The American Film Institute’s Terrible Top Ten of 2018

Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa in Black Panther (Disney/Marvel Studios) It’s the first week of December and the nation’s countless, overeager awards groups have already begun parceling out their year-end encomiums. They kowtow to Hollywood, obviously without having seen all the films yet to be released in 2018 — only movies that the big studios from Disney to Netflix have already decided are award-worthy. The most egregious of these early-starters is the American Film Institute, which rushed the awards race with its 10 Best choices, sprinting out of the gate before a couple of the listed movies have even opened in theaters. The problem is that movies no longer have a chance to register in the culture or to become beloved or reviled by the public. It’s the case of yet another institution, based in Hollywood or D.C. (the AFI has feet in both), making decisions for the rest of us, indifferent to our participation. The AFI began 51 years ago, after a Johnson-administration call for an organization committed to preserving America’s film heritage. It was originally funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Ford Foundation, so its list sounds official. But the movie awards game is part of the commercialization of pop culture. Even the debatable idea that the government should finance artists (through any means) is belied by the endorsement of commercialism rather than artistic expression. Be assured, there’s a political component to this: The films that won the AFI’s approval are all politically motivated and represent social-justice precepts rather than moral virtues or aesthetic standards. In other words, they’re propaganda. Listed alphabetically, the AFI films assume the same values that are promoted in politically biased mainstream media; the list resembles an index for Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals . BlacKkKlansman . In this clumsy race satire, “ridicule is man’s most important weapon” — Alinsky’s Rule 5. Spike Lee distorts a black-police-informer (and real-life race-traitor) tale about infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan and then uses slanted documentary footage to incite resistance to the current administration. Black Panther . This Marvel Comics adaptation works from the idea that “a good tactic is one your people enjoy,” as Alinksy’s Rule 6 states. The black Millennial audience is exploited, its childlike need for empowerment used against it by replacing historical fact and learning with fantasy. Eighth Grade . By assuming a teenager’s perspective, writer-director Bo Burnham follows Rule 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people” (the clueless market, in this case). With this approach, he makes the idea of “girl power” maudlin. If Beale Street Could Talk . Using a minor James Baldwin novel to “go outside the expertise of the enemy” (Rule 3), Barry Jenkins’s white-guilt collage mixes romance with prison reform, religious mockery, and other topical targets. His Baldwinetics fake African-American authenticity. The Favourite . Through this perverse Anglophilic tale, America’s inferiority complex manages to “maintain constant pressure upon the opposition” (Rule 10). By fostering contempt and scandal, […]