In 2007, the American Film Institute revised their previous 1998 list of the 100 best American films of all time. This weekly column will explore my thoughts on select films from this list, mostly following along with the Unspooled Podcast, which inspired my journey to complete the AFI Top 100. You can also follow my progress with my ranking and watchlist. This week’s film is The Apartment (1960), #80 on the list.
The premise lends itself to a madcap comedy – a lowly office worker aims to be promoted in his organization by allowing his superiors to borrow his apartment for scheduled flings with their mistresses. The actual result, however, is far more emotionally resonant, tapping into a melancholic despair resulting from the acute loneliness felt by the main characters. The film takes a dark turn in the middle, but somehow still balances light comedy with the more serious plot turns. Much of the film’s success is owed to Billy Wilder’s pitch-perfect direction, though the performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine shouldn’t be discounted. The Apartment is somber though never gloomy, and witty without ever feeling too cute or quirky. It’s one of the best romantic comedies of all time, mostly because it’s not afraid to touch on serious subjects while still remaining delightfully charming.
Does it belong on the list?
I previously noted that including 4 films from Kubrick was “excessive.” Wilder has the exact same amount on here, and I could honestly make a case to keep all four (though I’d personally take off Some Like It Hot) as, like with Kubrick, Wilder’s filmography runs the gamut. The Apartment is easily one of his best films so it’s a clear shoo-in.