Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Thoughts On The BBC's List of The 100 Greatest American Films


It feels like a relic from another time in a way, but the BBC has just released a list of the 100 Greatest American Films as compiled by a non-named group of reviewers, critics, broadcasters and authors.

This used to be the kind of gambit that film magazines and other critical outlets would pull to excite discussion about which is greater. There's not much of a flurry around this list but it is interesting to take a look at the list and at the idea of such lists generally.

The top 10 offers few surprises. Or, if there is a surprise, it's that the reputation of films like THE SEARCHERS and VERTIGO is still so bulletproof. These are great films, but I would expect to see them slip and slide a little more than this. Also, CITIZEN KANE would seem a likely candidate to fall from its perch and be replaced by top contenders THE GODFATHER or VERTIGO.
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
The full list follows:
100. Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
99. 12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen, 2013)
98. Heaven’s Gate (Michael Cimino, 1980)
97. Gone With the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939)
96. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)
95. Duck Soup (Leo McCarey, 1933)
94. 25th Hour (Spike Lee, 2002)
93. Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese, 1973)
92. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)
91. ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, 1982)
90. Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)
89. In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)
88. West Side Story (Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 1961)
87. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
86. The Lion King (Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994)
85. Night of the Living Dead (George A Romero, 1968)
84. Deliverance (John Boorman, 1972)
83. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)
82. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)
81. Thelma & Louise (Ridley Scott, 1991)
80. Meet Me in St Louis (Vincente Minnelli, 1944)
79. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick, 2011)
78. Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)
77. Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939)
76. The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
75. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977)
74. Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994)
73. Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976)
72. The Shanghai Gesture (Josef von Sternberg, 1941)
71. Groundhog Day (Harold Ramis, 1993)
70. The Band Wagon (Vincente Minnelli, 1953)
69. Koyaanisqatsi (Godfrey Reggio, 1982)
68. Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946)
67. Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin, 1936)
66. Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948)
65. The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman, 1965)
64. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)
63. Love Streams (John Cassavetes, 1984)
62. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)
61. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
60. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
59. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Miloš Forman, 1975)
58. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
57. Crimes and Misdemeanors (Woody Allen, 1989)
56. Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)
55. The Graduate (Mike Nichols, 1967)
54. Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)
53. Grey Gardens (Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer, 1975)
52. The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969)
51. Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)
50. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)
49. Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978)
48. A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)
47. Marnie (Alfred Hitchcock, 1964)
46. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
45. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)
44. Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)
43. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948)
42. Dr Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964)
41. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)
40. Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid, 1943)
39. The Birth of a Nation (DW Griffith, 1915)
38. Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)
37. Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
36. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)
35. Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944)
34. The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939)
33. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
32. The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)
31. A Woman Under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)
30. Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)
29. Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)
28. Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)
27. Barry Lyndon (Stanley Kubrick, 1975)
26. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1978)
25. Do the Right Thing (Spike Lee, 1989)
24. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
23. Annie Hall (Woody Allen, 1977)
22. Greed (Erich von Stroheim, 1924)
21. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
20. Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990)
19. Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976)
18. City Lights (Charlie Chaplin, 1931)
17. The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925)
16. McCabe & Mrs Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
15. The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)
14. Nashville (Robert Altman, 1975)
13. North by Northwest (Alfred Hitchcock, 1959)
12. Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
11. The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)
10. The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)
9. Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)
8. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
7. Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 1952)
6. Sunrise (FW Murnau, 1927)
5. The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)
4. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968)
3. Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)
2. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
1. Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941)
It is somewhat surprising to me that MULHOLLAND DRIVE is at the top of the Lynch heap. Keaton's SHERLOCK JR. is here but THE GENERAL is not. Are THELMA & LOUISE and THE DARK KNIGHT actually better than THE GENERAL? Or for that matter THE GOLD RUSH? It's a matter of methodology probably. A favorite Keaton is chosen and it takes one seat at the table.

Reputations rebound and pendulums swing. You'll notice HEAVEN'S GATE, which at one time would might have been on a Worst 100 list, is here. It belongs on neither a 100 best or 100 worst list, but it has been undervalued so long that its stock rose too precipitously. It will settle a little lower than 98.

Also on the rebound big-time is EYES WIDE SHUT at 61. This is probably about right, but it's interesting to see how far it has climbed in critical esteem.

There are three Fords out of the 100. Earlier lists would have included his THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and THE INFORMER. I suspect these are gone for good now from lists of this type, sadly.

The only Griffith here is BIRTH OF A NATION, which would have upset him a great deal. His INTOLERANCE was his ideological corrective to BIRTH and is arguably the greater film.

One of the first things everyone notices is a lack of gender and racial diversity here. Maya Deren represents the female gender on her own. Steve McQueen, Spike Lee and Charles Burnett are the only non-white Euros here. I hope to see a more active process of discovery of both new and old films here. It would be nice to see Dorothy Arzner's DANCE, GIRL, DANCE and Bill Gunn's GANJA & HESS make the leap into critical contention, among others.

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