Take Five: 100 Years, 100 Less Mind-Numbing Lists
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on June 19, 2008
Sing the sorrow
So AFI had their yearly 100 Years, 100 _____s presentations on TV last night, for those of us too depressed by the NBA finals to watch the whole thing. Except this year, it wasn’t 100 ___s, it was 10 different sets of 10 ____s–in one breath, Animation, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Sports, Western, Gangster, Mystery, Romantic Comedy, Courtroom Drama and Epic. Among these lists, there were a couple choices that haven’t appeared on AFI lists too much (The Usual Suspects, Harold and Maude, the original Scarface), a couple surprising orderings (City Lights as the #1 Romantic Comedy of all time? Kramer Vs. Kramer considerable as a courtroom drama, let alone the third best ever?), and a whole, whole lotta nothin’. Pretty much what you’ve come to expect from these AFI shows.
When the first AFI list came out over a decade ago, I don’t know if there had been a previously published list of any sort of authority of the 100 Best American Movies ever made, but it was certainly the first that ever showed up on my radar. When I first seriously got into movies back in the 7th grade, I made all sorts of checklists of flicks to see, but the only one I ever actually checked off all the way through was that first AFI Top 100–even though it meant sitting through Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Dances With Wolves, and nearly all of Birth of a Nation, among others. Even then I probably knew the list was mostly playing it safe, relying too much on crowd-pleasers and giving the short shift to just about any movie from the lasat two decades of the century. But when I catalogue in my head the most acclaimed movies of all-time, that’s still the list I most commonly refer back to.
But of course, AFI couldn’t leave well enough alone, so they started doing other lists. 100 Years, 100 Stars (Best Actors/Actresses), 100 Years, 100 Laughs (Best Comedies) and 100 Years, 100 Thrills (Most Suspenseful Movies) all followed, and were still considerably fun to watch–I even remember giving my family hell making sure we taped the Laughs one and all watched it together, my top priority even though I think I graduated middle school that week or something. But then they started to really get unexciting–100 Years, 100 Heroes and Villains (Top 50 of each), 100 Years, 100 Songs (“Fight the Power” was the only one I cared about) and most lamely, 100 Years, 100 Cheers (The most inspiring movies). The lists started to overlap more and more with one another, like they were only drawing from a pool of 500 movies or so to begin with (which, in reality, isn’t even too far off).
This new batch, unsurprisingly, is the worst yet. At least with 100 of something, you get a little depth, and there’s always a small chance of getting something legitimately unexpected. But the top ten Mysteries of all-time? You’re probably not going to get Out of the Past and Sneakers, you’re just going to get The Maltese Falcon and a whole bunch of Hitchcock. We’ve seen all these movies before, and what’s more, we’ve heard about all of ’em at least once (and probably two or three times) on these shows already. So let’s start thinking outside the box a little, get some new blood in there, huh? Here’s some ideas:
- 100 Years, 100 Underappreciations. The AFI guys’ll probably think of a better title, but these seems pretty obvious to me–just have another Top 100 vote on a group of 500 movies, none of which were eligible for the original or new AFI Top 100 Movies lists. You probably won’t get anything particularly revelatory, but you’ll automatically get a relatively new pool of movies, and maybe unearth a couple relatively forgotten gems in the process.
- 100 Years, 100 Indies. Don’t have to be too stringent on the terms here–everything from Russ Meyer to Quentin Tarantino can count. But the AFI is notoriously unfriendly to the small movie, generally prefering big emotion and big Oscar wins instead. There’s only so many of these I can watch before the across-the-board absence of Richard Linklater, Jim Jarmusch and Wes Anderson becomes too egregious to tolerate.
- 100 Years, 100 Explosions: OK, they already had the thriller one, so maybe an action movie one would be a little redundant. It’s a risk I’m willing to take, though, given the obvious dirth of Sly, Arnie, Bruce, Charlie, Jackie, Steven, Jason and Jean-Claude on all of these lists to date. Knowing the AFI, they’d find a way to stuff it with lame “classic” Westerns, claim that JFK counts as an action movie, and stick Chinatown in the top five. Still, how else are you gonna get The Fast and the Furious on an AFI list?
- 100 Years, 100 Flops: I guess I don’t know if the AFI is allowed to acknowledge the fact that sub-par movies exist, but if they’re feeling cynical one of these years, it’d be extremely refreshing to see Leonard Maltin and Steven Spielberg on these things talking about just how much Hudson Hawk and Leonard Part VI fucking blew. It’d be a little hard to come up with a list of nominations, I suppose–especially if you tried to make sure at least half the movies didn’t have Eddie Murphy in them– but there’s enough consensus shit out there to make it happen. Plus, would it kill these guys to show a little sense of humor every now and then?
- 100 Years, 100 Imports. All right, so I know what you’re going to say: “This is the American Film Institute, you fuckin’ commie.” Right you are, comrade, but I don’t think it’d be such a bad idea to take one out of every dozen years or so to acknowledge that there are in fact movies made in other parts of the world. Plus, would you be able to resist watching Jessica Alba talk about how much the work of Abbas Kiarostami has meant to her, or how much Penny Marshall borrowed from the work of Leni Riefenstahl for A League of Their Own?
Got other, superior, better-named ideas? Lemme hear ’em.