AFI Top 100: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

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 Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), #82 on the list.

This one will be brief, as most of the film’s brilliance lies in the way the narrative shifts early on, beginning with a very bleak premise of a man convinced by his mistress to kill his wife, but shifting into something else entirely, and I wouldn’t dare spoil that turn. But I will say F.W. Murnau crafts a uniquely structured emotional journey that pays off in such a monumental way, words truly cannot do it justice, which is fitting, considering it’s a silent film. The cinematography is gorgeous and often innovative, utilizing forced perspective and extravagant sets to frame the very simple, but powerful story. The score perfectly underscores the dramatic weight of the sharp morality tale at its core, and the central performances imbue the film with a deep pathos, never veering into maudlin territory. It’s a spectacular film in every facet, and never strikes a false or unearned emotional note.

Does It Belong on the List?

Beyond being the best silent film on the list by a large margin, it’s one of the best films on the list, period. Absolutely it belongs here, and much higher than its current placement.

AFI Top 100

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