Were you paying attention when CBS broadcast the American Film Institute’s Tenth Annual “100 Years, 100 Movies,” a list of the Top 100 American Movies Ever Made? If you missed it or the ensuing critical flap, the two lists are side by side here at the Wikipedia. Part of the idea was to compare how this year’s list would stack up against the AFI list from ten years ago. You wouldn’t expect Citizen Kane to vanish suddenly from the Top 100, but there have been some pretty good films made in the last ten years, from The Big Lebowski (denied!) to the Lord of the Rings (#50) series. Don’t worry, I’m not writing this to complain about the AFI choices, while clutching my goatee and watching my battered copy of Last Year at Marienbad frame by frame again. Even if AFI did put three Spielberg films ahead of Double Indemnity last time, the world probably won’t end. (How Toy Story got on the new list is a mystery for the ages, but then again how can you complain about the addition of Sullivan’s Travels?) I just want to add a few titles from the last ten years that didn’t appear on the show. These are great movies, most by great living directors. Some of these films get the respect they deserve and some are great or very good films that don’t. I’ve listed nine films here so that you can provide 3QD with the tenth film in the last ten years overlooked by the AFI.
Deconstructing Harry (1997) or Celebrity (1998)
So you don’t like Woody Allen’s late style. I feel sorry for you. Stop confusing the man with the artist. Go back to Allen and appreciate him while he’s still around. In Celebrity, you can watch Kenneth Branagh try to be Woody Allen, and the ever-astounding Charlize Theron puts in an extraordinary performance as a pretty messed up model.
The Game (1997) or, yes, I’m sorry, but Panic Room (2002)
David Fincher’s take on the thriller genre in The Game is a paranoiac’s dream. It’s difficult to describe why this movie is so much fun, but it is. Sean Penn buys his brother, Michael Douglas, a very special “experience” for his birthday. Panic Room inspires nothing like the emotion promised by the title in most people I know, but they’re just wrong. Great performances from already classic Jodie Foster and the soon-to-be classic Forrest Whitaker.
Lost Highway (1997)
David Lynch is so scary. I don’t even ever want to watch this movie again. Considered a dud by many, Lost Highway is actually completely terrifying and weird. It has perhaps the scariest lines of dialog in movie history. Something to the effect of: I’ve been in your house. In fact, I’m there right now. Ugh. My skin is crawling just thinking about this movie, let’s move on.
The Big Lebowski (1998) or The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001)
At least the AFI put Fargo on their last list, but dropped it this time around. To quote Roger Ebert: “What? No Fargo?” To have Jaws, E.T., Raiders, Private Ryan, Schindler, and so forth all securely fastened to the current list is fine I guess, but if those choices meant excluding the Coens altogether, that is simply “laughable, man, bush league psycho-out stuff,” as Jesus Quintana once put it. Of course, I’m biased: a book I wrote with a friend on Lebowski has just been published by the British Film Institute. (The Barbican in London is showing a wonderful double bill of The Big Sleep and The Big Lebowski with our Introduction on July 15). You know what, though? At the risk of blasphemy: The Man Who Wasn’t There might be even better than Lebowski. It’s an extraordinary period piece crime genre bender and philosophical investigation of the basic noir tenets laid down by Double Indemnity. The Coens even filmed the execution scene that Billy Wilder notoriously shot at great expense but left out of the final cut.
This movie has probably influenced more younger writers than most living novelists and was largely responsible for the much-deserved Bill Murray rennaissance. Don’t mess with the love-life of a high school kid who knows how to train bees, I think that’s the basic message of the film.
I know few people who have even heard about this hilarious mock-mob movie from Jon Favreau (who wrote Swingers), starring Favreau and Vince Vaughn, with great appearances by Peter Falk and the artist formerly known as P. Diddy. Basically it’s a story of two wanna-be gangers from L.A. who go to New York and get themselves into terrible trouble with real mobsters. If you like to laugh and especially if you love the mob genre this movie is a lesser-known gem.
Donnie Darko (2001)
Probably you are already a rabid fan of Donnie Darko or else you will never care. Supernatural giant bunny rabbits, circular time, Patrick Swayze as a pervert, and terrific scenes from life in an American high school circa 1980s.
Inside Man (2006)
Speaking of late styles, I love the movies Spike Lee is making these days, from subdued and classy thrillers like Clockers and Inside Man to the documentary experience of When the Levees Broke. Inside Man is just a damn-good suspense film with fine performances from Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster, about a bank heist in which the money in the vault isn’t actually the main prize.
A Scanner Darkly (2006)
I hear no end of complaints about this fine movie. I can’t imagine why. Richard Linklater gets fabulous performances from the out-of-favor crowd, Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey, Jr., and Winona Ryder, as well as another terrific strange version of the hardy perennial Woody Harrelson. The special effects thing, developed for Waking Life (also used in those Charles Schawb investment commercials), is a digitized painterly version of reality that is half-human and half-illustration or something like that. But Linklater’s greatest accomplishment is getting the dialog of Philip K. Dick, a great writer who had no idea how humans talk to each other, to sound hyper-realistic.