To my surprise, I've been asked by an awful lot of people lately what I think of the American Film Institute's list of the "100 Best of 100 Years."
Movies, that is.The surprise is twofold. One, I'm surprised people are still thinking about it, since it was announced a few weeks ago. Two, I'm surprised anyone cares, since I didn't really take it all that seriously.
After all, I know how the Oscars work - 5,000 people vote for their friends and co-workers. And frankly, this didn't strike me as a whole lot different - 1,500 "leaders from the American film community" (which for some reason included President Clinton) voting for their favorite flicks.
On the other hand, we do treat the Oscars like a big deal.
It's a frustrating list, to be sure, but, of course, it's also completely subjective. (If you want to see the complete 100 - or the 400 films from which the 100 were chosen, check out the AFI Web site (www.100movies.com).
Should it surprise us that so many of the films, including some that are quite high on the list, are from the past 20 years? These are people voting for their own movies!
How else can you explain that there are more films on the list by Steven Spielberg than by Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, John Ford, John Huston or Frank Capra?
Or that so many great filmmakers aren't even on the list - Buster Keaton ("The General," "Sherlock, Jr."), Ernst Lubitsch ("To Be or Not to Be," "Ninotchka"), Preston Sturges ("Sullivan's Travels," "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek," "The Lady Eve") . . . ?
Or the dearth of silent pictures? (There are only four, three of them by Chaplin.)
Or some of the titles that did make the list - "Pulp Fiction," "Fargo," "Forrest Gump," "Dances With Wolves," "Taxi Driver," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Platoon," "Rocky" . . . and though it may sound like heresy, "Schindler's List"?
I don't think you can cite a movie as one of the best ever made - out of 100 years of filmmaking - until it's been around a few decades. So, let's toss out anything from the '80s and '90s.
And then, let's consider dropping the word "Best." These are "favorites," and there's a big difference.
If we're talking about movies we like to watch over and over, some people would include "Rocky." But if these are movies that influenced the art, let's remember how much "Rocky" stole from other movies.
And let's be honest, here. Since I'm a film buff, I enjoy watching "Citizen Kane." But how many people in the general moviewatching community even care about that film? In fact, the preponderance of movies on the list are dramas, but any video store will tell you that comedies are more popular.
We should also remember that this list is as much a commercial venture as anything else. There are tie-ins with Blockbuster Video, there was a TV special that sold commercials, there's an entire special edition of Newsweek devoted to it, etc.
True, the commercialized aspects are intended to raise money for the AFI and its ongoing film preservation efforts. And that's a good thing.
And this list is as good a jumping off point as any if you're interested in an education in the art of cinema.
But is it really a list of the definitive, be-all-and-end-all "Best 100 Movies" of all time?
Not by a long shot.
- WHAT PRICE COSTAS? You may recall during the NBA Finals, when it was announced that Karl Malone would be wrestling Dennis Rodman, NBC sportscaster Bob Costas was heard to say, "Why Malone wants to lower himself to that level, I don't know."
Perhaps Costas should be reminded that when you're on TV, you should be careful what you say. It may come back to haunt you.
What I'm referring to is the appearance by Costas in the upcoming R-rated farce "BASEketball." Or, more specifically, the trailer (preview) for the film that is in theaters now.
Costas, playing himself, has the final punchline of the trailer, as he excitedly makes a vulgar remark about himself.
I won't repeat his remark, but suffice it to say that Costas' appearance in the film makes Malone's wrestling gig seem like the high road.