Monday, 23 May 2016

My SECOND alternative version of the American Film Institute's list of the hundred greatest American films of all time

In 2007, the AFI published a perfectly sensible list of the100 greatest American films. In March, I blogged my own alternative list - i.e. another 100 must-sees. But I knew I'd left out too many classics - and personal favourites - to leave it there. Then commenters suggested other movies they'd like to see on the list (several of which I've included this time round). I'd intended leaving it for a while, but a recent spell of enforced bed-rest found me wolfing down a number of books about Hollywood, so I've completed the task somewhat sooner than planned.

Just to recap, these are American productions, they can come from any era (up to 2007, when the AFI produced their list), and from any genre. I've really indulged myself this time by concentrating on my favourite genres, so there's a disproportionately large number of crime (mainly film noir), science fiction, horror and comedy films - and a relative paucity of romance, screwball comedy and melodrama. (I'm a bloke - sue me.) They're in no particular order, but I've again split them into 10 groups of 10, just to help readers keep their place. Please feel free to tell me where I've gone horribly wrong.

Second Alternative Version of the AFI's 2007 "100 Years... 100 Movies" list

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World (2003) - a splendid reminder of the days when films routinely celebrated military courage and patriotism.
The Mask of Dimitrios (1944) - extremely atmospheric film of a great Eric Ambler thriller: Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Zachary Scott (in top form as a sleazy criminal).
Adam’s Rib (1949) - Tracy and Hepburn at their sparkling best.
The Outfit (1973) - Robert Duvall, Robert Ryan and Joe Don Baker in a mega-tough crime movie based on a Richard Stark novel.
The Big Knife (1955) - blacklisted commie writer Clifford Odets gets his own back on Hollywood. Movie star Jack Palance gets to slap blonded-up producer Rod Steiger.
Gilda (1946) - Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth in classic film noir.
My Darling Clementine (1946) - John Ford and Henry Fonda give us The Shootout at the OK Corral. Victor Mature coughs a lot as tubercular dentist, Doc Holliday.
The Killers (1946) -  Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner in another classic film noir.
Mister Roberts (1955) - stagey but very funny John Ford WWII US Navy comedy: Jack  Lemmon and James Cagney steal the show from Henry Fonda. ("Now what's all this crap about no movie tonight!")
Ace in the Hole (1951) - Kirk Douglas in an unpleasantly cynical but utterly compelling Billy Wilder classic.

Mean Streets (1973) - Robert Deniro’s slow-motion entrance to the bar accompanied by “Jumping Jack Flash” earns it admission.
Rebecca (1940)
Midnight Run (1988) - Robert Deniro’s greatest comic performance as an honest ex-cop bounty hunter: Charles Grodin is priceless as the huntee. A true gem.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Midnight Cowboy (1969)
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - don't blame it for all the sordid rubbish that followed in its wake: this is brilliantly exciting and unsettling.
Eraserhead (1977) - surrealist horror from David Lynch in his first outing as a director.
Memento (2000) - mind-bendingly complex, extremely clever thriller about a man suffering from anterograde amnesia.
Cool Hand Luke (1967) - “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” - Paul Newman’s twinkly smile invariably annoys me, but this just works.
The Princess Bride (1987) - “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…” The screenplay by William Goldman of his own comedy-fantasy-adventure novel is so wonderful, even Cary Elwes is good!

An American Werewolf in London (1981) - well, British-American, but I’m still putting it in.
The Wild Bunch (1969)
After Hours (1983) - inspired, surreal Scorsese black comedy: several of the director’s films are over-rated, but this cult classic was shamefully shunned by audiences on its release.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) - this has been up and down like a whore’s drawers in my estimation over the years - and it’s a sprawling mess - but it’s great.
This is Spinal Tap (1984) - my score goes up to eleven.
Aliens (1986) - “Get away from her, you bitch!”
Die Hard (1988)
Fight Club (1999) - I avoided this for ages, but my son ordered me to watch it last year: not at all what I was expecting - funny and extremely clever.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Strangers on a Train (1951) - prime Hitchcock -  “It was very quick, Guy. She wasn't hurt in any way. It was all over in no time. I knew you'd be surprised.”

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
The Killing (1956) - Classic film noir - directed by Stanley Kubrick, written by him and Jim Thompson. Sterling Hayden and Elisha Cook Jr. are tremendous.
Dumbo (1941) Hulk! Sob!
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) - worth it for the moment when Martin Balsam sneezes.
Manhunter (1984) - Brian Cox is the definitive Hannibal Lecktor and Tom Noonan as serial killer Francis Dollarhyde is unforgettable - “Inaggadadavida, honey…”
Easter Parade (1948) - classic MGM musical: Astaire, Garland, “Steppin’ Out with My Baby” - fab!
RoboCop (1987) - “Excuse me, I have to go. Somewhere there is a crime happening.”
Walk the Line (2005) - Musical biopics are almost invariably awful: this one about Johnny Cash was excellent (apart from the Waylon Jennings role being miscast - he looks like a dweeb here).
The Producers (1967)
Tremors (1990) - western monster movie - and, despite that, an unalloyed delight from beginning to end - Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward are excellent.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) - John Carpenter’s outstanding made-on-a-shoestring B-movie made more money here than in America, proving Brits have have good taste - “Got a smoke?”
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) - Patient to nurse: “My great aunt Jennifer ate a whole box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be 102 and when she'd been dead three days she looked better than you do now!”
Captain Blood (1935) - Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, swords, tights, and every day is “Talk Like a Pirate” Day: “Up that rigging, you monkeys! Aloft!” “Bless your rusty heart, it’s a gunner you are!”
Gold Diggers of 1933 (Er…1933?) - “We’re in the Money”, “Pettin’ in the Park” and “Remember My Forgotten Man”.
On the Town (1949)
Showboat (1936) - Paul Robeson sings “Ol' Man River” in this James Whale-directed classic.
That’s Entertainment (1974) - yes, it’s a compilation movie, but the most enjoyable ever compiled.
Marathon Man (1976) - just a quick polish, thank you.
Ball of Fire (1941) - Screwball comedy - Gary Cooper is a shy lexicographer who has to protect nightclub singer Barbara Stanwyck from the Mob. Fun.
Beetlejuice (1988) - A recently deceased couple summon “bio-exorcist” Michael Keaton to remove obnoxious new owners from their beloved country home - “Go ahead - make my millennium!”

Mr Blandings Builds his Dream House (1948) - Cary Grant, Myrna Loy - “If you ain’t eatin’ Wham, you ain’t eatin ham!”
The Defiant Ones (1958)
When Harry Met Sally (1989) - yes, I know, but I love it.
The Public Enemy (1931) - Gangster James Cagney discovers a new way of serving his beloved half a grapefruit.
Minority Report (2002) - Okay, it’s Tom Cruise - but it’s terrific.
The Truman Show (1998) - Good Grief! Jim Carrey got onto the list!
Westworld (1973) - Yul Brynner is a malfunctioning android gunslinger, so he finally has an excuse for only having one facial expression.
The Time Machine (1960) - I’m always surprised by how good this H.G. Wells adaptation is. (And I realise it's a British-American film.)
Galaxy Quest (1999) - Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman are splendid in a science-fiction comedy that manages to be both hilarious and absolutely charming.
Back to the Future (1985)

The Blair Witch Project (1999)
The Invisible Man (1933) - the great James Whale (who got about) directed Claude Rains from a script approved by H. G. Wells himself: it’s febrile, psychotic, unnerving, and darkly comic.
The Uninvited (1944) Effective, spooky ghost story, starring Ray Milland.
Blood Simple (1984) - sweaty, seedy updated film noir from the Coen brothers (their first movie)
Coogan’s Bluff (1968) - Don Siegel directs Clint Eastwood as an Arizona cop in New York: “You better drop that blade, or you won't believe what happens next, even while it's happening.”
The Blue Dahlia (1946) - great film noir with Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and beefy William Bendix as a brain-damaged GI who goes nuts when he hears “monkey music”.
The Woman in the Window (1944) - Fritz Lang film noir - professor Edward G. Robinson falls for a painting of femme fatale Joan Bennett, then encounters the woman herself. Bad stuff ensues.
This Gun For Hire (1942)
Force of Evil (1948) - crime drama, with John Garfield as a crooked lawyer.
Road House (1948) - yet another film noir - Ida Lupino sings “One for my Baby” mesmerisingly.

Dead End (1937) - stagey, left-wing take on New York income inequality: Joel McCrea, Bogart as a gangster (for a change), and introducing the Dead End Kids.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) - John Candy and Steve Martin (when he was still funny): immensely likeable and consistently funny.
The Naked Gun (1988)
Airplane! (1980)
The Ghost Breakers (1940) - Zombies. Bob Hope in prime form delivers the best political joke in film history. Lots of racial stereotyping.
Trouble in Paradise (1932) Ernst Lubitsch directs Herbert Marshall and Lillian Hopkins as debonair jewel thieves in Paris - dead sophisticated.
The Heiress (1949) - from the Henry James novel: William Wyler directs suitor on the make. Montgomery Clift (when he was only a bit weird), plus Olivia de Havilland and Ralph Richardson
Jezebel (1938) - Gone with the Wind spoiler with Bette Davies, whose character is no better than she ought to be.
A New Leaf (1971) - Sparkling social comedy with Walter Matthau and Elaine May: “Excuse me, you're not by any chance related to the Boston Hitlers?”
The Boston Strangler (1968) - some flaws, but Tony Curtis gives a superb performance as serial killer Albert DeSalvo.

The Seventh Cross (1944) - set in Germany in 1936: Spencer Tracy is one of seven prisoners who escape from a  concentration camp - the commandant is determined to recapture and hang them all.
Five Graves to Cairo (1943) - Billy Wilder - Erich von Stroheim as Rommel in an under-rated Billy Wilder thriller.
Fallen (1998) - brilliant little horror film about a body-shifting demon, starring Denziel Washington.
The Hidden (1987) - Kyle MacLachlan as an alien cop hunting down a body-shifting psycho creature in modern-day LA.
Miami Blues (1990) Terrific, quirky crime film based on a great Charles Willeford novel - thief Alec Baldwin gets beaten up and maimed, so you’ll enjoy it.
Coma (1978) Michael Crichton directs Geneviève Bujold and Michael Douglas in a gripping hospital thriller.
A Star is Born (1954)
Time After Time (1979) - H.G. Wells pursues a serial killer acquaintance in modern San Francisco (they both use Wells's time machine to get there, obviously).
Point Blank (1967) - Lee Marvin's finest performance in John Boorman's granite-hard revenge thriller.
Twelve O’Clock High (1949) War film - Gregory Peck excels as a glowering martinet Air Force officer.

House of Games (1987) - clever David Mahmet thriller.
Strawberry Blonde (1941) - soufflé-light period romcom directed by Raoul Walsh (!), starring James Cagney (!) and Olivia de Havilland - the blonde in question is Rita Hayworth. Good tunes, too.
The Cure (1917) - Chaplin’s finest 20 minutes, as a dypsomaniac trying to dry out.
Foreign Correspondent (1940) - relatively under-appreciated London-set war-time Hitchcock thriller, starring Joel McCrea as an American reporter who almost gets pushed off Westminster Cathedral.
The Net (1995) - Sandra Bullock as a computer nerd in a great little thriller with nostalgia-inducing floppy disks.
Pickup on South Street (1953) Samuel Fuller directs this thriller about commie spies, in which Richard Widmark picks the wrong pocket.
The Reckless Moment (1949) - Max Ophuls’ California-set film noir, with Joan Bennett and James Mason (excellent) as a blackmailer.
The Last Seduction (1994) - apparently this is a "neo-noir erotic thriller": whatever - it's a snappy, funny tale of a sassy double-crossing dame and various hapless male dupes (Bill Pullman excels).
The Wolf Man (1941) - Lon Chaney Jr is excellent as Larry Talbot, and Maria Ouspenskaya is definitive as a poetry-spouting gypsy woman - impressive transformation sequence: a masterpiece.
Act of Violence (1948) - taut Fred Zinneman film noir, in which former prisoner of war Van Heflin is pursued by his nemesis - Robert Ryan at his most menacing.
It's a Gift (1943) - my favourite W.C. Fields film - it's stuffed with classic scenes, including the blind customer and the mound of light bulbs and the bits of paper sticking to the golf club routine. Still a hoot.

Yes, I know - that's 101, but I won't be doing this again for a long time, and I wanted to squeeze W.C. Fields onto the list.


  1. Hmm...Great list. You really do need to give "Lost in Translation" another go.

    "The Accidental Tourist" is a quirky, charming and underrated film. "Midnight in Paris" - yes I know putting Woody Allen on a list is like choosing Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll" on your Desert Island Discs.

    How about the other Bourne films - all three are worthy.

    Glad to see WC Fields there but I would have opted for "The Bank Dick" or "The Fatal Glass of Beer". On the whole a bit short on 20's/30's comedy: "Way Out West", "The General"....?

    "The Boston Strangler"? If you have to have a Tony Curtis film, why not the one in which he says "Yonder lies de castle of moi fadder"?

    1. "Lost in Translation"? Well, if you say so - but it really irritated me on first viewing. Maybe I was just in a bad mood.

      "The Accidental Tourist" - likeable, certainly, but a bit too gentle for my tastes.

      Woody Allen? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Dirty little devil.

      I tried not to include too many films from the same series, which is why all four Bourne films aren't on the list, but if I had to choose another Bourne film, it would have been "The Bourne Legacy" (2012), which Matt Damon refused to do, and which did badly at the box office, but which I adore, and which I've watched at least six time already.

      It was toss-up between The Bank Dick and It's a Gift, but the blind customer tipped the scales (geddit?).

      Never seen many silent comedy films all the way through - mainly shorts. I have seen - and enjoyed - The Gold Rush and The General, but they're both on the original AFI list.

      Actually, Tony Curtis never said the famous line, which was supposed to have come from "The Black Shield of Falworth". But in 1952 he did say “This is my foddah’s palace. And yandah lies da Valley of da Sun” in Son of Ali Baba, which would probably have got my list, but, sadly, I've never seen it.

  2. What happened to "The Harder They Fall" (1956), "The Conversation" (1974) and "To Be or Not To Be" (1942)?

    1. "To Be or Not to Be" IS on the list. "The Harder They Fall" only didn't get on because there were already so many films noirs (if that's the correct plural version of the term). I should probably have got a boxing film on the list, given how many great ones were released at the time - including "Somebody Up There Likes Me" (Paul Newman), "The Set-Up" (Robert Ryan), "Body and Soul" (John Garfield) and "Champion" (which made Kirk Douglas a star).

      This will probably shock you - but I haven't seen "The Conversation" since it came out, and I remember not enjoying it very much. But I've heard so many sensible people praise it, I should probably give it another go - especially as I love spy/paranoia films and am a great admirer of Gene Hackman.

    2. Presumably "To Be or Not To Be" was on your first alternative list but - unless old age really is catching up with me - it's not on the one above. As to "The Conversation", yes do give it another go and, as you rightly say (or imply) Gene Hackman can make any old schlock into a masterpiece (not that I'm saying "The Conversation" is schlock but it would definitely lose a lot were GH absent)

  3. Great list. Five additional suggestions :
    1-3. There is a trio of films from 1968 which is hardly ever mentioned, but which I think are excellent -"Madigan" [Richard Widmark], "No Way To Treat a Lady" [Steiger] and "Targets" [Boris Karloff]. Effortless film-making with great scripts and actors.
    4. "The Girl Can't Help It" [1556]. The breadth of talent, the exuberance, Marty "Fats" Murdoch, Little Richard's Zoot Suit and Miss Mansfield [she won a Golden Globe].
    5. "Super Heros" [1998].It is a year too late for your list , but it contains an early tribute to Stephen Hawking and stars Leslie Nielsen. Available on You Tube.

  4. I would have nominated The Conversation, Umbongo, except for the fact that the entire film hinges on one sentence recorded during the conversation between the couple, in which the emphasis and consequently the meaning is altered to suit the purpose of the plot. It's a bleeding con, that's what it is.

    1. Maybe I'm missing something here, but isn't the alteration of the recording - or the emphasis in the recording - the nub of the film?

  5. Apparently, Bogdanovitch was allowed to make Targets only on the condition that he included some unused footage in the vaults from a previous film starring Boris Karloff. He got round this by using it as the film showing at the drive-in movie during the climax to the film. You can see a young Jack Nicholson in the clip, knocking on the door and looking as if he expects it to answered by his character in The Shining twenty years or so later. Seriously good film.

    1. Haven't seen Targets for years - will give it another go on your recommendation.

  6. Bogdanovich also directed "Saint Jack" another wannabe worthy inclusion not least for Denholm Elliot's superb acting.Great to see "Time Machine" make your list.I first saw it on a grainy black and white tv in the mid-sixties.If memory serves me well every late afternoon in this land of the future a bell,or hooter,or some sort of call goes out and folks immediately drop what they are doing and walk zombie-like to what ever it is that summons them.It reminds me of something in these parts-can't quite put my finger on it.

    1. "The Time Machine" (under-rated, I reckon) almost didn't make it on because, strictly speaking, it's half-British. But I couldn't leave it off: I think it was at the third time of watching that I realised how good it was. Similarly, I almost included the 1953 "War of the Worlds", which contains some extraordinarily impressive special effects for that time - but it tends to sag whenever the invaders aren't on screen.

      "Saint Jack"? Great little film - Ben Gazzara (a really good , if underused, screen actor - mainly his own fault, as he preferred the stage in the early part of his career) and Denholm Elliot were both terrific in it. Maybe on the next list?

  7. Some great titles in there Scott - Madigan, the Hidden, St Jack, and I loved Miami Blues.
    I was slightly surprised for the fraction of a second it took me to realize that Roadhouse wasn't the Patrick Swayze film of the same name (also starred a rather uncomfortable Ben Gazzara though).


    1. I couldn't remember Ben Gazzara in "Roadhouse", so I looked it up and realised I'd got it mixed up with "Next of Kin" - another Swayze film released the same year. Can't remember a thing about "Roadhouse", so I'll have to look out for it and make sure I actually saw it.

  8. There's a few Lee Marvin films I would consider - Prime Cut, Point Blank and The Professionals. I also have fond memories of a very downbeat Bill Cosby and Robert Culp movie from the seventies called Hickey and Boggs. With the exception of Point blank (which seems to be screened every few weeks by TCM)I haven't seen any of them broadcast for years. i think I last watched Madigan a year or two ago and TCM have shown a heavily cut version of the Outfit a whileback (so heavily cut that it was aalmost a waste of time).

    1. I thought Point Blank was on my previous list, JonT - an omission. I was always intrigued by the Angie Dickenson/Lee Marvin scene where he delivers a monologue, in which he appears to be answering questions she's not putting to him. Apparently, that's exactly what he's doing: she missed her cue and he just kept on delivering his lines. John Boorman liked the off-kilter effect and kept the scene in.

      I read a rave review of The Professionals recently, and must watch out for it. As you said it never seems to be on - ditto Prime Cut, which I wouldn't kind seeing again.

  9. Replies
    1. Oh, all right, mahlerman - but I must admit it's a film I've never particularly warmed to, technically impressive endless single opening tracking shot or not. I think Orson Welles goes screamingly over the top (he usually does, but I find it particularly distracting in this picture), and I could never buy Charlton Heston as a Mexican. One of my many cinematic blind spots, I'm afraid.