Forget the would-be significance of the American Film Institute’s refreshed list of the most powerful/important/ legendary films of all time because none exists. The AFI has been whorishly shopping its once- distinguished brand on the tube for years with best-this and best-that presentations, and none of their efforts at self-promotion signifies a damn thing (except for their own diminishment).
That said, there’s something strangely stubborn, even bizarre, about the members continuing to put Orson WellesCitizen Kane in the #1 position. I’m saying this because of a general understanding that kicked in around eight or ten years ago that the industry’s long-established Kane worship was winding down and that Francis Coppola‘s The Godfather was emerging as the new All-Time Big Daddy.
The only really interesting sidelight is to consider the 23 films that were on the all-time top 100 list in 1998, but have now been dropped. Here’s a list of some the dispatched along with possible reasons (most of them indicative of lazy or at least temporary thinking) why they’ve been tossed:
1. All Quiet on the Western Front (1930 –#54 on the ’98 list) — too World War I creaky, too emphatic in its sentimentality, plus boomers don’t relate to doomed German grunts who fought 85 years ago as much as they relate to vets of WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and Iraq. 2. Amadeus (1984 — #53 on ’98 list) — Tom Hulce’s performance as Mozart was always grating, and the rank-and-file finally got sick of endorsing it time and again; 3. An American in Paris (1951 — #68 in 1998) — with each passing year, the obviously gifted Gene Kelly has seemed more and more un-genuine and absolutely desperate in his need to be loved; 4. The Birth of a Nation (1915 — #44 in ’98) — it took AFI members 90-plus years to decide that D.W. Griffith‘s racism was a more strongly defining trait than his importance as a pioneering film artist; 5. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) (#64 in ’98) — another indication of the continuing dissipation of the Spielberg-is-an-industry-God-and-therefore-must-be-kowtowed-to-at-every- official-opportunity mentality; 6. Dances with Wolves (1990 — #75 in ’98) — a reflection of the fact that many younger industry types feel somewhat embar- assed that Kevin Costner‘s film won the Best Film Oscar that year instead of Martin Scorsese‘s Goodfellas; 7. Doctor Zhivago (1965 — #39 in ’98) — too syrupy and sentimental, and way too much ice and frost on Omar Sharif‘s moustache — a view that’s been building for some time.
Enough…I can’t go through the entire list of 23 films.
One last thing: the dropping of Joel and Ethan Coen‘s Fargo (1996 — #84 on the ’98 list), Fred Zinneman‘s From Here to Eternity (1953 — #52 on the ’98 list), John Frankenheimer‘s The Manchurian Candidate (1962 — #67 on the ’98 list); Franklin J. Schaffner‘s Patton (1970 — #89 on the ’98 list), George StevensA Place in the Sun (1951 — #92 in ’98), Nicholas Ray‘s Rebel Without a Cause (1955 — #59 in ’98) and Sir Carol Reed‘s The Third Man (1949 — #57 in ’98) is not only unfortunate but curious. I can’t think of any reasons, well-considered or stupidly impulsive, why these films would be cut.
The Reeler‘s Stu Van Airsdale is also unimpressed by the AFI, feeling that its latest list is “bad for cinema.”