April 11, 2012

AFI Retrospective: 10 I'd Ditch

Okay, part two of this retrospective on this great project. First I talked about ten pleasant surprises, and now the much more difficult task of choosing 10% of these films to demote off the list, in my humble opinion. Let me start by saying: all of these films are great (some greater than others, or should I say some more agreed upon than others). All of them have something to recommend. But some of these could go for a reason or two, which I'll try to explain as best I can.

Top Ten I'd Ditch

Let me start by saying the Marx Brothers were total geniuses, and the scene above is so inspired and magical. Their other film on the list, Duck Soup, is absolutely required viewing. But by comparison, this spoof of the opera world just doesn't hold up nearly as well. It feels less like a coherent whole than the other film, and more like a series of jokes strung together, spliced together with some scenes about opera performers that we wait through to get back to the Marx shenanigans. I'd totally be happy bringing a different Marx film in in its place -- any suggestions?


I just wanted way more out of this story. I know you don't go to a movie like this for plot, but the characters need to at least engage me in a way that keeps me with them for two hours, and the first hour of this just took me out of it. The famous car chase scene is impressive, especially when viewed in a historical context, but not all that unique for a modern audience. William Friedkin made this right before he made The Exorcist, which is way more deserving of this list.


Here's the thing: I actually liked this movie. There's nothing necessarily wrong with it, it's just that at the end of the day it wasn't the most memorable. It's not especially affecting, the plot is simple and the acting is fine. It has a great moral truth to it, some amount of historical power in the canon, and truthfully it was a pleasant surprise. But I had to pick ten. That was the game.


There's maybe a tiny bit of irony in this choice, since Sullivan's Travels is really about the search for "social significance" in Hollywood. In fact, it's a pretty solid satire of the movie industry... but the fact is: I hadn't even heard of it before this list. I think it might have been the only movie on the entire list I'd never even heard of. And there's a reason: while it's cute, it's slight. Do cute, slight films belong on the list? Maybe. Does a more "important" one belong in its place? This is where it gets tricky.


6. The Apartment (#80)

There's just a lot of great comedies on the list, and in my opinion The Apartment falls short. It's a cute story, but the comedic payoff in terms of laughs-per-minute just isn't as high as, say, any of the Charlie Chaplin films, Some Like It Hot, or Bringing Up Baby. Plus, I'm not that enchanted with Shirley MacLaine's performance. Jack Lemmon, yes. Shirley, eh.


5. Unforgiven (#68)

The placement of this film on the list seemed like a way to collectively reward and honor Clint Eastwood for his many contributions to Hollywood and his long and, ahem, "varied" career. Now, I don't think much of him as an actor -- growl growl growl scowl scowl scowl -- but I will admit he has a subtle hand as a director. Maybe it's my distaste for a lot of his movies that influenced this, maybe it was my disdain for Westerns... maybe it's that this film seems like an examination of a genre that didn't really ask to be reexamined. When so many other genres are underrepresented, why are there so many Westerns??


4. M*A*S*H (#54)

Kiss my hot lips! There's some great, even inspired moments in this early Robert Altman film, but for my money his other efforts (Nashville especially but also The Player, not listed here) seem stronger and more focused. His style is one that takes some getting used to, with actors floating in and out of scenes, and the camera ambling around to create the authenticity of an outside viewer, and his other films do a better job of honing this tricky form.


I wrote: "while I'm not sure I agree that it's a brilliant film, it does perfectly personify the tropes of Hollywood crime drama that became so popular throughout the middle of the century, and which still heavily influence modern cinema." The movie does everything it can to be the purest form of film noir, but by following every single rule it feels less exciting than other films from this genre. Am I right? I guess I don't know, I haven't seen a ton of films from this era/genre, but something tells me there's more exciting examples of noir somewhere.


2. Shane (#45)

I likened this movie to an antique, a family heirloom that's pretty janky but you just can't bear to sell it at the family garage sale. I understand that many of the members of the AFI were no doubt Joey's age when Shane came to town, and remember this movie with great fondness. But for a contemporary audience, this felt like an indistinguishable effort, no better or worse than other Westerns at the time. There's also some badly staged fight scenes that don't belong in a good movie. I have no illusions about my bias against this genre, and I'd love for someone to convince me that these movies are good and not just relics.


1. The Wild Bunch (#79)

The truth is, I just got no pleasure out of watching this. The distinguishing feature that merits its place here was supposedly its revolutionary use of violence, but it seems to me that Bonnie and Clyde, made two years earlier, makes better use of gratuitous badassery and has a compelling story and vivid characters to boot. This had neither. Now, because I liked it the least of any movie on this list, I have no doubt that I'll go back to it someday to try to understand it. But for now, this would be the very first movie I'd kick off the list in favor of something else.

And there's my ten! Next, maybe ten that I'd add to the list? That'll be an interesting challenge!

Thoughts? Concerns? Cheers? Rants? Leave a comment!

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