If you’ve read this blog for more than thirty seconds, you would know I enjoy watching movies. Since I’ve only come into my own as a young person, though, there are still quite a few films on the American Film Institute’s “100 Years…100 Movies” list that I haven’t seen. (As of the 2007 list – which is what I’m going by for this Top 5 – I’ve seen 25% of them…or 25 films. MATH!) To cull the list down to 5 favorites, I had to pare off a few really good films – from Dr. Strangelove (ranked number 39) to Raiders of the Lost Ark (#66) to The Graduate (#17) to Toy Story (yes, Toy Story – #99 on the list, and a new addition in 2007). In any case, here are my five favorites among the AFI’s best:
5. A Night at The Opera (#85 – 1935, dir. Sam Wood)
While I’m actually a bit more attached to The Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races (source of the famous “tutsi-frutsi” scene), that’s not on the list – so I have to settle for A Night at the Opera. I certainly don’t mind settling, for the record – it’s a downright absurd film, as the Marx Brothers were wont to make, with Groucho Marx playing the wisecracking Otis B. Driftwood, a smarmy socialite, and Chico and Harpo each playing stowaways to New York, where the film takes place.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird (#25 – 1962, dir. Robert Mulligan)
Along with The Wizard of Oz, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the few films to do its adapted work justice – in its case, the novel by Harper Lee, written two years prior. While the film can boast fantastic source material, a great screenplay by Horton Foote and probably the greatest dad in the history of film, Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck), it’s the portrayal of Scout and Jem Finch (by Mary Badham and Philip Alford, respectively) that is its true crowning glory. By casting real kids as real kids, they elevated a classic work of literature that much higher.
3. Casablanca (#3 – 1942, dir. Michael Curtiz)
What I find most incredible about Casablanca is that it was a fictional war movie, release during the course of the war it was portraying. No one knew in 1942 how World War II would end, which is to the film’s benefit; the cautious optimism of the film (starring Humphrey Bogart as Rick, the stone-faced romantic who ran the bar in which the film is mostly set) which made it relevant upon its release is really an eternal feeling to which we can all relate. At the same time, you know it’s from a bygone age, which can be glamorized on its own.
2. Singin’ in the Rain (#5 – 1952, dir. Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen)
This is the best movie musical ever. Hands down. Gene Kelly is great; Debbie Reynolds is great; Donald O’Connor (as Cosmo, one of my favorite characters in all of film) is great; Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont (and no, she didn’t really talk like that) is great; the music, the choreography, even the staging is all magnificent. Chronicling the transition between silent and talking films, Singin’ in the Rain is more or less a “best of” of American showtunes (the only original song, in fact, is the hilarious “Moses Supposes” number Kelly and O’Connor perform), and that works marvelously. This is probably the movie on the list I’ve seen the most – easily six or seven times, maybe more.
But my number 1 favorite on the AFI Top 100 is…
1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (#26 – 1939, dir. Frank Capra)
Yes, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is incredibly cheesy – a folksy leader of a Boy Scout-esque organization comes to the Senate and, in trying to do good, uncovers a scandal which he is first framed for, and then tirelessly fights against – but it’s also one of the most beautifully patriotic films I’ve seen to this point (1776, rightly not on the Top 100 but a great movie musical in its own right, is also at the top of the list). Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of Jefferson Smith is, more or less, adorable – all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as he sees the nation’s capital, prompting a scene in which he hops on a tour bus leading for his handlers to look for him – and its theme of the common man fighting against the political machine is something we can all believe in, especially what with Washington’s current style of discourse.