Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100. (Progress)

Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100 movies.

Note: The AFI released two lists, one in 1998 and one in 2007. I’ll consider this goal finished if I complete one of the lists, but I’ll probably aim for both of them.

This week I watched:

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is one of those weird movies that only could have been made 1967-1969. It’s half early ’60s problem picture, very earnest and speech-y. And it’s half very contemporary, a movie about the Civil Rights Movement falling apart when people have to come to grips with the reality of it instead of the philosophy about it. Of course, today it looks dated; like American Graffiti, it’s one of those films which captured the zeitgeist perfectly but that later critics have less and less of a connection to as the years pass. Guess Who‘s star fell quickly even between the release of the 1998 list and the 2007 one; attitudes on integration and “color-blindness” being the cure-all to racism have changed. And while I did tire of the film’s preaching, here’s one speech that I did love: Hepburn’s, when she and Tracy are in the car eating ice cream:

“You know for us it’s all been great . . . but you  know what was the best time of all? It was in the beginning when everything was a struggle, and you were working too hard, and worried, and sometimes frightened. And there were times when I felt–when I really knew–that I was a help to you. That was the very best time of all for me.”

Apocalypse Now: After all that whining last week about “boxing movies,” I loved this one. I’m not sure if we ended up watching a re-mastered version of this or what, but the shots were all so gorgeous, so crisp and modern that I couldn’t believe this was filmed in 1979. (It helps that 1979’s mustaches are back in fashion.)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Hands down, the most painful entry on the list so far. Imagine going out with your couple-friends who always get drunk, fight with each other, try to drag you into it, reference the most inappropriate things and try to humiliate each other by mining their partner’s deepest insecurities . . . That’s this movie. If I wasn’t doing this project, I would have turned it off ten minutes into it. I get that it was groundbreaking both in Liz Taylor’s performance as something other than a sex kitten and in the role it played in dismantling the production code, but Christ, how did this get to be such a sell-out success of a play that it was made into a movie in the first place? Who would willingly subject themselves to this?

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Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100

Goal #26: Watch the AFI Top 100 movies.

Note: The AFI released two lists, one in 1998 and one in 2007. I’ll consider this goal finished if I complete one of the lists, but I’ll probably aim for both of them.

Around February of this year, we reached the point in my AFI Top 100-watching journey that I’d essentially finished most of the films I was really interested in watching: the pre-1970s films, the romances and comedies and musicals, the classic war pictures and epics and film noir. What was left is mostly what I refer to as “boxing movies.” A boxing movie isn’t a movie about boxing per se, although most movies about boxing fall into this category. A boxing movie is a movie that makes no attempt to interest the feminine audience, a movie that doesn’t just fail the Bechdel test–it looks like it intentionally tried to fail. Boxing movies were mostly made in the ’70s and ’80s. Their subject matter is the manliest of manly: war (especially the manliest war, Vietnam), spaceships, the Mafia, gunfights. The presentation is gory, dark and cynical. Their female characters, if they exist at all, are stereotypical (saintly mothers, loyal wives or harpies, sex objects) or token, and rarely get more than ten minutes of screen time. Needless to say, I got a little stuck in my progressing towards this goal for a bit. At this point I just need to power through; maybe some of them will surprise me. And there are still films I’m looking forward to in the mix.

This week I watched:

Duck Soup: One of two Marx brothers masterpieces on the list. The closing scene–which involves the brothers going to war–and the mirror scene are classics. While I liked the movie’s quick pace and rapid-fire joke delivery, I’m just not a fan of the Marx brothers’ style of humor. I’ve never been a huge fan of slapstick, and Groucho’s barbs are just too mean for me to properly appreciate. I do have to admit to getting a few chuckles out of the mirror scene, though. A fun film–just not for me.

Network: Debates abound over whether this 1970s film about TV news production was intended to be satire or taken straight, but everyone agrees it was prescient. As newscaster Howard Beale suffers an extended nervous breakdown on air, his coworkers are initially concerned–but as the meltdown causes an upsurge in their ratings, it becomes a race as to who will be the first to capitalize on it.

Although it’s an entertaining film, my opinion of Network suffered from viewing it now, as opposed to earlier in the experiment. Sandwiched in between all the other male-dominated and overtly masculine films I’ve been watching lately, the fact that its only female character existed solely to serve as a metaphor bugged me more than it should have. Faye Dunaway gave such a great performance, and for it to be wasted on a role that was more symbol than character is depressing. Even Anchorman was more progressive.

Shane: A well-crafted western about the last days of the gunslingers, but I’m not sure it deserves its place on this list. Butch Cassidy did the same theme better, and Shane lacks the innovation and allegory of other westerns in the Top 100. Maybe I’m just thrown off by that damn kid, though. Child stars almost always sink a movie for me, and this one was more obnoxious than most.

Still to go: Chinatown, Apocalypse Now, Annie Hall, The Godfather, Part II, Midnight Cowboy, Rear Window, King Kong, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, Jaws, All Quiet on the Western Front, MASH, Tootsie, The Silence of the Lambs, The Manchurian Candidate, The French Connection, City Lights, Rocky, The Deer Hunter, The Wild Bunch, Modern Times, Platoon, Fargo, Mutiny on the Bounty, Frankenstein, Easy Rider, Patton, The Jazz Singer, Pulp Fiction, Unforgiven, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Saving Private Ryan, The Sixth Sense, The General, Intolerance, Nashville, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, All the President’s Men, A Night at the Opera, 12 Angry Men, Sophie’s Choice, The Last Picture Show, Blade Runner, Toy Story.

Finished: Duck Soup, Network, Shane, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, The Wizard of Oz, The Graduate, On the Waterfront, Schindler’s List, Singin’ in the Rain, It’s a Wonderful Life, Sunset Blvd., The Bridge on the River Kwai, Some Like It Hot, Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope, All About Eve, The African Queen, Psycho, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Grapes of Wrath, 2001–A Space Odyssey, The Maltese Falcon, Raging Bull, E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, Dr. Strangelove, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Bonnie and Clyde, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, High Noon, To Kill a Mockingbird, It Happened One Night, The Best Years of Our Lives, Double Indemnity, Doctor Zhivago, North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Birth of a Nation, A Streetcar Named Desire, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Philadelphia Story, From Here to Eternity, Amadeus, The Sound of Music, The Third Man, Fantasia, Rebel without a Cause, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, Vertigo, Stagecoach, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, An American in Paris, Forrest Gump, Ben-Hur, Wuthering Heights, The Gold Rush, Dances with Wolves, American Graffiti, Giant, My Fair Lady, A Place in the Sun, The Apartment, Goodfellas, The Searchers, Bringing Up Baby, Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Titanic, Sullivan’s Travels, Cabaret, The Shawshank Redemption, In the Heat of the Night, Spartacus, Sunrise: A Tale of Two Humans, Swing Time, Do the Right Thing.