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The Institute for Dust, Grist
July 4, 2006 — 1:50 am

Over at Reason, Tim Cavanaugh has an article about the American Film Institute’s latest “greatest” list — another entry in a long line of largely predictable rankings. Tim doesn’t like these lists, which I can generally agree with, but he also seems to dislike many of the actual movies repeatedly offered up on them. The few jabs he takes at widely-plaudited films seem pretty unpersuasive to me, at least absent a larger critical context he might be inclined to provide in another setting.

But as for the AFI itself, they have my undying love because of the theater they opened in Silver Spring, Maryland, if nothing else. If an endless series of inane “greatest” lists is an essential publicity/marketing part of the opportunity set that makes the theater possible, then I’m a booster, even if I no longer live in the area. They show standard arthouse fare and a few more mainstream pics, but the real reason to show up is the ongoing set of retrospective/archival films they showcase. During the couple dozen times I made the trek, I got to see rare gems from Aki Kaurismäki, the entire Cremaster cycle (twice), an early screening of Gigantic, a restored print of A Hard Day’s Night, the first two Pink Panther movies, and much more. I note they’re currently reaching the tail end of of a Robert Altman retrospective, with Nashville, 3 Women, and A Wedding. If only they’d open a theater out here, I’d have fewer reasons to leave town.

At one point in Tim’s piece, commenting on all the movies that show up time after time on each iteration of AFI’s interminable lists, he asks:

If you asked the AFI voters (who are those people, anyway?) how many motion pictures have been made since the beginning of time, I suspect they would paraphrase Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (the 63rd most inspiring film): “About a hundred movies.”

I think the voters are primarily donors. I donated $100 to the AFI at my first visit to their Silver Spring theater upon learning that one of the many member benefits they were offering that day was somewhere in the neighborhood of $80 in free passes, plus discounted tickets for me and any friends I brought thereafter. This donation made me an eligible AFI voter for a year, although I never availed myself of the opportunity . . .

Later, Tim writes:

The American people, whose wisdom is as inexplicable as God’s, have decided that The Shawshank Redemption (not even the best prison film of the 1993-1994 period) is the second greatest motion picture of all time; and since nobody is willing to accept the obvious explanation for this vote (that people are still confusing it with The Hudsucker Proxy), AFI splits the difference and places Shawshank at Number 23 on its cheer list.

I realize it’s critically correct to disdain all things Darabont, but if Shawshank sucked, count me as one of the brainwashed masses who fell for that hoodwink.

— Eric D. DixonComments (0)

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Eric D. Dixon

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