Starting with a list of over 40,000 American movies produced between 1896 and 1996, the AFI culled a selection of 400 candidates, based on such criteria as critical recognition, awards won, popularity, historical significance and cultural impact. The Institute then invited a blue ribbon panel of over 1,500 film industry artists and executives (as well as some influential critics, one AFI member from each of the 50 states, and the president and vice president and their wives) to vote on the top 100.
Overall, it's a solid list of films -- respectful, wide-ranging and intelligent. No one educated in "cinema" can argue with a large percentage of the choices as belonging among the best American movies ever made. But then again, given 40,000 titles from which to choose, it's not difficult to put together a list of 100 great movies -- and given that, no one with an interest in film will be able to accept the list precisely as it stands. So, to add one more vote to the panel -- or one more voice to the din -- below is our own modest suggestions for refinements to the AFI's 100 Greatest American Movies list, divided into three categories.
1. Mistakes Were MadeFew will argue that the movies below are good. But do any of them seriously qualify as among the Top 100?
Amadeus. Seriously, how recently have you rented this?
2. Titles From the Top 400 That Should Have Made the Top 100With only minimal comments to justify their inclusion, because if you have to ask.
The General. Three Chaplin films in the 100 and no Buster Keaton? Unthinkable.
Missing in ActionA short list of great films that never even made it to the 400 finalists list -- and why not?
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Regardless of the issues any of us might have with the AFI's list, however, familiarity with its Top 100 is a damn good starting place for anyone interested in a crash course in American movies -- particularly when tweaked by those of us inspired to expand the list through critical viewing.
D. Scott Apel is the former video columnist for the San Jose (CA) Mercury News, and is author of the video guide Killer B's: The 237 Best Movies On Video You've (Probably) Never Seen.
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June 30, 1998