[Note: I moved this post up from its regular 13th publication date because that lands on Mother's Day this month.]
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 “fantasy” as a genre where live-action characters inhabit imagined settings and/or experience situations that transcend the rules of the natural world.
- The Wizard of Oz
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- King Kong
- Miracle on 34th Street
- Field of Dreams
- Groundhog Day
- The Thief of Bagdad
- It’s a Wonderful Life [AFI #3] – as I summed it up late last year: “This motion picture seems to be about dreams that turn into nightmares, and torments that transform to blessings. As film historian Jeanine Basinger once wrote about Frank Capra’s blend of optimism, humor and patriotism, it meant understanding, “… darkness, despair, and the need to fight for things you care about…“ This film personified that point. “Capra’s heroes often undergo real suffering“, she added. George Bailey wins, but also loses… and sacrifices, only to gain many fold. And with all that, It’s a Wonderful Life became the rare film that remains greater than the sum of its parts.“
- The Wizard of Oz [AFI #1] - Victor Fleming’s (with various inputs from George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor) grand musical fantasy has to be near the top in a list like this. If IaWL wasn’t in consideration, I’d have matched AFI’s top pick. It used to be an annual event when this appeared on television growing up, and which I never missed. Those flying monkeys still frighten my kids, too.
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – in my opinion, Alfonso Cuarón‘s taking over the third installment singly saved the adaptation of this book series to film, and it remains the high point for this viewer with its beautiful mix of dark and light maturation. If only Cuarón would have done the rest, I’d have been more than happy.
- The Princess Bride – the sly wink by author William Goldman (done to perfection by director Rob Reiner) of a classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing, is just so much damn fun. Plus, “I swear you couldn’t find a more youthfully beautiful performer to center on. And, Robin Wright as Buttercup wasn’t bad-looking, either.“
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers – the first one was great and the last film won all the friggin’ the awards there was, and yet it is the second one that remains the best in my mind. Peter Jackson’s middle installment hits on all cylinders for story, epic battles, and fantastic atmosphere. Why is it that many mid-point films in a trilogy are the strongest? I wonder.
- Pan’s Labyrinth – likely the darkest and most beautiful fantasy film on this list. Guillermo Del Toro’s remarkably sad and magical work is simply something to behold. It is original and brilliant, and a testament to this Mexican filmmaker. Who would have thought an examination of Fascism would have worked so well and poignantly through Fantasy.
- Edward Scissorhands – there are a number of Tim Burton films that could have made my list, but I think this one epitomizes the artful sense in his work. More so, this film captures the sentiment, appeal, and poignancy for those who only want to fit in, but their beauty simply won’t allow it. The film’s final scene still moves me to no end.
- Field of Dreams [AFI #6] – probably the most memorable (and loved) fantasy film for most men I know (me, included). If director Phil Alden Robinson is known for anything in film, it’s this one. Adapted from W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe novel. The film wears its 60s heart on its sleeve most proudly, though tempered with a latter decades viewpoint. We connect with it in ways most men tend to keep to ourselves, which is at times its own detriment.
- Dragonslayer – I’ll finish up my last two slots with some distinctly 80s films, the first of which still incorporates the best dragon ever portrayed on the big screen. Matthew Robbins took a Disney film to new dramatic heights with this tale, which also unexpectedly examined the move away from the occult and multi-deities to the belief in monotheism. And yes, we all know the virgin sacrifice aspect could have been solved another way, but don’t let that get in your way.
- Legend – this Ridley Scott film (his fourth, right after Blade Runner) is an adult fantasy that looks simply stunning, as you’d expect from this filmmaker. It’s imagery pre-dates Peter Jackson’s trilogy, but you can see the commonality and influence it had upon the younger director. My tenth pick refers to the latter director’s cut of the film (as just about every DC is superior than the studio’s theatrical cuts for most of his films). Believe me, watching Tim Curry as the Lord of Darkness is something to behold.
Note: this is one of those interesting genres as, seemingly, the AFI does not recognize horror as its own separate entity. Fantasy inherently is the closest to that category as it conjures up the fantastic and horrific with equal aplomb and ease. It’s why those filmmakers who create them can have some very dark elements in their tales, though most viewers can incorporate or look passed them in this genre, even when some of those same moviegoers won’t go near horror. I choose my list with both light and dark components within for, as I mentioned in a post from last December for my number one pick:
“… you’re not going to have a silver lining without that dark cloud to show it off.”
Yes, I dropped King Kong entirely. I think of it more a “monster” flick than fantasy, but that’s just me. As well, Miracle on 34th Street was kicked as I considered it more as a straight Christmas/Holiday film. I know, I’m splitting hairs, here, given my selection for my #1 slot. But since it’s intrinsically more dark, I ignored that aspect and went with one of my all-time heroes, George Bailey. LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring was replaced with the stronger, middle film in the trilogy (though an argument could be made that all three are one big, very long single movie with two long-ass intermissions). I have no real qualms about Harvey, Groundhog Day, The Thief of Bagdad, or Big. They’re all good, though I adore Groundhog Day‘s cynicism, I like those on my fantasy list a bit more. Their mix of dark and the dramatic deliver for this make-believer ;-).
For those keeping score, only three of AFI’s picks were kept on my list (the lowest so far).
What would be yours?
Next Up: Mystery
The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series: