Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” was crowned the “greatest American movie” in a poll conducted by the American Film Institute under the banner “100 Years … 100 Movies,” part of an extensive campaign that kicked off with a three-hour countdown Tuesday on CBS.
The final selections — which could be characterized as predictable but not embarrassing — included 33 of the 70 films that have received best picture Oscars.
More than half the films selected were produced between 1950 and 1979, with just 14 movies with post-1980 copyrights popping up on the list. Early American cinema was also minimally represented, with four silent titles including three by Chaplin.
After polling historians, archivists and catalogers, AFI had compiled a list of 400 films produced from 1896 through 1996. The ballot included only feature fiction films, ranging from the 1912 “Richard III” to the 1996 “Jerry Maguire” (though neither of those films made the final cut).
The 400-title ballot was sent to more than 1,500 people who were asked to select 100 movies each. In addition to industry execs, creative and technical talent, film historians and critics, a smattering of ballots were sent to political leaders including President Clinton and an “average” moviegoer from each of the 50 states.
Steven Spielberg movies took five slots, while four films by Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder were cited; there were three each by Michael Curtiz, Francis Ford Coppola, John Ford, John Huston, Stanley Kubrick, David Lean, Martin Scorsese, George Stevens and William Wyler.
However such cinema lions as Buster Keaton, Preston Sturges, Raoul Walsh and William Wellman were absent, and Howard Hawks had only a single mention, with “Bringing Up Baby” sneaking into 97th position.
Among onscreen talent, veteran character actor Ward Bond appears most often on the list with seven citings, but James Stewart and Robert De Niro have the greatest number of starring roles with five movies apiece, followed by Katharine Hepburn who is in four of the top 100.
Best pics in top 10
Six of the top 10 winners also won best picture Oscar winners — “Casablanca,” “The Godfather,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “On the Waterfront” and “Schindler’s List.”
Such marginally American films as “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “The Third Man” made the cut, but generally voters ignored pictures with predominantly foreign settings and talent, including such Oscar winners as “A Man for All Seasons,” “Tom Jones,” “Chariots of Fire,” “Gandhi” and “The Last Emperor.”
Other best picture winners that failed to make the short list included “Wings,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Rebecca,” “How Green Was My Valley,” “The Lost Weekend,” “All the King’s Men,” “Marty,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Out of Africa,” “Terms of Endearment,” “Rain Man,” “Braveheart” and “The English Patient.”
The list is dotted with popular and critical successes, including Disney’s animated “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Fantasia,” epics on the order of the 1959 “Ben-Hur,” popular musicals such as “West Side Story,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “My Fair Lady” and comedy classics from the Marx Bros. in “Duck Soup” to “Some Like It Hot,” “Dr. Strangelove” and Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.”
“The Godfather, Part II” had the distinction of being the sole sequel among the 100 chosen pictures.
Genre titles were scarce but such seminal fare as “Double Indemnity,” “Frankenstein” with Boris Karloff, “King Kong,” “Psycho,” “The Searchers,” “Stagecoach,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Wild Bunch” were all cited. And popular youth/counter culture films were noticed via “Easy Rider,” “MASH” and “American Graffiti.”
No indies, off-beats
Though a couple of inclusions might stir mild debate, it’s difficult to single out a film that appears egregiously out of place on the final list. At the same time, one is hard-pressed to find any indie films or a representation of a truly off-beat or niche appeal movie on the list. For example, “Gun Crazy,” “Night of the Living Dead” and “Return of the Secaucus 7” were on the ballot, but none made the final cut.
Intentional or not, “100 Years … 100 Movies” plays to a broad, popular audience, and one will have to wait until November for the Library of Congress’s annual selection of 25 films for the National Film Registry for an unconventional and inspirational group of films representing the true spectrum of the best in American film culture.
In the days leading up to the announcement, some in the media had fretted over the presence on the ballot of such films as “Pretty Woman,” and several noticed that the recent films seemed to have a disproportionate number of films produced by AFI alumni, including “Glory,” “Rambling Rose” and “Field of Dreams.” None of those four films, however, made the final 100.
AFI board chairman Tom Pollock recently told Daily Variety’s Army Archerd that the organization had to “get into show business.” The AFI “100 Years … 100 Movies,” in addition to all else, is a fundraiser that embraces major corporate sponsors, a series of 10-one hour specials on the cable network TNT beginning next week and a videocassette promotion of the selected titles that involves 13 companies.
That vid component has already raised some controversy. “The Birth of a Nation,” from 1915, is available in several versions on cassette and will go out in a non-integral form with the AFI imprimatur.
“One can argue with any list of top all-time films,” said a film scholar who had participated in the survey. “But this is going out with the sanction of the AFI, which is supposed to represent the best of American movie making. I’m just afraid the whole exercise could backfire and tarnish its image.”