The quote in the title of this post was something a friend of mine said to me in college. I don’t remember the context of the remark but after he said that I have kinda taken it as my mantra. I did, and still do, have a predilection of making pronouncements about how I am going to do x and y and then getting around to doing them . . . eventually. With that as prelude I am happy to say that I have finally finished watching all 100 films on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time after starting the list in 2000. That’s right, it took me over 20 years to finish the list, but by God, I finished it! It took me so long to finish the list that the AFI came out with an updated list in 2008. Even though the update list in essence supersedes the original I stuck with the original list.
I completed this feat on January 8th, 2020 by watching Patton the 1970 biopic of General Patton. By 2020 I had only five films left to watch, the aforementioned Patton and also Giant, Yankee Doodle Dandy, City Lights, and A Place in the Sun. I made a New Years resolution in 2020 to finish the list and I almost made it as I finished Patton on January 8th 2021. I left Giant and Patton as my last two films because they are both around three hours long and I just didn’t have the patience to get through them. To get over the hump I decided to watch pieces of them as I worked out so that made the task less arduous.
The original AFI list came out in 1998 in celebration of the institutes 100 year anniversary. I made it my goal to finish the list in 2000. In 2000 I was a junior in college and, if I may say so, a burgeoning cinephile. That summer I got a job at Blockbuster and it only paid minimum wage but it did offer us eight free rentals a week. The catch was, however, that we could not rent new releases. Because I was upset about the shitty pay I made sure to max out my rentals each week just because I wanted to squeeze as much out of the place as I could. The prohibition against new releases also forced me to rent older films and I took that as an opportunity to knock off a bunch of the films on the list. After I graduated I moved to Nebraska for graduate school and had the good fortune of watching many wonderful old films at the Ross which allowed me to make progress on the list. In addition to retrospectives of old films, the Ross also showed the newest independent films and I miss going to it all the time. When Netflix started I also availed myself of its DVD library to take out a big section of the list.
In 2009 I moved to Kearney, NE to work at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. It was at this time that my movie watching really took a hit as I turned my attention to watching “prestige” T.V. As I bounced around the next few years in various academic jobs I continued my T.V. watching binge and my attention to the AFI list languished. By the time I moved to Texas in 2013 I hadn’t watched any movies on the list for years. Since 2013 I have slowly picked off the last 15 or so that I had left finishing with the last five last year as I mentioned above.
I realize that this is not anything noble but I am downright giddy in finally finishing this thing. With that said I want to break down the list and give my thoughts on some of the films
Films I had seen before I started
As could be expected from a list of greatest films of all time, I had already seen some of the movies on the list before I made the pledge to watch all of the list. It is a little hard for me to remember because it was over 20 years ago but I suspect I had watched 15-20 of the films on the list before I started. I did not make a point of re-watching them specifically to mark them off the list (but I have re-watched some of them) so I started this project with a bit of a head start. Some of those include movies that I still consider my favorites such as Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, GoodFellas, Fargo, and Pulp Fiction. Some of those include movies I saw and liked as a teenager but now see as pretty bad like Dances With Wolves, and Forrest Gump. I might also include Fantasia, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Wizard of Oz but those were films I saw many times as a kid so are indelibly shaped by my perception of them when I saw them as a child.
A fair amount of the films on the list are epics. Big expansive films that tell an important story or a story that covers a long period of time. I feel like these types of films are bait for a list such as this. Regardless, some of them are worth the billing but some are not. Those I think that are worth it: The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, The Grapes of Wrath, Apocalypse Now, The Godfather Part II, The Best Years of Our Lives, Ben-Hur, The Deer Hunter, and Giant. The ones definitely not worth it: Gone With The Wind, Doctor Zhivago, The Birth of A Nation, Dances With Wolves. The others I would just consider okay, such as: From Here to Eternity, and The Bridge Over the River Kwai.
These are films I thought I wouldn’t like (for whatever reason) or films I had no opinion on going in but ended up really liking. Those include: Casablanca, On The Waterfront, The African Queen, The Maltese Falcon, It Happened One Night, The Best Years of Our Lives, Rear Window, The Philadelphia Story, M*A*S*H, Network, The Gold Rush, My Fair Lady, and The Apartment
Ones I Knew I Would Like and Did
There were some movies based on the subject matter or who was involved with the film that I knew I would like. Those are: The Godfather, The Graduate, Schindler’s List, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Raging Bull, Dr. Strangelove, Bonnie and Clyde, Annie Hall, A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, American Graffiti, The Wild Bunch, Platoon, and Easy Rider
The Bad Ones
Finally, I can’t end this without mentioning the ones that were just not good, downright bad, and in the case of Gone With the Wind and Birth of a Nation, morally reprehensible. The bad ones are: Gone With the Wind, Chinatown, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Doctor Zhivago, West Side Story, The Birth of a Nation, Forrest Gump, Dances With Wolves, Bringing Up Baby
There are many films I didn’t mention and if I didn’t it is probably because they are perfectly fine movies but didn’t really stick out to me. Additionally, there are a handful of films (such as the Charlie Chaplin movies) in which I appreciate why they are on a list like this (because of their historical significance or technical innovation) but I had a mostly lukewarm reaction to. I would put Citizen Kane in that list even though it is the #1 film in the original AFI list and the 10th Anniversary list.
Now that I have finished this list lets hope it doesn’t take me another 20 years to finish the 10th anniversary list!