Making sense of the AFI's 'Top 10 Films in 10 Genres' list

Boriskarloff_lAnyone watch the American Film Institute’s annual CBS special last night, in which the AFI revealed its lists of the "10 Greatest Films in 10 Classic Genres"? The full list is at afi.com, though if you don’t want to register, you can also see the list here, complete with a breakdown of the most represented directors and stars and such. As always, the AFI list prompts both quibbles and assent. First the quibbles, including one major beef: No horror? Horror’s not a classic genre? (That sound you hear is Boris Karloff, pictured, spinning in someone else’s grave.) Neither is the musical? Or film noir? What gives? And among the genres themselves, the romantic comedy list is especially disappointing. (Sleepless in Seattle is one of the 10 best romantic comedies ever? Better than Ninotchka, Trouble in Paradise, The Lady Eve, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Some Like It Hot, or His Girl Friday? Shoot me now.) City Lights is indeed a great film, but the essence of romantic comedy is sparkling dialogue, which is nonexistent in Chaplin’s silent. And in Westerns, they found room for the unwatchable Cat Ballou but not for The Magnificent Seven, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Tombstone, Destry Rides Again? (Or Sergio Leone’s spaghetti classics, but then, they were ineligible — this is the American Film Institute, the rest of the world be damned.)

On the plus side, a lot of truly great movies are on the list; any list that encourages viewers to rediscover The Thief of Baghdad, the 1932 Scarface, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Annie Hall, Harold and Maude, The Verdict, Witness for the Prosecution, Anatomy of a Murder, In Cold Blood, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Reds is doing a great service. Still, as much as I love old classics, there’s something a little depressing about how old this list skews. The most recent No. 1 movie in any of the AFI’s chosen genres is 1980’s Raging Bull, which means it’s been nearly three decades, according to the AFI, since anyone has so completely redefined a genre. What recent movies are great enough to dominate their genres the way the ones on this list do? And which filmmakers working today (save for Spielberg and Scorsese) are ambitious enough and talented enough to knock any of these movies from their perches? Who will dare to try, and who might actually succeed?

Your turn: I’m sure you have plenty of favorites that made the list, and plenty more that didn’t (What, the sci-fi list doesn’t feature a single Star Trek movie?) Share your picks below.

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  • Snarf

    I suspect they selected films by flipping a coin or throwing darts.

  • K

    I’d consider Field of Dreams a much better movie and certainly more deserving of being in the “Sports” category over Jerry Maguire.

  • Catherine

    Where to start…
    First, I 100% agree that there should be more recent movies in these lists!!!
    Sci-Fi: where is the Matrix?
    City Lights, really?
    Where is Raiders of the Lost Ark
    Animation: I am tired of seeing Snow White at the top of those king of list. Yes it’s the first one, but I believe some made later on were better like Beauty and the Beast and where are The Incredibles!?

  • wildecat

    Let me be the first to take the gratuitous slap at Bernardin by pointing out that sci-fi “misfire” Blade Runner is right up there at #6.
    Also, I’d put “The Incredibles” on the animation list instead Lion King, Shrek or Cinderella. And I think “The Two Towers” is the best of the LOTR movies, but that’s just my opinion.

  • wildecat

    Let me be the first to take the gratuitous slap at Bernardin by pointing out that sci-fi “misfire” Blade Runner is right up there at #6.
    Also, I’d put “The Incredibles” on the animation list instead Lion King, Shrek or Cinderella. And I think “The Two Towers” is the best of the LOTR movies, but that’s just my opinion.

  • texmex

    I was most annoyed that they got Jessica Alba to present the rom-coms. Seriously?? That girl wasn’t even born before any of those 10 movies were made.
    I think it’ll be decades before AFI will skew more towards modern films.

  • josh

    I think it’s difficult because genres can be defined in a lot of ways, with many subsets – your examples of missing romantic comedies “Some Like it Hot” and “His Girl Friday” would be defined as buddy comedy and screwball comedy in my book. But for my two cents, Se7en out-mysteried Blue Velvet by a mile, and A League of Their Own was so much better than Jerry Maguire!

  • Katie Kruger

    In the animation category I definitely would have added Persepolis to that list. It was beautiful and told an important and moving story.

  • Cassie

    The Fantasy genre was just strange and the Romantic Comedy genre was kind of a disappointment. I’m thinking there was no musical category since AFI already did a top 25 for that one. It was too predictable that Snow White would be number one in animation, but it’s definitely not the best. It was completely influential and a huge artistic achievement but I even think Pinocchio is better (and there is no way Bambi is better than Beauty and the Beast).

  • Katie Kruger

    In the animation category I definitely would have added Persepolis to that list. It was beautiful and told an important and moving story.

  • Jayel

    The category that annoyed me the most was “fantasy,” a genre that was defined so broadly it became senseless – “Big,” “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” all in the same category? Seriously?
    I’m also officially sick of the inflated reputations of “The Wizard of Oz” and “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Enough already – one is a nostalgia trip for baby boomers (if anybody has a kid under the age of 10 who independently loves this movie on its own with no prompting from an adult, I’ll take it back), the other is an incomprehensible mess that gets called deep because it’s mean-spirited and incomprehensible enough to make its admirers feel smarter than everybody else. Neither belongs at the top of any list, IMO.
    I was bummed about the no horror list thing, too, but someone I was watching with said he thought AFI had done a full top 100 countdown of horrror and/or suspense earlier.

  • Kaitlin

    I was most disappointed by the missing Man who shot Liberty Valance, as someone who doesn’t watch a lot of western that one has always stood out for me. I also missed Some like it hot. I was rooting for it to be a Ganster movie, but totally agree it would work as a romatic comedy. I didn’t think about it while watching but His Gal Friday so needed to be on that list. Also where was League of Their Own? And for a country that loves football – Jerry Maguire was the best one we ever made? I would love to dethrown Snow White but its not going to happen anytime soon. I also would have liked Cinderella higher as that one was such a childhood favorite.
    I don’t mind that the list is mostly older movies as its really is just a list to encourage people to watch these movies over the summer. I don’t want a list of movies I see on cable or always front/center at the movie store. Would be nice to see special DVD releases of the old movies within the next month.

  • dan jones

    The list skews old because like most things today it’s targeted at the over-represented and ridiculously self-important demographic known as “baby boomers”. That’s why the list is pretty much limited to the films of their generation and the films they would have regarded as classics. Once we get a few more of them in the ground lists like this one will change immeasurably.

  • Kim

    Where the heck was Close Encounters of the Third Kind in SCI-FI?!!

  • LisaMama

    Well, I TiVoed this — and now I don’t need to watch. Sounds like the lists were way off target!

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