July 1998
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feed hollywood
by Brian Thomas

The 100 Blows

In January I wrote about our national fascination with lists. I used to kind of dig them, too, but lately I find myself extremely annoyed with them. People are always asking me for my ten favorite Australian movies and what the worst screwball comedies of the '50s were. The Internet Movie Critics Association is constantly badgering me to name my favorite Jewish detective films or to list my ten favorite scenes in which Sidney Greenstreet bursts into tears. They also want them in order of preference. All that weighing and judging gets to be very tiring, and lacks the depth and detail that I like to exhibit when I'm showing off. I feel like I'm on the Titanic - the constant listing is starting to make me nauseous.

Now the American Film Institute is getting into the act. This week they announced the results of their poll to name the 100 Greatest American Films. They sent a list of 400 films out to a panel of 1,500 people and asked them to help pare it down.

I've got nothing against the AFI. They do a lot of great work to raise money for film programs and preservation. But this list business is nothing but lowbrow hucksterism, a blatant attempt to grab some talk radio attention on a slow news day. They even put up a flashy website for it. Everyone wants to take a peek at the list and then start an argument about what should and shouldn't be on the list.

I'm not immune. I apologize to all my Italian readers (and Italian-hating readers), but The Godfather stinks. It always did and there's no way that it deserves to be number 3. It's nothing but a bunch of scenes of guys in suits mumbling in dark rooms, punctuated by occasional shootings and exploding autos. Even if you like it, do you believe that it's that much better than Part II, which snagged the number 32 spot? Is Annie Hall really a better movie than High Noon, or The Manchurian Candidate? Is A Streetcar Named Desire a great movie, or just a decent movie made from a great play?

An American in Paris is a wonderful musical film, but can anybody remember the plot? For that matter, I can't for the life of me remember the ending of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I think they end up inventing music videos and open a barber shop together. And I can't recall anything but the end of Bonnie and Clyde. They sure screwed up their chances for a sequel.

Dances with Wolves? Puh-leeeeze!

We could go on all night debating whether Lawrence of Arabia is really an American film at all, and objecting to Forrest Gump because it glorifies idiocy more than Dumb and Dumber, or even protesting the exclusion of Weekend at Bernie's and The Terror of Tiny Town - but I think I've begun to make my point. Nobody is happy with this list except the AFI. They're skipping about with big grins on their faces, daydreaming about yuppie couples making numerous trips to the local Blockbuster Video outlet (an AFI advertiser) to complete their anal plans to watch all the films on the list in order.

The controversy doesn't end with the list itself. Gun-happy NRA prez (and Bud Lite spokesman) Charleton Heston called a press conference to object vehemently to the inclusion of President Bill Clinton on the blue-ribbon panel because he claims Clinton is "just a politician and has no knowledge of the movie business". Then the former big Hollywood movie star went back to lobbying in Congress to push through a bill to emphasize the three R's in public elementary schools (Readin', 'ritin' and Reloadin'). Clinton argues that he's earned a SAG card for his acting work in Contact.

What the list illustrates most plainly is the basic fallibility of the democratic system. Art by committee is art that no one on the committee is 100% happy with. Art created by a committee of 1,500 is a list of movies that's liable to be used as an exhibit in more than one divorce case. It's no wonder nobody bothers to vote anymore. We're all afraid of causing a fistfight by the water cooler Wednesday morning.

The AFI has succeeded in creating a list of 100 greatest films that perfectly mirrors the exact tastes of no one. I know from experience that if you ask people to name their 100 favorite movies, 90% of them just name the last 100 movies they saw, if they can think of that many. As for me, my 100 favorites are of course Armegeddon, followed by The X-Files, Mulan, Godzilla, The Spanish Prisoner, then - um - that other one... You know, the one with the asteroid and the Jewish detective... No, the other one.



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