The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films – Volume 4

June 22, 2010

The march toward the end of the list continues! (Hmm. That sounded way more exciting before I typed it out…) If you’re just joining us, please fill out the “Getting to Know Me!” card, which is found in the Comment section. We’ll introduce ourselves after we conclude Volume 4 in The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films

See also:
Volume Three
Volume Two
Volume One 

Unfortunately, new fonts wouldn't be invented until 1942, forcing the producers to settle for "Hobo Circus."

21. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Trifling road picture about a family’s ill-fated excursion to California, the land of dreams and cheap-ass labor. Hilarity ensues as Henry Fonda (playing against type as a well-rounded character) leads his family from misadventure to underpaying misadventure, including the inadvertent death of his grandfather, his grandmother’s dog and indeed, the grandmother herself. Directed by John Hughes, the whiter of the two Hughes brothers (directors of Menace II Society). 

SPOILER ALERT: Nothing in this film moves anywhere as fast as that shuttle drawing would indicate.

22. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick, 2001 uses then-cutting edge technology to prove the old adage that “In space, no one bothers to write much dialog.” 

The first half of the film is an impeccably shot space travelogue. The second half finds the protagonists dealing with a sentient on-board computer whose unwavering belief that the mission be completed is of greater importance that actually leaving anyone alive to complete it. The third half presents an extended hallucination suffered/enjoyed by the main character as he dies and is reincarnated as some sort of orbiting, metaphoric space fetus. 

Presumably this ending would have been better explained if Kubrick hadn’t blown the entire budget on construction of a full-size, fully-functioning space station and insisting that every scene be shot on location just outside of Jupiter. Exceedingly long. 

Always ahead of his time, Bogie shows off his double-gun action, beating John Woo to the punch by nearly 45 years.

23. The Maltese Falcon (1941)
Influential film noir, shot in noir and blanc and starring America’s most noir-ish actor, Humphrey Bogart. Based on a Dashiell Hammett novel, The Maltese Falcon follows the story of several small-time crooks who aim to name the valuable titular bird and the one drunken private dick tasked with getting to it first. Packed with incredible performances, fast-paced dialogue and inadequate lighting. 

Little known fact: Hammett originated the phrase “grinned wolfishly,” a descriptor that Bogie tries tirelessly to emulate by “sucking on his teeth,” which also originates with Hammett. Both phrases have been subsequently beaten to death by many authors since, most notably Clive Cussler and his nearly-sentient offspring, Dirk Cussler

"Insiders noted that De Niro looked 'puffy' and 'hand-shaded...'"

24. Raging Bull (1980)
Scorsese’s 1980’s masterpiece (which doesn’t look a day over 1950, thanks to a film mixup during development) follows the epic storyline of legendary boxer Bobby (Robert) De Niro (La Motta) whose brutal fighting style and even brutaller lifestyle saw him climb the heavyweight hierarchy while simultaneously hitting rock bottom (and his significant others). 

Remade four years earlier as Rocky, which featured a more populist slant, one that culminated with Rocky 4 in which Rocky beats up the Soviet Union. 

Eliott shows up the "magic" of static electricty to his new, and suddenly very scared, friend.

25. E.T. (1982)
Spielberg returns to space (or rather, space returns to earth) five years after his groundbreaking UFO flick Close Encounters of the Third Kind gave us all a much-needed sense of wonder, as well as something to do while playing with our food. 

E.T. follows the story of The Man Who Fell to Earth, except that the “man” is actually a diminutive alien with the voice of a 75-year-old chainsmoker rather than a wispy ambisexual singer. Much like most tourists, E.T. soon expresses a desire to return home, which he soon [SPOILER ALERT] does, but not before touching the lives of the kindly Tanner family via Reese’s Pieces product placement and various small miracles like levitating bicycles and turning guns into walkie-talkies. Goddard routinely cites this film as an influence. 

The military demonstrates the power of its repurposed "Release the Hounds" button.

26. Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)
Kubrick again, this time taking a darkly serious script and turning it into an inadvertently funny film, thanks to his heavy-handed use of black and white film and a major miscasting of Peter Sellers as four different characters. 

A note to young filmmakers: when dealing with something as portentous as the end of the world, you are probably better off utilizing a style similar to Airport ’77 or anything Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) has directed. 

Notable for its Nazi scientist, frank discussions of bodily fluids and stock footage of A-bomb detonations. 

Beatty models his proto-Dick Tracy look while Dunaway laughs drunkenly.

27. Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway set the gold standard for anti-heroes with this biopic. Still as visceral as it was back in the late ’60s, Bonnie and Clyde jumpstarted Beatty’s career, serving notice to Hollywood that this young actor would attempt to bang his female co-stars for years to come. 

Bonnie and Clyde also jumpstarted a new wave of moral panic for its portrayal of criminals as human beings, albeit highly romanticized human beings. The ensuing controversy briefly resurrected the Hays Code, which stipulated that the criminal character(s) must meet a “violent death shot at no less than 72 frames-per-second.” 

Starring Billy Zane as Billy Corgan! Featuring the disembodied head of Gregory Peck!

28. Apocalypse Now (1979)
The war flick to end all war flicks (mainly due to actor attrition and Coppola’s blowing of an entire decade’s worth of film budget), Apocalypse Now follows the story of a soldier tasked with hunting down and destroying Marlon Brando’s massive, bloated ego. As notable for its filming as it is for its epic deconstruction of the Vietnam War, it has nonetheless gained a loyal following that often finds it has four-hour chunks of time just lying around. 

A cultural phenomenon, Apocalypse Now revived “Ride of the Valkyries,” surfing while being shot at, overly-expositional narration and sent a generation of young readers straight into the open, boring arms of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Redefined “War Movie” and ‘Exceedingly long.” 

Alt. title: "Mr. Smith's House of Wax Busts."

29. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
A Will Smith vehicle so utterly banal that it doesn’t even bother with giving his character a new surname (or even a first name) with which to justify his $20 million payday for “acting services rendered.” 

Features the extremely unlikely story of a black man being elected to public office, Mr. Smith exists mainly to showcase Capra’s mawkish “everyman” daydreams and unnatural affinity for black and white photography. Written by Babaloo Mandel. 

Bogie is the last to succumb to argyria, thanks to a lower amount of "silver lust."

30. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Humphrey Bogart stars in this harrowing tale of gold and the damage done. Boldly showing the lengths that man will go to “strike it rich,” The Treasure of the Sierra Madre unflinchingly takes on man’s capacity for evil and the Mexicans lack of badges (and indeed, their inability to comprehend why anyone would need any badges). 

Hailed by uber-critic Rex Reed as a “paranoiac’s wet dream,” who goes on to say “Don’t touch my stuff.” Followed by a much-belated sequel National Treasure of the Sierra Madre 2



  1. Love the curly fries . . . oops, sorry CLT! Still hung-up on the other post. This is the only movie coverage one needs to read, before viewing a classic. Great humorous insight. Heyt . . . do Gila Monster lizards really hang-on until sunset? What if they bite you – say – a few seconds BEFORE sunset? Do they let go right away? Who notices this kind of thing? Did Bogart sleep with that young dude in the mountains (early “Brokeback”!), making the old timer insanely jealous? True Fact: The Mexicans used to show up drunk and bully the others, and John Huston slapped the snot out of Bogey, who was a huge crybaby. You put the secret sin in “sinema” CLT! Damn enlightening post! I’m gonna cook-up some “golden” curly fries. Get it? Like Sierra Madre gold? I need serious shock treatment.

    • Dan –

      As much as I’d like to recommend shock therapy as a result of your disjointed comment, I really can’t, for two reasons:

      1. I lost my licensing years ago thanks to some local brownouts and other unpleasantness.
      2. There’s too much information in here to just zap away into a “happy place” loaded with curly fries and angry Mexicans.

      For instance, I had no idea about the gila monster death grip. I thought they’d only latch on until they lost interest, which I gauged to be about 5 minutes, rather than several hours.

      I also was unaware of the sexual connotations of Bogie’s crybaby-ish give-and-take with Huston and his less babyish co-stars.

      So, you’re off the electrical hook for now. Until next time, have you considered getting some sleep? Or perhaps some Jesus?

      Thanks for the comment, Dan. Great to see you again.

    • Thanks, CLT! Sleep it is . . . curlys for everyone!

  2. Lots of fine movies in this list, though I am shocked that Meatballs III: Summer Jobwas left out of the top thirty films…how is that possible? Possibly the curly fries.

    • FJ, Meatballs III made three crucial errors which resulted in them getting kicked off the list.

      1. No Marlon Brando.
      2. Not shot in black and white.
      3. Nowhere close to the 140+ minutes running time required.

      The curly fries didn’t help.

  3. Favourite funny bit:
    “2001 uses then-cutting edge technology to prove the old adage that “In space, no one bothers to write much dialog.” ” Fun-ny.

    Favourite fact:
    that it is possible to remake an original four years before the original is even released! That was an impressive bit of info on Rocky/Raging Bull…

    Thanks CLT, an impressive list

    • Thanks for the comment, Ruby.

      2001 is damn near a silent movie, and large parts of it can be watched with the sound off. This allows you to either a.) turn on your favorite Pink Floyd record and hope for some hazy synchronicity or b.) allow you to pretend you’re HAL and read lips.

      If I’m not mistake, Rocky may be on this list, somewhere towards the ’70s. That may help clear this up when we reach that point.

      Great to see you again, Ruby.

  4. I can’t tell you how many times an hour that I say to myself, “Thank God for CLT!” This time you’ve cleared up a few misconceptions that I had.

    I had no idea in the world that Grapes of Wrath was a movie at all. I thought it was only a book. Oddly enough though I did picture a young and rather gaunt Henry Fonda. But Henry Fonda was also a Mexican in my imagination. –If that makes any sense at all.

    I was pretty knowledgeable about 2001; I understood the travelogue part, the sentient (although I don’t know what that word means…evil, or being able to walk around I think) computer part, and the hallucination/reincarnation part. But I totally thought that the metaphorical fetus was supposed to be a metaphorical penis. Now that I think about it, your way makes much more sense.

    I’m going to have to rent Maltese Falcon, for some reason I always thought it was a car or a gun instead of a movie.

    I loved Raging Bull, especially the part where DeNiro punches Peshi right in the face, but I hated seeing Apollo Creed die. It made me cry.

    I know enough about the rest (because of what you’ve just told me) to know that they are all next on my must see list.

    Lastly I just had a question about the last; doesn’t Sierra Madre mean snowy mother? Ok, I just realized that I had two questions; what the fuck is a snowy mother?

    • Scott, not only was the Grapes of Wrath a movie, but they shot it concurrently with Steinbeck banging out pages on his typewriter and handing them to the director. As each scene was shot, Steinbeck would re-edit it to keep pace with the post-movie-release novelization contract requirement. It was like Memento, only backwards and parallel.

      I think you’ve got “sentient” defined pretty well. Usually things that go sentient also go evil, meaning sentience is kind of the devil’s gateway drug. If it can apply successfully for a library card, it has likely achieved sentience and is now browsing K-Kill in the card catalog.

      Your confusion on the Maltese Falcon is understandable. It’s actually Han Solo’s spacecraft in Star Wars.

      And lastly, it does mean “snowy mother.” What the fuck, indeed? That easily subtracts at least half the “cool” and 3/4’s of the suspense. What a rip.

      Thanks for keeping me on my toes, Scott. Thanks God made curious bloggers. And Fernando!

  5. Capitalist,

    When a truly great film comes out, I don’t want to know anything about it (at the most, who directed it) and the last thing I want to do is watch a trailer. A trailer is a boner-killer as it gives too much away. For instance, I want to see (futurist) Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near and also the documentary about him, Transcendent Man. Ray Kurzweil…that’s all I want (or need) to know, and that I must see the film. Period. When I spot reviews about the movie, I carefully clip them out and place them in my movie file. Only after I have seen the film do I read the reviews and re-experience the movie through the writer’s eyes. It would give me great pleasure to read one of your reviews. Sometimes, the review is almost as good as the movie. You could write such a review.

    • Elizabeth –

      I appreciate your confidence in my writing skills and ability to undercut the dramatic tension with a willful misreading of the plot, but perhaps it would be better to read mine post-film as well.

      If nothing else, it will save you the disappointment of the film playing out the way the director intended, rather than the way it could have gone, if someone (say a blogger) were re-scripting it on the fly.

      As for Kurzweil: has anybody started a death pool? This guy’s just begging for one. I’ll say nothing more than that and begin hawking spaces, starting at “63.”

      Thanks again for your confidence, Elizabeth, which ultimately does wonders for mine.

  6. I agree with Elizabeth. Not only are your reviews as good as the movie, they’re better!

    I mean, given that I’ve only seen a couple of these movies I may be somewhat biased, but then again maybe not. Because when it comes down to it, what the hell does anything I just wrote have to do with biases anyway?

    So yeah, anyway, this was a fitting part 4 for a brilliant series, made all the more fitting with the inclusion of what once owned my seven year old heart, aka. ET.

    I know it may sound strange, but that diminutive alien with the voice of a 75-year-old chainsmoker taught me how to love. And how important it was not to leave all your empty beer cans lying on the floor.

    Great stuff, CLT. If only there was such thing as going from the “big screen” to the “soon-to-be-obsolete paperback”, I have no doubt that you’d be famous.

    • I can see by nothing you’ve written that I may have some biases to overcome. Or not. Perhaps they’ve been overcome already, possibly due to their lack of existence. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “Thanks for the compliments.” Only this time I mean it.

      If you thought part 4 was “fitting” (perhaps “tightly,” even), hold on to your preconceptions and IMDBs for Volumes 5-whenever I get to 100/tire of the concept.

      “ET” was a part of all our youths, B. And by all of us, I mean those who were actually young when the movie came out. So many lessons for a rather well-done popcorn seller: what you said about the beer cans, love, product placement, nothing robs a BMX bike of its masculinity like a basket holding an alien wrapped in an infant’s blanket, Eliott probably sold Drew Barrymore her first bump of coke… the list goes on and on, right up to that ellipsis.

      Thanks again for the visit and for your hopes that I become both famous and obsolete, preferably in that order.

  7. A marvelous list, and you may or may not (care) that Kubrick is,was, one of my favorite directors. Granted, 2001 was a tad on the “slow” side but keep in mind, this was 1968 and most drive-in theaters supplied (for a minimal price) various “substances” which would alter the pace of reality, so to speak. It was color coding…the potent blue pill was reputed to shrink the movie down to 37 minutes and made HAL sound like a member of Alvin And The Chipmunks.

    • Kubrick’s one of mine as well, AUM and 2001 is one of my favorite movies. But try pushing it on the unitiated raised on MTV (or closest micro-cut equivalent) and you’ll have them asleep on the couch before the interview with HAL is even over.

      Of course, the last “half” of the film practically told you to hit the theatre psychotropically enhanced.

      Thanks for the comment and visit, AUM. Good to see you again.

  8. […] F Lion Tamer: The Fancy Plan’s Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films – Volume 4 and Time/Life Books’ Handyman Series: Volume […]

  9. I had to hit the Fernando link . . . Bschooled? Is that you checking out the Pube Fur Nando dude? Es moi grande Sierra Madre in Fernando’s Fancy Pants! We’re all doomed.

    • Fernando apparently only exists on Facebook and a couple of very blurry photos. He’s like Bigfoot, only dressed in tight pants, less furry and much, much more frightening. Thanks God indeed!

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