Favorites, with a Baltimore twist

MOVIES WE LOVE 100

June 17, 1998|By ANN HORNADAY | ANN HORNADAY,SUN FILM CRITIC

After the American Film Institute asked a blue-ribbon panel to pick the top 100 films, we asked Sun readers to do the same. More than 1,200 of you responded. Here are the top 10 picks from both groups. See page 4F for the lists.

Take that, AFI. Baltimore film fans have voted, and even added their two cents' worth on what you could have done better.

Last night during a three-hour TV special, the American Film Institute announced the films that its jury of 1,500 filmmakers, critics, exhibitors and scholars (not to mention President Clinton and Vice President Gore) deemed the 100 greatest American movies of all time.

There weren't too many surprises: "Citizen Kane" came in first, followed by usual suspects "Casablanca," "The Godfather," "Gone With the Wind" and "Lawrence of Arabia." The remaining 95 films were largely safe, mainstream American movies, with a few oddballs thrown in for subversion's sake. (It speaks volumes that "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb," No. 26 on the AFI's list, is squeezed in between "E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Bonnie & Clyde.")

Few could quibble with the AFI, aside from the chauvinistic premise of limiting its nominees to American-made movies. Still, "The Graduate" (No. 7) seems awfully high up for what is essentially a canny but insubstantial period piece, and -- to give a dead horse yet another half-hearted lash -- "Forrest Gump" should be so lucky to be at the table, let alone seated between "The French Connection" and "Ben-Hur."

Far more interesting are the results of The Sun's own poll. Last month, we published the AFI's ballot of 400 movie titles and asked readers to choose their own top 100. The response was overwhelming: 1,280 of you wrote or e-mailed, having painstakingly checked off 100 tiny boxes.

Many of you included notes chiding the AFI, bemoaning the exclusion of foreign films and adding your own favorites. Best of all, you wrote in with the memories those films inspired.

Although Baltimore agreed with the AFI (the institute would not disclose how many ballots it received) around two-thirds of the time, there were some glaring differences. The AFI picked such classics as "Sunset Boulevard," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "The Birth of a Nation" and three Charlie Chaplin films, which Baltimore ignored in favor of such sentimental favorites as "Miracle on 34th Street," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "Mary Poppins."

And Baltimoreans had the wisdom to include "The Caine Mutiny," "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "The Thin Man," "Laura" and "Rebecca."

Sure, Baltimore's Top 10 is top-heavy with safe bets: "Casablanca," "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz." But isn't it just like Baltimoreans to add "To Kill a Mockingbird" -- and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?" Better yet, "The Sound of Music" and "Psycho?"

Local voters also have another thing over the AFI's impressively credentialed jury. Whereas Steve Spielberg is represented five times on the AFI's list, Baltimore reserved that honor for Alfred Hitchcock. And respect was paid to homegrown director Barry Levinson with the inclusion of "Rain Man." (None of John Waters' films were nominated, which points up both the AFI's centrism and Waters' convention-flouting integrity.)

Still, we didn't get everything right. Do we really want to rank "Dances With Wolves" ahead of "The Grapes of Wrath," "Lawrence of Arabia" and "All Quiet on the Western Front"? Did we actually mean to include "Field of Dreams" and "Pretty Woman," but not "The Best Years of Our Lives" or "Chinatown"? "The Color Purple" over "Fantasia" (which didn't even make Baltimore's top 100)?

The best-represented decade on both Baltimore's and the AFI's lists is the 1950s, with 22 and 20 entries, respectively. And, not surprisingly, the best represented year on both lists is 1939: It was probably the most extraordinary year for movies ever, when "Gone With the Wind," "The Wizard of Oz," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Wuthering Heights" and "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" graced theater screens, as well as "Stagecoach," "Beau Geste," "Ninotchka," "Young Mr. Lincoln," "Destry Rides Again," "Only Angels Have Wings," "Midnight," "Golden Boy" and "Son of Frankenstein."

Many readers took issue with the AFI's American bias.

Edward J. Cunningham, of Silver Spring, wrote, "Had this poll included non-American films, I would have included such films as 'Children of Paradise,' 'The Third Man,' 'Seven Samurai,' 'Once Upon a Time in the West' and 'Les Miserables,' " he wrote. (In fact, "The Third Man" was a nominee, and came in at No. 57 on AFI's list.) "I also would have included James Cameron's 'Titanic' had it not been clear [that] the cut-off for films was 1996."

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