L.A. Confidential

In updating their 100 Greatest list, the AFI seems to be acknowledging that (i) they erred in their first list by omitting quality choices and (ii) new movies have come out in the last ten years which merit inclusion.

Or they realized the publicity from issuing a new list was too much to pass up.

Years of lists of movies has left the AFI grasping for straws. After going through Stars, Cheers, Passions, Laughs, and Thrills, rumor has it that 100 Years... 100 Groans was up next. (Robin Williams was set to dominate.) Thankfully, the AFI chose just to redo the Movies list.

At any rate, while it's always fun to debate what the AFI should have included in its 1998 list*, my first instinct was to wonder which recent films the AFI would deem instant classics. This is very tricky territory. Even Jeff's "modern" selection, My Own Private Idaho, is nearly two decades old. In this time, those that vote have had the opportunity to read countless lists including or excluding that film, to see it again (and again), to read about, to write about it, to drool over it, to hate it. And this to me, is a good thing.

History doesn't happen overnight, and even though we'll all pan what the AFI chooses, there is no question that the majority of the American population will view this as THE list of history's great films. I recall working at a film library in the Summer of 2002, four years after the AFI's list came out, and meeting dozens of people coming in with the list in hand as they picked movies to watch. So yes, what they choose is "important" - a word I loathe using in this context.

And just as the Oscars are notoriously wrong in hindsight, the AFI was the same in trying to include the present in history. Part of the problem, as you'll see below, is that the AFI looked to the Oscar stamp-of-approval in choosing the list of films they would put their stamp of approval on.

Here's the AFI's picks from 1998, when they chose eight films from the 1990s:

#9 Schindler's List (1993)
#65 Silence of the Lambs (1991)
#71 Forrest Gump (1994)
#75 Dances With Wolves (1990)
#84 Fargo (1996)
#94 Goodfellas (1990)
#95 Pulp Fiction (1994)
#98 Unforgiven (1992)

Though I wouldn't take it for granted, the bet here is that the AFI will re-think their high rankings for Best Picture winners Forrest Gump and Dances With Wolves and the relatively low ranking for non-BP winner Pulp Fiction. Influence counts, even if it doesn't speak for the movies on their own. Everyone and his brother made a movie like Pulp Fiction. Few (excluding Costner himself) tried to make Dances With Wolves, and even fewer tried to make Forrest Gump.

How does one choose these films? Part of the issue is the context of the film itself. "Groundbreaking" films like Pulp Fiction or 1998's Being John Malkovich are not easy to assess in a historical context - especially only a few years after their debut. Their freshness undoubtedly hurts their prospects for immediate canonization.

L.A. Confidential (1997) and Boogie Nights (1997) are, to me, the two best films from the 1997-2005 period on the AFI's nomination list, and two with a decent chance at inclusion. This is partly because both are deeply entrenched in the past, and relatively easy to place in a historical context a decade after their release - in no small part due to the fact that neither film really breaks new ground as much as it follows in, and develops on the work of those before them.

Contextualizing a film set in present day that is distinctly forward-looking provides a different task entirely. Perhaps the best example of instant history gone wrong-gone right comes from a movie that didn't even make the AFI's 400-film nomination list, having been pushed off by some of the great pillars of mediocrity**. When it came out, THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998), was called the "movie of the decade" by Time Magazine. Nearly ten years later, there are few films that can claim to be so well-made and prescient. In the era of television we currently live in, the AFI should be ashamed of themselves for this omission.

But If I were to pick one from the 1997-2005 list they've offered, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL would be my choice, even if it isn't groundbreaking or influential. Quite simply, whenever I see it again, I always find myself wondering why every film doesn't come together as well as it does. The execution is perfect, something even greater films can't claim, let alone those prominently featuring Kim Basinger.


*As for past exclusions, The Last Picture Show (1971) and both of Terence Malick's films from the 1970s, Badlands (1973) and Days of Heaven (1978), tower over the rest in quality and in how distinctly American they are.


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