.

I’ve never seen a Bette Davis movie, and thought she looked unfriendly and boring.  The only thing I knew about her was that “Bette Davis Eyes” song from the 80’s. I was impressed to see how witty and lively she really is.  The film was funny, but had plenty  of drama.  It’s not a clean fit in either the “comedy” or “drama” genre.

Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, an enormously famous theater star, with all the spontaniety, moodiness, and charm you’d expect.  She’s demanding and high maintenance for sure, but I wouldn’t call her a diva.  She’s that one friend everyone has that makes a huge to do out of everything, and can be demanding and stubborn and frustrating, but is also such enormous fun that you can’t help but keep her around.

Margo’s best friend, Karen, is the wife of the famous playwright who writes all of Margo’s scripts.  Karen notices that a young, mousy girl waits to see Margo enter and exit backstage at every single performance.  Karen strikes up a conversation with Eve and Eve confesses that she’s Margo’s biggest fan, and has seen every single performance of the play.  Karen is impressed with Eve’s devotion, and invites Eve in to meet Margo in the dressing room.  Margo, so absorbed with her own celebrity, thinks Eve is charming (instead of creepy, which is how I suspect the audience must have perceived her). Margo hires Eve as her assistant, and takes her under her wing.

Eve spends the rest of the film conniving and ladder-climbing, wrangling her way onto the stage, trying to steal husbands, and generally doing everything she can to become the brightest star in the theater.

The film, above all, is witty.  Language is employed cleverly, and the dialog is never trite.  Although the main characters are all at some level celebrities, they’re all surprisingly relatable.  Margo’s the high maintenance friend, Karen is the friend that is unendingly loyal but sometimes a bad judge of character, Eve and Addison are the self-absorbed snakes that convince you they really want to help you, but are looking for every opportunity to advance themselves.

Marilyn Monroe also had a small part as an aspiring Hollywood star in a party scene.  With all her pinup fame and post-mortem idolization, it’s easy to forget that she really could act, and is a delight to watch on screen.

Even though I knew I’d never seen All About Eve before, I find myself a few times feeling like I had already seen the film.  All About Eve  wasn’t the first work to operate on the “student-becomes-the-master” and “country girl/big city” themes, and it’s a far cry from the last.   I realized I was just connecting it with other films that followed the same themes.  Although not entirely a direct example, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was what came immediately to mind, but I’m sure I’ve seen plenty of other films that operate on the same ideas.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

2 Sep

As I dropped this DVD into my player, I was wondering whether the AFI Top 100 movies really exhibit the best American cinema has to offer, or whether these were all the popular films from the reviewers’ childhoods, and they picked them out of nostalgia.

Singin’ in the Rain answered this question handily.

This is one good movie.

My synopsis won’t do the film justice, because the plot is only one small component of the whole film. This film is entertainment. The singing! The dancing! The bright lights! Sure, there’s a story, but THE SINGING! THE DANCING! THE BRIGHT LIGHTS!

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are film stars in the silent pictures.  The tabloids believe they’re also deeply in love…but it’s actually all a show and Don detests Lina.  Don by happenstance meets Kathy and they fall wildly in love within 20 minutes.  The talkie pictures come to Hollywood, but Lina’s screeching, obnoxious voice ruins their first attempt at a talkie film.  Don, his pal Cosmo, and Kathy pull together a plan to remake the film as a musical, and splice in Kathy’s voice in place of Lina’s. Leading up to the film’s opening, Lina has done all kinds of vile things to steal all the credit and shove Kathy out of the limelight.  At the film’s wildly successful premier, Lina makes another ham-handed attempt to steal all the glory for herself, and her fame crumbles (deliciously) all around her.

Since this is a happy film, Don gets his girl, and everything is right and the world is wonderful. Hooray!

So that episode in Glee where Mr. Shu’s dreadful wife is talking about how Singin’ in the Rain is Mr. Shu’s favorite movie when he’s sick, and it always makes him feel better….that totally makes sense. This film is so light, and happy, and wonderful and fun. It can only make you feel better.

Even Mr. Beez ASKED ME TO PAUSE IT WHEN HE HAD TO STEP OUT OF THE ROOM. He liked this movie! He hates almost every movie I pick out!