The American Film Institute kicked off an ambitious yearlong program titled “100 Years … 100 Movies” Wednesday with a press conference featuring thesps Dustin Hoffman, Holly Hunter and Chris O’Donnell.
The program’s highlight is a three-hour special set to air June 16 on CBS. The spec will reveal the top 100 vote-getters selected from a poll involving more than 1,500 participants from the American film industry and critical circles — plus President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and their wives and 50 randomly selected U.S. moviegoers.
Additional components will include a 10-week summer series of film-themed documentaries on the TNT cable web, a promotional campaign for movies on cassette and a touring program of selections from the top 100.
“Unlike other organizations, we welcome any controversy that may come out of this,” said AFI chairman Tom Pollock. “We think it’s exciting and fun. People are very passionate about the movies and will invariably disagree with some choices. That’s all part of it. And hopefully, it will introduce great movies to a new generation of filmgoers.”
The process of arriving at the 100 films began with an AFI panel assembling a 400-title list that runs chronologically from the 1912 “Richard III” through “Jerry Maguire” from 1996. AFI director Jean Firstenberg said the committee looked only at English-language feature fiction films with significant American artistic or financial participation. That allowed for the inclusion of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai” but not Lawrence Olivier’s “Hamlet” or “The Last Emperor” — the only two best picture Oscar-winners not on the official ballot. The final 100 will also rank the top 10 vote-getters.
Participants are asked to consider choices based on such criteria as historical significance, critical recognition and popularity over time. Participants can vote for as many as 100 films and are allowed only one write-in vote for a film not listed on the ballot.
“The list is symbolic,” said Hoffman. “I remember my mother telling me about the ‘It’ girl when I was growing up and it was only last week that I finally had the pleasure of seeing a picture with Clara Bow on TMC (the Movie Channel). She certainly deserved that title.”
Neither “It” nor “Ishtar,” which Hoffman jokingly said would top his ballot, made the 400 cut. Pollock said that it’s fair to assume that at least half the final titles will be “classics” such as “Citizen Kane,” “King Kong,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “The Godfather” and his personal favorite, “Lawrence.” The most interesting choices, he maintained, will be those titles that aren’t perceived as automatic entries.