“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“Peel out, I just love it when guys peel out.”
For a bloke who spent the last 15 or so years facing charges of raping nerd’s childhoods by having the audacity to make movies for kids long after those nerds grew out of childhood, George Lucas had a way more interesting and eclectic start to his a career than the years since would suggest. He started with some serious, dark, adult sci-fi in THX-1138. A few years later, he had one of the most successful movies of all time and helped invent the concept of the blockbuster with not so serious, not so adult sci-fi in Star Wars. And in between, he made a small coming of age story that was love letter to America the 50s, American Graffiti.
It’s the last night of summer in small town, 60s California. With a scholarship cheque in his pocket, Curt (Richard Dreyfus) gets ready for one last night of cruising the main drag before going away to college on the other side of the country. Also living the dream and getting ready for the big move is his best friend, Steve (Ron Howard). Only, Curt’s having second thoughts. Whether it’s fear holding him back or nostalgia for his home town, Curt keeps trying to prolong his last night and avoid accepting that his move is only hours away.
Steve, on the other hand, is quick to cut all ties. He tries to convince his girlfriend (Cindy Williams as Laurie) that they should agree to see other people. But once he realises it’s a two way street and she might see other dudes while finishing high school as he bangs a bevvy of college tail, his plan seems a little less perfect. Also hitting the streets that night is their nerdy friend Toad (Charles Martin Smith), who, armed with Steve’s sweet car, thinks he might finally have a chance of transcending his nerd status. Then there’s Milner (Paul La Mat), the tough guy from the wrong side of the tracks, in his bright yellow hot rod. He knows another driver (Harrison Ford as Bob) has been looking for him for drag race challenge, but Milner has so far been able to avoid it. But maybe it’s more than a simple drag race that he’s trying to avoid.
Filled with then no name actors, and the least technically ambitious of his career, this oddity in George Lucas’ filmography may have aged the best when it comes to serious critics. It’s also proof that he can tell a real story with dialogue that sounds like things real people in the real world might actually say. A 40 year old movie, already 10 years removed from the world it depicted, American Graffiti showed that George Lucas was more than the guy who built crazy, futuristic worlds of amazing technology. He actually had a knack for capturing little moments of reality as well. The little moments that make the biggest difference.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to The Sting)
Best Director (Lucas nominated, lost to George Roy Hall for The Sting)
Best Original Screenplay (nominated, lost to The Sting)
Best Supporting Actress (Candy Clark nominated, lost to Tatum O’Neal for Paper moon)