Enough with the Top 100 Movie Lists, BBC!

Rants & Raves is an opportunity for writers to express opinions, wax poetic and share thoughts about entertainment, politics, life, or whatever else they feel like talking about. These are strictly writer opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of INFLUX Magazine, but rather provide an outlet to express one’s ideas.

by Martin Hafer

Every few years, some organization seems to come up with a Top 100 movie list.  There was the AFI Top 100 list in 2007, Sight & Sound’s 100 list and now the BBC has come up with a “100 Best American Film” list.  While all these lists have some dubious choices (as would my own list, no doubt), the BBC one is simply insane and makes me want to shout “BBC, stop making Top 100 Best Of lists!” Whether or not you agree with me, let me give you a few egregious examples of films these folks think are among the best 100 films coming from the States — as well as a few of the films they’ve omitted.

My choice of the worst film on their entire list is the bizarre inclusion of Heaven’s Gate.  When it debuted, it was one of the biggest money-losing films of all time and it was excoriated by practically all the reviewers.  The version that they released in 1980 was over 3 1/2 hours long … but felt like 7 hours!  I actually had the chutzpah to see the Director’s Cut … don’t ask me why.  To call the film ponderous and long-winded is being charitable and the film could easily have had an hour cut and no one would have been the wiser.  I don’t think it’s among the worst epics ever made, but it’s sure close and I have no idea why a recent small group of devotees think it’s such a great film.  Even from a historical standpoint, it’s a bad film and badly retells the events that take place in the movie.  It also practically bankrupted the studio.

A category of terrible inclusions I’d like to mention are artsy films that no one other than critics like.  While some would consider 2001 such a movie (I sure could make this argument though I must admit the film did have a big impact on filmmaking), the one that shocked me was Tree of Life … the godawful Oscar-nominated film that just made my headache as I tried to watch it.  The same can be said of their including Grey Gardens–a documentary that is as enjoyable as dental surgery without anesthesia.  Surely they could have picked a better documentary to include–one that isn’t so artsy, slow and dull.  And, Maya Duren’s super-artsy films are incomprehensible to most…yet Meshes in the Afternoon inexplicably made the list.  All are super artsy intellectual films that the average person would never watch nor could really enjoy.

A few other choices that made me question the sanity of the BBC were: The Shanghai Gesture, Marnie, Barry Lyndon, Imitation of Life (1959) and Johnny Guitar–though I could add quite a few others.  Here’s why these five jumped off the list at me:

The Shanghai Gesture is a bad Josef Von Sternberg film…terrible in fact.  No one has ever included it on any Top ANYTHING list!  So why now?  This film was HIGHLY sanitized from its original script–so much that often the film is silly and senseless.  The plot is downright silly.  But what’s even more senseless is seeing folks like Mike Mazurki and Ona Munson playing Asians as well as Victor Mature sporting a fez and cape for no apparent reason.

Marnie is not a bad film…it isn’t.  But Alfred Hitchcock made many better films.  In fact, just about every film he made since 1940 is better.  Again, I have never seen anyone put this mildly entertaining film on a Best Of list and have no idea why it was chosen.

Barry Lyndon is a slow, dull and sterile Stanley Kubrick film that starred, oddly, Ryan O’Neal as a Brit!  Critics loved it, audience members took their own lives to avoid seeing it again (well, maybe this is a slight exaggeration) and I think it’s possibly Kubrick’s worst film.  Mr. Kubrick made many great films…such as Paths of Glory, Full Metal Jacket and The Killing.  Yet, oddly, these films didn’t make the list.  I can only assume the folks who made up the list never saw these great films.

Imitation of Life (1934) was originally a syrupy, overly melodramatic love story.  Douglas Sirk remade it in the 1950s and made it MUCH more syrupy, melodramatic and now, incredibly silly!  The romance between Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman isn’t very believable and the movie is simply a slick looking remake.  Should a remake even make a Best Of list?!  Perhaps, but certainly not this one!

Johnny Guitar is a very funny movie with a strong lesbian subtext–and it is worth seeing.  Watching Joan Crawford doing what seems like a caricature of a butch female gang leader out west is unintentionally hilarious at times, as is her makeup.  So why would a silly piece of fluff like this make any list?  Enjoyable, yes.  Campy, OH YES!  In many ways, this plays like a John Waters film.  This is no insult–I love his films and could have seen Divine playing Crawford’s role.  But Waters TRIES to make kitschy, tacky films.

While there are many other bizarre inclusions, I just listed a few off the top of my head and I don’t have time to dissect the list completely.  I would also say that of their 100, I might include 25-30 of them on my own list and that’s it.  I also would include films they oddly omitted such as On The Waterfront, To Kill a Mockingbird, All About Eve, A Letter to Three Wives, Dodsworth, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The General, The Freshman (1925), Gran Torino, It Happened One Night, Ben Hur, Gigi, Beauty and the Beast and The Killers–and I am sure if I thought about it I could include a few others.  If you notice, most of my inclusions of films they neglected are older films–a period of filmmaking that the BBC didn’t seem to particularly care for or just didn’t watch.  In fact, any list which lists mostly newer films is obviously flawed and shows a definite bias.

My advice is to take a look at the BBC list and see what you think.  All I know is that their inclusions just seemed capricious and strange to say the least.  And enough with these lists!  Or, at least the ones I didn’t create myself!

As always, I’d really love to hear from you.  What inclusions or omissions irritated or confused you?  Or, did you find the list reasonable?  Or, if you made your own list, what films would it have to contain?