Thursday, June 19, 2008

No room for horror in AFI's top 10 film genres

The American Film Institute has issued another one of its movie lists, provoking howls of protest and plenty of disagreement. No doubt that's part of the thinking behind the lists, to get more people talking about film and the merits of different movies. [The fact the AFI ignores all non-American films is ripe for another debate, but the clue is probably in the institute's name, right?] Anyways, the new list is actually made up of the top 10 films in ten genres.

It's the choice of genres that has irked people this time around. Here's the list: animation; fantasy; gangster; science fiction; western; sports; mystery; romantic comedy; courtroom drama; and epic. First off, let's deal with what the AFI has deemed to be film genres. Animation - fine. Fantasy - hmm. Gangster - there's probably enough great gangster movies to justify this, but have you ever since gangster listed as a genre on any DVD rental site?

Science fiction - fine. Western - no argument. Sports - this one will jar for many people, but I agree with its inclusion. There are some brilliant sports films [Raging Bull, Rocky, The Hustler, Breaking Away, Bull Durham are all on the AFI's list], and they tell unique stories that can range from comedy through drama to tragedy. Sports films are a particularly American phenomenon [try naming 10 great British sports films] so I'm the AFI on this.

Mystery - fine. Romantic comedy - okay. Courtroom drama - huh? Now I love good courtroom dramas [The Verdict, To Kill A Mockingbird and Twelve Angry Men all make the AFI's list], but aren't they merely a sub-genre of mystery? Or crime? For that matter, why have mystery as a genre instead of crime? The final AFI genre is epic. Epic? Surely epic is a measure of scale, not a specific kind of storytelling with its own constraints and audience expectations.

The ten films chosen as the best of this alleged genre are either historical tales [Lawrence of Arabia, Saving Private Ryan, Schlinder's List] or Biblical adaptations [The Ten Commandments]. Would you call Schlinder's List an epic? Isn't Saving Private Ryan really a war film? Having an epic as a genre feels like a feeble attempt to include a disparate clutch of movies that didn't fit into any of the other genres selected by the AFI.

Having considered the ten genres the institute did include, the other question to ponder is what got left out. No place for horror? What about war? The list of the disappeared and ignored goes on - espionage, thrillers, film noir, musicals, biographies, silent, spoofs, etc. I'm suggesting they all should have made the list, there were only ten places. But do epics and courtroom dramas deserve to be included ahead of horror, war or musicals?

Proof of the old adage that you can't please all the people all the time. You can see the AFI's list for yourself here.

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