Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Doc vs. The AFI, Part Four

(Previously in our saga: Parts One, Two, and Three.)

I had been doing pretty well so far with the lists so far; sure, I'd had my stumbles, but my guesses were much better than average, and even better than I'd expected myself to do. I'd also had a fair number of problems with the lists, what they'd included and excluded as films and genres. I hadn't expected much, but I had expected a little better. With the Epics, though, it was about to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

Official Definition: AFI defines "epic" as a genre of large-scale films set in a cinematic interpretation of the past.
My Thoughts: On the surface it's pretty good, but it does leave some things a little too open to interpretation. "The past" is too broad, I think, because it opens this definition up to encompassing another genre entirely, one we will be noticing in a little bit.
What I Got Right:
10. The Ten Commandments.
6. Titanic. (And I'm sad that I got it right.)
5. Spartacus.
4. Gone With The Wind.
2. Ben Hur.
1. Lawrence of Arabia.

What I Missed:
9. Reds. Wow, that's cool. Didn't see that coming. Wait a second. An often overlooked film that more people should see? Good job, AFI.
8. Saving Private Ryan. Okay, this is where I got mad. This is Grade-A b.s. You want to put this on a list, you make a Top Ten War Movies list. You can remove Courtroom Drama and replace it with an ACTUAL genre.
7. All Quiet on the Western Front. I love this movie, but see above.
3. Schindler's List. I don't see this as an epic. It's a drama. (Or even, depending on your definitions, a war movie.)

What I Guessed:
Braveheart and Gladiator - They're the epitomy of the epic film (long, sweeping, historical, "important", expensive), and made boatloads of cash. I thought these were both shoe-ins. Not that I think they're any more deserving than some others, I just thought they were AFI material.
The Greatest Story Ever Told - Kind of a shocker to be excluded. Big and historical, but I guess one Biblical epic is enough.
Giant - This was just a placeholder, really. I couldn't think of anything else, and I was running out of time.

Other Thoughts: 60% on the Epics, but a lot of my picks were home runs anyhow. And now I can talk about the problem with the Epic film. It includes the War film genre. And I don't know why the AFI didn't include a War genre in their categories. There are a lot of great war movies, and unlike some of the other genres on the list it's a real genre. (I suppose you could argue that a list of ten great war movies would be kind of depressing, but that's something for public relations people to look at, not me. I'm just interested in the movies.) I actually liked their definition, until I realized that it didn't exclude war movies, something that you could easily do. They at least attempted it with Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

My Final Thoughts:

At long last, I can give you a brief (too late!) summary of the AFI show. First of all, it was an incredibly boring show. Other AFI shows I've seen have had interesting interview segments from writers, producers, politicians, actors, directors, and film historians, all talking about how the movies on the list affected them. Most of the people on this show were celebrities that talked about movies that they were in or helped make. I don't care what Steven Spielberg has to say about Schindler's list, or George Lucas about Star Wars. I want to hear Lucas talk about Ben Hur, or Spielberg talk about a director like Hitchcock. THAT would be interesting. John Ratzenberger talking about Toy Story, or Rob Reiner talking about When Harry Met Sally? That I can pass on.

As I've already said, the genres ranged from great to awful. I know the AFI has already done lists of dramas, comedies, and "thrills" (which covers a great deal of genres, actually), but they still could have put together a better list than this. In fact, let me give it a whirl. What about these for the Ten Top Tens?
Fantasy; Sci-Fi; Horror / Suspense; Gangster; War; Historical Epic; Romantic Comedy; Mystery; Western; Sports.
Replace Courtroom Drama and Animation with two more well-defined (and in my eyes, legitimate) genres: Horror/Suspense and War. Beef up your definitions of Fantasy, Romantic Comedy, and Mystery. Narrow your Epics to movies that focus on history more than war (not that they can't involve war, just that the war isn't the focus of the movie). There's a better programme already. And I'm even going to throw them a bone for Sports. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's not a "genre", per se. (Plus, if you have the stones to put Caddyshack on it, I'm good.)

And finally, my biggest problem with the list? Predictability. I went sixty percent overall, with an average of ten minutes to prepare each list. And even the ones I didn't pick didn't usually surprise me. I think that lists like this should point people towards deserving movies that they wouldn't normally rent or go to see. I had only three of these surprise entries that I thought fit the genre and that most people watching the show wouldn't have heard of: The Thief of Baghdad, Harold and Maude, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller. If the point of these lists is to put even more plaudits on well-respected movies and help the traditional Hollywood machine make more money, congratulations AFI, you've succeeded. Just don't try and make it look like you're trying to find the "best" movies.

Thanks for reading along, folks, those of you who have. Anyone who wants to make suggestions for the genres, or any comments at all, feel free. I'm just glad I've got this off my chest.

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