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This is the continuation of a series I began in January of this year that examines and remarks on The American Film Institute and its recent propensity to create Top 10 lists. Specifically, the organization’s need to gather publicity by documenting their celebration of cinema’s centennial via a series of TV specials. Each time, the AFI went about giving importance to a set of motion pictures based on criteria and judgments their groups of ‘experts’ determined. It has generated opinions among fans and film aficionados ever since in varying degrees of disagreement. If you’re unaware, the AFI is a non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts back in the 60s. One of its main charters is the preservation of American film legacy. As they put it,
“Each special honors a different aspect of excellence in American film.”
Unquestionably, their prime purpose was to get people talking about film. So be it. This series on AFI’s Top 10s (out of their 100s lists) for 2012 is my motivated response to compare their picks with a moviegoer (me) per each of their indexes. Naturally, I’m fully aware that readers’ mileage may vary (indeed, we know they will) when it comes to these selections. Fair enough. Either way, it’s going to be painful as picking one above the other always is in such endeavors. You’re invited to add your own and/or disagree all you want in the comments or your blog site (all I ask is that you leave a link so we, the readers, can peruse). Shall we continue?
AFI defines the “gangster film” as a genre that centers on organized crime or maverick criminals in a twentieth century setting.
- The Godfather
- The Godfather Part II
- White Heat
- Bonnie and Clyde
- Scarface: Shame of a Nation
- Pulp Fiction
- The Public Enemy
- Little Caesar
- The Godfather [AFI #1] – the no-brainer of agreement in AFI terms. If I choose this film as the best Best Picture for the 70s in a recent Oscar article for Ruth’s recent mini-blogathon, it’s for damn sure I wasn’t about to dislodge this #1 pick. I’ll not waste text and will just refer you to that link which gives the why I thought it is Francis Ford Coppola’s masterwork.
- The Godfather Part II [AFI #3] – and since this is the greatest film sequel for that decade, and arguably ever, I’ll move up and snuggle Mr. Coppola’s ’74 film closely to its older sibling. There’s a reason many contend it is better than the original (if I thought other wise, it would be in my #1 slot), and that’s why it displaces AFI’s selection for second.
- Goodfellas [AFI #2] – no disrespect intended toward Martin Scorsese’s stellar gangster that began the 1990s by my downward move of it. In many ways, it offered the other side of gangster life, perhaps overly romanticized, from The Godfather. Plus, this film was closely and accurately based on a true story (Henry Hill’s from Nicholas Pileggi’s book).
- Pulp Fiction [AFI #7] – I move up something I believe just keeps getting better over time with repeat screenings — Quentin Tarantino’s sophomore film. It told a gangster tale, with familiar elements from the genre, in a totally unexpected, original manner. Like others on this list, it is a cinema experience beyond its catchy memorable dialogue.
- White Heat [AFI #4] – again, no way I’ll displace Raoul Walsh’s gangster/psycho drama from my Top 10 (just bump it down a notch). James Cagney, the earlier star of so many gangster films like Public Enemy) was in top form in this, too. He, Edward G. Robinson, George Raft, and Humphrey Bogart owned this genre for so long.
- Bonnie and Clyde [AFI #5] – Arthur Penn’s landmark gangster film helped put the final nails into Hollywood’s Hayes Code coffin with its violence and content; and with a stellar cast and wonderful direction and script, it was damn entertaining, too. 60s audiences were simply floored when this one landed upon them.
- Get Carter – of course, I’m referring to Mike Hodges’ first film from 1971 (and not the Stallone remake). Adapted from the Ted Lewis novel, it represents the best of Brit grit in this category and one of Michael Caine’s finest roles ever; see Rachel’s and my look at this one in an earlier duo post from a year ago this month.
- The Untouchables – I could have placed any of three remarkable Brian De Palma films in my tensome (including Scarface and Carlito’s Way), but it had to be this 1987 picture. For crowd-pleasing genre filmmaking, a cast to die for, and script written by David Mamet, it just doesn’t get any better or rise any higher than this gangster flick.
- Casino - if I’m to add another second from a previously named director in this Top 10 bracket, it’s going to be Martin Scorsese and it’ll be with this under-appreciated almost three-hour gem. Goodfellas gets the majority of the racketeer glory, but this one (another real life story penned by Nicholas Pileggi) doesn’t take a backseat — not one bit.
- Once Upon a Time in America – this gangster ten of mine wouldn’t be complete without Sergio Leone’s final film to round it out. Naturally, we’re not talking about the initial butchered U.S. release, but the four-hour allegory about friendship as told through the life of one Jewish hoodlum over the course of decades.
What would be yours?
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The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series: