Friday, December 28, 2007

It’s National Film Registry List Day!!!

In 1992, Congress passed the National Film Preservation Act, which essentially produces a list at the end of each year of 25 films to be preserved at the Library of Congress. Full details on who does the choosing and how can be found in the press release announcing the latest group here. There are currently 475 films designated thusly, meaning they either started out with 100, or my math is worse than I thought.

Films Selected for the 2007 National Film Registry

Back to the Future (1985)
Looks like someone felt nostalgic for a time when Bob Zemeckis spent fortunes making movies with real people, rather than one fortune filming people wearing motion capture nodes, and then a second fortune animating over the actor’s movement. The odd tech turn his career has recently taken casts the decidedly Sci-Fi Future movies in a surprisingly quaint light. We saw each once – enjoyed them – and have never felt the desire to revisit.

Bullitt (1968)
It’s easy to forget that forty years ago, it was considered a risk for a movie star to play a cop. In the late 60s, the news was filled with stories of entrenched police corruption, and images of violent clashes with college students were all over television. Bullitt changed all that. McQueen ended a box office dry spell with his portrayal of icy cool SFPD Lieutenant Frank Bullitt; not a hot dog or a head case, just an honest cop trying to keep his head above water in corrupt system (personified by Robert Vaughn – so good here that he was relegated to villains from then on). Bullitt quickly became McQueen’s signature role, oozing laconic machismo from frame one. Brit Peter Yates directs the San Francisco locals like a native, instead of a star struck tourist always making sure the Golden Gate is framed in the background of every shot.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
It should never have taken this long to make the list. There is no other film involving aliens or spaceships that has the humanity of Close Encounters. To be able to pitch a story at an adult level and still tell it with the wide-eyed innocence of a child is a gift that Spielberg has never employed as effortlessly as he did here.

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Save your hate mail – this is on the list because it was directed by a woman, period. Nothing against Dorothy Arzner, but she approved the casting of the always unfunny Lucille Ball. At lease Ida Lupino is already on list.

Dances With Wolves (1990)
Coming at the viewer like a reformed alcoholic bleeding regret and earnestness out of every pour, it’s been quite fashionable to dislike Dances in the last few years. I’d rather see Open Range on the list than this, but give Kevin his due for putting his then blazing career at risk for a worthy cause.

Days of Heaven (1978)
Made back when Terrence Malick was still concerned with pacing, Days is certainly one of the most visually sumptuous films ever made. The Depression-era plot is utterly disposable – this is painting with light.

Glimpse of the Garden (1957)
A short film by Marie Menken. We once again quote the press release: “The beautifully lyrical “Glimpse of the Garden” is a serendipitous visual tour of a flower garden set to a soundtrack of bird calls.” With all apologies, this sounds like something Homer overhears Ned watching on television.

Grand Hotel (1932)
A big budget soap opera done in grand MGM style. Garbo, Crawford, and Lionel and John Barrymore contribute major star wattage; this is one genre that America does better than anyone else. Eat it, Finland!

The House I Live In (1945)
Now this I have to see! From the press release: “This short film directed by Mervyn LeRoy pleads for religious tolerance and won an honorary Academy Award in 1946. Singer Frank Sinatra takes a break from a recording session to tell kids that in America, there are a hundred different ways of talking and going to church—but they are all American ways. The film ends with Sinatra performing the title tune, an inspiring paean to America’s diverse cultural mosaic.”

In a Lonely Place (1950)
Never having been able to get past the ticks and mannerisms of Bogart, I don’t feel qualified to judge its merit, but Nicholas Ray’s direction provides for an enticingly melancholy look at L.A. at the mid-century mark.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
John Ford’s last great western, featuring the best film work of John Wayne’s career (and damn near that of James Stewart, too). The finest western ever made dealing with the passing of the land from the six-gun and the cowboy into a more "civilized" era.

Mighty Like a Moose (1926)
In order to assure a concerned public that there is more to American silent comedy than Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton, the NFR has pulled Charley Chase out of mothballs. I haven’t seen this one, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Naked City (1948)
Equal parts Noir, police procedural, and documentary. Next time you enjoy an episode of Law & Order, thank producer Mark Hellinger and director Jules Dassin. One of the too few films on this list that is both a vital work of art and an important cultural landmark.

Now, Voyager (1942)
Of the 3 major “woman’s pictures” on this year’s list, this is our least favorite. Nothing against Bette, but I see clichés where others see the moon and the stars.

Oklahoma! (1955)
A musical that’s much more fun than any description makes it sound. The only thing wrong with this production is the lack of Hugh Jackman.

Our Day (1938)
A 12 minute long amateur effort by one Walter Kelly of Lebanon, KT. It sounds like an interesting window onto a world now gone forever – and perhaps a Google search might just turn this one up.

Peege (1972)
A student film from Randal Kleiser. Randal would go on to direct Grease. Randal would also make The Blue Lagoon, Grandview, USA, and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid. I’m sure Randal is as surprised as anyone to see his name on the list.

The Sex Life of the Polyp (1928)
Admitting that you find any “member” of the Algonquin Round Table tiresome is usually a one way ticket to pariahville. Robert Benchley could be brilliantly witty, and this short has a good rep.

The Strong Man (1926)
Another silent comedy from another well regarded entertainer with a plummeting profile. This one is the work of one Harry Langdon, a former vaudevillian whose previous features feature titles like Long Pants and Tramp, Tramp, Tramp – and if that represented a Jeopardy question, the answer would be “Why isn’t the Scribe fond of silent comedies?”

Three Little Pigs (1933)
An early animated effort from Disney. I could barely tolerate Disney animation as a child, and as an adult I must admit to finding them nigh unwatchable. Aimed squarely at and below the level of small children, they never come near the high watermark of the Warner ‘tunes of the 40s.

Tol’able David (1921)
I’m aware of the film’s historical importance, but I doubt I’ll be searching through the debris of a post-apocalypse D.C. looking for it.

Tom, Tom the Piper’s Son (1969-71)
The NFR’s description uses phrases like “avant-garde” and “structuralist film” way too freely for our taste.

12 Angry Men (1957)
5 decades later and still sharp as a tack. When the Martians wipe us out and start looking for good movies to watch, this might just make them wish that they had saved Lumet.

The Women (1939)
Remember when you had to go to Reno to get a divorce? Of course not – nobody does, but that’s what George Cukor’s all-girl epic is all about. See Grand Hotel above.

Wuthering Heights (1939)
1939 is often cited as cinema’s greatest year and the NFR seems to agree, putting two pictures on this list (not counting Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, etc.). William Wyler certainly had his work cut out for him in cracking Bronte’s tough egg of a book, but his haunted romance is of a type that truly isn’t made anymore

While they could dial down the over-reaching (lets get to the student films and art installations after we’ve got a few thousand on the list instead of 475) it’s not a bad bunch at all. Welcome to the vault!