AFI Top 100 List finally COMPLETE!!

Truth be told, back in November I only had 2 films left to watch.  Then Netflix decided that it did NOT want me to complete my list, and despite the last two films being at the top of my queue, and it being very unlikely that there were tons of subscribers clamoring over them, Netflix nonetheless kept sending everything and anything else EXCEPT those films.  Last night, I realized that I could, ta-da, finish the list by watching films through Amazon’s streaming service, and TA DA, here we are!!  I have now watched all 100 films on AFI’s Top 100 list.

AFI 100 yearsThe 100 films are all great films, but Westerns as a genre are overrepresented, as are films from the 1960s and 1970s.  The films from the 1940s and before are very clearly classic films, but once you get into the 1960s-1970s, it seems like several of the films selected were a function of just being the favorite films of the AFI members.  I think a top 100 film should be timeless and resonate with the viewer, regardless of the viewer’s time or background or circumstances, due to universal themes.  Many of the films from the 1960s and 1970s on the list were so heavily dependent on context that they were boring and virtually meaningless to me.  In particular, All the President’s Men, Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show stood out as films that hardly spoke to me at all, and I think just didn’t belong on the list.

There were a number of films that I absolutely loved that I probably would not have watched at all, were it not for my quest to finish this list.  Singin in the Rain, Sunset Blvd., The General, Network and Do the Right Thing all stood out as amazing films that I only picked up because of this project.


A Separation (2011) and Network (1976)

I’ve been down lately about my Netflix movies, because everything I’ve picked has been bo-ring.  I’ve been working on the AFI Top 100 list, and many of the movies have failed to catpture my attention.  Often the plot is dated, and while the film technology may have been cutting edge at the time of the release, it is also long since dated.  My enthusiasm about the list, however, was rekindled with Network.

Network is the dawn of trash television.  As an aging nightly news anchorman has a total mental breakdown on air, ratings-starved network execs exploit his insanity as television takes its turn from dignified to sensationalistic.  Decrying the erosion of morality in popular culture is a beloved topic for letters to the editor and message boards, but Network confirmed my inkling that there never was any “golden age” when everyone was polite and classy.  Sesationalism, violence, sex, betrayal all of that make entertainment.  It always has (for goodness sakes, go pick up the Canterbury Tales!)  Culture isn’t devolving, there was never any “high” culture to begin with.

Network was skillfully acted, and brings to mind how drastically acting styles and appearances have changed since, say, the early 1990s.  In the 1970s, actors still had imperfections.  Sure, Faye Dunaway is rail thin and beautiful, but her teeth are yellowed and her hair kind of frizzy.  Those imperfections make the actors feel more real.  Nowadays, those teeth would have been bleached and her hair treated, homogenized and purified.  And boring.  Films in the 1970s are also not afraid of awkward silences.  They pop up here and there in such films, just like they do in real life.  I feel like films today iron out all the awkwardness of real life, to streamline the content for impatient audiences, but it no longer feels as human.

A Separation is also an intense drama, but a totally different kind of film than Network.  Since the Oscars, I’ve been waiting for A Separation to hit DVD.

A Separation is an Iranian film that won the 2011 Academy Award for Best Foreign Feature Film.  That award was well deserved.  A Separation portrays family struggles, love and loss, tensions between economic classes.  It follows a husband and wife, with a 12 year old daughter, who are trying to find their way after separating.  After 18 months of bureaucratic red tape, the wife obtained visas for her family to leave the country.  But the husband won’t leave, because he needs to care for his father, who is suffering the late stages of Alzheimers.  The husband hires a woman as a caretaker for his father.  She leaves his father unattended one afternoon to run an errand.  The husband and the caretaker get into a fight, and he kicks her out.  Later that evening, he is informed that she was tragically injured.  The caretaker and her husband decide to press charges.  The film then follows the ensuing court battle, and attempts to figure out the facts of what exactly happened.

It’s obvious this film is hard to adequately summarize, because the film is amazing and my summary was really really boring.  I loved seeing everyday life in Iran.  Little things like seeing what Iranian kitchen appliances look like, or  what a typical drive down the street is like are fascinating to me.  Films about the American court system usually bore me to tears (I don’t want to spend my entertainment time re-living my workday), but I was fascinated to see how legal proceedings work in Iran.  If this film is at all accurate (I know American films often botch law related stuff), Iranian courts are much more informally structured, and a proceeding is determined by one judge, who has great leeway in ordering testimony and examining evidence in order to get to the bottom of the issue.  Although in American law, all the formalistic evidence rules are designed to narrow the evidence to that which is central to the issues.  However, I feel like the Iranian approach, with one person who is educated in the law making all the calls and given broad investigative leeway, is more focused with getting to the bottom of the facts.

A Separation is available now on DVD.  It is well worth a bump-up on your Netflix queue or a trip to the Redbox.


Double Indemnity (1944)

Only Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler could make life insurance sales so interesting.  Double Indemnity is the classic “Killed Him for the Insurance Money” story.  Unwitting insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) falls hard for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).  They are blind with love after only moments together, and decide that nothing–especially not Phyllis’ husband– can keep them apart.  They secretly insure her husband’s life, and then execute the perfect murder.  It looks exactly like a freak accident, that just happens to be covered by a “double indemnity” clause in the policy, causing the policy to pay off double….everything is going perfectly….until…..BAH BUM BUM……

I love everything about film noir– the brooding voiceovers, the longing glances, the clever banter, the climbing suspense in tiny movements, the shadows and secrets.  Double Indemnity plays them all perfectly.

I can’t decide whether its a flaw of the film, but Barbra Stanwyck was so easy to dislike.  In so many other films, the femme fatale grows on you, and you are disappointed when she is revealed as bad.  Her evilness is a betrayal.  Stanwyck, however, seems a little sleazy from the get go.  It’s not surprising when she goes rotten, and it’s not disappointing either.

I feel foolish even writing a review for Double Indemnity, because it’s the quintessential film noir. It’s been reviewed over and over and over, I’m certainly not adding a new voice to the crowd.  Still, I feel like the timeless appeal of film noir is often lost with all the big-ticket explosion films today.  If you have any interest in film, a viewing of Double Indemnity is essential.


City Lights (1931)

I’ve fallen considerably behind on my quest of watching the AFI top 100 movies.  I got
City Lights from Netflix almost a month ago, and just haven’t been in the mood to watch a silent film.  Watching an old movie is like going to the gym.  I often moan and groan and put it off, but when I finally get around to it, it’s an enjoyable experience.

City Lights is clever and charming, and Charlie Chaplin’s role in this film is by far his most famous.  Chaplin plays the “Little Tramp” who falls for a blind flower girl, and vows to scrounge up the money for a surgery that will restore her eyesight.  The downfall is that once she has the surgery, she’ll be able to see the real him, and learn he’s not really a millionaire.

Most of the film is physical goofs.  They really are funny, I laughed out loud a few times.  Chaplin is, well, Chaplin…but I do think Buster Keaton is funnier.  Chaplin tries harder to be funny, while Keaton played the straight man, who falls into funny situations–which I find to be a whole lot funnier.

I am glad for my AFI goal, because I would have never bothered to watch this film otherwise.  I probably won’t go out of my way to watch many more Chaplin movies (although I will be seeing Modern Times, since it’s on the list) but I’m glad to have seen this one.


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Lawerence of Arabia is a long movie (nearly 4 hours) and just wasn’t my kind of film.  I did watch the whole thing, even though I had to split it up over 4 or 5 sittings.

Lawrence of Arabia is based on the real-life Englishman T.E. Lawrence who worked during WWI to get Arab tribes to work together and topple Turkish control.  Lawrence also happens to go slightly bonkers in the process.

I’m not interested in war movies, I’m only interested in biopics if the subject is someone I’m interested in (i.e. not T.E. Lawrence), and movies dripping with colonialism make me feel icky.  It was hard for me to stay interested in this film.  If you are interested in war movies as a genre, I could possibly understand loving this film…but that’s not me, so this is a very short review. The End.