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By Felix Vasquez Jr. | June 26, 2006

Even with my favorite film of all time (12 Angry Men) on the list, I’m trying to understand the logic behind such an arbitrary list as “AFI’s 100 most inspirational films”. Do they comprise these lists just for ratings on CBS, filler, or to draw attention to the American Film Institute? Hey, AFI, how about screening one of the rare films you’ve restored on network television, or how about re-releasing one of these restored classics in the theaters for major distribution?

No, that would be dumb!
These lists are where it’s at!

Regardless of the fact, I took a look at their list, and it’s really all nothing but God Bless America drippy Americana that really doesn’t surprise or dare to challenge us. With these lists you can never win, if they go too obscure, they’re called pretentious, but if they go too obvious, it’s really no use.

Suffice it to say, we’re never going to see “AFI’s 100 greatest horror films”, or “AFI’s 100 most depressing films”, or even “AFI’s 100 worst films of all time”, now that last one is something I’d pay to watch. Either way, you have to question a list that bears films that are religious, patriotic, or sappy. Because simply, there are no other types of inspirational films in the film lexicon, because Americans can only equate good and moral with patriotic and religious.

Though, I admit, there were some interesting films presented, I guess the list must have really been reaching for titles, for the AFI to do away with their guidelines of leaving out films from the last twenty years seeing as how “Hotel Rwanda” (a fine film), and “Ray” (overrated but fine) are somewhere near the nineties.

But “Inspirational Films” would somehow further push the notion that a film can’t be art, or entertaining if it doesn’t uplift or inspire us. Which is why many people explain their distaste for a film with “It was too depressing”; I have one friend who refuses to watch anything that doesn’t make her feel good. This is our further ability to want to think that life is nothing but good and uplifting. Hell, in the bible after Jesus is tortured and crucified, he rises from the grave.

This is our bubble, folks, this is basically us sinking into further denial. And that’s dangerous, because it lulls us into a false sense of security, like everything is right in the world, and, not to play the conspiracy theorist, but is isn’t. Phone companies are listening to our calls, the patriot act is in full effect, our civil liberties are being stripped from us daily, it’s tougher and tougher to get a job these days, where four out of five people born poor will die poor, and the rich get richer. I could go on forever here, folks. But you can understand my dismay for lists such as these. And do not give me that “After Katrina, and 9/11, America needs uplifting entertainment” bullshit, because it’s basically just spin and excuses. After I wrote that sentence, I read the statement by AFI that basically said it better than I did:

“The past few years have not been easy in America–from September 11th to the devastation of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers will celebrate the films that inspire us, encourage us to make a difference and send us from the theatre with a greater sense of possibility and hope for the future.”

Life can be fun and happy, but it’s also sad, and depressing, and pointless. To acknowledge the bad with the good is called reality, but only preferring to acknowledge the good can be harmful. Sometimes life has no silver lining, sometimes there’s no happy ending, or comeuppance. Sometimes the hooker doesn’t have a heart of gold, the criminal gets away, the hero dies, the victim is burned at the stake, and the geek doesn’t get the girl. But sinking into an “everything is dandy” sensibility can leave the door open for dangers, and intruders, and then before we know it, our lives are changed.

And this denial is why the studios refuse to market films that don’t have silver linings. Many films that chronicle tragedies have silver linings. Hell, the upcoming “World Trade Center” seems based on a rigid diet of “many people died, but god bless America” attitude. One particular odd case was Weinstein’s decision to give the remake of “Kairo” a more audience-friendly ending seeing as how the first cut didn’t get a good reaction. It’s disappointing how even post-apocalyptic films about the end of the humanity have to have a happy ending or a gleam of hope. “28 Days Later” had one, “Independence Day” had one, and do you recall the sheer idiocy of the uplifting ending to “The Day After Tomorrow”? Bad enough the movie sucked. People don’t care if the content is rich, the characterization deep, or the acting compelling, they just want safe, reliable, predictable, and hopeful.

But, I just wonder about this list, and what acid the “judges” were on when picking out certain films. The most infuriating entry has to be “Thelma and Louise”. Pardon me, but I just don’t see what’s so inspirational about a neo-feminist tirade about two she beasts who go on a cross country crime spree while evading a seemingly endless group of dumb, mean, and abusive men. I just don’t. I’ve endured endless criticism and backlash for my vocal antipathy for that crappy hypocritical neo-feminist “Men suck, women rule!” manifesto, so save your opinions. Fact is, when one of the most overrated movies ever made is featured on a list as “inspirational”, I take exception to it. But the AFI are not always known for their strict choices on their lists.

My point is, I just don’t see what the purpose of this list is, because it’s just a basic reshuffling of the “100 Greatest of all time” list and throws in a few of the recent popular films, all for the purpose of pushing the notion that a film can only be inspirational if it promotes patriotism and religion, and that it’s only art if it makes you happy. It’s why Guliani, and Bloomberg have muffled many artists in New York, it’s why Deodato was banished, it’s why Roger Ebert hates certain horror films, and it’s why we, as a civilization are so easily manipulated. Suffice it to say, it’s a rather inane compilation, and one that’s really as useless as an extra toe. I see the only purpose it serves is to further widen the bubble that much of American culture lives in, and when that bubble bursts, you’re in for a rather rude awakening.

That’s why people like Neil Labute, and Woody Allen are able to keep it real. Allen was able to maintain a spirit of happiness even with a sad ending on “The Purple Rose of Cairo”. A feat not many directors can accomplish. But these artists are few and far between from the rest who prefer to show us uplifting stories that tell us that life is good. And hey, it can be, but not all the damn time.

Just stay real. Denying that life has its moments of horrifying sadness is a dangerous thought process. Happiness is very possible, life can be great, but if you invite the possibility of danger, you’ll always be grounded in reality, and ready for anything or anyone attempting to ruin it. Or manipulate it.

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  1. Sorry Felix, I HAD to.

    Anyway…I like the “100 greatest” lists only because I like watching people talk about movies. But the films that inspire me are never going to be on a list like that (for some reason, other people don’t find Cannibal Holocause and Dawn of the Dead to be particularly inspiring), and I’m totally with you…the movies are sappy and drippy and melodramatic and it’s a shameless ploy to fill airtime with worthless, pointless programming.

  2. Uncle Happy says:

    Damn right.

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