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

June 7, 2011

Take that, world. Here it is: the final installment of a series I tried to will into non-existence via misnumbering and inattentiveness. But it proved too strong to be defeated by inactivity and is now proudly counting itself among the “published.” Enjoy?

Hepburn signals her lower-class upbringing with a typically shite umbrella.

91. My Fair Lady (1964)
Rex Reed and Audrey Hepburn star in this classic musical which illustrates the old adage (often through song) that with the proper amount of training, any woman can be transformed into a useful (and non-embarrassing) human being, even a woman sporting a horrific Cockney accent and a whorish mouth.

While many women today may find this depiction condescending at best, its defenders like to point out that My Fair Lady was made back in the pre-bra burning mid-60s when it was still “cool” to portray women as out of their depth operating anything more complicated than a roast or a lawn jockey. They’ll also point out that it’s a “love story” which apparently excuses all of its offenses, as does the inclusion of a “shitload of singing.”

"A devastatingly hilarious caption."

92. A Place in the Sun (1951)
Cancun.

Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine run from OSHA inspectors after violating the "Lock-Out/Tag-Out" policy.

93. The Apartment (1960)
Beating Mad Men to the punch by nearly a half-century, Billy Wilder’s comedy depicts the misadventures of a pair of ad execs who decide use a colleague’s apartment as a fuck pad. Wackiness ensues, heavily tinged with soul-searching drama. (So much so in fact, that by the second reel you’ll find yourself yelling at the screen, “Check the nightstand! I’m sure I saw you put your soul in there! You set it right next to your spare watch!”)

Unfortunately, the soul-searching continues for much of the running time, leading to conflict and threats of changing the locks. By the end they’ve found their watches and not much else, forcing them to forge on as soulless ad execs, a condition that helps them “fit in” better at the office.

From left to right: Sweary Van Browington, Raspy McFBomb and Happy "Kill Crazy" Headpuncher.

94. GoodFellas (1990)
Martin Scorsese heads into unfamiliar territory with this period gangster flick, featuring the acting talent of Ray Liotta’s furrowed brow and the highest number of F-bombs to ever appear in a mainstream motion picture. When not splattering the walls and car trunks with blood, Liotta’s gangster character is splattering your inner ear with endless variations of “fuck.” The rest of the cast joins in, raising the ratio of fucks-to-normal-words to an all-time high of 77-to-1, shattering the 58:1 ratio set by Nash Pluto. (Statisticians point out that a majority of the “fucks” were uttered by audience members who wished to know “What the fuck is this bullshit?” and “Where the fuck can I get a refund?” Also recorded: “The fuck?”, “Is this supposed to be a fucking comedy?” and “Six bucks for a fucking soda?”)

Original poster photo rejected by Quentin Tarantino as being "too shoesy."

95. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Released in conjunction with my 20th birthday (which would make me old enough to be someone’s dad — twice), Pulp Fiction was the first of two seminal pop culture touchstones to share in the unbridled joy that is the day of my birth. (The other is Fatboy Slim’s second album, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.)

Quentin Tarantino’s hotly anticipated followup to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction is a pop culture repository, featuring knowing winks to such kitsch items as Modesty Blaise and Clutch Cargo. It was also a comeback vehicle for John Travolta, who briefly started reading script summaries and showing some selectivity before throwing caution to the wind and cranking out film after goodwill-pulverizing film.

On the other hand, he and Tarantino did manage to resuscitate a moribund heroin market with their tastefully shot ode to shooting up. Just remember, kids: always the veins, never the nose.

Reviewers praised John Wayne's "restrained perspiration."

96. The Searchers (1956)
Dark proto-noir-western featuring a relatively understated John Wayne as a hat-wearing cow person hot on the trail of a gang of kidnappers. Famous for its signature shot of Wayne standing emotively in an empty doorway, as well as for its willingness to turn genre expectations on their collective ear. Explores themes of redemption, often through the use of iconic doorway shots, paving the way for a new wave of nihilist Westerns directed by many Western nihilists.

Nothing brings up "baby" faster than a chain smoking father figure and another non-chain smoking father figure.

97. Bringing Up Baby (1938)
Another Depression-era screwball comedy centering on a couple’s misadventures while raising a jaguar (the titular “Baby”). Hijinks (often of the “screwball” variety) ensue, until the final reel when the “Baby” turns on its owners, slaughtering one and maiming the other before going on a kill-crazy rampage. This rampage comes to a halt thanks to a “pushed to the edge” Charles Bronson, who seems to find the “violent revenge” business agreeable and starts up a few “kill-crazy” rampages of his own. The nadir of ’70s dystopian filmmaking with a 30+ year headstart.

Viewers found themselves confused during long scenes of Clint Eastwood staring at his own back.

98. Unforgiven (1992)
Yet another depressing deconstructionist Western, only two spaces removed from the last one, as AFI continues their downhill coast to #100, grabbing names they’ve heard of and shoving them onto the list.

Unforgiven takes place in the seldom-discussed part of the West where it’s always night and it’s always raining. As is the case with most “avenging a hooker’s disfiguration” films, Unforgiven is chock full of iconic shots of a very tired and iconic Clint Eastwood standing in various iconic doorways (and rainstorms).

Hepburn and Tracy brace themselves for the inevitable culture clash (accomplished mainly by staying white and square).

99. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
Longtime closeted couple Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn star as the uptight, mildly racist parents of a college student who insists on shaking up the status quo by bringing home her new, non-white boyfriend, Mr. Tibbs. A majority of the running time is given over to uptight discussions of the impending blackness, broken up with a second storyline where Poitier’s character deals with even more uptightness at the hands of the local law enforcement he was sent to help.

An IMPORTANT FILM, delivering the message that black people are no different than white people, except they’re more “black” and prone to causing uptightness in insular whites like Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Rod Steiger. Look for a young Rob Reiner as adorable loser, Meathead.

Cagney plays against type as some sort of rouge-sporting, hat-wearing showgirl.

100. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Released during the height of American patriotism, Yankee Doodle Dandy sings and dances its way into the final spot on AFI’s list, presumably pushing John Wayne’s The Green Berets to 101. Filled with cheerfully positive tunes such as “Buy War Bonds,” “Save Your Nylons for the Boys Overseas,” “Buy More War Bonds,” and “Necessity is the Mother of Temporarily Useful Female Employees.”

Very much a product of its time as evidenced by its disastrous re-release during the height of the Vietnam War, tanking miserably at the box office despite the hasty insertion of the timely song-and-dance numbers “Hell No, We Won’t Go!” and “Icn Bin Ein Newly-Minted Canadian, Motherfuckers!”

-CLT

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14 comments

  1. Do I lose points because I really like Goodfellas? Sure, it was self-serving. Sure, it’s like Bret Easton Ellis does gangster movie. Sure, the cast is all of that, “Doesn’t act, just plays self reading dialogue in front of a camera” school of now-classic actors, classic being defined by AFI. Still, it’s a damn entertaining movie.

    I was such a proponent of Pulp Fiction for a long period of time. Last time I watched it, I was disappointed. Much like the night after prom with your drunken girlfriend, I’m afraid that Pulp Fiction is somewhat better as a memory than something one actually returns to. Once the edginess and groundbreaking sequencing have become old hat, and they were innovative at the time and beaten like a dead horse now, the actual storyline becomes pretty boring. I’m hoping that it will be like Gish, an album that I loved when new, put down for about a decade, and can now still pop in the tray on occasion without relying on nostalgia to keep me from hitting ‘eject,’ rather than an album like ‘Ten,’ which I still hold with some esteem, though I cannot really listen to anymore, no matter how hard I try. And I say that as a man so influenced by ‘Ten’ that my love of one word titles and rambling run-ons still persists to this day.

    I vote that your next on again/off again series be devoted to current or semi-current movies. “American Beauty: A movie that proves that if you make something artsy-fartsy enough, you can convince people it’s okay to fantasize about relations with an underage and underdeveloped girl. Kevin Spacey plays the role he was born to play–Kevin Spacey reading lines of dialogue. Superior to The Piano in that no amount of artsy-fartsy can overcome the ‘artistic’ decision to have a fully frontally-nude Harvey Keitel in an attempt to overcome the ‘artistic’ decision to forgo having a ‘plot.'”


    • No one loses points for liking any of these movies. Hell, I like about a third of them, but once you’ve decided to bash a few of them, you’ve got to go ahead and bash them all. What I love most about GoodFellas is the music, especially the 70s and 80s tracks used when shit all starts to fall apart.

      I would imagine that Pulp Fiction fails to hold up because so many people took the formula and ran with it. (See also: Guy Ritchie, whom I’m willing to cut way too much slack.) Much like certain music, it can’t possibly hold onto its original impact 15-20 years down the road. It stays the same and everybody else changes.

      That’s an excellent idea, Ulysses. So excellent in fact, that I’d be more than happy to let you write it. Actually, I’m thinking of taking up FJ’s dare from several months back and write lovingly about pop culture I love. I’ve snarked my way through 100 movies. Maybe it’s time to show some honest appreciation (albeit appreciation loaded with snarky digressions).

      Of course, if that doesn’t seem to be flowing, I’d be more than happy to run a series of YourFavoriteMovieSucks-type posts.


    • RE: Potential American Beauty review.

      I believe American Beauty is the only mainstream movie that can be described as heterophobic. It reveals the arty presumptions of an urbanite gay: Suburban, bourgeois marriages are vacant and sexually dysfunctional, homophobic military men are latent homosexual fascists, and homosexual couples are the very picture of normality. The film focuses on beauty, but it is a nihilistic beauty: the symbolic deflowering of an underage girl (it was more than symbolic in the original script), trash floating in the air (it would be hard to find a more vacuous example of found art), and dripping blood (if you find the beauty in streams of postmortem blood it means either, a. you have never actually seen a gunshot victim, or b. you are sick). It is beauty that can only be seen as such when it is detached from its moral context.

      The fact that the film’s screenwriter, Alan Ball, is a celebrated member of the gay community is, of course, pertinent. It is pertinent because, regardless of what your neighborhood poststructuralist may assert, the intent of the writer matters. David Lynch’s Blue Velvet portrays the suburbs as sinister. Lynch’s suburbs are, in fact, darker than Ball’s. However, Lynch and Ball seem to be motivated by different emotions. Lynch’s mixture of the banal and grotesque seems to be inspired by honesty. Like a good doctor, he wishes show the whole of the tissue, the malignant and the benign. Ball is motivated by contempt. And hence, his world is narrow and his work is peopled with stereotypes.

      Aside from that, American Beauty is visually stunning film that is quite funny at times.


    • Well, it seems the review for American Beauty has been taken care of. Running a blog is easier than I thought!


  2. Though I’ve heard of all ten films, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only seen five (“My Fair Lady”, “The Apartment”, “Goodfellas”, “Pulp Fiction”, and “Unforgiven”). And my favorite, of these, is “The Apartment”.

    I love your hilarious commentary–especially that about “Yankee Doodle Dandy”s Vietnam-era re-release!

    I’ll take note to catch the other five, starting with “The Searchers”!


    • Well, I’m with you on that, Scott. I’ve seen roughly 60% of the films on AFI’s Top 100 list. There are a few I’d like to catch in the future and plenty of others that I’ve already heard so much about that it would seem redundant to actually watch the film.

      Thanks for the comment/compliments and good luck playing catch up. I find it nearly impossible. I mean, it’s not like anyone’s going to stop making movies for a few weeks so I can get to the backlog.


  3. ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Pulp Fiction’ are still two of my favorite movies. All movies are products of their ‘time,’ so they are destined to lose their luster as time goes on. I was watching a movie the other night that was made in 2000 and was marvelling at the clunky computers and huge cell phones. Movies made as ‘period pieces’ seem to hold up better. ‘Goodfellas’ was a 1970’s period piece and still works. Frankly, I see ‘Pulp Fiction’ as an LA period piece. Of course I grew up in LA, so maybe that skews my take some. I have actually eaten at the restaurant (as a kid mind you) that opens and closes ‘Pulp Fiction…’its an AutoZone now.

    And as far as my previous dare goes…it still stands. Congrats on finishing the series, I enjoyed reading it.


    • Time and place can be very evocative especially if you have a connection with either of those factors. I dragged several people out to see “Pulp Fiction” when it first came out and then dragged them back to my place to watch “Reservoir Dogs.” It’s definitely one of my all-time favorites but it doesn’t muster up the same enthusiasm it did when it was new. And there’s no way it could, which is probably why I dragged so many people out to see it: a vicarious “seeing it for the first time” experience. (I did the same thing with “Snatch”/”Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” years later.)

      It’s a shame that something that seemed so iconic would now be something as banal as an Autozone. But that’s life.

      I’m taking you up on that dare, RXJ. Keep watching this space.


  4. I agree with pretty much everything Robert had to say.


    • You would, you magnificent bastard. Where’s Harmony? Otherwise detained at her hand job? (Hoho.)


  5. Count me in too with Robert and FJ!! Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction are two of my favorite movies as well. While my memories of Goodfellas is nebulous at best, scenes from Pulp Fiction are forever emblazoned in my memory banks.


    • I like your new word “emblazoned” and plan to use several times, probably without attribution. (Not because I’m a greedy bastard, but because I often have trouble sorting out which words I’ve made up and which ones others have supplied.)

      I like Goodfellas but Casino has my heart. Same period. Gangsters. The old Vegas. And De Niro breaking hands and informing people that they “don’t fuck around.” Plus: Don Rickles. You can’t go wrong there.


  6. This was my favorite top ten list (or something) of all time, considering that you have two of my top 10 flicks of all time in the same block. I never knew about the 77-1 Fuck to Normal Word ratio until now, so now I have even more to appreciate about this romantic comedy. Who is Nash Pluto?

    You nailed Pulp Fiction like hillbilly on a tied up druglord as well. I’ll never forget watching that, looking up from the mountain of blow in which my head was buried, and announcing to everyone that it was time to try heroin. My life has never been the same. For real.

    I hope these top ten lists never end!


    • Nash Pluto is Eddie Murphy. Or vice versa. A bit of a misstep for the actor. And that’s considering the last 10-15 years of his career has been a bit of a misstep. Try to watch it sometime. You might find your fucks-to-normal-words ratio increasing. Or at least the ratio of unintentional laughter to intentional laughter increasing.

      Nothing else says as much about the power of Pulp Fiction as the irrational urge to try heroin, just because it looked like it might be very enjoyable. If only you didn’t have to deal with sketchy, bathrobe-wearing drug dealers and ODing girlfriends of various crime lords.

      I’m sure there will be more top 10s in the future, but this one is actually coming to an end. Thanks for the comment, Scott.



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