AFI Top Ten

The AFI official citations were published few weeks ago. I think I was sulking that day. Didn’t feel like posting them. But I’m over it now, so here they are, for completionists and closure’s sake. (I always enjoy reading these brief tributes, because they’re usually quite nicely worded. But I feel bad for whoever wrote the ones this year because I’m sure he got fired for writing “WHIPLASH drums up a perfectly paced drama”)


AMERICAN SNIPER is a living memorial to a military hero — and to the power of cinema to honor all men and women who serve in our nation’s armed forces. Clint Eastwood adds another medal to his storied place in American history with this adrenaline-fueled exploration of the deep complexities that come with combat. Bradley Cooper’s performance as the legendary Chris Kyle captures the conflict inside the man with a lethal legacy, one torn between his family at home and his brothers-in-arms.

BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) sings of the wide divide between artist and celebrity — and the uniting force to feel beloved on the earth. Alejandro González Iñárritu and his brilliant creative ensemble provide a backstage pass into the worried minds behind a Broadway show, asking audiences to consider what is art and what is artifice. Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera is fluid in flight, following Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone as they hit the boards with star wattage, and Michael Keaton’s tour de force performance soars into the history of cinema as a celebration of both humility and hubris.

BOYHOOD frames the snapshots of a life lived, presenting an intimately epic coming-of-age tale unique in the history of the art form. With the commitment to an on- and off-screen story that spans more than a decade, producer/director/writer Richard Linklater stacks slices of life into a layered and emotionally affecting narrative, with enduring performances from Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater as the film family to the story’s star Ellar Coltrane. In a world consumed by “selfies,” BOYHOOD looks outward to ask, “Do we seize the moment. Or does the moment seize us?”

FOXCATCHER paints a complex, haunting portrait of America — from the gilded halls of the du Pont estate to the sweat-stained wrestling mats that serve as the stage to win Olympic gold. Their deadly intersection is charted with a deft touch by director Bennett Miller, who explores singular truths in a symphony of delusion. Steve Carell’s transformational performance is paired with remarkably real turns by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, who bring the film to its feet and prove the power of stories to ask a nation what it is to “win” and to consider the price of the prize.

THE IMITATION GAME reveals a new piece in the puzzle of the Allied victory in World War II. With a gift for storytelling both pulse-pounding and pensive, director Morten Tyldum celebrates the story behind the iconic wartime images by telling the tale of the unlikely team who cracked Nazi Germany’s Enigma code. The power of the film is embedded in the triumphs and tragedies of Alan Turing, an enigma himself brilliantly deciphered by Benedict Cumberbatch. With a stellar ensemble cast set aglow by the radiant Keira Knightley, the film elevates Turing’s inimitable accomplishments to a proper place in history.

INTERSTELLAR is proof on earth that artists provide our strongest voice to rage against the dying of the light. Christopher Nolan illuminates the darkness of deepest space with the brilliance of his singular creative vision, while grounding the cosmos in a deeply emotional tale of fathers and daughters. This is cinema at its most ambitious, with Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain providing the beating heart to this awe-inspiring work that reaches across time and space to find meaning in the unexplainable.

INTO THE WOODS cuts deep into the myths of our most classic fairy tales, inviting audiences to ask the reflection in a fractured looking glass: “Are you certain your wish is what you want?” Rob Marshall and a spellbinding ensemble led by the eternally bewitching Meryl Streep bring Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s beloved musical to the light of a silvery screen. Midnights mark the time in a world where people make mistakes, nice is different than good, and love and loss abound in the story that follows happily ever after.

NIGHTCRAWLER digs deep into the shadows of a news machine fueled by the morbid maxim: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as opportunistic videographer Lou Bloom is both bold and bravura, his sociopathic stare masked only by the camera he hides behind. This modern noir from writer/director Dan Gilroy illustrates the fine line between breaking news and making news, and Rene Russo is formidable as both victim and accomplice to Bloom’s mesmerizing violation of all boundaries in pursuit of the dark side of an American dream.

SELMA dreams of a day when America lives by the rule of its writings — that all men and women are created equal. Ava DuVernay leads this march into history with an inspired vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — whose spirit is embodied by David Oyelowo in a transcendent performance. This is a film that flies the flag high for American film, inviting audiences to rise above the breathless shame of our nation’s past and come together as one as we look to the future.

UNBROKEN stands tall as a monument to the American ideal embodied by Louis Zamperini. Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, this miraculous story of survival, resilience and redemption soars to the screen under the sure hand of director Angelina Jolie, whose classic style celebrates the timeless nature of its tale. Jack O’Connell’s courageous performance of this Olympian turned World War II hero earns every ounce of respect due Zamperini, who forged a lifetime of glory by proving that if we can take it, we can make it.

WHIPLASH drums up a perfectly paced drama that crescendos with the question: “What is the line between mentor and monster?” Director Damien Chazelle conducts with both panache and restraint — never rushing, never dragging — and J.K. Simmons is instantly iconic as the black-clad, monolithic instructor who drives Miles Teller’s finely tuned performance as the young musician in a bloody battle to be the best.


THE AMERICANS tightens the intense grip of Joe Weisberg’s superb suburban spy thriller in its second year, proving that hearth and home are no respite from the Cold War. As agents undercover, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys balance the intimacy of espionage with the audacity of parenting, and in the process, they achieve what might appear unimaginable — empathy for the enemy.

FARGO argues that murder is a dish best served cold — particularly when paired with puckish pathos in Noah Hawley’s spin-off of the Coen brothers’ classic film. Here, small-town warmth, embodied by Allison Tolman’s Deputy Molly Solverson, gives way to the frigid Minnesota winter and the bitter chill of human depravity. Completing this macabre needlepoint are Martin Freeman’s milquetoast-turned-murderer and Billy Bob Thornton’s hilariously haunting hit man.

GAME OF THRONES continues to expand its epic scope in the fourth year, as masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss unleash all sides in the bloody battle for Westeros, where revenge rules and kings fall. Presented on a continually unfurling canvas, the show finds the strength of its voice in the majesty of its humanity — embodied best this year by the towering presence of Peter Dinklage.

HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER is killer entertainment. Created by Peter Nowalk and produced by Shonda Rhimes, the series is a deliciously deviant master class in devil’s advocacy, driven by inquiry and intellect. Viola Davis is a powerful force in any medium, here building an airtight case for the show’s prominent place in America’s weekly digital discourse.

JANE THE VIRGIN delivers one of the year’s most delightful surprises — a modern melodrama from the telenovela mold, with lively theatrics that elevate it into a class by itself. Immaculately adapted by Jennie Snyder Urman, this romantic comedy finds humor in a tiny, beating heart — and witnesses the birth of a star with Gina Rodriguez’s wide-eyed performance.

THE KNICK sparks an electric sense for the future in what first appears to be a bloody and backward past at New York’s Knickerbocker Hospital. Creators Jack Amiel and Michael Begler — along with the symphonic talents of director, cinematographer and editor Steven Soderbergh — operate in a world where ambition and addiction, issues of race and reputation all collide in the masterful personification of Dr. John Thackery by Clive Owen.

MAD MEN tees up the beginning of its end by surpassing the impossibly high standards it has set as one of television’s most celebrated series. Long telegraphed by the now iconic opening credits, Don Draper’s prophesied fall is nonetheless filled with surprises in a world lavish with the period nuances emblematic of Matt Weiner’s eye and ear for detailed perfection. Reinventing their lives and their lines with each new show is an exquisite ensemble led by Jon Hamm.

ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK locks down its place in the pantheon with a second year that surpasses its breakout debut. Creator Jenji Kohan asks more of her fierce and fantastic ensemble by creating solitary stories embedded within a complete slow-burn arc. Watching the release is a celebration of the unified emotional truths between audiences and those that society has set aside.

SILICON VALLEY is inspired comedy for an Internet age. Creators Mike Judge, John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky have found the algorithm to fuse intellect and idiocy, lampooning a start-up culture where millennial misfits work together, and even the most low-tech of audiences will find laughter in their striving to thrive.

TRANSPARENT illuminates the role of television in changing global perceptions through laughter and love. Jeffrey Tambor is transcendent as a divorced dad true to herself in Jill Soloway’s emotionally universal series — one which challenges notions of genre and gender by celebrating the idea that we’re all human, no matter who we are on the outside.


AFI jury is very small – about 20 in all, which hardly reflects a broad consensus. But what it does reflect is generally what people out there will go for. They picked some great ones and they picked some terrible ones. Critics only barely mattered this year. This is essentially what the Oscar picture kind of looks like from the Scott Feinberg/Dave Karger/Kris Tapley world of Oscar punditry. If you want to do well on your office pools, you should follow them. Me, my heart gets involved and I have a hard time with what should get in versus what will get in. But, on the upside of that? Being raised from a girl to a woman in America means I’ve got lots of training in laying there and pretending to enjoy it. This year, my tastes reside somewhere between the critics and the Oscar-y people.

This is the list of judges – probably the smallest list of compiled voters we’ll see all season.

Tom Pollock
Chair, AFI Jury for Motion Pictures
AFI Board of Trustees

Jeanine Basinger
Wesleyan University
AFI Board of Trustees

Bob Gazzale
American Film Institute

Mark Harris

Marshall Herskovitz
AFI Board of Trustees

Patty Jenkins

Lisa Kennedy
Denver Post

Kasi Lemmons

Matthew Libatique

Akira Mizuta Lippit
University of Southern California

Leonard Maltin

Claudia Puig
USA Today

Peter Travers
Rolling Stone Magazine

One of the highlights of the annual awards pageant, for me, are the nicely-worded tributes written for the American Film Institute’s 10 Movies of the Year. The citations read yesterday are no exception.


ARGO cracks the code between fiction and truth – and uses both to deliver a rousing Hollywood adventure through a harrowing time in history. Director Ben Affleck drops audiences deep inside the Iran hostage crisis, and then skillfully leads an escape that marshals the forces of American film – including a masterful screenplay by Chris Terrio and an all-star cast that inspires laughs and cheers amidst heart-pounding suspense. Ultimately, the film is a wry meditation on the movies and the high stakes of storytelling in politics and beyond. And to those who doubt this is one of the best films of the year, “ARGO fuck yourself.”

BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD roars with the strength of a people who wish to live and die in a world a wonder with adversity. At the center of this poetic storm stands Hushpuppy, a tiny heroine who towers among the toughest of the year. Hers is a triumphant tale of the mind and of the power of fantasy and folklore to carry us forward. In Hushpuppy, director Benh Zeitlin and co-writer Lucy Alibar capture the spirit of an unsung America with a commanding reminder from a small but strong voice – that all of us are “a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.”

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I pilfered this list from Deadline before the press release came:


Marking the thirteenth chapter in the American Film Institute’s 21st century almanac, AFI AWARDS 2012 selections are made through AFI’s unique jury process in which scholars, film and television artists, critics and AFI Trustees determine the most outstanding achievements of the year, as well as provide a detailed rationale for each selection. This year’s juries – one for film and one for television – were chaired by producers and AFI Board of Trustees Vice Chairs Tom Pollock (former Vice Chairman of MCA, Chairman of Universal Pictures) for the movies and Rich Frank (former Chairman of Walt Disney Television, President of Walt Disney Studios, President of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences) for television, and includes award-winning artists such as Angela Bassett, Brad Bird, Chris Carter, Marta Kauffman and Octavia Spencer; film historian Leonard Maltin; scholars from prestigious universities with recognized motion picture arts programs (Syracuse, UCLA, University of Texas, USC, Wesleyan); AFI Board of Trustees; and critics from leading media outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, The Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, USA Today and more.

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Tomorrow morning the AFI announces their top ten American films of the year. There are two big precursors right now that can give you a pretty good idea of how Best Picture might go and they’re all announcing at once. Tomorrow, the American Film Institute puts out its top ten nominees for best films of 2011.

Since 2012 has been a better year for American studio films, there should be similarities between this year’s selections. One of their strangest moments was in 2006, when they failed to name The Departed as one of their best films – it then went on to win Best Picture. But usually when the favorite to win is an American production, usually it will show up here first.

In their selection last year, the big budget comedy hit Bridesmaids got in, which means that there’s a good chance a big movie that isn’t a critics’ darling might be named, like Skyfall or This is 40, or The Avengers.  They named There Will Be Blood and the Hurt Locker, but not Inglourious Basterds. They named The Fighter and they named Munich.   They named The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Bridesmaids.

To that end, I fully expect these ten to be named tomorrow:

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I can’t explain why but not ashamed to say that I sometimes verge on feeling misty-eyed when I read some of these AFI tribute citations every year. Of course, one or two leave me feeling cold as ice sometimes too.

BRIDESMAIDS marches down the aisle of American comedy with a vow to make you laugh long and loud. Kristen Wiig’s comic star shines bright as her and Annie Mumolo’s ingenious script upends the wedding dream myth by capturing the horror of being named Maid of Honor. Raunchy and uproarious, the fiercely funny ensemble is guided with a sure hand by director Paul Feig, and Melissa McCarthy’s explosive turn marks her arrival as a true original.

THE DESCENDANTS paints a richly convincing family portrait at once painfully funny and profoundly poignant. Alexander Payne’s strikingly original film balances the intimacy of family tragedy with the expansive politics of dynastic inheritance in the year’s most human comedy. With the weight of paradise on his shoulders, George Clooney delivers an eccentrically elegant turn as the reluctant patriarch who must come to terms with how to let go and when to hold on.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO invites audiences into a cold, forbidding world of family secrets and implores them to help solve the mystery. Director David Fincher brings Stieg Larsson’s novel to dazzling, dark and disturbing life that pulses with cinematic pleasure. From the astounding opening credits until the harrowing journey ends, Fincher leads a stellar cast including Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer and Rooney Mara, who carves the name “Lisbeth Salander” atop the list of 2011’s most transcendent performances.
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Dave Karger just posted it on EW:

  • The Descendants
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • The Help
  • J. Edgar
  • Hugo
  • Midnight in Paris
  • Moneyball
  • The Tree of Life
  • War Horse
  • Bridesmaids

The Artist and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy were not eligible.  I don’t know if the jury saw Extremely Loud or not.

UPDATE: Special awards given to The Artist and the Harry Potter series.

AFI’s Top 10 TV series, after the cut.

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On Sunday the American Film Institute will announce its awards. They have been giving out a top ten since the first year I began, now renamed That is significant to me because I know how each Oscar year went down, starting all the way back with Gladiator beating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It’s easy to see what a stellar year last year was. And how, with ten slots for Best Picture, it really opened up the possibilities. For instance, if there were ten slots we might be daring to dream that Shame or We Need to Talk About Kevin or Tyrannosaur or Rise of the Planet of the Apes, or Harry Potter might get nominated. Now that we know there will be only as much as voters will put them at number one. Now we’re really dealing with a dumbed down scenario for Best Picture. Now we really do have to look at the films that will most likely hit at number one or number two or three and not films that have an outside shot at best. This is discouraging after the results from last year. Great from an Oscar watching perspective but probably lousy for the Academy somehow, as they try to keep the public’s interest in their albatross of a telecast.

Hint to Academy – you want to get people to watch your show? Nominate Harry Potter for Best Picture. See? Done.

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The AFI puts together these tribute videos each year to illustrate their honorees (announced yesterday). depending on your attitude, it’s either superfluous or quite nice. Since I’m featuring the clip, you know how I feel about it.

Now’s a good time to mention the AFI’s selections for the 10 Television Programs of the Year:

  • GLEE
  • 30 ROCK

Last years’s tribute video, after the cut.

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Courtesy of Steve Pond and The Wrap:

No big surprises.

  • 127 HOURS

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