Wednesday, June 22, 2005


As I have said before, all lists are "indefensible but irresistable" and this latest AFI list of the top 100 movie quotes is no exception. All the quotes on the list have in common is that they are memorable -- anyone with a Netflix account can probably identify at least 2/3 of the movies from the quote alone. Any list is susceptible to endless debate, which is part of the fascination. So here come some quibbles from me.

First, and most unassailably, I don't think the list should include any quotes that are in essence instant spoilers. The quote from "Solyent Green" gives away the ending, for goodness' sake.

Second, some of the quotes are more memorable as catch phrases than lines of dialogue. "No wire hangers" from Mommy Dearest was instant camp. It took you out of the movie rather than revealing character, developing relationships, or taking the story forward. I'd argue the same applies to "Say hello to my little friend" from Scarface, a pretty delirious movie to begin with.

The list sets the record straight. It's "Play it, Sam," not Play it Again, Sam, even if Woody Allen gets it wrong in his tribute title. And Mae West's invitation (to Cary Grant!) in She Done Him Wrong was not "Why don't you come up and see me sometime" but "Why don't you come up sometime and see me?" (She adds, "I'll tell you your fortune.")

But some lines do it all. Two on the list are just one word apiece. "Rosebud" is the mult-layered mystery at the heart of Citizen Kane and "Plastics" is the literal and metaphorical advice that tells us everything about what Benjamin feels trapped by in The Graduate.

Some of the quotes helped to define characters, like “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse,” in The Godfather or “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night,” in All About Eve. The same goes for “They call me MISTER TIBBS,” from In the Heat of the Night, which was so memorable it became the title of the sequel. One quote isn’t even words. It’s “La-di-da, la-di-da” from Annie Hall. But it was as much the reason we fell in love with Annie along with Alvy as her vest and tie, her unwillingness to cook the lobster, and her black soap.

But what is “No one puts Baby in a corner” doing on this list? That line from Dirty Dancing is remembered for its crashing awfulness.

Some remind us that real people say things worth remembering – George M. Cohan told us that everyone in his family thanked us for being in the audience and Lou Gehrig left baseball telling us he felt like the luckiest man in the world. But the best thing about this list is the reminder that movies have benefited from great writers as well as great stars and directors.

Six quotes from Casablanca, all magnificent, and they don’t even include my favorite. Rick says his gun is pointed at Louis’ heart. And Louis says, “That’s my least vulnerable spot.” “There’s no crying in baseball.” “Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room!” Now that’s writing.

1 comment:

JMR said...

I watched the CBS special, God help me, with my mother-in-law and my wife. Funny enough, even if I hadn't seen the film, they kept asking me what line was it that they were going to choose and generally I was right. That only shows, of course, the predictability of it all and I kept thinking of your earlier post of top-xx lists as we were watching it.

Some thoughts:
- Was oddly pleasantly surprised to see "Love means never having to say you're sorry" up as high as it was, considering it's now almost a forgotten film, even if the line isn't.
- I COMPLETELY agree with you about the Dirty Dancing line. I wonder why the famous line from Ferris Bueller's Day Off ("Life moves pretty fast -- if you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it") isn't on the list.
- My favorite Casablanca quote also isn't on the list: "Oh, please, monsieur. It is a little game we play. They put it on the bill, I tear up the bill. It is very convenient.: