Last night, CBS ran a three-hour special running down the American Film Institute’s new “100 Years . . . 100 Movies” list of the top 100 movies, at least according to their 1,500 voters. The title is now somewhat inaccurate, since the list now covers 110 years, but I think that’s the least of its problems.
In the newest list, Patton and All Quiet on the Western Front have gone missing in action. Fargo got frozen out. The Manchurian Candidate was off the ballot. Close Encounters got spaced. Stagecoach was unhitched. From Here to Eternity is no more. The Jazz Singer was silenced. In short, a lot of deserving films are off the list.
But that’s not why I hate these lists, because some very deserving films have been added. Saving Private Ryan has invaded the top 100. Blade Runner has a bright future as well. The Lord of the Rings has found fellowship with the voters.
Titanic also made its maiden voyage onto the list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good movie, but better than any of the movies that dropped off the list? Better than Ben-Hur? And some nimrod last night actually put Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet on the same plane as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca. As good as the new kids are, in some countries that degree of blasphemy will get a fatwa placed on your head.
But that’s not why I hate these lists either.
Now everyone is going to have their opinions about what films belong on the list and which ones don’t. Arguing about such things is at least half the fun of being a movie buff.
Frankly, what I hate is the idea of a body like the AFI putting its stamp of approval on the idea that great movies are somehow in competition, that there’s one movie that is absolutely better than all the rest and that a movie that was great 10 years ago is somehow less great now.
I prefer something like the National Film Registry, which simply selects 25 culturally significant films every year to be preserved. There is no ranking and no film is ever “voted off the island.” It functions much more like the Baseball Hall of Fame. In other words, Mickey Mantle doesn’t have to be kicked out to make room for Hank Aaron.
You’ll see have a category for the AFI Top 100 under my tags. I considered making a separate tag for this year’s list, but decided against it. Thus, all of the movies from both lists will peacefully co-exist. Here at Celluloid Heroes, once a great movie, always a great movie.