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AFI to Horror: Not on Our List

Author
Date
06-21-2007
Comments

Let's take a second to review the process of listing "best movies". The only word that can really be used to describe the process is "arbitrary." In the case of the AFI's "100 Best" lists, the American Film Institute's "experts" -- over 1,500 "leaders from the creative community", including directors, writers, actors, cinematographers, and editors -- vote from a list of 400 nominated films on which 100 are the very best. The film must be feature-length and American. Selection criteria include critical recognition, awards won, popularity over time, historical significance, and cultural impact.

I take issue with critical recognition and awards won -- if you're making a list of 100 films, you are doling out critical recognition and, in a sense, giving an award. You should start fresh and not rely on the actions of the past, especially with films that were not well-praised in their time, but have come into their own as the culture changed.

I'm going somewhere with this. Last night, the AFI released their 10th Anniversary edition of their 100 Years, 100 Movies list, which catalogues the 100 greatest films of all time (really, it's 110 Years, 100 Movies at this point). A scant four horror films were worthy of the AFI's mention: Psycho (#14), King Kong (#41), Jaws (#56), and The Sixth Sense (#89). Significant amongst the omitted is Frankenstein, which held the 87th slot on the same list ten years ago.

I'm not sure which I'm more annoyed with -- the poor representation of the genre in general, or the dropping of what I consider to be the cultural milestone in Hollywood Horror. I'm not going to dig into their other selections; each film on the list has its champions and they have spoken. It's just a bummer that the AFI's creative think tank is treating horror like the poor cousin. Given the glitzy Hollywood focus of the list, I'm not expecting Night of the Living Dead to make the cut, but why not Rosemary's Baby? If not The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, what about The Exorcist (which is not a film I enjoy, but it made #3 on the AFI's own 100 Years... 100 Thrills list)?

For an alternate, non-US-centric viewpoint on 100 Great Films, I recommend Slant's 100 Essential Films from 2003, where they list 11 horror films, give or take one or two depending on your own definition of the genre. The choices are frequently controversial (Paul Verhoeven's Showgirls) but each title on the list links to a review that backs up their selection.

Edit (06/28/07): It's been pointed out to me that Silence of the Lambs was also on the list, at position 74. Still, this is borderline horror (much like King Kong and The Sixth Sense).

The Cure to Listmania

Dead Teenager Movies. Culturally significant? Check. Historically significant? Double check. Critically acclaimed? Totally irrelevant. Popular over time? Triple check with an extra ink blob added for good measure. Color me sordid, it's probably what got me hooked on horror movies anyway, but I'm having a great time with lists like these. Try imagining how cinematic drivel like Singing in the Rain (ranked 5) would Anno Domini 2007 be so much more popular over time, historically and culturally more significant, and critically more acclaimed, than, say, Apocalypse Now (ranked 30). Try grasping how Blade Runner and Rocky got critically ripped apart upon their respective theatrical releases way back when (but I'm old enough to remember), now bestowed with entries in AFI's hall of fame. I could, of course, go on and on.

Well, that's exactly what I did. Incessant laughter ensued.

The reason why DTM's and other horror servings are so categorically omitted is plain and simple: they're not chic. Admit that you enjoyed Jeepers Creepers II or Pulse's Hollywood-remake and be the clique of connoisseurs' laughing stock for life. Acknowledgement comes on foot and leaves by jet but let me remind everybody that the first motion picture ever made (George Meilies' Le Manior du Diable) was, for all intent and purpose, a horror movie. Horror's merits for the movie industry as a whole outnumber any other genre. Any claim to the contrary is a mere display of insufficient factual knowledge and lack of historical awareness, rendering such claimant the laughing stock instead.

Movies are a form of art. They're also entertainment. Both have their own set of standards, and even established movie critics like Mr. Ebert (not a big name here in Europe though, just an occasional snippet on CNN but hey, he gets to be on it and I don't) get confused every now and then. There can be no objectivity in movie critique. Implying there is, is detrimental to the critic's own credibility. It takes expertise to assess the particulars of a genre movie so leave horror to people who know please.

Because we are the elite.

Right You Are

These long "Best of" lists are silly. They try to represent everyone and end up representing absolutely no-one. Even my recent participation in the 100 Best DTM List is silly (although I found it amusing myself, so I suppose there's no harm there). Actually, about the only point I could contest you on is that I rather like Singin' in the Rain. In fact, I like it so much that it makes my own personal Top 25. Good to see you around, Kairo.

"He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face!"

The Things We Do To Make Us Feel Good About Ourselves

Participating in their compilation is clearly the prime fun to be had from such lists, AFI's top-100 will be no different. Once done, the list becomes a quality checklist of sorts. Conversely, in view of its near-absence from the list, horror constitutes bad taste and lashing out at it becomes not only politically correct, but also ethically legitimate.

All this should, of course, not be taken seriously at all. Quite frankly, Ebert had me rolling on the floor when he proudly concluded his commentary that he himself had labelled 69 of the 100 films listed Great Movies.

My compliments for CH's refurbishing, by the way.

Thanks!

I'm making it a point to watch all the films on the list myself, partially because that, no matter how watered down the whole thing is, it is a good suggested viewing list. Mostly, however, I'll be doing it to test Ebert's theory and see if my desire to watch a Dead Teenager Movie will magically disappear upon watching the last of the films.

"He went for a little walk! You should have seen his face!"

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