Wednesday, 22 June 2005

AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes

Last night I watched AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes, the eighth of the American Film Institute's television specials celebrating 100 years of movies. As usual, this AFI special was a mixed bag for me. I thought many of the quotes and lines definitely deserved to be on the list of greatest movie quotes of all time. At the same time, however, there were also lines and quotes that I thought shouldn't have been on the list at all, and yet other lines that should have made the list but, for whatever reason, didn't. And, of course, there were lines that should have been on the list but I would have ranked either higher or lower.

I suppose the most obvious place to begin is the noticeable omissions on the list. Of all these, perhaps none is greater than "Every time you hear a bell ring, it means that some angel's just got his wings," from It's a Wonderful Life. This quote has had a much greater impact on pop culture than many of the quotes on the list. Indeed, anyone hearing it automatically knows what movie it is from and many can quote it verbatim. Indeed, there are many quotes that have had a huge impact on pop culture, much more than some of the lines that made the list, that were noticeably absent: "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain ... the ... Great ... er ... Oz has spoken," from The Wizard of Ox; "No, I am your father," from Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back; "I am Spartacus," from Spartacus; "Klaatu barada nikto," from The Day the Earth Stood Still (also used to comic effect in Army of Darkness....); and "We belong dead," from The Bride of Frankenstein (one of the great lines from one of the greatest climaxes in cinematic history).

Beyond these quotes, there are others that, while they may not have had a huge impact on pop culture, are simply great quotes. I can think of three from Singin' in the Rain alone. The first two are lines uttered by vain movie star Lina Lamont, "People"? I ain't "people." I am a--'a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament,'" and "What do they think I am, dumb or something? Why I make more money than Calvin Coolidge put together." The third is a classic exchange between star Don Lockwood and his friend Cosmo Brown regarding Lina. Don says, "What's the matter with that girl? Can't she take a gentle hint?" Cosmo replies, "Well haven't ya heard? She's irresistible. She told me so herself. " Speaking of Gene Kelly movies, I think that "That's, uh, quite a dress you almost have on," uttered by Jerry Mulligan would have been a good candidate for the list as well. Other lines that, in my humble opinion, would have been great candidates for the list would be: "No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend," from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance; "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way," from Who Framed Roger Rabbit; "They're not gonna catch us. We're on a mission from God," from The Blues Brothers; "That's the way it crumbles... cookie-wise," from The Apartment; "I am not an animal! I am a human being," from The Elephant Man; and "Use the Force, Luke," from Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope.

While there were many lines that I thought should have made the list, there were many I thought should not have. The most glaring example of this for me came in at #98, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner," from Dirty Dancing. Quite frankly, even in the context of the movie it never quite made sense to me. And while it was often quoted in the Eighties, I don't think "I feel the need...the need for speed" from Top Gun deserved to be on the list either. I have very fond memories of Caddyshack (it seemed to me to be one of the funnier films from the Eighties), but I don't think the lines uttered by Bill Murray as the greenskeeper while he fantasises about winning a golf tournament necessarily deserved to be on the list. I have always absolutely loved the movie Annie Hall, but I am not sure that Annie's "La-dee-da, la-dee-da," should have made the list either. Truth to tell, I have seen Annie Hall many times (once even in the theatre) and I can think of many more memorable lines from that film. The same holds true for "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti," from The Silence of the Lambs. It is not even the best line in the movie, which I would give to either "I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm having an old friend for dinner," or Hannibal's utterance of the name, "Clarice (which still sends chills up my spine)." Somehow "A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti" came in at #21.

Beyond the movie quotes that should have made the list and the ones that should not have, there were those lines that should have ranked much higher than they did. "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too," from The Wizard of Oz, came in at only #99, even though it is one of the most quoted movie lines of all time. It should have made the top 25. Abbot and Costello's legendary "Who's on first" only came in at #91. It should have come in much higher. Both of James Bond's classic lines, quoted by millions of young men since 1962, ranked much lower than they should have. "A martini. Shaken, not stirred" only came in at #90. It should have made the top 50 at least. The immortal line "Bond, James Bond." only came in at #22. It should have made the top 10. Another pop culture icon, Dr. Frankenstein, also saw his classic line ranked far too low. Surely "It's alive! It's alive!" should have been ranked in the top ten. It only came in at #49. At least that is better than where the classic line regarding the death of King Kong from the orignal movie ranked. "It was beauty killed the beast," one of the greatest lines in the history of movies, only came in at #84. It should have been ranked in the top ten. The immortal lines "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me. Aren't you," from The Graduate, also ranked lower than they should have. They came in at only #63, even lower than "Plastics," from the same movie (at #42). "Mrs. Robinson, you're trying to seduce me..." should have been in the top 25. Of course, Casablanca, which boasts more great lines than any movie in film history, fared about as well as The Graduate. It did boast more lines than any other movie, but with one exception, all of its lines were ranked lower than they should have. Indeed, its highest ranking quote was "Here's lookin' at you, kid," at #5--never mind that this is not even the best line in the movie! "Louis, I think this is beginning of a beautiful friendship" only came in at #20; it should have been in the top 15. "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By,'" only made #28. It should have made the top 20. "Round up the usual suspects" only ranked at #32. Of all the quotes from Casablanca, it should have ranked the highest. It should have in the top five. The same is true of "We'll always have Paris," which came in at #43! The classsic, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine," came in even lower, at #67. It should have have been in the top thirty!

Of course, while there were lines that should have ranked higher, there were also lines that should have ranked lower. I think this holds true for "I coulda been a contender," from On the Waterfront. While I've no doubt it deserves to be in the top twenty five, I think ranking it at #3 may be a little too high (does the average person even remember what movie the line comes from?). While I think there can be no arguing that "Love means never having to say you're sorry" had a huge impact when Love Story was released, I think that impact has diminished considerably since the movie was released 35 years ago. Besides which, in my humble opinion and speaking from experience, it is one of the most stupid lines in the history of movies (Love means always having to say you're sorry...). It should have ranked much lower than #13. While "Show me the money" from Jerry McGuire is a great line that has had a big impact on pop culture, I think it may have been ranked too high at #25, although I could see it making the top 50. "Say, 'Hello,' to my little friend,"from the 1983 version of Scarface is a great line, but I think at #61 it may have been ranked too high. I could see it better being ranked at #80 or so. One thing I do have to say for AFI. There is no doubt in my mind that "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," uttered by Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, deserves to be #1. After what Rhett had gone through with Scarlett, who can blame Rhett for those immortal words?

Over all, I cannot say I am wholly unhappy with AFI's list of 100 movie quotes, although I am obviously not entirely happy with it either. It seems obvious to me that it could have been much better, particularly given the obvious omissions, the lines that should not have made the list at all (Dirty Dancing? What were they thinking?!), and the lines that should have ranked differently than they did. For another (and in many ways, better) list of 100 great movie quotes, folks might want to look at one published at Filmsite.Com. It was originally published in the August 2000 issue of Premiere Magazine.

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