Among the Intellectualoids

Don’t Save Me the Aisle Seat

A cranky conservative vents the American Film Institute's "100 Greatest" list.

By 6.25.07

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I'm convinced there's a Movie Critics and Reviewers Union work rule requiring that any list of "best movies" must have that tedious and pompous bore, Citizen Kane, at the top.

Comes now the American Film Institute and its updated list of "100 Greatest Movies" and, sure enough, this over-long snoozer, featuring a young but pompous-beyond-his-years Orson Welles, leads the list. It's one of the mysteries of the ages why this talky movie, which seems to be famous for being famous, is whooped up so much. I've never been able to stay awake through it.

The AFI list, which contains other world-class bores and post-everything train-wrecks, was compiled by a jury (of just exactly whose peers, we are entitled to ask) of 1,500 "film artists, critics, and historians." The list and the movies were the subject of a recent TV special that, I'm happy to report, I missed.

On its website, the AFI describes itself as "a national institute providing leadership in screen education and celebration of excellence in the art of film, television, and digital media."

Oh.

Well, listen up. If this and the next generation of film-makers is being cranked out by folks whose idea of a good time is watching Citizen Kane for three hours (or is it five?), then we better pray tonight's ball game is not rained out, because there'll be little worth our time at the Bijou.

Runner up on the "100 Best" list is, The Godfather, a well-done and worthy flick, even if it does make gangsters look more cuddly than they really are.

In third is the justly-praised Casablanca, which belongs on any best-list. A near pitch-perfect suspense/romance thriller with riveting performances by Bogie and Claude Rains, as well as Ingrid Bergman at her knock-out best. (Bergman was so appealing in that movie I still get a rush when I hear a woman with a Swedish accent â€" though the closest I've gotten to my dream is owning two Volvos.) It's even contributed such useful gems to the language as, "I'm shocked, shocked," "here's looking at you, kid," and, "round up the usual suspects."

But with the exception of Casablanca and a few other exceptional entertainments such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Duck Soup, The African Queen, Bridge Over the River Kwai, and The Searchers, the 100-best list is heavily salted with some truly execrable movies. Some of the entries make a body wonder what would be on the AFI's 100-worst list.

Some prosecution exhibits from the list:

Gone With the Wind-- Is it over yet? Frankly my dear, I'm dozing off again. It's probably not a good idea for filmmakers to use the word "Wind" in the titles of their movies, especially overwrought soapers that last longer than the Middle Ages, the NBA Playoffs, and the collected speeches of Bill Clinton.

2001, A Space Odyssey -- What on earth (or elsewhere) is this movie about? I can't decide if Stanley Kubrick is mostly fatuous, mostly pretentious, or just preposterous.

Raging Bull -- Could have been called "Raging Bore." It's quite an accomplishment to make Jake La Matta boring, but somehow Martin Scorsese pulls it off.

Titanic -- The 1997 one with the simpering DiCaprio boy, which is saved from being a total waste of time by Kate Winslet's bare chest. Everything wrong with the modern blockbuster is wrong with this bad movie. It's a mind-numbing chick-flick that cost more than the national debt to make. It doesn't miss a single movie cliche.

Midnight Cowboy -- @#$%^&! Everyone associated with this truly awful experience should be hanged.

Apocalypse Now -- Also known as "Apoplexy Now." A totally incoherent movie. If this one is, as advertised, a remake of Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad's estate should sue. Coppola should switch to decaf.

Bonnie and Clyde -- Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs lend some great banjo music to a pointless celebration of two incompetent, homicidal sociopaths with machine guns.

The Graduate -- Ben Braddock is not jut a moron, he's a pluperfect moron. Mrs. Robinson is supposed to be one of the heavies. But at least she knows what she wants to do with her time.

Easy Rider -- Fonda and Nicholson ride around and smoke dope to no purpose. Dennis Hopper does his twitchy, dirt-bag shtick. (He's very good at this -- hardly seems to be acting at all.) At least the movie has a happy ending.

The Deer Hunter -- Another incoherent movie about Vietnam. Or at least the Vietnam phantasms of a bunch of New York/L.A. film drones who've never been closer to the military than an Independence Day parade.

The Grapes of Wrath -- Really more of a political pamphlet than either a movie or a novel. It's hard to imagine how an adult could watch or read either one.

Platoon -- Wherein we learn that every G.I. who served in Vietnam was a drug-crazed, homicidal maniac.

Goodfellas -- A waste of time and celluloid, as most already knew that gangsters say m----------r. A lot.

The Shawshank Redemption -- At least this movie establishes beyond doubt that Morgan Freeman has star quality. Otherwise it just makes heroes out of a bunch of crooks.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- Should have been called, "Who Gives a Rat's Patootie About Virginia Woolf?" Or about Liz and Burt, come to that.

Sophie's Choice -- Choose something else.

I COULD GO ON, but you get the idea. It's a peculiar list, taken all around, demonstrating how peculiar film types have become. Hard to imagine the same person having a high regard for Casablanca and The Bridge Over the River Kwai while also grooving on The Deer Hunter" and The Graduate. Clearly two very different world views animate these very different movies. Casablanca is a favorite of normal people. While Citizen Kane and the gloomy, post-everything stuff seems to be esteemed by film majors and various other humbugs.

It's nice that AFI types honor Casablanca. But it seems unlikely that in a Hollywood populated by AFI graduates a movie like Casablanca could be made today. In Casablanca 2007, the themes of patriotism and sacrifice would doubtless be replaced by smarmy sermonettes on racism, multiculturalism, and the futility of war. Sydney Greenstreet's role would be played by a cross-dresser.

I'm working on my list of the 100 biggest humbug organizations. Don't be surprised to run across AFI somewhere near the top.

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About the Author

Larry Thornberry is a writer in Tampa.