Monday, June 25, 2007

The Siren's Alterna-List

First off, let us all admit it: Lists are fun. People like lists, and even more than lists, people like second-guessing lists. But the more the Siren thought about the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest American Films, the more she thought, isn't this a bit wrong-headed? Movie lovers, no matter what their spiritual leanings, are evangelical about the movies they love. Here the AFI had a golden opportunity to promote something a little different, and instead there they are, telling us all to watch Vertigo again.

The whole list isn't like that, of course, and if even a few people put Sunrise on the Netflix queue then the AFI exercise was not in vain. Still, there was an element of inevitability about the selections that was irksome. So the Siren spent a couple of hours this weekend amassing some alternatives. Her one requirement was that the film must not only have missed the AFI Final 100, it also must be missing from the ballot of 400 eligible films. (The one exception to the ballot rule is The Crowd, which I couldn't bear to leave off. Note: AND The Magnificent Ambersons. That was on the ballot too, but on it stays. Thanks, Michael.)

This list is not, most definitely not, a gathering of the All-Time Greats, though there are certainly some that could qualify. I'm just saying that if you have a big soapbox, you could shout about a few orphans. Besides Sunrise.

So, organized by category, here are 100 American films the Siren would love to see get some love from the AFI. She admits right off the bat that this group tilts heavily to pre-1960 because come on, so does the Siren.

Should Have Made the Final List, Never Mind the Ballot:
The Crowd
Letter from an Unknown Woman
The Magnificent Ambersons
Nightmare Alley
Crimes and Misdemeanors
The Asphalt Jungle
Scarlet Street
The Shop Around the Corner

Famous, But Where Is the Love?:
The 25th Hour
Some Came Running
Dressed to Kill
A Letter to Three Wives
Point Blank
Being There
The Bad and the Beautiful
The Lady from Shanghai
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
Dinner at Eight
The Roaring 20s
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Casualties of War
The Last Detail
North Dallas Forty
Shock Corridor
Captain Blood
Advise and Consent

The Molly Haskell Honorary "Where the Hell Are the Women's Pictures?" Corner:
Shanghai Express
The Enchanted Cottage
One-Way Passage
Portrait of Jennie
Stage Door
Back Street (1941)
Love Affair
Random Harvest
Dance, Girl, Dance
The Old Maid
The Letter
Imitation of Life (Sirk)

People like Noir, and They Would Like These, Too:
Pickup on South Street
The Woman in the Window
The Big Clock
Brute Force
Crime Wave
His Kind of Woman
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
Angel Face
Dark Passage
In a Lonely Place
The Hitch-Hiker (Lupino)
Edge of the City

Darn Sight Wittier Than Forrest Gump:
Ball of Fire
Easy Living
Libeled Lady
One, Two, Three
Design for Living
Unfaithfully Yours

Replace Rocky With:
Body and Soul

The Kevin Brownlow "Silence, Please" Corner:
Street Angel
Seventh Heaven
The Unknown
Way Down East
Show People
He Who Gets Slapped

Do-Re-Mi Has Been Done-Done-Done:
The Pirate
Yolanda and the Thief
The Gay Divorcee
Les Girls
On the Town
Footlight Parade
It's Always Fair Weather

We've Already Seen Saving Private Ryan:
Beach Red
The Big Red One
They Were Expendable

And We Saw High Noon Too:
Forty Guns
Johnny Guitar
Ride the High Country
The Gunfighter
Bad Day at Black Rock
The Last Hunt

The Sixth Sense? Are You Kidding Me?:
The Black Cat
I Walked With a Zombie
The Picture of Dorian Gray

In Order to Admire These Movies, the General Public Needs to Know They Exist:
Cotton Comes to Harlem
The Strawberry Blonde
History Is Made at Night
The Southerner
Medium Cool
Three Comrades
Hold Back the Dawn

Note: The Siren was, as she usually is, a bit sleep-deprived when she made this list, so if she accidentally included something (besides The Crowd) that was on the AFI ballot, do let her know. She's got plenty more where this came from.

Edward Copeland has his own top 100 list up, and it's a honey. The Siren loves his number 1.

My first forehead-smacking moment, of which there will be many, I am sure: Ivan G's wonderfully iconoclastic list reminds me of the existence of the splendid Seconds, a peerless futuristic chiller and the definitive riposte to those who say Rock Hudson never gave a good performance. That one is the perfect example of the sort of film I wish the AFI would promote.


goatdog said...

Wait, these movies weren't even on the ballot? The Magnificent Ambersons and Pickup on South Street and Johnny Guitar weren't even on their ballot? I honestly don't know what to say. I guess I didn't look closely enough at the AFI procedure. I need to go make a list.

Mike Phillips said...

In exchange for The Magnificent Ambersons, which is in fact on their ballot, please provide 10 replacements. Why 10? Because I use your lists to pad my "must see" lists. (Both this and the previous comment are by the same person.)

The Siren said...

ha! I used the search function to find that and I guess I screwed it up. :( will alter accordingly. But 10 may take a while. :)

J.C. Loophole said...

Great idea!
I would perhaps add Greed to the "Silence Please" list, even thought it was on the 400. It would probably never hit the final 100 list, ever as it has never seen a DVD release. It may be long, but when I first "discovered" it for myself, it changed a lot of my attitudes toward early film making and silent films. My feeling would be that a proper DVD release (with the usually wonderful Criterion style treatment) might do the same for others.
Also, maybe Bend of the River or The Man From Laramie.
And while we are at it Waterloo Bridge (with Mae Clarke). Her performance was wonderful, and to me, very different from typical melodramatic stuff beng churned out in the early 30s. (See my little ol' take on it here.)

The Siren said...

J.C., I cheated a bit there, because I have never seen the two Borzages (Street Angel & Seventh Heaven), but as I love just about every Borzage I have seen I had no problem listing them. The clips I have seen were enough to make me think the AFI should expend some capital getting those on DVD, in addition to Greed.

I taped the TCM Greed reconstruction a long time ago and was mightily impressed as well. Even now a movie with similar themes and techniques and length would have a hard time getting a major commercial release, so in a way I can understand Thalberg's reaction. But as with Ambersons, couldn't they have saved the footage? Well, it was a different time and people didn't think in terms of preserving art, if they thought of art at all.

Most Anthony Mann westerns fall into a category I call "Movies I Saw So Long Ago I Don't Remember Them Very Well." I went through them compiling this list and realized I saw a lot while my father was still alive, but I was young and watching for pure entertainment. Which isn't a bad way to see a movie, I just don't have the same amount of recollection on them.

The old version of Waterloo Bridge is on my Netflix. I will look at your thoughts with pleasure, thanks for the link!

Marilyn said...

I really hate lists, and I especially hate AFI's lists, which are random acts of marketing meant to circumscribe the film-going and -buying experience. So I won't even comment about what should have been included because I'll never stop.

That said, I think what you chose were mainly very, very good. I also liked you previous posts about the beefs you have with the list and eligibles.

Third, I've had a film blog for more than 1.5 years and don't get nearly the traffic you do. What's your secret? Do I have to have kids to make it?

Hazel said...

The Devil and Daniel Webster (I'm not American but even I think this film packs a pinch), Calamity Jane (well, it is considerably better than Pillow Talk), Aliens, Heathers, Raising Arizona, The Palm Beach Story and Gattaca (where's the sf love?).

Big thumbs up for Easy Living, The Pirate and Nightmare Alley.

The Siren said...

Marilyn, thanks for stopping by! I will definitely check out your blog. I don't think of my traffic as high (compared to something like Cinematical it is miniscule) but I love my readers and emailers and commenters so I'm happy. The audience has grown as I discover more bloggers I like. I do NOT recommend kids as a film-blogging aid. Not only do they eat into the writing time, they have the darnedest habit of walking in after you think they are in bed. And then there you are, frantically trying to find the DVD remote while something drastically age-inappropriate flickers on the TV and they stare transfixed saying, "what are those people DOING, Mommy?"

Hazel: The Devil and Daniel Webster. Forehead-smacking moment Number Two. That is such a gorgeous, moody film. There was some sort of a remake going on that subsequently failed to get distribution. Not that I regret its disappearance.

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

I've smacked my forehead a total of thirteen times, knowing that I left off Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), Point Blank (1967), The Last Detail (1973), The Letter (1940), Pickup on South Street (1950), The Woman in the Window (1944), Brute Force (1947), Ball of Fire (1941), Libeled Lady (1936), Body and Soul (1947), and Attack! (1956).

Rich said...

The Siren rocks. On the Andrew Sarris scale, she has transcended "Lightly Likable" and resides squarely in The Pantheon. "The Crowd" is a masterpiece -- a poignant snapshot of American life by a great filmmaker (King Vidor) at the top of his game. Thanks for "Midnight" too -- true perfection.

Three additions to the Noir List:
• "D.O.A." -- Best plot in noir history -- an average Joe has to figure out who murdered him before he dies.
• "Force Of Evil" -- My love for this film is surpassed only by Martin Scorsese's.
• "Sweet Smell of Success" -- best dialogue in American film history. "I'd hate to take a bite out of you. You're a cookie full of arsenic."

In the Silence Please corner --
• "The Kid Brother" -- Great gags, crackerjack plot, works perfectly for today's audience -- Harold Lloyd's best, followed closely by "Why Worry?"

And if you're going to heap plaudits on "Seconds" (as well you should), anyone wish to champion "Mickey One", wherein Arthur Penn and Warren Beatty channel the French New Wave??

Dan Leo said...

Ah, see, this is why we love the Siren. As I think I mentioned over at Newcritics, when I looked at the "official" list I saw hardly anything I could imagine wanting to watch again soon or ever. (And, yeah, I'd seen 'em all.) But looking at the Siren's little list I see so much that I want to watch again, or, even better, movies that I haven't seen and would love to.

Mike Phillips said...

Need another reason to be angry at the AFI? You can't search the PDF of their ballot for titles because they inserted the titles as images!!! Or something--whatever they did, I have to search by actor or director. Grrr.

Peter Nellhaus said...

Just a note to say that I loved your categories, and I love the films you listed more than much of what the AFI considers the best.

Exiled in NJ said...

Thank you for lisitng Shampoo! It is the almost perfect 70s film, and Ashby was the jongleur of the decade. Today Beatty would zip to the airport and grab Christie from Warden's clutches.

He died practically unnoticed; Kubrick passed and was admitted to the Pantheon immediately. Actually K did not even have to wait for the Grim Reaper, but more honor should be paid to the maker of Harold and Maude, Last Detail, Coming Home and Being There, with Bound for Glory in reserve.

The Siren said...

Ivan, we should give our foreheads a break and let the AFI smack themselves. I really can't think of much excuse for not putting Pickup on South Street on the ballot, for example.

Rich, Force of Evil and Sweet Smell of Success were on the ballot. I really do not know how Sweet Smell missed the final cut; my impression was that it was getting its due finally, what with the (admittedly failed) musical and all. Harold Lloyd is a gap in my film viewing; I think Safety Last is the only one I have seen.

Dan, there are some movies I would gladly re-watch on the AFI 100, but I think if you gave me a DVD collection of my list or AFI's I'd pick mine.

Michael - So that's why I couldn't find Ambersons! it was one of the few I searched by title, instead of scrolling or searching by director. Thanks, I feel marginally less computer-incompetent now.

Peter, thanks as always. I did categories because a straight 1-100 ranking would have taken me all summer.

Exiled, I think Ashby is underrated too and I am not sure why. People seem to love his films individually but for some reason he doesn't register as much as an auteur, though he certainly was. Maybe it was his rather self-effacing personality. He didn't have that larger-than-life thing common to so many 70s directors.

giles edwards said...

We don't get the braodcast over here in England (I guees somewhere down the line on a distant cable stattion, maybe....) so I can't say I was able to sit through the countdown. Much as I'd love to. I'm a whore for thse kind of lists, maddening -- and merciless on the DVD budget -- though they always are.

But among more than a dozen pretty wicked-bad gaffes, to me the lack of "Being There" seems the most egregious omission. I mean, if we're talking about innovative American film, satire doesn't get any more pointed (except perhaps in "Dr Strangelove") or beautifully filmed.

I guess "Forrest Gump" was far enough back for the voters to look for a blackly comical avant. Forehead slap, indeed.

The Siren said...

Giles, I didn't watch the show but don't feel that I missed much. Several moments would probably have had me hurling things at the TV and as we have had it only ten months it is a good thing that didn't happen.

Kevin Wolf said...

The last time I watched an AFI show for one of these lists it was a colossal waste of time, so I don't think anybody's missing anything if they skiped it.

Siren, your choices are excellent and I, too, would prefer DVDs of your list over the AFI's boring "official" list.

And kudos for including Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker, a tight and solid piece of work. Just saw it again recently. I loves me some grade-B noir. Hmm. Time to find a copy of The Narrow Margin.

Mike Phillips said...

I think Ashby doesn't get much credit because the latter half of his career can be charitably described as a slump. After Being There, there's eight years of bad films and missed chances, ending with an episode of a "Hill Street Blues" spinoff. Grumpy old David Thomson accuses him of having no "directorial personality" and says that any good that came out of his films was the result of other people's work: Robert Towne, Warren Beatty, etc. I'm guessing that Ashby's biggest crime was being adaptable--what is there for an auteurist to dig up in such varied but great films as Coming Home, Being There, The Last Detail, and Harold and Maude?

The Siren said...

Michael, that is quite plausible, though I can't help thinking that other directors had huge declines or bad movies in their sunset years and their reputations survived.

Uncle Gustav said...

I attempted making a 'best of' list...there's no way to be all-inclusive! This has to be the most ridiculous activity of all!

Meanwhile, I didn't read the AFI list. Did they even mention any Anthony Mann movies? I had about four on mine.

The Siren said...

The only Mann I spotted on the ballot (it didn't make the final 100) was Winchester 73.

Uncle Gustav said...

It figures...

Mann's Thunder Bay should be required viewing for all!

Gloria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gloria said...

The "Darn Sight Wittier Than Forrest Gump"titles had me cracking... and then sad: Why today's filmgoers, who don't know about Billy Wilder, buy Zemecki's film in DVD and watch it over and over? (I could never watch Gump more than once: it is a malady which many modern films cause me).

Your list proposals are grand: I was particularly tickled by "Hold back the Dawn" (*sighs* about Boyer), "The Bad and the Beautiful" ("There's more to Minnelli than just musicals"), "The Pirate" (...but he directed such awesomely good musicals") or "The Big Clock" and"Advise and Consent" (no need for explanations here, LOL).

However, I second Marilyn's proposal that the best list is no list at all... Why reduce the story of film to a hundred picks?

inugai_kenzo said...

thank you for the great list, and for mentioning One Way Passage! and Bombshell! The Hitchhiker! The Strawberry Blonde! Cotton Comes to Harlem! and, and---

oops. :P




my list would add comedies with a bite---Lord Love a Duck, The President's Analyst, Five on the Black Hand Side, Little Shop of Horrors (1960)! :>

and a spate of semi-unknown or just plain unknown unusual & wonderful post-war social consciousness (is that a term?) "b" & "z" movies---The Well (1951), The Ring (1952), Japanese War Bride (1952), Yellowneck (1955), Naked in the Sun (1957); the last two by florida-based independent(!) filmmaker R. John Hugh--anyone familiar with him?

along with the (somewhat) better known films by Kramer, Fuller, Corman, Zanuck, Lupino, Siegal, et al---Not Wanted, The Big Steal, Home of the Brave, No Way Out, The Hitchhiker, The Crimson Kimono, The Intruder, Steel Helmet...!

...Park Row!

Salt of the Earth.

I love all them all.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

"Okay, wait. A Letter to Three Wives and The Shop Around the Corner aren't on this list, but here's Love Story, Die Hard, and friggin' Sleepless in Seattle. No one compiling this list has ever actually seen a movie, right?"

"Oh no- this list comes from the American Film Institute."

"Here's a gun. Kill me."

The Siren said...

Yeah, I intentionally did not do those sort of comparisons because, as you say, it's mind-crushingly depressing. A while back when the screenwriters, who are SUPPOSED to know better, came up with an even more banal list someone pointed out that it is quite likely a bit of back-scratching going on--people throwing bones to mentors and old friends. That has to play a part in some of this. But not enough to explain the whole list of 400 nominations.

Buttermilk Sky said...

Can I put in a word for "Something To Sing About"? It's far from a great movie, but it has a snarky view of moviemaking (and racial attitudes) and a splendid dance number for James Cagney that I can't see too often. Try it.