In 1998, an American Film Institute (AFI) jury of 1,500 film artists, critics and historians created a list of the 100 greatest American films of all time. In 2007 they (slightly) amended the list for the 10th anniversary edition, which is the list I used.
I’m hardly unique in this, but I’ve loved movies for as long as I can remember. While my family and I had a television set when I was little, we didn’t have cable, and were therefore relegated to two channels: ABC and PBS. Taking into account the typical rainy, snowy, windy weather of Southeast Alaska that often wreaked havoc on the power lines, we were usually down to one channel–and that was if the rabbit ears were positioned just so.
To make up for this, we frequently rented movies. For some reason that is completely inexplicable to me as an adult–having recently watched the film just to remember what it was all about–my sister and I were obsessed with Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, a creepy, cheesy, disturbing (and shockingly PG-rated) film about a paleontologist and her husband who discover a mother and baby brontosaurus in Africa, and then try and protect them from hunters who want to capture them.
Fortunately, for my sanity’s sake, I grew out of my apparent love for the ridiculously fake animatronic dinosaurs. Prior to making it a goal to watch AFI’s top 100 films of all time, I had seen a number of those on the list. However, being “forced” to watch them all was wonderful, as I saw some movies I had been meaning to see for years but hadn’t gotten around to it (e.g. Gone With the Wind and The Godfather I and II), and others I likely wouldn’t have watched on my own that I ended up very much enjoying (e.g. The Gold Rush and A Clockwork Orange).
What follows is the list, with notes from me, and my top ten favorite with an asterisk:
Citizen Kane: Can anything else be said except “Rosebud”?
The Godfather: It’s a movie you shouldn’t refuse to watch.
Casablanca: I understand where the term Bogarting comes from.
Raging Bull: Raging—but brilliant—Robert De Niro.
Singin’ in the Rain: It gives me a glorious feeling.
Gone with the Wind: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn…if you don’t like this sweeping epic, because I do!
Lawrence of Arabia: Nearly four hours of my life I happily gave to sand, desert and Peter O’Toole’s blue eyes.
Schindler’s List: Haunting film and score I likely won’t ever forget.
Vertigo: I felt apathy, not vertigo.
The Wizard of Oz: I could while away the hours repeatedly watching this classic.
City Lights: An adorable and funny rom-com before there were rom-coms.
The Searchers: I’m searching my mind to remember the plot…
Star Wars: Actors from best to worst—C-3PO, R2D2, Chewbacca…everyone and everything else…Luke Skywalker.
Psycho: It’s the reason I rarely shower, or stay in motels with creepy owners.
2001: A Space Odyssey: It’s a trip…to space…and way, way beyond.
Sunset Blvd: Gloria Swanson’s closeup still terrifies me.
The Graduate: Mrs. Robinson laid the groundwork for all future MILFs.
The General: I filled the silence of this hilarious silent film with laughter.
On the Waterfront: Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy certainly had class.
*It’s a Wonderful Life: It’s a wonderful movie and one of my favorites.
Chinatown: Always has great food. The film? Not as fun as the neighborhood.
*Some Like it Hot: Nobody’s perfect, but this movie is!
The Grapes of Wrath: Resulted in my wrath at AFI for stealing two hours of my life. E.T. The Extraterrestrial: What kid of the 80s doesn’t love this adorable movie?
To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lee’s one hit wonder made for a fantastic film.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: And does the great filibustering ever.
High Noon: My lack of memory of this film makes me think I was high while watching it. All About Eve: My seatbelt was fastened, but it wasn’t a very bumpy (exciting) flight.
Double Indemnity: Maybe I’m just not that into film noir…
Apocalypse Now: I liked it much more than the smell of napalm in the morning.
The Maltese Falcon: The stuff great films are made of.
The Godfather Part II: A sequel as good as the first film.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: Crazy good.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: Can you name all seven?
Annie Hall: For me this film falls into one of two categories—horrible or miserable.
The Bridge on the River Kwai: Being locked in a sweat box looks dreadful.
The Best Years of Our Lives: The best performance ever by a non-actor, Harold Russell.
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: I don’t have to give you any stinking reasons why I liked this movie.
Dr. Strangelove: Or, how I learned to stop thinking and love Kubrick films.
*The Sound of Music: The hills are alive with the sound of my voice every time I watch this great musical.
King Kong: The special effects from 1933 were…special…
Bonnie and Clyde: Dunaway and Beatty are a better duo than Bonnie and Clyde.
Midnight Cowboy: Ratso deserved to be treated better than his namesake.
The Philadelphia Story: The snappiest dialogue in Philadelphia.
Shane: Shane! Shane!
It Happened One Night: Only Clark Gable can yell, “Shut up!” and have it come across as hilarious and charming.
A Streetcar Named Desire: An undesirable lot of characters, but acted well.
Rear Window: You never know what your neighbor might be up to.
Intolerance: This 197 minute silent film was intolerably long and tedious.
*The Lord of the Rings: Peter Jackson—one director to rule them all.
West Side Story: I love musicals, but this is far from my favorite.
Taxi Driver: De Niro should never quit his day job to become a psychotic cabbie.
The Deer Hunter: Christopher Walken playing Russian Roulette is terrifying.
M*A*S*H: A brave, and successful, attempt to meld comedy and war.
North by Northwest: Best use of an American National Monument.
Jaws: (Justifiably) scaring people from swimming in the ocean since 1975.
Rocky: “Yo, Adrian” was all I could understand from Sly, but that’s hardly the point.
The Gold Rush: Chaplin struck gold again.
Nashville: A haphazard cacophony of characters, story lines and noise.
Duck Soup: I laughed so often I missed half the dialogue.
Sullivan’s Travels: One of the dullest, least memorable films on the list.
American Graffiti: I liked Harrison Ford as a young chap.
Cabaret: Loved Liza Minnelli, but the Emcee stole the show.
Network: This has one of the best closing lines in cinema history.
The African Queen: Funny, adventurous, and not entirely Bogarted thanks to Katherine Hepburn’s comedic acting chops.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: She chose…wisely…to watch this film.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: I don’t know, but I am afraid of how real Elizabeth Taylor’s and Richard Burton’s acting was.
Unforgiven: I hope I’ll be forgiven for feeling apathetic about this film.
Tootsie: Dustin Hoffman can do no wrong, even dressed as a woman.
A Clockwork Orange: I very much enjoyed viddying this weird and disturbing film. *Saving Private Ryan: Tied with Forrest Gump as my favorite movie of all time.
*The Shawshank Redemption: Get busy watching this movie, or get busy dying.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Robert Redford and Paul Newman. Period.
The Silence of the Lambs: The lambs may have stopped screaming, but I never do while watching my favorite horror film.
In the Heat of the Night: They call him Mr. Tibbs, and I call it a great movie.
*Forrest Gump: I almost know this film better than my own life.
All the President’s Men: Maybe Woodward can write something for me because I’m at a loss for words.
Modern Times: Chaplin at his best.
The Wild Bunch: The best Western shootout scene.
The Apartment: Pretty funny, humor-wise and otherwise-wise.
Spartacus: Everyone wants to be the lead character in this epic.
Sunrise: A dramatic silent film that worked.
*Titanic: The only film I’ve seen in the theater twice.
Easy Rider: Two bikers in search of America.One viewer in search of staying awake.
A Night at the Opera: Marx brothers, you turned out another gut-busting gem. Platoon: I wouldn’t want to get any closer to the Vietnam War than this powerful film. *12 Angry Men: Excellent writing, captivating, and superb acting.
Bringing up Baby: Hysterical madcap that had me in stitches from start to finish.
The Sixth Sense: A chilling performance by a young Haley Joel Osment.
Swing Time: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are always a treat to watch dance! Sophie’s Choice: Kevin Kline was robbed of an Oscar nomination.
Goodfellas: Good film that’s brutal and sometimes hard to watch.
The French Connection: Great car chase, but not much else for me.
Pulp Fiction: I still don’t get the hype.
The Last Picture Show: It’s too bleak to be the last picture show you should see.
Do the Right Thing: And check out this film and it’s best use of racial slurs.
Blade Runner: I’m not typically into sci-fi, but this Harrison Ford flick is entertaining.
Yankee Doodle Dandy: James Cagney turned in a sterling, energetic performance in this (too long) biopic.
*Toy Story: This marvelous Pixar creation is wonderful…to infinity and beyond!
Ben-Hur: Charlton Heston could have won the Oscar for Most Melodramatic Actor.