What are the 10 greatest American films of all time?
We're all going to find out on Nov. 21, when the American Film Institute, 10th anniversary TV special features clips from them.
Until then, the top 10 will be a grave secret. We can, however, list the 50 pictures from which those 10 are being selected by a poll of AFI's 35,000 members, and we'll do so in a minute.
The 50 in turn were picked by an earlier balloting. The AFI staff presented members with a list of a 341 titles and asked for their selections plus any other titles they might suggest. The response was energetic: the original list grew to 1,100 films.
A few things are clear from the list of 50 right away. It is weighted heavily toward the more recent pictures, which naturally are more vivid in memory, and some of the older selections are riding on reputation.
For example, one has to put "Intolerance" on any list of great films, even though most of us haven't seen it for years, many have never seen it. "Treasure of Sierra Madre" is another hallowed film. Would it hold up on viewing today?Many don't, a few do.
One suspects that by the 20th anniversary, the likes of "The Sting," "The Graduate" and "Rocky" will be long forgotten. There is no such thing as an instant classic: Note that the "King Kong" picked here is the 1933 version, not the gaudy new remake.
Along with the new film names for the longer list came a few others that members had for the original compilers.
"You ninnies," the comments would go, "you put in some turkey called 'Seven Chances' and left out 'Star Wars.'"
Staffers said they "had a lot of fun" making up the first list. Also "a lot of discussion." One problem was deciding exactly what constituted an American film, since some pictures made with American money were filmed abroad, with foreign stars or foreign directors. At times it seemed the list would go on forever, growing uncontrollably.
But it is now down to a more workable size, and voting deadline is Sept. 5. The results will be announced on the CBS 90-minute program that will be part of a 10-day festival to mark the first decade of AFI.
Other events at the Kennedy Center film theater will include new films, restored rarities rescued by AFI archivists, work by Institute fellows, film classics, special children't shows and educational pictures.
The top 50:
African Queen (1952), All About Eve (1950), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), All the President's Men (1976), Ben Hur (1959), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Birth of a Nation (1915), Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid (1969):
Cabaret (1972), Casablanca (1942), Chinatown (1974), Citizen Kane (1941), City Lights (1931), Dr. Strangelove (1964), Fantasia (1940). The General (1927), The Godfather (1972), The Godfather, Part II (1974), Gone with the Wind (1939), The Graduate (1967), The rapes of Wrath (1940), High Noon (1952), Intolerance (1916);
It Happened One Night (1934), It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Jaws (1976), King Kong (1933), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Matese Falcon (1941), Midnnight Cowboy (1969), Modern Times (1936), Nashville (1975), On the Waterfront (1954), One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Psycho (1960), Rocky (1976), Singin' in the Rain (1952), Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs (1938);
The Sound of Music (1965), Star Wars (1977), The Sting (1973), At Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Sunset Boulevard (1950), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), Treasure of Sierra Madre (1948), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), West Side Story (1961), The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Wuthering Heights (1939).