Thursday, June 15, 2006

The AFI's Top Picks for Inspirational Films

Periodically the American Film Institute (AFI) does a top 100 movie special. I can recall earlier shows highlighting the 100 most romantic movies and the
100 top movie quotes. It's always fun for me to try to put together my own list ahead of time and then see how many of my picks are included.

On Wednesday night, the AFI telecast a show highlighting the 100 top inspirational movies. The rules were that the movie had to be an American
film released prior to 1/1/05 and had to display adversity, triumph and a legacy. The methodology was for the AFI staff to select 300 movies and then send that list out to 1,500 directors, screenwriters, actors, editors, cinematographers, critics and historians. The voters were each permitted to select up to five write-in" candidates.

The results were interesting. I did have issues with some of the picks. Chief among them was the selection of the teen biker movie, Breaking Away, as #8. That movie didn't even make my list. My #8 was the Spencer Tracy film,
Inherit the Wind.

Smaller quibbles included the animated films. I had selected two: Dumbo and Bambi. Neither one made the top 100 although Pinocchio did. I had three Westerns on my list. Shane and High Noon made the cut; The Magnificent Seven did not.

In terms of film-making decades, the films were remarkably evenly spaced
with a couple of exceptions. Most decades had about a dozen representatives. The oldest film was Charlie Chaplin's City Lights (1931). The two newest films were Hotel Rwanda and Ray, both released in 2004.

The two notable exceptions to the about-a-dozen-per-decade rule were the
'30s with only nine films selected and the '80s, which for some strange reason had 22 films on the list--more than a fifth of the total.

The '80s was the decade when we failed to rescue our hostages from Tehran, when both the Pope and President Reagan were victims of failed assassination attempts, when Charles married Diana, when AIDS first surfaced and the Challenger exploded. In the second half of the decade, Chernobyl occurred along with Iran-Contra. Pan Am flight 103 went down over Lockerbie and the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened. The Berlin Wall fell and the Tiananmen Square Massacre occurred.

Perhaps we just needed more inspirational messages than normal to get
through the '80s. Among the ones we got were E.T. (#6), The Right Stuff (#19), Field of Dreams (#28), The Color Purple (#51), Silkwood (#66), Driving Miss Daisy (#77) and Fame (#92).

There were other points of interest. Religious movies--which one would hope could provide inspiration--were not especially popular picks. In fact, E-Online's headline was "AFI Praises Spielberg, Snubs Jesus." The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ were not selected. The Ten Commandments did make the list at #79, ahead of Babe, but behind Thelma and Louise.

Sports movies did better than religious ones with a total of nine. Rocky came in at #4, Breaking Away at #8, Hoosiers at #13 and The Pride of the Yankees at #22. Field of Dreams logged in at #28, with Seabiscuit at #50. I counted another three in the second half of the list.

There were only five musicals: The Wizard of Oz (#26), The Sound of Music (#41), Fiddler on the Roof (#82), Yankee Doodle Dandy (#88), and Fame (#92).

The director most frequently represented was Steven Spielberg with five
movies. The actors most often seen were Gary Cooper and Sidney Poitier,
each with five. Three actresses tied for most frequent with three movies each: Jean Arthur, Sally Field and Katherine Hepburn.

I was gratified to nail eight of the top ten movies (However, I only got #1
and #2 in the correct order). As mentioned earlier, I completely missed
Breaking Away. I also missed The Grapes of Wrath.

Here are the top ten: It's a Wonderful Life (#1), To Kill a Mockingbird (#2), Schindler's List (#3), Rocky (#4), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (#5), E.T.:
The Extra-Terrestrial (#6), The Grapes of Wrath (#7), Breaking Away (#8), Miracle on 34th Street (#9) and Saving Private Ryan (#10).

For the complete ballot of 300 movies, go to:
For the complete list of all 100 films, go to

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