"I came, I saw, I conquered."
-- Julius Caesar
-- Julius Caesar
The countdown is almost complete for AFI's 10 Top 10, this year's entry in the American Film Institute's 100 Years ... 100 Movies series, and we've saved the biggest for last: the epic. Sprawling stories about larger-then-life individuals, as told on the big screen with all the cinematic style and technique a Hollywood studio budget can buy, epics have been a favorite of the AFI lists over the past ten years. And Oscar as well: 15 of the 50 nominated films are Best Picture winners, with an additional 14 BP nominees as well.
Which one will top this top ten as the number one epic of all time? If past listings are any indication, the three strongest contenders, with five prior mentions apiece, are Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia and Titanic. They should all place high here, but my bet is that Lawrence will triumph; after all, when one thinks "epic", one thinks Lawrence of Arabia. Coming in slightly behind these three, with four listings each, are such other strong possibilities as the 1959 Ben-Hur, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Forrest Gump, The Godfather Part II (also a gangster nominee), Schindler's List and Spartacus.
Don't count out the next batch of epics, with two war pictures -- Apocalypse Now and Saving Private Ryan -- with three listings each vying with Braveheart, Dances With Wolves (also a western nominee), Doctor Zhivago, Gandhi, Patton and the 1956 The Ten Commandments (all with two listings each), plus single placers All Quiet on the Western Front, Giant (another western nominee), Gladiator, Glory, Intolerance, Reds and the very first epic, The Birth of a Nation (the oldest, and quite possibly the most controversial, of the potential honorees). And you can also add in Gladiator's fellow AFI Award winners, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Letters from Iwo Jima (the newest of the 50 nominees; see the comments section below for the full list).
That doesn't leave much room for anything else, including Cleopatra, How the West Was Won (yet another western nominee), The Last Emperor, The Longest Day, Malcolm X, Once Upon a Time in America (another gangster nominee) and no less then four Jesus movies (The Greatest Story Ever Told, The King of Kings, The Last Temptation of Christ and The Passion of the Christ). But, since they didn't even place in the AFI's inspirational movies list (100 Cheers), I wouldn't count on them making this list either.
At last, the final results will be revealed this Tuesday on CBS with the three-hour television special, AFI's 10 Top 10, beginning at 8:00 PM EST. But the countdown isn't quite over yet, as I will be chiming in one last time tomorrow with a look at the program's line up of celebrity hosts and guest stars, who often foretell what films end up on the final list.