Monday, January 26, 2009

The Greatest American Films

I have always loved lists. Especially ranked lists. Ranking things is fun. The Princess Bride is my favorite book of all time, and it is filled with rankings. I love it. I don't know why, but for some reason ranking lists makes me feel all warm inside. It's almost like a sport except that the only people involved didn't have anything to do with the original entree. Last year Roger Ebert came out and made his definitive statement on what he thinks the ten greatest movies are. Not as formidable as say the AFI, BFI, or even Tim Dirk's truly epic filmsite.org. But what Ebert's list lacks in quantitative omph, he makes up for with extreme pretension. This guy really thinks he can name the ten greatest films ever made? When all these other groups have to list hundreds of films? Well here is Ebert's list:

Ten Greatest Films of all time (alphabetically).

Casablanca
Citizen Kane
Floating Weeds
Gates of Heaven
La Dolce Vita
Notorious
Raging Bull
The Third Man
28 up
2001: A Space Odyssey

for the entire article follow this link: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19910401/COMMENTARY/40308035/1023

I think this list is flawed for several reasons. First off I don't believe that Citizen Kane belongs in the top ten of any great film list except for lists concerning technical achievement or influence. Even though Citizen Kane is an amazing film in so many ways, I am sorry to say it is boring (I am in no way a minority on this position, except among Film critics). Also Ebert has made his list too broad. He brings in documentaries and foreign films. I doubt that Floating Weeds is truly the greatest film out of all asian cinema. Likewise for La Dolce Vita and Gates of Heaven for their respective categories. The other choices on the list probably merit their places.

In any case I have been inspired by this attempt to name the ten greatest films of all time and have decided to do so myself. I am only 100% certain of several of these choices. I could change my mind about half of them simply by watching another movie that I thought better deserving of the honor of ten greatest films. I have also limited myself to American films, and non documentaries. It isn't that I believe American films are better than other films or that documentaries cannot compete. But this is a humble first attempt and I must limit myself if I am not to utterly fail. I have ranked my list chronologically. I believe this to be the closest approximation of the level of greatness of each film. The setting of precedent is vitally important in determining greatness. I have also not included silent films. I have a hard time with silent film and feel that I am a bad judge of their quality. I have also included several ties which many people will find troublesome. In actuality my list includes a total of 13 films. But I find these films truly to be of equal quality and import, so I see no reason to separate them from each other in ranking.

In any case here is my slightly less pretentious Top Ten Greatest American Films list:

Number 10
Batman Begins 2005 tie
The Dark Knight 2008 tie

Number 9
Schindler's List 1993

Number 8
The Silence of the Lambs 1991

Number 7
Star Wars 1977 tie
Stars Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back 1980 tie

Number 6
The Godfather 1972 tie
The Godfather Part II 1974 tie

Number 5
Vertigo 1958

Number 4
Notorious 1946

Number 3
My Darling Clementine 1946

Number 2
It's a Wonderful Life 1946

Number 1
Casablanca 1942

23 comments:

  1. I think that your list indicates that you are a superhero/fantasy junky. For you to have Batman and Star wars in your top ten probably means you were one of those guys camping outside the theater before the star wars releases. Come on man! And this is supposed to be a place where philosophy and film comes together as friends. Where is the reasoning and logic in that man?

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  2. Thank you for your high level of interaction Mr. Pelichowski. :P

    I have already published my reasons for including both Star Wars and Nolan's Batman films elsewhere on this blog, so if you would like to respond to the individual responses directly and possibly disagree with an actual point that I made I would be happy to discuss it with you.

    But in regards to the two comments you have already made there is a great precedence for including Star Wars in lists of greatest films. Star Wars was initially placed at number 15 on AFI's first 100 movies list. And then when the list was redone in 2007 it actually advanced 2 spots higher to number 13.

    Also Tim Dirks includes Star Wars in his initial (unranked) list of 100 greatest films. And in his second list of 100 greatest films he includes Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back. See filmsite.org

    Also Roger Ebert included it in his initial hundred great films.

    Nolan's Batman films have no precedence for being ranked, except on IMDB, which really does not mean anything except that it is popular (which means something). It also did manage to make over twenty top ten lists, most of which ranked it high on the list, as well as being entered in many critics circles and regional awards groups (but sometimes those are short sighted). One of the reasons I chose to rank Nolan's Batman films so high is because I believe they have done almost exactly what films like the Godfather and Part II as well as Star Wars and Empire did for their respective genres. The crime/gangster genre was a low budget commonly disrespected film genre before Coppola's epic take on it. Basically he changed it forever. He made it something else, something better, because it really wasn't a gangster film anymore. It was an epic family drama. Lucas did the same thing for "fantasy film". Star Wars technically has no genre. If it is anything it is Space Opera but outside movie serials like Flash Gordon there is not much precedence for that genre in film before Star Wars. I guess you could say it transcended the adventure genre (which Lucas and Spielberg would again do with their two excellent Indiana Jones films). It made adventure and pulp stories into an epic battle of good vs evil.

    Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are in the exact same boat. They are not truly comic book or super hero movies. They are epic crime dramas in the tradition of Film Noir. They have transcended a genre and become something even more powerful.

    In other words I think both of your claims regarding my super fandom are false. I did not include these films because I am a superhero/fantasy junky because Star Wars is an uncontroversial choice and Nolan's Batman (properly understood) is neither fantasy nor comic book nor super hero. As I argue elsewhere they are all four truly great films.

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  3. Aron,

    I love you brother, I like those movies as well, I was just trying to see how you would respond. And you defended your position well bro. I honestly didn't intent for the post to go through and thought I could us a pseudo-name but it just posted with my name anyway. Are you planning on doing movie reviews on current movies regularly? If so I would be interested in checking here for your thoughts because you give good movie analysis. No hard feelings, I was just playing man.

    P.S. are you going to have a movie review of TMNT up anytime soon? Remember our phone conversation with Peter when I was at Biola? That was classic man, simply classic... Adios amigo.

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  4. I wasn't offended until now. You spelled my name with 1 a.

    Yeah after I received your voice mail detailing how peter faked your post he called me and told me that in fact it was you but he took most of the blame because it was his idea.

    Yes I will hopefully be doing reviews to all the films which were nominated for major academy awards this year. But a lot of what I want to do is philosophical/theological analysis as well as deal with films that are more regarded as classics.

    I will probably not be reviewing TMNT. And yes I do remember...I also remember the Talbot Leaves. sigh...

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  5. Aaron,
    I think you have made several good selections in your Top Ten, but I have to dispute the idea that Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are on the same level, and I think in moments of greater clarity... you agree with me.

    You said, "The Dark Knight is one of those Godfather Part II, Empire strikes back things. Everybody knows the sequel actually surpassed the original in artistic achievement. But artistry is not the only mark of greatness. The Dark Knight gave us a further expanded world."

    I think you should remove BB from the list for similar reasons.

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  6. Okay I knew somebody was going to seriously challenge this sooner or later. I am going to be as honest as I possible. When I first saw Batman Begins I was floored. I am not sure if I had ever had such an "inflammatory" film experience before that. I thought it was a breathtaking in its scope, subtle, and action. But I would have never considered it one of the 10 greatest films.

    Before The Dark Knight came out I was very very nervous. I was afraid that this film might not be as good as the first. I think a lot of people were. But I was in particular very scared that it would not live up to my expectations because they were so incredibly high. That two and a half hours was what I consider to be the greatest film going experience of my life. I knew I had just witnessed one of the truly great films of all time.

    The next day I watched Batman Begins again and I saw it with new eyes. Somehow The Dark Knight made its predecessor better retroactively. This was my existential journey. Much like the soteriology we both share I could not help but believe that these two films were two of the ten greatest. I cannot help it to this day.

    Now I will give you some of my reasoning for even though we are convinced in our hearts we seek not only the approval but the conversion of others. I want you to see the brilliance of Nolan's Batman. If you notice in the above blog post most of it has to do with the first film.

    You are right in your comment above. The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Knight are the holy trilogy of sequels. While there are many great sequels (Toy Story 2, X2, T2, Aliens, Mad Max 2, The Wrath of Kahn, The Lotr Trilogy, Indiana Jones and the Las Crusade, Spider-Man 2, I am sure that I have forgotten some) these three do something that those other films have not done. They are logical extensions to the point of almost being one long film. I think that The Godfather is a film made up of two parts. Coppola even said this when accepting the academy award for the second film. I think that Empire does the same. And also The Dark Knight. But in the case of all three of these movies I truly think that the "sequel" has actually accomplished something greater than the first. The second Godfather film is one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. The narrative is ambiguous and complex providing what maybe the deepest character study in cinema history. Empire does similar things. It provides a much more ambitious film and succeeds in taking us places we probably never would have thought possible. But The Dark Knight is actually less ambitious. It tells a linear story far simpler than the previous film. It has a simple villain. He has no character, he functions as an absolute. Nolan has stated this on numerous occasions. That is not to say he is boring at all. Ledger's Joker maybe the greatest villain in cinema history. But he is not a true character. He is in fact a foil. A Plot device. The multiple villains from the first film are given almost more characterization. I don't see The Joker do many things when Batman isn't around. He is supposed to prove to us that Batman is in fact The Dark Knight.

    But Batman Begins is essentially an oedipal conquest. And I don't mean that in a gross freudian way. But it is a man's journey to usurp his fathers. Bruce has two fathers in the first Batman film. Ra's and Thomas. The deaths of both were caused by Bruce's actions. The death of Thomas accidentally and the death of Ra's intentionally.

    Begins is a complex film. The character of Bruce Wayne is clearly and pain stakingly laid out before us. We see a boy who is scared of Bats. We see how this childish fear causes the death of his parents. We see him associate this silly fear with the (misplaced) guilt of his parent's death. Now his fear or bats becomes a complex far deeper than a phobia. This is why he dresses himself as a bat. He has actually taken the legacies of his two fathers onto himself. Elements of both of them make up who he is. But then in the final act the mentor becomes the enemy and at least of the oedipal quests he is on has been fulfilled.

    I will in a post hopefully in the near future explain some of my reasoning for why The Dark Knight actually makes a greater artistic achievement than Begins similarly to the The Godfather Part II and Empire. Yet I believe all these films are still on equal footing because of precedence and the fact that they form a whole.

    I could say even more. And if you require me to I will but I think your objection actually has a logical problem.

    If you really believe this statement: "The Dark Knight is one of those Godfather Part II, Empire strikes back things. Everybody knows the sequel actually surpassed the original in artistic achievement." Then your conclusion cannot be that Batman Begins should be taken out alone but that The Godfather and Star Wars need to be taken out as well.

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  7. Aaron,
    Notice that I said that I would take BB of for "similar reasons," which would not commit me to your whole comment. In fact, I think that Godfather Pt. I was a better film than Part II, but that's not something I wish to defend here. Also, I tend to think that Silence of the Lambs, Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back or Batman Begins/Dark Knight should not rate top ten status either. Although, I am a huge fan of all of these movies. They definitely make my top 25-30, but not my top ten.
    Anyhow, the reason I posted at all was to inquire about the apparent contradiction in your own views represented on this website, and then use it as a springboard for my disagreement with respect to BB.

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  8. I have yet to thank you for your interaction, so thank you. I appreciate that you've taken the time to read some of what I've written and cared enough to respond to it.

    I figured you would respond this way. In which case your "similar reasons" would be very interesting to hear. Because if you actually think that The Godfather is better than Part II and that Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back as well as the entirety of Nolan's Batman Films should not be in the top ten then your reasons are alien to mine because you believe entirely different things than I do about these films. In which case your original comment makes no sense.

    Also I have already discussed with you my faulty reasons for including The Silence of the Lambs, which I will give up when I rewrite my list after I am finished with this series of notes.

    But so far your disagreement has been quite uneventful. You have simply disagreed. You have not offered any contra arguments, or even another list (though such a list supposedly exists?).

    You also have a weakness in your film aesthetic because you favor linearity over complexity. The Godfather and The Dark Knight are both linear films, the two you claim to be better. They are both strait forward narratives. I do not think that this is a weakness. But I do think that The Godfather Part II and Batman Begins are stronger in the aspect of characterization because of this which adds a necessary richness to the overall duology. Without Part II The Godfather lacks very vital information without which it would not be the truly profound examination of violence, human nature, law, capitalism, and family relationships that it in fact is. It just would have been an epic crime film. Likewise The Dark Knight would make no sense without Batman Begins. In the three ties I have brought up so far what we are seeing is an Old and New Testament relationship. Alone they are confusing and ultimately meaningless. Together they form a richer more complex narrative. They need each other for their greatness. I honestly do not think that The Godfather would have been the Landmark film that it was without The Godfather Part II hot on its heels two years later. Any film aesthetic that cannot account for the importance and richness that this complexity adds is faulty. Because it will eventually collapse into simple entertainment.

    In conclusion unless you're doing the Moore Shift on me I would be interested to see your list as well as some argumentation.

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  9. Aaron my dear goyim,
    My comments do make sense, and you did get the gist of what I meant, but took it a bit further than I had hoped. I merely wanted to say that the Dark Knight sequel surpassed BB as a film, and that you seemed to agree elsewhere on this website. On the other hand, you are absolutely right... I have not given arguments for my other comments, because I made them to bring to your attention that I was not going along with everything you said in the above quote, but more the spirit of the statement. As you seem to suggest, the Dark knight gives us a deeper world, not to mention an incredible on screen villain, and a movie experience that most people did not approximate when they saw BB. You yourself said that you saw DK around five times in the theater. Maybe there is a reason for that (I doubt you saw BB that many times in the theater). When I have some time to give you a real counter argument (also to defend my other comment), I will do so. Perhaps over coffee.

    You said, "The Dark Knight is one of those Godfather Part II, Empire strikes back things. Everybody knows the sequel actually surpassed the original in artistic achievement. But artistry is not the only mark of greatness. The Dark Knight gave us a further expanded world."

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  10. Aaron,
    As you see by the limited nature of my replies, I do not have a large amount of time to devote to giving you well groomed responses and counter arguments. Perhaps they will be forthcoming. Anyhow, I think your logical critique of my comments is a bit like a misfire. From a logical standpoint, it is quite a devastating reply. For a few simple reasons: First, I am not even committed to whether or not I agree with the whole comment. I could be attempting to make the case from your own writings that you seem to agree with me about BB, which is one of the things I was doing (you seem to acknowledge that part). In fact, you actually say that DK surpassed BB as a film. Next, I am in no way committed to the other claims you attributed to me by saying that my disagreement is for similar reasons. I may have been illustrating that your own thought is conflicted on this issue, and if you have some good reasons for that, mine are similar in nature. While I do believe DK is superior to BB, for the similar reasons (perhaps) that you would suppose Empire and GFII are superior to their predecessors, then my argument is still untainted with the brush you're using, because I may deny what you state about the other films, but think it goes through in the case of BB. Lastly, if I have introduced an internal contradiction in your own thought, then my comments are valuable to you as an opportunity to explain this to your readers.

    However, if you see these movies as a whole, and have included them for that reason, then I could understand that to a certain extent.

    One more thing, a survey of film critics will show that most felt that DK was a superior film. I don't think this is an argument, but it is somewhat telling.

    You said,"I figured you would respond this way. In which case your "similar reasons" would be very interesting to hear. Because if you actually think that The Godfather is better than Part II and that Star Wars/Empire Strikes Back as well as the entirety of Nolan's Batman Films should not be in the top ten then your reasons are alien to mine because you believe entirely different things than I do about these films. In which case your original comment makes no sense."

    Notice that initially the comment I quoted was stating that DK was superior to BB. If this is the case, then it should be dropped from your top ten. However, I agree with you that if you really believe what you wrote earlier then you should drop all those original movies from your top ten. Second, I don't have to make that logical leap if I make use of your quote. In fact, I may see your reasoning more clearly in one pair of films than in another. I may like the reasoning when it comes to the Star Wars/Empire analogy, but deny it when it comes to GF1/GF2. You see, your not in a position to analyze or assume what I think about the full scope of your comment, but rather, you need to deal with the internal contradiction that you have presented on this site. So, my comment stands as logically valid, and a formidable challenge to your own logical thought in cashing out your views.

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  11. Peter my dear perfected Jew,

    "My comments do make sense, and you did get the gist of what I meant"

    I did get the "gist" of what you meant but I am trying to do a high level of film interaction here. And the context of my statement that you have reproduced twice now in your comments has to do with the significance of an expanded world. If you don't think that the second Godfather achieved greater artistry than the first your comment does not make sense. Given the fact that you cited my statement as similar reasoning. But the reasoning is not similar at all. You simply think The Dark Knight is better, honestly because you liked it more. I like The Godfather more than the Godfather Part II. But the second film is in many important ways a much better film. Separating good sequels from the original film makes little sense. The original film usually has no opportunity to do the sorts of things that the sequel does. And I think the necessity of precedence can never be overlooked. From a historical view point Batman Begins will in many ways have to be the truly landmark film because it changed the way super hero films will be adapted. Then it took that extremely high level of film making and built upon it. Just like The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, and also just like Star Was/The Empire Strikes Back.

    I saw Batman Begins several times in theaters. I did not see it eight times partially because I did not have a car back then and no body else wanted to see it more than once or twice. But I pre-ordered the DVD and watched it at least eight times in the first month alone. But I was not able to respect it the way I do today until after I saw The Dark Knight. I actually had a very similar experience with The Godfather. And actually its funny because now that I have had The Dark Knight on DVD for over a month I haven't watched it once yet.

    Well I look forward to hearing some more of your reasoning and maybe seeing a list of what you think are better films than the ones I have chosen.

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  12. Okay this is very confusing because my previous post is responding to your previous post not your most recent post due to the fact that my e-mail notification did something weird. Anyway now they are both published and I can respond to what actually is your most recent post.

    I don't see any formidable objection to my own views. All you have said is that there is a contradiction. You have not demonstrated one.

    Deeper artistic achievement does not mean a greater film. Historical precedence is as equally important as the complexity of narrative. Looking at the comment which has become the source of this debacle:

    "The Dark Knight is one of those Godfather Part II, Empire strikes back things. Everybody knows the sequel actually surpassed the original in artistic achievement. But artistry is not the only mark of greatness. The Dark Knight gave us a further expanded world."

    And then the very next line is: "It took everything we loved so much about Begins and gave us even more."

    Which is what all great sequels do. But the sequel cannot do this if the original film was never made. So there is no contradiction formidable or otherwise. What I have written already shows that.

    Surprisingly your most recent comment has not changed what I think about the actual comment I was previously responding to.

    But I do have some other remarks. You never made an argument but in fact relied on a comment that did not even support your claim. You can keep saying that you don't think it goes through on the other accounts but by saying this you are only showing that your original comment in fact was nonsensical. One of the problems with this is that I did not in fact say "The Dark Knight is superior to Batman Begins." I said it made a greater artistic achievement. A similar artistic achievement to that of Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back. Which you deny apparently.

    So your similar reasons are that...

    In conclusion there has been absolutely no logical contradiction shown from my part formidable or otherwise. And while there may not in fact be a logical contradiction in what you said you have completely misunderstood my original comment.

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  13. Goyim,
    Glad to see that you have retracted the logical criticism bit, and I am happy to grant that I may not have understood your comment on its face appearance. However, I think we have room for healthy discourse on these subjects.

    After watching the Godfather Trilogy recently, I must emphatically argue that GF1 is a superior film. Surely I would concede the point you made about historical precedent, and would argue that it means something significant. The origin of the story, the excitement of becoming enthralled with new characters, and a family that is so multifaceted and intriguing; it's hard to resist playing favorites on that basis alone, but it does not guarantee that you have a superior film to any sequel (otherwise I would grant this in the case of BB). So I unashamedly give you "precedence" as my first but not only reason for thinking one ought to value GF1. Secondly, I think the frame for frame execution of GF1 is clearly better than either sequel, especially GF3. Every scene is nearly flawless (with the exception of the fight between Sonny and Carl). GF1 gives us so many memorable moments that stay with us, from the opening scene to the closing scene. Who could forget seeing the Michael evolve from an innocent civilian to the Godfather's predecessor. Who could forget the breathtaking performance of Brando as the one holding the strings (I'll grant Deniro's Vito was great, but Brando's was masterful!). It just doesn't get much better. I think for these reasons AFI has put GF1 in its top ten, but not GF2. GF2 has an amazing panoramic depiction of three generations of Corleone drama, but is often ambiguous and convoluted. It looses you in some of its cinematic tapestry, we are not sure about how to feel when the movie finishes. Why? one might ask. It's hard to get real closure with GF2.

    These are just some thoughts after watching the Trilogy again afresh.

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  14. Okay. Essentially what you have said here is that you liked it more. Which is fine. I like it more as well. I think in many regards it is more entertaining. But on its own The Godfather is in many ways meaningless and incomplete. Pauline Kael said that viewing Part II greatly enhances the first film as well as being amazing in its own right. But Roger Ebert is one of the few critics who actually thinks it wasn't a good movie.

    But what I am trying to do on this blog is seriously analyze great films using two criteria: Pure Cinema and The Christian Aesthetic. Just because Brando is brilliant in this film does not automatically make it a good movie. I am not doing the sorts of things that Kael or Ebert do.

    But I am on the verge of publishing my entry concerning these films so I will deal with some of your common objections to the second film there.

    But why should we care about The Godfather? Theme and content are just as important as the quality of production. Is what The Godfather teaches us really worthwhile? Together I don't think there is any question as to their value but apart I think we should be concerned that we love The Godfather so much.

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  15. Goyim,
    Did you read what I said above... ? I said a bit more than I liked it more. I gave you several reasons why "I liked it more," and some criticisms of GF2 which I will wait to hear your responses to. I cited an authority (AFI) that agrees with me, which you seemed to gloss over as insignificant. From a Christian standpoint, I would give you a new set of comments. Roughly, I think the Godfather is a testimony to humanity's total depravity, and the utter necessity that the human heart is in need of redemption. However, I don't think GF series provides an adequate solution to the problem. If you are looking at the GF series from a Christian standpoint (looking at worldview, content, values), then I think you can never judge a trilogy by looking to one or two of the films alone, you need to look at the story as a whole. How does it answer the questions of meaning, morality, and man's destiny? What is the message of the trilogy holistically (and not just by looking at each isolated alone)? But, by this reasoning, why not include GF3 in your top ten? Answer, because it was not a great film cinematically speaking. If you are looking at both "Pure Cinema and The Christian Aesthetic," then there are clearly better films that bring these two together--like the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The fact is, Coppella does not bring out a distinctly Christian Aesthetic in GFS, although one can draw out some illustrations of depravity or the perils of vice. It does not give us the solution, but functions as a tragedy. Given your two criteria, I think your list should look a bit different. For instance, Star Wars is a hosh-posh of several different convoluted worldviews (Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity defanged, dualism, etc.). Sure you can see a distorted Christian thread in the series, but clearly it has huge problems in dealing with the big questions about the nature of God, morality, and meaning. And... Silence of the Lambs?

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  16. No Peter I didn't read your comment. Seriously? I'm not going to take anymore rudeness from you or Danny on this blog. I've tolerated it up to this point.

    Your assertion of AFI as a claim to authority is highly disputable. AFI is a highly disreputable list in many regards. But there are two places that are highly regarded which do consider the films a tie: Tim Dirks 100 greatest films list and the Sight and Sound top ten.

    Can you even tell me what the Christian Aesthetic is Peter? Or the aesthetic of Pure Cinema?

    I'm growing tired of this discussion. I guess we can talk about this sometime but you're terribly confused about what I'm trying to do here. Until you can come up with your own aesthetic besides this properly basic one which you keep flouting there really is no discussion being had. I have very good responses to all your alleged criticisms if you really want to hear them, but I think you're blinded by your love of the first film so I don't see the point in writing them.

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  17. Aaron,
    I'm sorry dude. I thought you were enjoying our discussion and joking around with me too. For instance, you said:

    "Peter my dear perfected Jew,

    "My comments do make sense, and you did get the gist of what I meant"

    I did get the "gist" of what you meant but I am trying to do a high level of film interaction here."

    I took that to mean that 1) you were playfully jesting with me, and 2) that my level of interaction was not very high.

    However, my wife told me to be careful how I respond to you because you might take offense (I should have listened). I just made my comments sound spicy because i thought it would be funny to the both of us. For those who don't know me, I apologize if it appeared that I was seriously being rude.

    Bottom line, you're my friend Aaron, I did not wish to upset you or irritate you. I thought you were having fun with it. Please forgive me (seriously). I should know better by now to make sure you're enjoying this sort of interchange. I tend to mix serious discussion and levity together at times, perhaps too much on this blog.

    I should have been more clear: I have not put the thought or the time into developing my views on these issues all that much. It's probably because I don;t have the passion for it that you do. As I told you earlier, you inspired me to take a closer look at these films and Dirks in general.

    On a side note:
    A Christian aesthetic is the Christian philosophy of beauty. What is beauty? What makes something beautiful? More specifically for our context, what makes a film beautiful? I think that the degree to which a film gets its portrait of humanity, God, and redemption right, it is has deeper beauty.

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  18. P.S. Danny has no clue that we are still discussing these issues. So, don't be displeased with that silly boy. It was my poor judgment. I was not responding to you to make him laugh or anything like that. i don't think he's read any of our discussion.

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  19. I don't think our playful comments are rude, but it was rude to come on to my blog and "play a practical joke" to see how I would react and immediately begin to criticize my positions without strong positions of your own. Of course I read your post. I said something similar on Doug Geivett's blog one time and he e-mailed me and told me that he needed to edit my post slightly. But it's water under the bridge, I will just edit your future posts for whatever I deem inappropriate. You are of course my friend as well.

    I have discussed the Christian aesthetic only slightly on this blog so far. But where I think The Godfather falters is that it is a sort of celebration of violence. The sequel gives that violence context, and while The Godfather is perfect from a purely cinematic standpoint the meaning of the Mafia life gets lost in our love of the characters and especially in the romanticized depiction of Vito and to a lesser extent Michael.

    I will be publishing on this shortly but the Christian aesthetic as I have defined it is basically Philippians 4:8. And the Lord wants us to meditate on the entirety of the scriptures so everything in it must fall under Phil 4:8 to some degree or other. The Old Testament has characters and events that are even more extreme than the events that transpire in The Godfather. This permits us to meditate on things of a similar nature, but not if it involves celebrating those things. Only if it involves honest depictions that are true to human nature or the nature of God or serve another metaphorical purpose. But the account that The Godfather Part II gives us shows us why Vito became who he became and the eventual conclusion of his decisions in Michael's life. It also shows how the pure motivations of Vito to take care of his family preserve his own purity as a character and hero, despite his wrong actions. Similar to David and Solomon we see that David had a whole heart after the Lord, and even though David is one of the great sinners of the Old Covenant he is someone we truly love. Just like Vito. But the legacy continues into the life of the son. Both Solomon and Michael live empty confusing lives even though they are infinitely wiser than their fathers.

    A similar parallel can actually be made to The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo is unharmed by the Ring because he was unaware of its true nature and his purity was able to preserve him in its use. But Frodo bears that burden all the way to the end. The sin is passed on to a new generation who has to deal with the implications and consequences of this evil in the world. Often with disastrous results.

    Having just watched Fireproof with my wife I am painfully aware that great films have to meet a kind of basic film quality requirement. They have to get the basics of film right. The Godfather Part III as you have aptly observed fails in several key areas, though I don't think as badly as some people think. My main complaint with the third film is that Coppola made the film for the wrong reasons and it was released too early. I think Puzo and Coppola should have adapted The Sicilian in the eighties, instead of Cimino, rounding out The Godfather with a spin off instead of a direct sequel. But what's done is done. But you are right. There are basic things about films that we are aware of in a basic way which make them great. But my problem with most film criticism is that they never go beyond this. So it all remains subjective. It's as if everyone just took the bare minimum of Plantinga's epistemology and decided to form all their opinions of value around things which were properly basic. We basically know The Godfather is a great film, and we both agree that we like it better than the second one. But if that is our only criteria for greatness then I think good Christian film criticism is lost.

    P.S. My original post would have been longer and more inappropriate but I listened to my wife.

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  20. Aaron,
    I actually only intended to write my first post, which was a good question, I thought. If I had left it at that, then it probably would have been better. I just got caught up in responding to you each time (a sort of blog obsession thing: once you start you can't stop). By the way, I thought you would appreciate the fact that I spent a descent amount of time on your blog, and that I have taken an interest beyond what it started out as (which, I already told you that I'm sorry that Danny and I even considered pranking you).

    My rough top ten list (more for cinematic reasons):
    1. Casablanca
    2. Wizard of Oz
    3. The Godfather
    4. Vertigo or Rear Window (I liked rear window better, have not seen Notorious, but I suspect it would replace this choice)
    5.Psycho
    6. Rocky or Raging Bull (My two sports genre picks, I liked Rocky better)
    7. Gone with the Wind
    8. One Flew Over a Cuckoos Nest
    9. Schindler's List
    10. Unforgiven

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  21. I think this is a decent list, the choices are commonly found among other great film lists. I have a couple of concerns though. One is your choice of Unforgiven. It is a good movie and a great western, but there are just so many other westerns that are older and better, My Darling Clementine, Red River, High Noon, The Searchers, Rio Bravo, True Grit (which I think is highly underrated), The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, and Once Upon a Time in the West (which I think can qualify as an American film). In some ways I even think High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales are better than Unforgiven.

    Also while I have no contentions with Rocky I think you'll find that the praise for this film is middling. I think there are lots of great reasons for thinking this a better film than Raging Bull (but only in some ways mind you; Raging Bull is a masterpiece of honesty, complexity, and film making process, it is Scorsese's masterpiece) but those reasons are more theological/philosophical.

    Actually here is another concern: Gone wit the Wind is overrated. Citizen Kane is a far greater film in almost every regard and yet these two films touch on many of the same themes. I also think your ranking is kinda wonky to put it lightly. Wizard of Oz above The Godfather? Schindler's List under One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest? This is why I used chronology to rank my films, because in many respects I think my top ten films are equal, which is also one reason why Tim Dirks chooses not to rank his films. Rankings of films of this caliber often make no sense, which is one of the biggest problems with AFI's list. Of course I do applaud some of your choices. Like Casablanca, The Godfather, Vertigo, et al. because I obviously chose them as well. You really do need to watch Notorious. I hope you like it, because it is easily my favorite Hitchcock film and I think his best work.

    One other concern I have is with Psycho. This is a great film but its greatness is mostly due to one scene. I think there are reasons for thinking it should be included in great film lists besides this, it's just something to think about.

    Thank you for producing a list. This gives us some more points of commonality in order to hopefully produce greater understanding. I will be correcting my list in the near future and hopefully producing a second ten greatest films list after that. Just remember I spent a year thinking about this. You will change your mind, I guarantee it. As long as you keep watching films you will change your mind about some of these from time to time.

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  22. Aaron,
    I agree the ranking is off, and I did not really get a chance to sort that out yet; plus I tend to agree with you on that issue (Chronology may be the best way to go). Unforgiven is a classic, but was an iffy last entry on my list. I wanted something from the western genre in the top ten, but my knowledge of Westerns is only from the 60's on. I agree that The Outlaw Josey Whales is at least as good if not better than Unforgiven (forgot about it entirely). I need to rethink that Genre (and watch more films, of course). Last, I have not seen Citizen Kane--look forward to that. Thanks for your critique.

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  23. I'm interested to hear how your thoughts on these topics develop. We should watch Citizen Kane together. It's painful, but I need to keep trying to watch it at least once a year. I think you'll like it. We should have lunch some time soon.

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