Because she likes the number 9 better than the number 10. In reverse order, the Siren's problems with who made it, Ma, and who didn't:
9. This morning, my daughter was playing with a set of wooden blocks. There are 30 blocks in the set. Her twin brother reached out and tentatively grabbed one block. This left her with 29. His sister let out a howl that could probably be heard in Newark: "No, MY BLOCKS! MINE!" And I had the same conversation as always. There are a lot of blocks here. Your brother can have his one block.
What reminded the Siren of this scenario was the presence, once again, of Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai on this list. These films weren't merely created by a British director, like Vertigo. They are culturally and thematically British, about British history and British empire. Who cares about which country put up the money? Kwai had one American star and two American screenwriters, it is true, but one writer was in France and the other in London because we had, you know, made them leave in order to get work.
We have a massive film industry. We have our own blocks and furthermore, unlike this morning's combatants, we are not four years old. We don't have to take away movies from the British. (The Siren assumes that the howls over the prior inclusion of The Third Man as "American" must have made a dent, since its omission can't be explained otherwise.) And while we are on the subject, A Clockwork Orange, despite Kubrick, doesn't make much sense as an American movie either.
8. No Fritz Lang. Come on--no Scarlet Street? no Woman in the Window? Well, the second one has been hard to see for some time. The Siren hasn't seen it since the 1980s, but its DVD-less state is about to be rectified.
7. Sophie's Choice really isn't a good movie. It is a pretty bad movie with one great performance and an unforgettable climax. The other movies on the list that the Siren considers unworthy can be justified in terms of cultural impact or later influence--even (the Siren swallows hard) something like The Sixth Sense. But Sophie's Choice was recognized as a deeply flawed movie even at the time, and if it had lasting influence on anything other than subject matter and Meryl Streep's (well-earned) career the Siren has missed it.
6. The Siren loves James Cagney. Worships him, in fact. And she loves Yankee Doodle Dandy. But if you are going to do only one Cagney, the one to do is White Heat.
5. Similar beef with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Swing Time is great, but everyone knows Top Hat is the one to beat.
4. You out there, yes you, the one whining about Citizen Kane. Cut it out. No, it is not a "boring movie." No, it did not achieve its status strictly because of "technical stuff." It is one of the most thematically complex movies ever made in this country, an astoundingly rich statement on American success and American failure, as relevant today as it was in 1941. The Siren finds Paradise Lost boring. Nevertheless she does not waste people's time by trying to argue that this means Milton is overrated.
3. If, however, you wish to argue that The Magnificent Ambersons has as much of a right to be here as Kane, the Siren will listen.
2. Famous exchange at Ernst Lubitsch's funeral:
Billy Wilder: No more Ernst Lubitsch.
William Wyler: Worse than that. No more Lubitsch pictures.
While this thought depressed the hell out of Wilder and Wyler, a lack of Lubitsch does not unduly ruffle the mandarins of the AFI. That is ten different kinds of wrong.
1. As Ebert points out, this list is more a marketing tool than anything else, designed to shift DVDs. Given the amount of attention the list generates, and the fact that it is compiled by "filmmakers, critics and historians," does it have to be so SAFE? So many Oscar winners. So many epics and adventure stories, so few women's pictures, so little grit. Everything already widely seen and widely available. Live a little, guys. Is a bit of a surprise too much to ask?
Postscript: Mucho morning-after discussion on this, of course. Edward Copeland tracks the ins and outs on the list, and M.A. Peel at Newcritics looks in depth at the Top 10. Here is Chuck Tryon, giving his thoughts on the value of lists in general, and speculating about the "why" behind some of the MIA. Jim Emerson gives his thoughts, and links to his own list at the bottom of the post. Lots of love to the Reeler for the best two-word summary of the AFI list, and his constructive suggestions for alternatives. A list of "100 Forgotten Films"--now that is something the Siren could applaud.
Still more--Daniel at Check the Fien Print has no tolerance for the D.W. Griffith entry, and a lot of skepticism over how it was chosen.