No matter how unimpeachably great some (but not all) of the movies on earlier AFI ‘Best of’ lists were, the twenty year’s since their inception have yielded a great many classic films in their own right. Movies being made today are as good now as they’ve ever been. Some movies of yesteryear just don’t hold up the same way after all this time has passed. And sometimes new movies come along that simply do the same thing that earlier movies did, but better. That doesn’t even touch on many of the overlooked classics that were unduly snubbed the first time around, many of which, it can be argued, are far better than the crop that made the final cut.
But these are the reasons why these lists get updates in the first place. The industry keeps rolling on. Great new movies come out every year and overlooked masterpieces get rediscovered all the time. And, looking forward to the inevitable new list, there are a few low-hanging fruit that can easily be cut loose to make room for a new class of cinema. If cut, I can’t imagine these being missed by too many people (well, except for maybe the last one).
King Kong (1933)
While King Kong is a technical marvel of its time, it can’t help but feel underwhelming when compared with the whole of American filmmaking. Its action, while fun, is jilted and awkwardly staged. Its narrative is choppy and clearly designed to showcase elaborate set-pieces and memorable one-liners at the expense of a connected and dramatic narrative. And, of course, there are the unfortunate racial undertones with the story that have plagued even modern takes on the film. There are, of course, better, more globally-oriented spectacles to choose from if the AFI still wants to beat up on giant monsters in urban settings, such as Guillermo del Toro’s visually stunning Pacific Rim (2013).
American Graffiti (1973)
I understand the impact that this movie has had in its day – not on film, but rather on the young filmmakers coming up during this time period and saw themselves represented on-screen by the jaded, disaffected youths which make up the film’s cast – and it’s certainly a well-crafted feature. It really can’t hold up with any number of equally affected yet better-made dramas that have been the bread-and-butter of the industry since nearly its inception. American Graffiti is basically just the less interesting version of Easy Rider (1969), a movie which is already on this list. A more eclectic body of cultural touchstones could easily be slotted in in its stead, such as The Social Network (2010), Boyhood (2014) or even Wall Street (1987) could all fill the same need, but for more poorly represented time periods.
Annie Hall (1977)
While I am the first to admit to not being a Woody Allen fan – the sole exception to which is the exceptional Midnight in Paris (2011) – I never understood the broad appeal of this movie. Other than a few memorable sequences (notably the side-by-side conversations demonstrating the differences in how men and women can view the same relationship), there’s really nothing here besides a fairly stock romantic comedy that comes up short on the comedy half of that equation. And all of that comes into play before the current zeitgeist of the #MeToo movement and what a generally reprehensible Human being Allen has been outed as for decades. (500) Days of Summer (2009) is a far better version of this exact movie, while both When Harry Met Sally… (1989) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012) are just better overall movies.
Maybe it comes down to not liking comedies quite as much as the next guy, but I never cared for this movie at all: a forgettable, infrequently-funny, frequently uncomfortable film that never measured up against comedies of the same or different eras. Sure, Hoffman is a phenomenal actor and is showing off at the top o his game here, but one great performance cannot save an entire movie, especially one as shaky as this one is from the start. Funnier 80’s comedies that they can (and probably should) choose from include The Blues Brothers (1980), Ghostbusters (1984) and Back to the Future (1985).
Forrest Gump (1994)
1994 really was one of the best ever years for movies (right up there with 1939, 1967, 1982 and 2014) and it really shows in how well-represented that one year is on the list. In fact, the hotly contested best three movies from that year – namely Forrest Gump, The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction – all made the list, with other favorites (The Lion King, Clerks and horror meta-classic New Nightmare) being choked out by a century’s worth of other films. And with the new list already needing to play catchup given that the last nineteen years of the industry are represented by exactly one movie, judicious cuts need to be made in light of newer, fresher and overall better movies getting made. And, yeah, sad as it is to say, Forrest Gump just feels like the odd-man out here. It’s great, but generally considered to be the worst of that year’s “big three” movies and movies like Boyhood and Moonlight do its “one life encapsulated in its entirety over the course of the movie” shtick that Forrest Gump did so well so much better than it. It simply doesn’t hold its own against the extra twenty years that this updated list is going to have to cover.