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The Fancy Plans Guide to AFI’s Top 100 Films: Volume 7

December 19, 2010

This undying series continues to march on, now up to 7 on the scale of “started-finished.” At this rate, we’ll be ringing in 2012 with our jetpacks or whatever, ignoring troubling (and often unreadable) signs of global warming/cooling/non-change and steadfastly ignoring the missing post for #41-50.

Yeah. And we’re going to keep fucking ignoring it until the series winds up. At that point, I’ll start referring to it as a “lost episode” and treat it as though I found it crumpled up in a drawer when I was looking for socks or bullets or condoms or booze.

Play catchup here:

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4
Volume 5
Volume 6

Even Hitchcock's Spirograph doodles were hailed as "masterpieces" during his heyday.

61. Vertigo (1958)
Classic Hitchcock, dealing with mistaken identities, doppelgangers, semi-rare medical conditions and directorial cameos. A tension-filled suspense piece, revolving around a person seemingly inhabiting two bodies (or perhaps, two people sharing one body with the aid of some hair dye and a Tues-Thurs-Sat rotation or something), Vertigo takes a long (but not that long) look at obsession and the havoc it can wreak on the mental states of those involved, often reducing them to wandering state parks emoting and talking in non-sequiturs.

When people refer to something as being “Hitchcockian,” they’re referring to the psychological horror of situations like those mentioned and most likely not your penchant for stabbing people while they shower.

The Crying Game has nothing on the heartrending scene in which Hoffman gets felt up by Dabney Coleman to the haunting strains of Dave Gruisin abusing some sort of woodwind.

62. Tootsie (1982)
Following the cross-dressing groundwork laid by Some Like It Hot, Tootsie proves the age-old theory that men make the best women, especially in competitive arenas, which, in turn, follows the groundwork laid by Soul Man, in which C. Thomas Howell proved that white people make the best black people. (Of course, this also factors into the Wayans brothers’ White Chicks, whose late-period revisionism posited that black men make the best white women and Michael Winterbottom’s Nine Songs, which made the bold statement that normal people make the best porn stars.)

Despite Dustin Hoffman’s incredible ugliness, Tootsie was a box office success, making cross-dressing a go-to role for actors of a certain age/ugliness. (See also: Mrs. Doubtfire, which theorizes that ex-husbands make the best au pairs or Benchwarmers, which states that underachieving adults make the best youth softball teams.)

A love triangle for the ages: who will Love Interest #1 choose? Drunky McBagwaver or Ol' Squinteye?

63. Paint Your Wagon (1969)
Another quickie hammered out during the post-heyday of Hollywood musicals, taking full advantage of the American public’s willingness to watch anything that contained singing and dancing, even if it was all shoehorned into a genre that really didn’t lend itself to that sort of synchronized emotion.

Paint Your Wagon took viewers back to a simpler time, filled with simpler people living in a world free of stock market collapses and unpopular wars. A time when men were men and wore garters on their arms and women were women and wore overly-complicated dresses. A time when spontaneously (as indicated by the script) bursting into song was viewed as not “clinically insane” or “that part of Magnolia.” Kind of show-offy in all honesty, with a story that could have been told in half the time, if everyone would have just shut the hell up.

ELO: Live at Devil's Tower. (Or Daft Punk, if you prefer.)

64. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Spielberg’s pre-E.T. foray into the world of alien lifeforms, which is refreshingly free of central prepubescent characters and new-agey feel-good moments. This means no flying bikes or drunken telepathy, but on the other hand, it allows for more tone-deaf keyboard playing and obssesive mashed potato sculpting.

Suffered the misfortune of being released in the same year as Star Wars, whose pulp serial storyline portrayed outer space as being just like Earth (only darker), full of roaring engines and audible lasers. Because of this, Close Encounters’ deliberate pacing and suspenseful storyline look like your father’s Oldsmobile (i.e., ugly enough to make you want to park it at the back of the lot, but big enough to get you comfortably laid).

This eerily prescient poster foreshadows Jodie Foster's role in "Nell," where she played a feral child cursed with "moth mouth."

65. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
The first motion picture to feature a sympathetic cannibal and win an Oscar (sorry, Alive), The Silence of the Lambs gave Jodie Foster one of the best written characters she’d ever played. The resulting popularity garnered her an enormous amount of goodwill, which she quickly squandered by playing a gibberish speaking feral woman-child in a shameless attempt to snag another Oscar for her work in Nell.

Anthony Hopkins, on the other hand, went on to play a variety of repressed Brits in a shameless attempt to snag an Oscar or two for himself, which would join his knighthood in the trophy case. The actor portraying serial killer Buffalo Bill went on to be known as the actor who portrayed Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.

As the four floating heads hover menacingly overhead, Peter Finch finds himself trapped in a David Lynch dream sequence.

66. Network (1976)
No movie has done more to alter our collective perception of the nightly news than Network. Once viewed as infalliable and impartial sources of information, newscasters today are viewed as egomaniacal charlatans with misanthropic personalities and sizable drug habits. Those few who have managed to escape this perception are regarded as “bland” at best and “unwatched” at worst.

However, it would appear that most news agencies and their employees are unaware of this shift in mass perception and continue to present themselves as “fair and balanced” (FOX News), “CNN” (CNN) and “not completely unattractive” (your local news team).

Directly responsible for the overused “mad as hell” statement which the moviegoing public has chosen to apply to any situation (tax increases, being charged extra for cheese, being asked to phrase their answer in the form of a question) rather than in their actual context as the ravings of a suicidal madman.

The promotional poster would like to remind you that fuck you for not showing up on time.

67. The Machurian Candidate (1962)
Pitched as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Kills People,” The Manchurian Candidate is one of the finest examinations of Cold War paranoia ever filmed and the only examination to feature the acting chops of a somewhat psychopathic, mobbed-up Las Vegas crooner. (Look for Wayne Newton in a small role as an Army psychiatrist.)

Despite its 67th-place finish, critics are still arguing about its inclusion on this list, citing its distinct lack of gratuitous car chases, gratuitious swearing or tastefully-lit gratuitious nudity. Others have cited its use of black and white film as a cheap ploy to “garner accolades” and disparaged its equally cheap crossover with Murder, She Wrote.

This dog runs on Freedom Fries.

68. An American in Paris (1951) An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)
The weak sequel to John Landis’ classic An American Werewolf in London, which wasn’t aided by the decision to release it 16 years after the original, utilizing none of the original writing or directing staff. This is compounded by the leads’ lack of chemistry oracting talent and use of almost-competent CGI.

Followed by several more sequels in the same vein (Ha! Oh, wait… they’re not vampires. Scratch that.), most of which went straight-to-internet (via DVD), including An American Werewolf in Stuttgart, An American Werewolf in the Matrix, An American Werewolf in Phoenix and An American Werewolf in Paris Hilton.

There never was a gunslinger like Carpal Tunnel McGraw.

69. Shane (1953)
Anti-heroic Western riddled with continuity errors. To wit:

“This doesn’t even mention the regrettable error in the final scene, where the climax is undercut by Van Heflin’s accent, which goes from Western American to Scottish to Klingon in a three-minute span. And let’s not even bring up the sudden appearance of a laser pistol in a baddie’s hand during the barroom brawl.”

Getting shot in the back while fleeing: the hallmark of the French "resistance."

70. The French Connection (1971)
The true story of Detective James “Popeye” Doyle whose tireless efforts and breathless car chases singlehandedly took down the heroin industry, freeing America from the clutches of the evil opiate and relegating its usage to rock stars (Pete Doherty, J. Spaceman, Axl Rose, Clay Aiken) and other fringe members of society (mainly Pete Doherty and his girlfriends).

-CLT

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12 comments

  1. I remember how conflicted Tootsie left my young, impressionable mind. I just wanted to rest my weary head in between those enormous fake, sequined breasts. Yet I knew it was a man. But they looked soft and comfy. And sequined. Screwed me all up. Probably because I was a latch key kid and Tootsie was kind of my transgendered guardian, at least for a few long evenings. To this day I can’t see a WNBA player or that Amazonian Queen of the Secretaries and Fellatio (I think) on Mad Men without feeling feelings that I just can’t work out. Some things are just better left unthunk I think.

    Also, Shane shouldn’t have fucking left. That still pisses me off.

    I love these posts CLT! You are my new go-to movie explainer! That being said; was Dom Cobb dreaming or awake at the end of Inception?


    • Childhood is all about impressionable minds forming uncomfortable conclusions. It’s why therapy is still a cash cow and abortions are still legal.

      All that aside, “Amazonian Queen of the Secretaries and Fellatio” is fucking brilliant. Someone should crank that out on a business card or deskplate or something.

      Shane had to leave, Scott. The movie was over.

      Thanks for the compliments and comment, Scott. I haven’t seen Inception yet so I’ll have to go with awake. Hope that clears things up.


  2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

    I remember seeing it on TV as a little kid. It scared the shit out of me. (Not as much as The Shining did though.) With darkness, sound playing a big role in the film, I can only imagine what seeing it in the theatre would have been like.

    Easy to make fun of, but a very good movie.

    As for ET, I remember the Universal Studios ride asked you for your name so that ET could say a personal “goodbye” to you. When my group left, ET wound up saying goodbye to Pol Pot, Jim Jones and Mike Hunt.

    By the way, is it still wrong to claim I’ve wanted to nail Drew Barrymore ever since seeing ET for the first time?


    • Why don’t more people use Mike Hunt? There’s like an entire comedy goldmine in there if used sparingly but devastatingly.

      Everything is easy to make fun of, even (or perhaps especially) the stuff you love. You know just where to hit it. Or touch inappropriately.


  3. Network

    As snidely funny as it is poignant. The film rips TV a new asshole and TV then proceeds to use that new asshole to shit on us by using Network as a blueprint for the future of TV news.

    Glenn Beck owes his entire career to the success of Howard Beale. Without Beale demonstrating the profit potential of broadcasting unrestricted mental illness, Beck would be just another coke-head doing “morning zoo” radio and the occasional stand-up at comedy clubs.

    The French Connection

    I can’t believe they put the climactic scene in a poster. Great poster, but one hell of a way to ruin a good ending. In fairness, I guess this was long before the term “SPOILER ALERT!” was popularized.

    The Manchurian Candidate

    Great movie that is rumoured to have survived decades in the self-imposed wilderness because Frankie felt bad about JFK getting shot so close to his movie about a political assignation attempt.

    But one interesting factoid you forgot to mention was that, in real life, Angela Lansbury was only 3 years older than the actor playing her son in the movie…and everyone bought it. Top that Meryl Streep!

    Tootsie

    I skipped over Tootsie and went straight to There’s something Extra Special About Miriam, Forbidden Thai Sticks, False Advertising and Dude Looks Like A Lady Boy, which I rented thinking it was an Aerosmith documentary. I’m sure a lot of guys got their “horizons expanded” by making the same mistake.


    • I dug Network and read the French Connection book several times before I saw the movie. Same with the Manchurian Candidate.

      The thing about Angela Lansbury is she just looks old. Same thing for Sally Field, who played someone roughly the same age as Tom Hanks in “Punchline” and then played his mom in “Forrest Gump.”

      Go figure.

      If it had lots of men attempting to look like women and women attempting to sleep with men that sorta resembled what someone might call “handsome” women, it probably was an Aerosmith documentary.

      From which springs the classic line (MEK’s actually): “I feel as lazy as a Steven Tyler lyric.”


  4. I thought I was renting Tootsie when I actually rented Myra Breckinridge, so I get your distress (if that is, in fact, what it is).

    On a related note (that will quickly become totally unrelated), I believe Coover borrowed the imagery for The Public Burning’s climatic climax from Vidal. For Coover, however, the device is arguably necessary. In a work already brimming with orotund postmodern technique, there are few places left to go for a writer unprepared to eschew completely the readers’ demands for narrative conventions. There is little room to maneuver when you have exhausted the readers (who, only now, are turning the 500th page) with tenuous coherency, the alteration of recent history, and what can be best described as political pornography, screamingly left. There are few options if you wish to close it all out. Coover chose vulgarity. Hence, Uncle Sam buggers Nixon. Cheap but effective.

    Looking forward to your review of Dances with Wolves, CLT.


    • Tootsie. Myra Breckinridge. They’re just two sides of the same cross-dressing coin. Except one is charming and the other is one of the worst movies ever made, which seems to be somewhat of a calling card for Vidal projects. (See also: “Caligula.”)

      I’m both intrigued and repulsed by your description of Coover’s climax. Possibly “intrigue” will win out, as it often has with other possibly transgressive authors. B.E. Ellis springs to mind.

      My review of Dances with Wolves should be in the next installment, provided I don’t carelessly gloss over the next 10 films and head right for 90-100.


  5. I recommend against reading The Public Burning, not because I wish to shield you from vulgarity, but because there are better uses for your time. It is simply a mediocre work. Even more so now since its original inventiveness and provocation have been diluted by hoards of MFA-holders that, due to training or taste, cannot force their pens to produce anything that transgresses regulations set down by the PoMo clerisy. There are some good reasons to read mediocre works, some of them are important; there are few good reasons to read trite ones. I recommend against Gravity’s Rainbow on similar grounds.

    If you want to get your shock on, McCarthy’s Child of God might do the trick (but it really isn’t all that shocking if you’ve read Ellis, though it is certainly better in every other way).

    If you want your meta-narratives questioned, The Bell Curve might do it for you (but in an oblique and non-PC way).

    If you just need a PoMo fix, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 or Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men are better choices (they are “accessible”, a pejorative amongst the MFA crowd).


    • Thanks for the tips, o/o. I’ve read Ellis but really haven’t been as impressed with his work as he obviously is. (Less Than Zero and Lunar Park being the exceptions, especially the latter. Glamorama was a chore. A light chore, like dishes, but still a bit of an effort.)

      McCarthy needs no further recommendation and I really do need to read more of DFW’s work. I took a stab at Pynchon a couple of years back (Vineland) with no success. Perhaps something earlier would be better.


  6. ‘men make the best women’! and they say patriarchy is dead!
    it only takes some old hollywood classics to remind us thats not the case (cuz god knows we wouldnt have guess from more recent releases such as Jackass and Salacious Slut Women)

    Great post CLT, you are the pop culture commentator extraordinare!

    Have a lovely Xmas n’ all that!


    • Thanks for the compliments, ruby. I only report back on what I see, filtered through years of jaded sensitivity and trashy television. I can’t possibly be held responsible for statements like “men > women” and “C. Thomas Howell > Tobey MacGuire.” Not with all the damaging meddling society has done.

      You have yourself a great Xmas as well. Always great to hear from you.



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