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. This week’s film is Casablanca (1942), #3 on the list.
Casablanca might be the most bulletproof film of all time. That’s not to say it’s entirely perfect or impervious from any criticism—even those who hail it as a masterpiece are willing to concede some flaws—but you’d be hard-pressed to find a cogent argument against its enduring legacy. It’s one of the most quoted films of all time, the performances are iconic, and it’s even thematically daring (as Henry noted in his Best Picture column) in the way it depicts isolationism in the midst of an ongoing war. The most surprising element is the modest filmmaking—unlike other classics of the era like Citizen Kane or The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca doesn’t feature any revolutionary cinematography, editing, or visual techniques. Curtiz’s down-the-middle approach allows the audience to get swept away in the unfolding story without distraction, foregrounding the excellent performances from Bogart and Bergman. Bergman, in particular, is the film’s secret MVP in my book—she brightens up the film every time she’s onscreen and carries the film’s emotional core. It’s an essential classic no matter how you approach it.
Does It Belong on the List?
Without a doubt.