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A few friends and I recently started watching the films from the AFI 100 Years List (2007, latest update). We're watching them in chronological order to get the effect of film's evolution throughout American cinema history (mostly because one of my friends has seen very few films, and maybe only five on the list).
The earliest is this (1916 - the only entry from its decade), D.W. Griffith's apology for all that racist stuff in BIRTH OF A NATION. But that's a rather unfortunate way to view the film, and a bit of trivia that trivializes a truly epic film. Boasting some of the most staggering sets of any film ever and uniting various turning points in history through its title theme, this is the movie definition of impressive.
Favorite Scene: The wild Mountain Girl's flailing disgust at the Wife Market she has been dragged to in a desperate attempt to get rid of her. Priceless.