The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films – Volume 5

July 22, 2010

Remember this old thing? 

If you don’t, get un-rusty here:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4 

Diane Keaton was informed that this would be her "career" wardrobe and was to be worn in every film thereafter.

31. Annie Hall (1977)
Local hero Woody Allen makes good, abandoning his earlier wackiness in favor of subtle comedy, a style more likely to pair him with women out of his league. In this case, his comedic foil and unbelievable girlfriend is played by Diane Keaton, who continues to acquit herself well in lightweight comedies, all the while looking like she hasn’t aged a day since Annie Hall, in which she looked to be about 50. 

One of many Oscar-winning films directed by Allen, who has yet to actually pick up a single statuette as he is otherwise occupied every single Tuesday (in perpetuity) playing his clarinet (in a not pretentious at all sort of way) in some boho New York club. This shows that he is a real artist who creates out of love for the medium, rather than for the acclaim and access to women he wouldn’t otherwise be dating. 

(Note: in his latter years, Allen leapt from women he “wouldn’t” be dating to women he “shouldn’t” be dating. Although there was some fallout from this unfortunate turn of events, he still continues to faithfully blow his own horn every Tuesday night for the rest of whatever.) 

Trey Stone and Matt Parker often cite Coppola's use of "angry marionettes" as an influence.

32. The Godfather Part II (1974) 
Easily twice the film the first one was, but somehow well more than twice as far down the list. The only explanation for the 29-spot difference is the notable lack of noted AFI pre-req Marlon Brando.

Followed by a prequel (1972) and a sequel (1990). The standard against which all other gangster flicks are judged, including The Godfather Part III, which by comparison is Uwe Boll’s cutting room floor. 

Just another "stoner" classic.

33. High Noon (1952) 
Laconic and square-jawed Gary Cooper plays a put-upon marshal faced with the task of taking on a gang of local baddies. To make matters worse, he is forced to drum up support for a this suicide mission in real-time, without the aid of useful montages or fades. 

Finding the townspeople reluctant to serve as bullet-catchers, Cooper laconically decides to face them on his own, aided only by his square jaw and some guns. The tension becomes nearly unbearable as the projectionist has problems switching reels, delaying the solid black and white action for nearly two “real-time” minutes, giving Cooper’s character 120 seconds of darkness with which to escape town and star in a livelier picture. 

Take it from someone who's lived around them: mockingbirds kick in around 10 pm at night and never shut the fuck up. So, I view this title as a suggestion or a list of imaginary instructions.

34. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) 
Based on Harper Lee’s bestselling book, To Kill a Mockingbird is a treatise on racism thinly disguised as a courtroom drama. Gregory Peck plays attorney Atticus Finch, who uncovers the town’s unsightly attitude and generally plays himself, only nobler. 

A young Robert Duvall plays local introvert Boo Radley, who finally blossoms into a 4-piece Britpop group thanks to the ceaseless intrusion of Finch’s children. Has done more to improve race relations in this country than any film since Roger Corman’s groundbreaking action flick, Malcom X-Men: Last Stand

Gable's moustache secretly envied Colbert's amazing eyebrow length.

35. It Happened One Night (1934) 
As the Great Depression wore on, filmmakers (in conjunction with “New Deal” legislation) sought to distract viewers from the epic grimness of their lives, utilizing a series of “screwball” comedies. This film, along with other classics of the genre (Bringing Up Baby [#97], Meatballs Pt. 2 [#51]) delighted moviegoers nationwide while relieving them of their last few nickels. 

Remade several times, the most recent being Abel Ferrara’s nun-killing reimagination, Bad Night and David Mamet’s tense but stagey drama, It Happened One Fucking Night.

Thanks to a contractual dispute, Hoffman and Voight were forced to appear under each other's names.

36. Midnight Cowboy (1969) 
Much has been made of Midnight Cowboy’s status as the only X-rated film to win an Oscar. Tame by today’s standards, the most offensive element of this film is its crass portrayal of New York City as a cruel, heartless metropolis populated by rude, self-centered citizens. 

Much has also been made of Dustin Hoffman’s “method” portrayal of Ratso Rizzo, in particular his ad-libbed “Hey! I’m walking here!” Widely considered to be one of several small touches that “made” the role, the larger-than-life legend overshadows the fact that this heavily quoted line is actually a studio overdub, done in post-production. Hoffman’s original ad lib was, in fact, “Hey! I’m acting here!” 

Of course, Jon Voight’s baby face and intensely blonde looks aided Hoffman in their own way, as the contrast between the two leads gave credence to the idea that Rizzo/Hoffman was as ugly on the inside as he was on the outside. 

Thanks to the advent of upskirt photography, the ensuing years were pretty great indeed.

37. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) 
Nostalgia-thon in the mold of The Big Chill and Dazed and Confused, The Best Years of Our Lives follows the wistful reminiscing of its protagonists as they wax semi-poetic about their younger days, when they were big fish in an easily impressed small pond. 

Powerful performances aid the viewer in living vicariously through these human time capsules. Thrill along as they still listen to the same music, sport the same hairdos and drag out the same bitchin’ Camaro periodically. Superbly cautionary and infinitely sad. 

Yeah, bro. We’ll keep using “rad” if you want us to. 

[Ed. – Wow. Just wow. Not only have you clearly never seen the flick, but this is like a the review of Smells Like Teen Spirit that no one was asking for.] 

Because nothing says "brutally spare noir" like a pink-as-fuck poster.

38. Double Indemnity (1946) 
The harrowing tale of actuarial tables and the damage done, Double Indemnity is a spare noir masterpiece filled with hard-boiled women and easily duped men. Shot in black and white for maximum impact and film availability, Billy Wilder’s film takes viewers on a twist-filled ride through the greed damaged psyches of a claims adjuster and the two protagonists who wish to “game” the “system” through a reckless combination of murder and quotation marks. 

Hailed as “not even the best film of 1946.” 

The Russians are fond of their bristly makeout sessions. They also dig tiny horsemen emerging from somewhere around their shoulders...

39. Dr. Zhivago (1965) 
As is the case with most long-winded epics, this classic film is dense, Russian and exceedingly long. Packed wall-to-wall with pathos, snow and moustaches, Dr. Zhivago is easily the 39th best film on this list. Exceedingly long. 

Unfortunately, Grant is no match for the spray attachment and soon finds himself hurtling through a series of rectangles.

40. North by Northwest (1959) 
The second of over 50 Hitchcock films on this list, North by Northwest is an unparalleled thriller dealing with a case of mistaken identity. Everyman stand-in (as if) Cary Grant plays Richard Thornhill, an ad executive mistaken for another devastatingly attractive clotheshorse who has apparently found time in his busy schedule of being adored and aging immaculately to attempt to smuggle some state secrets out of the country. 

The film follows Grant’s handsome escape from his comparatively unattractive pursuers, which takes him everywhere from the Heart of America (an airplane-ravaged cornfield) to the Nose and Upper Lip of America (Mt. Rushmore). Contains approximately one (1) thrill per minute (TPM). 



  1. I see icicles.

    Unlike the AFI arbiters of cinematic taste, Dr. Zhivago easily makes my top 5. Ray Conniff’s “Lara’s Theme” is undoubtedly the most heart-wrenching accompaniment to an equally heart-wrenching tale of romantic and political tragedy.

    Long? Why yes. In fact, sitting through the duration of the movie will likely leave you with ass boils and/or frostbite. But come now, how often do you have the opportunity to sit through the entire duration of an epochal revolution??

    Actually, when I first saw this, I didn’t realize it was such a long movie and somehow I missed the fact there were TWO DVD’s in the case (bad wrapping and too much vodka) and I began by inadvertently watching DVD #2 for a good hour before I realized something was amiss. Ha!!!

    • Well, AUM, I’m not trying to deny you your love for this most epic of epics. I’m just reporting the facts according to AFI. Of course, any additional commentary can be blamed on the freedom of writing without an editor (external or internal).

      That may also explain Dr. Zhivago’s script and running time.

      P.S. Two DVDs??!! How is that possible? I mean, assuming one wasn’t just unenthusiastic interviews and a half-dozen movie trailers.

    • Yes, two DVD’s!
      I can’t remember which scene the “cutoff” happened at, but yes, there was the usual plethora of filler features that make DVD’s such a joy. Of course it doesn’t help that the movie portrays the Russian Revolution in real time.

  2. Godfather aside, I have only seen half of these films in their entirety, and most of them only once.

    A large part of that is due to the fact that only the Godfather2: Electric Boogaloo appears on TV more than once or twice a year and usually no earlier than 2:00 in the morning.

    Meanwhile Gigli, Battlefield Earth, Disaster Movie, and Rollerball 2002 get aired at least once a week, often in Prime-time.

    • Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve only seen half of these myself. If you can guess which ones, you won’t win anything, but it would be either an interesting academic exercise or a tedious academic exercise.

      That is the problem with TV. The lousy movies are only too willing to whore out their misshapen figurative bodies to whomever will cut them a check the fastest.

      Those “top of the line” models only make a few appearances but each one is totally worth it.

    • If ubiquity on television indicates suckiness, Law & Order with all of its subsidiaries, is the shoddiest thing to ever air. CSI follows closely.

    • A good rule of thumb is that media attention is inversely proportional to quality/merit.

  3. Capitalist, I am buried under work right now and will be commenting later. That said, I would like to declare here and now that I am in your ‘top 100 fans’ behind only family and friends. As a matter-of-fact, I’m thinking of starting a CLT fan club replete with a web site, discussion boards, facebook page and a blog (and I plan to invite bschooled to be vice-president)…ah, if only I had the tech skills to pull it off!!

    • Elizabeth,

      I am deeply flattered by your near-offer to set up a fansite on my behalf. I’m even more flattered that you think bschooled would have anything to do with it.

      However, as is evidenced by this whole blog thing that’s been slapped together here, and every website ever set up on Geocities/Angelfire/AOL, tech skills (or skillz) are hardly needed to beat something with rotating text and animated GIFS into place basically overnight.

      In fact, here’s a beta version. (Give it a few minutes to load…)

    • Loved it!! Worth the wait to load!! Your blog packs a walloping 78 TPM read (not sure I got the rotational speed correct, but you get my drift). I call president!!

  4. Man you make me want to be even more of a silver screen aficionado than I already am. I’ve somehow missed so many of the priceless classics. Thankfully I can now depend on you to tell me what I ‘must see.’ Especially since I have no trust or love left for those lying bastards at NBC.

    I have seen and I did love Annie Hall. I wonder why Woody’s work seems to have gone down hill since Deconstructing Harry? Do you think it had anything to do with his politically incorrect love life or his penchant for blowing?

    I totally agree with you that The Godfather Two was twice the movie that one was. And I think that all those responsible for three (including that ugly Coppola niece) should be sleeping with the fishes.

    I somehow missed all the rest on your list this time (but now I know what to watch) but I had been under the impression that Midnight Cowboy was a movie about a team of drug addicts that rob pharmacies at night in Morocco until they have to hide a dead chick in the rafters and then they get hung. Or something…? And isn’t Dr. Zhivago just code for blow?

    • This exceedingly long series of posts is starting to have that effect. If the number of classic movie rentals starts shooting up like a pre-show Charlie “Bird” Parker, you can lay the blame squarely on my nonexistent blogshoulders.

      (Note: those of you looking to rent mid-1940’s classics would do well checking their “New Release” wall first…)

      I’m sure there are millions of reasons why Allen’s work has gone downhill, and they probably rhyme with “divorce settlement” or “complacency.” The ritualistic Tuesday night blowing can’t be helping.

      As for Midnight Cowboy, you may be right. I certainly don’t have time to watch these movies, let alone read a synopsis, so generally I just have to piece it together from the DVD cover.

      (Great. How the hell am I going to ask for blow now that I’m all out of codewords? Perhaps I’ll have to pull a Doherty…)

  5. Thanks for increasing my understanding of the great films of our (or our parents’) age.

    I’m decidedly in the minority. I prefer the first Godfather to Godfather II. I also enjoyed Godfather III. It is not a worthy heir to the franchise name, but in its own right, it is a decent film.

    Midnight Cowboy’s “Everybody’s Talkin’” sounds like it was written by a man with an affinity for sweater vests, which of course, it was. I’m glad you took the film down a peg.

    My favorite movie critic (aside from you) is the snarky Duncan Shepherd. Shepherd writes for the San Diego Reader, a free local weekly that, other than a random cover story, concentrates on entertainment news. Shepherd can be found here: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/movies/.

    • I think Godfather 2 might have been a slightly better movie than the original, but it certainly had a tremendous head start. It had an audience that already memorized the family back-story and had fetishized it. Then the movie gave it more family back-story to chew on and fetishize.

      While certainly not as good, the biggest problem with Godfather 3 was that it was a good 10 years too late. The first 2 parts had been canonized and heavily imitated to the point where the genre was both diluted and held more competition. Also, considering how long moviegoers were kept waiting, expectations were much higher than for the first 2 movies. By the time it was made, any sequel would be seen by many as a cheap “cash grab”. That was made worse by the “nepotism” of casting Coppola’s daughter, She didn’t deserve the level of abuse she got and Coppola shouldn’t have done it for that very reason.

      In short, Godfather3 would have to been twice as good as the other two to get half the respect. Capice?

  6. o/o –

    Glad I could help out, both with the understanding and with the peg-taking-down-of sweater vest wearers. (sp?)

    I’ll have to check out Duncan. If he’s as good as I think I am, I’m going to like him. Don’t worry. You’re still my favorite San Diego reader.

    • Sample Duncan (review of Dr. Zhivago) to ease the taxing use of your mouse:

      “David Lean’s vision of Pasternak’s novel is designed for filmgoers who are prone to remark ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at wide-screen pictures of flowers, icicles, deserts of snow, fields of wheat, and so forth. Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger.”

      Zero stars

    • Excessively thick and bushy comrade-style mustaches are worth a “glimpse,” though using this word in the context of Dr. Zhivago is like taking a “sip” of Kamchatka vodka out of its plastic pint bottle.

    • Already a fan. First review I read (of “Inception”) had this great line:

      “Leonardo DiCaprio, fully earning the furrow between his brows…”


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