ALL ABOUT EVE – needs to be on the list!
The BBC just surveyed film critics and came up with BBC’s list of 100 Greatest American Films. I’m a sucker for lists, and this is a rare “Best List” that’s focused only on American Cinema. American films only constuitute about 50-65% of the movies on my list of Greatest Movies of All-Time and my yearly “Best”lists, and I relish this chance to delve into the canon of American films.
Naturally, I have opinions, having seen 96 of the 100 (all but The Band Wagon, Love Streams, Letter from an Unknown Woman and the 1959 Imitation of Life). (Confession – I had never heard of the short film Meshes of the Afternoon, but was able to view it yesterday on YouTube.) The list has got some notoriety because Gone With the Wind is only #97 (which is okay with me).
Bottom line: it’s a really good list. I especially appreciate the inclusion of some films that are truly great but tend not to get recognized on “great” lists: 25th Hour, In a Lonely Place, Deliverance, Groundhog Day, The Right Stuff, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, It’s a Wonderful Life and Pulp Fiction. I also was tickled by the inclusion (at #85) of George Romero’s 1968 seminal zombie classic Night of the Living Dead, which really was a groundbreaking film.
I do have some quibbles. I can’t fathom why anyone would think that Marnie and Johnny Guitar would rise to this list. Michael Cimino’s cinematic disaster Heaven’s Gate was reassessed by critics a couple of years ago; I rewatched it again, too, but I still found it laughably awful today. Just as indefensible as including Heaven’s Gate was the omission of Cimino’s REAL masterpiece The Deer Hunter.
Though I personally loathe Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, a critic can make a plausible argument for them. Still, the list is too reverential to Kubrick, Malick and David Lynch (Mulholland Drive AND Blue Velvet?).
Documentaries are represented here by Killer of Sheep and Grey Gables, two groundbreaking films from the late 60s/early 70s that have been seen by everyone who’s taken a film course between 1980 and 2000. But I actually prefer Salesman from that period. And there are much better American documentaries that I would include instead: Harlan County USA, Hoop Dreams and the entire work of Errol Morris, especially Gates of Heaven or The Thin Blue Line.
Here’s another serious beef. The only animated film on the list is The Lion King, which I think is an excellent movie, but probably not in my top ten of American animated films. The BBC list excludes the Toy Story series and Fantasia (and all of the other Disney movies from Disney’s classic period) – CRIMINAL!
There’s also an “Eat Your Broccoli, It’s Good For You” aspect to the list – as if every movie important to study in film class is “great”. There are some hard slogs on this list. I wouldn’t recommend that most movie fans run out and see, as important as they are, Sunrise, Greed, the Cassavetes films, Killer of Sheep, Meshes of the Afternoon or The Magnificent Ambersons. (By all reports, Orson Welles made a masterpiece in The Magnificent Ambersons – but none of us has seen it because it was mangled by studio editors; frankly, I have really tried to embrace the available version of Ambersons, but it’s never rang my chimes.) Hey, Bonnie and Clyde is a really important movie, too, and it’s not on the BBC list.
There are some missed opportunities, too. Any list of great American cinema MUST include: All About Eve, Sullivan’s Travels, Fargo, Out of the Past, Laura and last year’s masterpiece, Boyhood. The BBC also whiffed on the entire work of Clint Eastwood; I would have included Million Dollar Baby, but Mystic River and Unforgiven are deserving, too.
Woody Allen gets two of his deserving movies on the list, but how about Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, too? Similarly, Robert Altman’s recognition should also include The Player (and Gosford Park, if it counts as an “American” film).
I could also make a case for: The Producers, High Noon, All the President’s Men, American Graffiti, All That Jazz, Bull Durham, Cool Hand Luke, Five Easy Pieces, My Man Godfrey, Best in Show and Sideways.
Still, I always enjoy haggling over a list, and it’s great to focus once in a while on purely American cinema.
25TH HOUR – getting its due.