For the 10th anniversary of the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American movies, they allowed re-balloting and added movies from the last ten years. It is important to understand how the ballot worked. First, they limited the nominees to 400 movies, including 45 movies that came out since the last list. You could write in a movie, but I don’t know what chance a write-in would have. Instead of having people rank the movies, they just had people pick 100. Then you would rank your top 5 which was used as a “tie-breaker”.
Some of the criteria for selection were cut and dry. There had to be significant American involvement and it had to be feature-length (60 minutes or more). The rest of the criteria are more flexible:
Major Award Winner
Popularity Over Time
Note that liking the movie supposedly has nothing to do with the decision. Even some of these criteria could be ranked objectively, like critical recognition, award winner, and popularity.
The new nominees are:
As Good As It Gets
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Good Will Hunting
Saving Private Ryan B
Shakespeare in Love
American Beauty B-
Being John Malkovich A-
Fight Club C
The Matrix B+
The Sixth Sense A
There’s Something About Mary B-
Three Kings B
Erin Brockovich B+
Requiem for a Dream
A Beautiful Mind B-
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring A
Moulin Rouge! A-
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers B+
Finding Nemo A
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King A
Lost in Translation B+
Mystic River A-
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl B
The Aviator B+
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind A
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban A-
Million Dollar Baby B
Spider-Man 2 A-
Good Night, and Good Luck C+
Hotel Rwanda C+
I’ve seen all but a handful of those movies and some simply do not belong (Austin Powers, Fight Club, Moulin Rouge!, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man 2, and Harry Potter). I guess I’m okay with many of the rest. The 4 that made the cut were Fellowship of the Ring, Saving Private Ryan, Titanic, and The Sixth Sense. I’m okay with The Sixth Sense, but the others were more about hype for their star directors (Peter Jackson, Steven Speilberg, and James Cameron) than how good the movies were. They were okay, but who has seen Titanic lately? Saving Private Ryan is always commended for the combat scenes on D-Day which were only at the beginning of the movie and had nothing to do with the rest of the movie, which amounted to one of many good World War 2 movies (and pales next to the made for TV Band of Brothers). Spielberg’s best work consists of E.T, Jaws, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s it. Likewise, Alfred Hitchcock is well represented, but my favorite of his was Notorious which didn’t make the list. Psycho is probably his most famous, but not his best.
If I could only pick 4 from the list, I’d take As Good As It Gets, Crash, The Matrix, and maybe Mystic River. Not that those were my 10 favorites (I’d have to add Being John Malkovich), but those four meet some of the other criteria. Really, I’d pick completely different movies from the last 4 years, which I’ll add at the very end.
The original list was pretty good, with Citizen Kane finishing at the top and some pretty good movies from the previous ten years, Silence of the Lambs, Forrest Gump, Goodfellas, Schindler’s List, Unforgiven, Pulp Fiction, and Fargo, along with the more questionable Dances With Wolves. Movies that didn’t make that cut but showed up in the next list were Do the Right Thing, The Shawshank Redemption, and Toy Story. Those are all pretty good (Dances With Wolves and Fargo dropped off).
I’ve seen at least half of the movies on the list. There are some that are just very, very obscure like a number of silent movies and an odd collection of Westerns (I’m rejoining Netflix, so I hope to see some of those). With some of the ones I have seen I was left scratching my head at why anyone would find the movie remotely entertaining or worth recommending. So here is my list of the ten most overrated movies on the Top 100. I don’t doubt that I would add some if I saw them (Easy Rider, Singin’ in the Rain, and On the Waterfront look like likely candidates). I am listing them in order that they appear in the list, which doesn’t necessarily mean they are the most undeserving.
1. The Godfather (2) Everyone I know who loves these movies says the second one is better than the first, but Godfather II is at 32. I’m not saying this movie doesn’t belong on the list but only that it is in the wrong place. (edit in 2017: both movies are overrated and I don’t think the second is better)
2. Raging Bull (4) I watched this on video. It was depressing and boring. Scorsese and De Niro have done great work, but again I feel like they are rewarding the wrong movie.
3. Sunset Boulevard (16) I couldn’t even get through this movie. It was just a horrible nightmare of a poorly made movie. Billy Wilder made some decent movies, but he has two that made my list of most overrated. The production values make these things like TV shows.
4. Midnight Cowboy (43) Depressing movie without any kind of plot. This is a classic critic’s choice since it is depressing and gritty (deals with drugs, prostitution, and homosexuality). The thing is, I don’t want to see movies about that.
5. Taxi Driver (52) Another Scorsese/De Niro flick. It is a showcase for De Niro’s larger than life acting, but it is another movie that drags on and on.
6. MASH (54) Just plain not a good movie. The TV show was funny, but this movie wasn’t.
7. Nashville (59) Classic Altman. It’s like randomly put together documentary footage except that supposedly it was written and directed. Another really boring movie without a plot.
8. Cabaret (63) Depressing. Liza Minelli and Michael York are terrible actors.
9. Network (64) I saw this thing a few years ago and couldn’t believe how bad it was. An indictment of television! Now that’s bold.
10. The Apartment (80) Boring and pretentious. Billy Wilder would crank these things out in no time and it shows.
If I could pick 40 nominees from the last 10 years of movies that would contend for the top 100, here is what I would pick, with a few modifications, from the top 4 of each of the years I’ve been reviewing movies at my website (from most recent to oldest; the AFI nominees didn’t list any movies from 2006):
Stranger Than Fiction
Walk the Line
Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Return of the King
The Italian Job
We Were Soldiers
The Quiet American
Fellowship of the Ring
Being John Malkovich
The Sixth Sense
Elephants of Africa (IMAX)
Out of Sight
The Spanish Prisoner