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"Citizen Kane" was chosen the top American film of all time

AFI's top 100 movies: Let the debates begin

Web posted on: Wednesday, June 17, 1998 1:05:39 PM

From CNN Interactive Writer Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The American Film Institute hoped to spark debate when it released its top 100 American films of all time, as chosen by 1,500 industry professionals. The list, revealed Tuesday night on CBS and topped by Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane," is doing just that.

"I was hoping that this list would be a definitive list," said Robert Osborne, who voted on the AFI list as host of Turner Classic Movies and columnist for the Hollywood Reporter. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of movies on the list that could be taken off and replaced by something else."

The American Film Institute's Top 10:
  1. "Citizen Kane," 1941
  2. "Casablanca," 1942
  3. "The Godfather," 1972
  4. "Gone With the Wind," 1939
  5. "Lawrence of Arabia," 1962
  6. "The Wizard of Oz," 1939
  7. "The Graduate," 1967
  8. "On the Waterfront," 1954
  9. "Schindler's List," 1993
  10. "Singin' in the Rain," 1952
Complete list of AFI's top 100 movies

Picks that push buttons

Osborne was one of the few people who knew what the list would bring before its CBS airing. He agrees with many of the picks, including "Kane." But what's with the nod to newer films like "Fargo," "Forrest Gump," "Pulp Fiction," and "Unforgiven?" And why are there no movies featuring screen legend Greta Garbo or the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers tandem?

"'Fargo' (No. 84) was the biggest shock to be because I think that's such a disposable film. I don't think it's important at all," Osborne says. "Left out are so many great films that have been passed by because newer films are maybe fresher in the minds of the audience."

Osborne also has a problem with the fact that the list seems to turns its back on silent film. Only two were picked from the era that spanned the first three decades of American film -- "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) and Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" (1925).

The top five

The movies were picked from a list of 400 nominees put together by the AFI. It wasn't known how many votes each film received, or exactly who did the voting, though the CBS special featured prominent actors and directors, as well as President Clinton. The criteria were wide-ranging and vague in what organizers said was an admittedly subjective enterprise.

The AFI's top two movies of all time are polar opposites in the art of film production.

"Kane" (1941) is the mountaintop of film achievement, a vision perfectly translated to the silver screen. The masterpiece and obsession of Orson Welles -- his Sistine Chapel in black and white -- received overwhelming critical acclaim upon its release, and is still taught in film classes around the world.

"Casablanca," meanwhile, landed at No. 2 on the AFI's list. The classic World War II love story was anything but a "vision," as no one knew how the picture would end until it was filmed. Even when it was being made, the script changed daily, prompting star Ingrid Bergman to ask director Michael Curtiz which of her co-stars she was in love with -- Humphrey Bogart or Paul Henreid.

Rounding out the top five were "The Godfather" (1972), "Gone With The Wind" (1939), and "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962).

Prominent placements

For Osborne, "Gone With The Wind" was the cream of the film crop.

"Not only does it still excite audiences today, but I think that is the miracle of it -- that it can still touch people," Osborne says of the classic Civil War picture starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. "It's a film that has something in it for everyone."

"The Wizard of Oz" (1939) was the top musical on the list at No. 6. "The Graduate" (1967), at No. 7, was the top comedy. "On the Waterfront" (1954), starring Marlon Brando, came in at No. 8. Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" (1993) earned an impressive No. 9 on the list. "Singin' In the Rain" (1952) rounded out the top ten.

Other prominent films on the list include: "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), finishing at No. 12; "Star Wars" (1977), earning the top science fiction placement at No. 15; famed auteur Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho," winding up at No. 18; "Chinatown" (1974), considered by many to be a bible for aspiring screenwriters, placing at No. 19; "High Noon," taking the top Western at No. 33; "King Kong" (1933), ranking No. 43; "Jaws," the 1975 Spielberg fish tale which launched the age of the modern-day blockbuster, finishing at No. 48; and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937), the top animated feature at No. 49.

The breakdown

In all, Spielberg directed five of the top 100 movies, more than any other director on the list. Hitchcock and Billy Wilder had four each, and 10 other directors had three each. Just 13 directors were responsible for 43 of the top 100 movies.

Marlon Brando starred in two of the top 10 movies, "The Godfather" (1972) and "On the Waterfront" (1954). James Stewart and Robert DeNiro had the most starring roles in the top 100, with five apiece.

Katherine Hepburn led the actresses with four films, while Natalie Wood, Diane Keaton and Faye Dunaway had three each.

Character actor Ward Bond had the most appearances overall with seven films from the 1930s to 1940s.

The 1950s was the most represented decade in the top 100, with 20 films, but the best year was 1939, with five films.

'See them'

"It's certain that this list will generate a broad range of opinion and discussion," said Jean Picker Firstenberg, director of the AFI, a film preservation and research group. "AFI welcomes this dialogue and hopes to achieve and increased regard, respect and appreciation for this great American art form."

When asked, Osborne said that despite some problems with the list, he would recommend movie fans take time out to view each of the top 100 films.

"I would always say that if anybody could see these things on the big screen, to see them," Osborne says. "That's the way they're supposed to be seen. I would say that there's not a movie on this list that isn't worth seeing."

Turner Classic Movies will begin showing 33 of the movies on the list, beginning Wednesday.

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