We beg to differ ...

May 17, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach

With 400 choices, you'd think the cinephiles at the American Film Institute would have included every possible American movie that should be considered in picking the 100 best of all time.

But they didn't. And some of the films they left out ... well, there's no excuse.

Here are just a half-dozen examples. And, so we don't pad the list, just as many suggested deletions -- films that, at best, belong in slots 401 or lower.

+: "The Music Man" (dir. Morton Da Costa, 1962) -- Indispensable for an understanding of small-town, turn-of-the century America, not to mention some wonderfully clever tunes from Meredith Willson. And Robert Preston's performance is not to be missed.

-: "The Ten Commandments" (dir. Cecil B. DeMille, 1956) -- Short of the five minutes it takes to watch the Red Sea part, why bother?

+: "Halloween" (dir. John Carpenter, 1978) -- Wonderfully suspenseful and possibly the greatest scare film of all time, made before slasher films become a genre -- and a joke. Don't blame it for what followed ("Friday the 13th," et al.).

-: "Fatal Attraction" (dir. Adrian Lyne, 1987) -- Wronged woman Glenn Close gets deranged and acquires supernatural powers that allow her to rise from the dead. Phooey!

+: "The Great Dictator" (dir. Charles Chaplin, 1940) -- A funny and very brave film, as Chaplin takes on Hitler at a time when much of the U.S. still favored appeasement.

-: "Cavalcade" (dir. Frank Lloyd, 1933) -- Won the sixth Best Picture Oscar, and no one's seen it since. By most accounts, no one's missed much.

+: "Jason and the Argonauts" (dir. Don Chaffey, 1963) -- Sword-fighting skeletons and giant living statues are testimony to the special effects genius of Ray Harryhausen; Greek mythology has never been transferred to the screen more magically.

-: "Grease" (dir. Randal Kleiser, 1978) -- The most irritating musical of all time.

+: "Dinner at Eight" (dir. George Cukor, 1933) -- A flustered Billie Burke struggles to give a dinner party at which the guests include Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, John Barrymore and Louise Dresser -- whose double-take at sexpot Harlow's remark that she just read a book is a film classic. Fabulous.

-: "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World" (dir. Stanley Kramer, 1963) -- It's also about time we admit this film is about as funny as watching paint dry, and lasts twice as long.

+: "Bull Durham" (dir. Ron Shelton, 1988) -- Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon make baseball not only exciting and fun, but sexy. There's not a man alive who doesn't envy Crash Davis: He's cool, he's talented and he gets the girl.

-: "Cleopatra" (dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) -- Why is this on the list? Because it cost a kazillion dollars to make? Because it nearly sank 20th-Century Fox? Because it made an item of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor? (If you've got to have a version of "Cleopatra," go with Cecil B. DeMille's 1934 version, starring Claudette Colbert.)

Pub Date: 5/17/98

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