The TV logo last night and the headline on the ABC website said they were the best films of "OUR time," but the announcers on last night's telecast -- and the on-line text announcing the results -- said they were the best films of "ALL time."
If the on-line voters in this partnership between ABC News and People Magazine took the wording "OUR time," that might explain the absence of giants like Orson Welles and Fred Astaire from the winners' circle.
If voters took the wording "ALL time" -- well, the experts who picked the preliminary top ten in each category may have a lot of explaining to do. (The critics on the panel included Peter Travers, Janet Maslin, Ben Mankiewicz and People's Alynda Wheat.)
The final selections, restricted from the outset to English-speaking movies, ended up drawing exclusively on hits from the last five decades or films still shown in constant rotation on TV.
Clarification 1:50 p.m.: The honorees mostly ended up as hits from 1960-2010, except for TV standbys such as "GWTW," "The Wizard of Oz," "Some Like it Hot," "Singin' in the Rain," "Casablanca" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." I can't tell if the fault lies with the "experts" or the on-line voters, since the preliminary lists are no longer posted. Surely any confusion between "OUR time" and "ALL time" would have affected the results.
Some categories reflected great mainstream commercial taste, including the "best films", led by "Gone With the Wind" and followed by "The Wizard of Oz," "The Godfather," "Casablanca" and "E.T." (Three of those -- "The Godfather," "Oz" and "E.T." -- ended up on my own ten-best-of-all-time list the last time I composed one, in 1982.)
But the supposedly special information heralded as a come-on for the TV show was too often merely culled from DVD extras; it was also mostly hit-or-miss for pertinence and freshness. As the author of "Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master," I was surprised Fleming didn't get credit for directing the two best films ("GWTW" and "Oz") and doing it in the same year, 1939.
There were some other solid categories. The humorous moviemakers of many stripes on the experts' panel -- Ivan Reitman, Mel Brooks, Garry Marshall, Michael Moore and Nora Ephron -- must have helped catalyze the jolly list of comedy choices: in ABC-People's ascending order, "Tootsie," "Young Frankenstein," "Some Like it Hot," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Airplane!"
But a lot of selections were befuddling or dismaying. Because they were box-office blockbusters, it's understandable -- but not artistically justifiable -- that "The Sound of Music" and "Grease" would be voted the #1 and #2 musicals, respectively. (The runners-up were two genuine greats -- "Oz" and "Singin' in the Rain" -- with "West Side Story" #5.) No room here for anything as racy as "Cabaret" or as elegant as "Top Hat."
To earn a "best action film' nod in this poll, you had to combine adventure with spectacle, as in (again in rising order), "Gladiator," "Die Hard," "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," "The Dark Knight," and the winner, "Raiders of the Lost Ark." I love "Rings" and "Raiders" and enjoy the "Die Hard" films.
But did anyone outside this poll view "The Return of the King" primarily as an action film? Where were the slots, say, for "The Great Escape," or "The Wild Bunch" -- which didn't even make it into the top five Westerns? (Neither did Howard Hawks' '"Red River" or John Ford's "My Darling Clementine.")
Ironically, no James Bond film made it into the action or thriller categories, but Bond and Indiana Jones were among the five best movie characters, along with Hannibal Lecter and (the winner) Forrest Gump. The only female finalist was also the one with the most emotional complexity: Scarlett O'Hara.
Blood thrillers like "Silence of the Lambs" (the top pick) dominated the list of suspense films, not psychological or romantic thrillers -- the Hitchcock pick was "Psycho," not "Notorious" or "North by Northwest."
What did you think of the winners? What are your alternatives? For the list of the top five in each catagory, click here.