The American Film Institute, if it’s on schedule, should put out a new Top 100 list of American films this summer; they did so for the first time in 1997, and then did it again in 2007. I like the AFI lists. I’m not ashamed to admit that reading an special edition of Newsweek on the ’97 list introduced me to movies like McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Freaks, and The Night of the Hunter way earlier than I would have found them on my own. No matter how much one likes it, though, it’s obvious the AFI Top 100 has some big problems. For one thing, the list has never been especially American. I have pretty broad ideas about what makes an American movie; I believe that A History of Violence and The Third Man can both reasonably be argued as American. But what’s American about Lawrence of Arabia other than the Yankee dollars putting up production? That matters from a literal standpoint, but artistically there’s nothing about any of the David Lean movies on that list or the Lord of the Rings movies, say, which really qualify them as American besides the production studios. For another, the list is too obviously commercial. Jonathan Rosenbaum, for instance, has argued that the AFI Top 100 is essentially a way to sell DVDs. And most importantly, there’s something icky about making a serious, foundational ranking of an art form. As a guy with a blog, I feel okay doing it. It’s fun and it helps me expand my horizons a little bit. When the AFI does it, it feels a little less cute and a little prescriptive.
All this is to say that I got to thinking a couple months ago that I wanted to make my own top 100 list of American movies. I didn’t want to do the thing just part of the way, so I made a point to research and take notes and of course, watch a whole bunch of movies. I have a top 100 which reflects me as a viewer (which I also like to think is reasonably good), but before I reveal that later this summer, I’d like to crowdsource my efforts a little.
You can follow this link, which will take you to a Google form on the other side. It’ll ask you for your first name, your age, and then to go ahead and pick about 100 movies out of a list of about 450. (I’ve culled that from a master list of about 850 films.) Google, as far as I know, won’t keep track for you. That’s okay. The goal here isn’t necessarily for you to pick 100 films and only 100, but to give a sense of what your best American movies are.
At the bottom, you’ll have two short pieces to fill out. The first will ask for nominations for movies that I don’t include. The second will ask you to give your top five American movies as a potential tiebreaker, should it come down to that. (I have no idea if it will! Wouldn’t that be exciting?)
If you like the poll, feel free to share the link with others who you think might enjoy it. I had some fun (and a little stress) putting it together, so I hope those feelings greet you as well as you help me make a very little bit of film history. The window for this poll will close in late September.
You can also read up on my Top 100 American films. Here’s a running set of links to that project:
- The Best Years of Our Lives, Back to the Future, Sweet Smell of Success, Imitation of Life, Coming Home
- Alien, The Princess Bride, The Social Network, Broadcast News, The Age of Innocence
- Paris, Texas, Amadeus, Killer of Sheep, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
- The New World, Cabaret, The Conversation, The Maltese Falcon, Boogie Nights
- High Noon, Johnny Guitar, Paths of Glory, The Last Picture Show, United 93
- A Streetcar Named Desire, Days of Heaven, Notorious, The Right Stuff, Jurassic Park
- North by Northwest, Bonnie and Clyde, Far from Heaven, Barry Lyndon, Brokeback Mountain
- Bringing Up Baby, Only Angels Have Wings, The Lady Eve, Anatomy of a Murder, Sherlock, Jr.
- Chinatown, Annie Hall, WALL-E, Make Way for Tomorrow, The Shop Around the Corner
- Intolerance, The Third Man, Greed, Malcolm X, The Wizard of Oz
- No Country for Old Men, The Shining, The Gold Rush, All That Heaven Allows, A Woman Under the Influence
- Gone with the Wind, Dr. Strangelove, Duck Soup, Raiders of the Lost Ark, McCabe & Mrs. Miller
- The General, Sullivan’s Travels, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Magnificent Ambersons
- Singin’ in the Rain, Network, Goodfellas, The Wild Bunch, The Exorcist
- The Godfather Part II, Psycho, The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Short Cuts
- Some Like It Hot, Star Wars, Toy Story, The Night of the Hunter, Raging Bull
- Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, Taxi Driver, Mulholland Dr., Blade Runner, Fargo
- Safe, There Will Be Blood, City Lights, The Godfather, Do the Right Thing
- Pulp Fiction, Casablanca, Rear Window
- Sunset Boulevard, The Searchers, Apocalypse Now
- Citizen Kane, Vertigo, 2001: A Space Odyssey
- Un Certain Regard – some movies of note which failed to crack the top 100 (which should not be construed as 101-125)