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Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Our Thoughts On: AFI’s Top 100
the “great” films we’re for and against.
By the film team
Find the full list of the American Film Institute’s top 100 movies of all time here.
Lizzie Racklin’s Thoughts:
Pro: Sunset Boulevard
As much as I want to say we should throw the whole AFI list out the window because their institutionalized way of thinking got it all wrong, there are a lot of movies in their Top 100 that I agree deserve recognition. Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Graduate, Rear Window, Blade Runner, Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove, The Godfather, All About Eve, etc. etc. etc., are all up there on my own list as well. I always struggle to pick favorites of anything and can often be talked out of my opinions, but if we’re talking about the big-picture history of American cinema and the most influential films of the last 100 years, I feel confident that Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950) should be on the list.
Narrated by a dead man and largely taking place in a dark, decrepit mansion, Sunset Boulevard is, in the words of Harry Styles, a movie. Aging star Norma Desmond refuses to accept her own decline and hires struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis to write her comeback film. It’s a story of manipulation and obsession that indulges Hollywood’s fascination with itself in the best way. It combines melodrama and intelligent critique, horror and theatrical interpersonal drama, and is both of its time and completely timeless. From Sunset Boulevard to The Comeback, there’s something about clinging onto fame and relevance that will never cease to provide insight into the human psyche.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Anti: Forrest Gump (written without rewatching because I really didn’t want to)
At this point, popular critique of Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump (1994) has circled all the way around to the notoriously conservative National Review calling it a cynical, anti-conservative black comedy. I tend to stick with the more widely held opinion that Forrest Gump is a sentimental celebration of an idealized “apolitical” America. The central character is inexplicably “dim-witted” but overwhelmingly successful, a football star turned war hero turned shrimper turned millionaire, etc. He somehow finds himself involved in every culturally and politically significant event in American history but stares blankly in the face of these events, caring about nothing more than his long-lost love, Jenny. The movie simplifies American history through the weird lens of this one man’s life, a man who has no understanding of or opinions on any of the matters at hand. He interacts with Vivian Malone Jones at the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door, Abbie Hoffman, and John Lennon, and apparently exposes the Watergate scandal. These things roll off his back, all part of a grand tapestry whose intricacies don’t seem very important. He rises to success on pure luck, a heightened, wholesome caricature of Americana. And Jenny, who has been living amid the counterculture that the movie flattens and dismisses, dies tragically of an “unknown” virus (read: AIDS), leaving Forrest to raise Haley Joel Osment.
Though it dodges meaning at every turn, I guess it’s a kind of epic journey, but the character of Forrest embodies a strange and tellingly innocent view of American masculinity that I can’t get behind. There have been many better American movies in the last 100 years.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Brooke Metayer’s Thoughts:
Pro: Singin’ in the Rain
In 2009, for whatever reason pertaining to the Ohio state curriculum at the time, my sixth grade English teacher made us watch Singin’ in the Rain in class.
Remember 2009? The era of scarf belts and talent competition shows like American Idol and The X Factor. It was a time when Simon Cowell was plucking people out of obscurity in little towns and making them big stars. When any 15-year-old with a family computer and a digital camera with a SIM card could make a video of themselves dancing to “Telephone” by Lady Gaga and edit it in iMovie and end up on The Ellen Show. Like so many preteens, I too was obsessed with the idea of being famous.
I wanted to be the next One Direction but instead of five handsome British boys just one girl with a pink velvet fedora, and instead of singing catchy love songs she edits videos of her friends doing trampoline tricks and posts them on YouTube. I carried around the family camcorder and wrote scripts on torn-out pages of my Lisa Frank science class notebook and forced my only two friends to do the lines over and over before we were allowed to take a break and bike to the community pool. I risked my sanity, grades, and the affection of my—I repeat—only two friends, in the pursuit of “cinema.” The art of filmmaking was romantic to me. Especially how it was in the “good ‘ol days” of Hollywood. The idea that a studio would wrangle up some beautiful actors, put them on a soundstage, and a team of people with suspenders and paperboy hats with cigarettes hanging out their mouths would swarm around them working together in perfect harmony to move set pieces and yell “cut!” felt so right.
That 2009 afternoon in English class, my technicolor dreams came true. Singin’ in the Rain was exactly how I pictured movie-making to be. It had glamor and melodrama, iconic stars, and impeccable wardrobe, perfectly punctuated with bursts of song and dance. It was neat and tidy, and it was clear that every aspect of production was controlled by experts in the field, each with an obvious personal love for the product being made. Singin’ in the Rain transcends time and genre with its captivating romance, catchy musical numbers, and organic choreography.
It is a story about the determination of fame, told through a character played by teenage Debbie Reynolds, but above all, it is a celebration of movies and the people—even the weird 12-year-olds—who care about them.
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
Anti: E.T. The Extra Terrestrial
This is definitely a “me” problem and has nothing to do with Speilberg’s vision, but I can’t watch E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. I’ve tried but I cannot suspend my disbelief enough to get through it. I love a creepy monster movie but something about that thin wrinkled mouth and megaphone-shaped head smiling so earnestly makes my skin crawl. Maybe I lack childlike wonder but I would put bike pedals to the metal in the other direction the second that dropped-crotch saggy torso appeared in my vicinity. Kids in the ‘80s had something else going on. I think it was all the asbestos.
The Godfather (1972)
Natalie Duerr’s Thoughts:
Pro: The Godfather
The Godfather is like gospel to my very-Italian father. I have no idea how many times he’s seen it, but I remember it was a big deal when we finally watched it together. While it’s still violent, like so many other mobster movies, what interested me most was Michael’s transformation from a military man to a mobster boss. Francis Ford Coppola’s film is brutal, but a story about family is at its center. On top of a compelling narrative, the technical aspects of the film are top-notch. Just the opening sequence with Salvatore Corsitto and Marlon Brando is a masterclass in acting, light design, and cinematography. For me, The Godfather deserves its spot among the best American films ever created, and maybe even the best.
Anti: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
This was the first film I had to watch for class from my apartment when classes went remote in 2020. I do want to revisit this film when worldwide destruction isn’t a thought at the forefront of my mind since I’m sure I spaced out for a lot of it imagining our own world crumbling. At the time, I remember not enjoying it but feeling like I had to since it was this historical, critically acclaimed film. While I’m all for questioning the canon, I don’t really think I gave this one a fair shot. So it’s not that I’m really “anti” this film as much as it is my least-favorite on this list out of the ones I have seen so far. Check back in with me in a few months and maybe with a rewatch, my opinion will change.
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)