Dec 31, 2011

25 Films Selected for Preservation - 2011 Edition

It is that time again, the end-of-year list that matters to me the most: the annual selection of titles in the Library of Congress that are chosen to be preserved by the National Film Registry. What I like about these lists, is that they do not limit themselves to commercial features: every year offers a fascinating representation of popular audience favourites, or works historically significant either for their subject, or how they've advanced the art. As such, experimental shorts and ephemeral works are also included into the mix, thus giving credence to the phrase that all film matters. This selection, however, is a bit more mainstream than recent years, but there are still some interesting choices.

1. Allures (1961)

A short film by experimental animator Jordan Belson, who passed away in September of 2011.

2. Bambi (1942)

An animated feature about a deer- sounds interesting.

3. The Big Heat (1953)

Fritz Lang's classic late-period noir about a tough cop (Glenn Ford) who takes on the syndicate. This is the one where thug Lee Marvin throws hot coffee into the face of his moll (Gloria Grahame).

4. A Computer Animated Hand (1972)

Edwin Catmull, a computer scientist, and current president of Pixar, used his own hand as the model for this sequence, which eventually was used in the 1976 film Futureworld.

5. Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963)

Robert Drew's documentary about governor George Wallace's attempts to block two black students from enrolling in the University of Alabama, thwarted by JFK's administration federalizing the Alabama National Guard. This verité project was assembled by footage from four different cameras separately following around JFK, RFK, George Wallace, and even the students. Such pioneering documentarians as D.A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock were among the camera crew. This piece about equality and tolerance was subsequently aired on television-- never seen it; sounds like another "must watch".

6. The Cry of the Children (1912)

George Nichols' short, based on the poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, was an indictment of child labour, and featured authentic footage of kids working in a mill.

7. A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)

This comedy short features a woman who tries to cure her husband of his poker playing. This is historically significant as a vehicle for comedian John Bunny, one of the first silent comedians, although largely forgotten today, who paved the way for such acts as Fatty Arbuckle.

8. El Mariachi (1992)

Robert Rodriguez's $7000 wonder, a darling of the indie film boom in its day, with a traveling musician who is mistaken for a criminal.

9. Faces (1968)

The film that firmly established John Cassavetes as America's premier maker of American independent narrative features. This gritty, gruelling drama details the breakdown of a then-modern middle aged couple.

10. Fake Fruit Factory (1986)

Now here is one reason why I love these annual lists, as they give props to some independent filmmakers who aren't household names, yet are as equally deserving of recognition. This documentary by Chick Strand is another unconventional study of women, this time featuring the relations among migrant female workers in the title workplace.

11. Forrest Gump (1994)

Hmm... I don't know this one.  I'll do some research and get back to you...

12. Growing Up Female (1971)

This documentary by Jim Klein and Julia Riechert is the first film to emerge from the modern woman's movement in the early 1970's.

13. Hester Street (1975)

Joan Micklin Silver's excellent directorial debut of Jewish immigrants in New York's Lower East Side in the late 19th century, also features a star-making performance by Carol Kane. This one doesn't get seen nearly enough.

14. I, an Actress (1977)

The legendary underground filmmaker George Kuchar (his twin brother Mike is also of the same pedigree) made many, many films that are equal parts diaristic, homages to trash culture, and playfully Brechtian deconstructionist pieces. If they are choosing this work due to his passing this September, there are perhaps other works to be recognized, but this is a good start.

15. The Iron Horse (1924)

John Ford was already a veteran filmmaker by 1924, but this western, about the arrival of the train in the frontier, remains his best-known work from the silent era.

16. The Kid (1921)

Charlie Chaplin had already made his "Little Tramp" character an icon in dozens of shorts during the 1910's before embarking on this, his first feature.  This time, The Little Tramp meets his match when he befriends an orphaned street kid (featuring Jackie Coogan in a star-making role).  True to Chaplin's form, it is hilarious and touching, with an added fantasy sequence.

17. The Lost Weekend (1945)

Countless films have been made about addiction, but Billy Wilder's scorching, Oscar-winning study of alcoholism is still strong stuff.

18. The Negro Soldier (1944)

One of the many influential war-time documentaries produced by Frank Capra, this propagandist piece was made to inspire African Americans to enlist in World War 2. Although there is a sad irony in black men being recruited to fight for a country that was effectively screwing them, this film however was notable during the age of segregation for portraying black people in anything other than the comic relief or subservient roles that were usually seen in Hollywood pictures.

19. Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s)

Archival footage of dancing brothers Fayard and Harold Nicholas. Google around to see some of their soundies-- they are truly exciting.

20. Norma Rae (1979)

Sally Field in re-defined her career in this Oscar-winning role as a factory worker who attempts to unionize the workplace. It is also another significant picture in one of Martin Ritt's oeuvre depicting life in the American south.

21. Porgy and Bess (1959)

Now THIS is interesting.... the Samuel Goldwyn adaptation of the Gershwin-Heywood opera, directed for the screen by the irascible Otto Preminger, has been kept out of the public eye for decades. After Goldwyn's rights had lapsed, the property then deferred back to the Gershwin and Heywood estates, which have repeated refused requests to have it shown again after its original theatrical run and its solitary television airing in 1967. However, the UCLA has a print which is not generally available for public viewing, although it did receive permission to show it twice non-theatrically.  The film was finally shown theatrically again for two nights at New York's Ziegfeld theater in 2007. I can only hope that the attention paid to this title now might prompt some of the powers that be to give this a proper restoration.

22. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Jonathan Demme's modern classic, with Anthony Hopkins whose cannibalistic fava-bean loving killer Hannibal Lecter has entered pop culture iconography.

23. Stand and Deliver (1988)

Ramon Menendes' film about a math teacher who attempts to push a class full of unamibitious Latin American students to a level of higher learning.

24. Twentieth Century (1934)

Although not as well remembered as his own His Girl Friday, Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy featuring John Barrymore and the screwball queen Carole Lombard needs to be seen by more than the discerning movie buff.

25. War of the Worlds (1953)

George Pal's classic sci-fi adaptation of the H.G. Wellls novel of Martians attacking Earth.

For previous inductees into the National Film Registry, see my post from last year, detailing the 2010 titles and a list of all previous entries.

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