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 “romantic comedy” as a genre in which the development of a romance leads to comic situations.
- City of Lights
- Annie Hall
- It Happened One Night
- Roman Holiday
- The Philadelphia Story
- When Harry Met Sally
- Adam’s Rib
- Harold and Maude
- Sleepless in Seattle
- His Girl Friday – it’s unfathomable to me that the AFI left this completely off of their top-tier! Howard Hawks film not only fits the definition for this genre, it actually exceeds it with a dream pair of leads (Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell) delivering on a stellar script. Funny, smart, and lightning quick on its feet, the film is one of the few remakes that surpassed the original by leaps and bounds.
- Charade – I’m just going to write-off AFI’s non-selection as confusing Stanley Donen’s film for a mystery. It is, but it’s also a true romantic comedy (just with some murders thrown in). With all-time favorites Cary Grant and my girl Audrey Hepburn (along with a splendid supporting cast and script), there’s no way in Hell I’m not going to have this marvelous film on my list!
- Roman Holiday [AFI #4] – damn, and they put William Wyler’s gem too low, at that! If my #1 pick is tops for the 40s, this is easily that for the 50s. With the incomparable Audrey Hepburn enchanting not only the superb Gregory Peck, but the entire cinematic world, the film remains an absolute charmer. Quite a feat given it’s the only one on the list with a bittersweet ending.
- When Harry Met Sally [AFI #6] – again, another one misplaced by you-know-what-institute. Rob Reiner’s direction perfectly captured Nora Ephron’s taut and tangible script in beautiful tone and light (autumn rarely looks better than it does here). This is probably my favorite film of both Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. This one only gets better with age.
- Sabrina (1954) – I’ll admit here and now this Billy Wilder was the film where I fell in love with Audrey Hepburn as a kid watching TV one night. Not to mention, it was released the same year I was born. Having the likes of Humphrey Bogart and William Holden chasing her was icing on the cake. The May-September romance aspect works for me only because Rick Blaine gets the lovely Audrey.
- The Lady Eve – this may be only Preston Sturges film on the list, but it surely is a great one. This film has it all: it’s sexy, a slapstick comedy with cynical dialogue, but remains a fine love story with a heart and soul. If you’ve never experienced her, this is the Barbara Stanwyck film you need to start with. Oh, and Henry Fonda is pretty good in this, too.
- Murphy’s Romance – as I’ve gotten older, Martin Ritt’s film means more to me (especially since I’m a long-time James Garner fan). It’s a genteel romantic comedy that could have come from any of the decades I’ve lived through, but its mid-80s pedigree feels just right. Garner paired with Sally Field — I can watch them anytime.
- Moonstruck [AFI #8] – as I’ve mentioned in a TMT, Norman Jewison’s utterly delightful 1987 rom-com concerning the tribulations of family and Amore was where I fell in love with the woman I married. This one, along with Cher and Nic Cage, will remain stuck in my head and heart for that alone.
- What’s Up Doc? - Peter Bogdanovich channeled the screwball comedies of yesteryear to perfection with this hilarious stint from ’72. Having Barbara Streisand, Ryan O’Neil, Austin Pendelton, Kenneth Mars, Mabel Albertson and the incomparable Madeline Kahn in the cast didn’t hurt either.
- Harold and Maude [AFI #9] – a true 70s romantic comedy, if there ever was one. Hal Ashby’s film (written by Colin Higgins) and its tale of opposites, a young, rich Harold (obsessed with death) and the lively septuagenarian Maude, who meet at a funeral, remain the unique pairing of the era. A true gem from that time.
Note: Didn’t plan it, but when I looked at my list, somehow at least one romantic comedy from the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s was there. Okay, let’s address the differences with the AFI. City of Lights, It Happened One Night, Adam’s Rib, and Sleepless in Seattle are top of the line in this genre. I just have them lower or in the very next bracket.
I have to admit I’m also not a big Woody Allen fan. I enjoy most of his films, but the repeat-viewing factor is just not there for me. Plus, I rate Manhattan higher than Annie Hall. Similar goes for The Philadelphia Story, even though I’m a big fan of Grant and James Stewart. No disrespect to Katharine, but Audrey is my preferred Hepburn.
What would be yours?
The Complete Versus AFI: 10 Top 10 Series: