Tuesday, September 9, 2014

My nominations for the 2014 National Film Registry

For those of you who don't know, the Library of Congress set up a National Film Registry for the United States that includes some of the most important, influential, popular, and significant American films of all time. The only qualifications are that they have to be at least 10 years old and be American productions.  The Registry brings in 25 new movies every year to honor films that are "culturally, historically, or aesthertically significant" and preserve them for all time in the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio and Visual Conservation in Culpeper, Virginia. 625 American films now comprise the Registry, and you, yes YOU get a say on what the next 25 films will be! 

For a list of films not yet in the registry, check out: 

You can check out more information about how to nominate films for the registry (the due date is September 12th, so act fast!) at: 

And if you just want to go ahead and email your nominations, just send a list (of no more than 50 movies), an optional sentence or two about why you want it preserved, as well as how you found out about the Registry to: dross@loc.gov

So without further or do, here are my picks for what I want to be in Registry (this was all included in the letter I sent to the Library of Congress)....

Superman (A.K.A. The Mad Scientist) (1941, dir. Dave Fleischer) Superman, the comic-book superhero who recently celebrated his 75th anniversary, is undoubtedly an American icon. The animated short from 1941 was created by the Fleischer Brothers and their studio, who had already made a name for themselves by adapting Popeye the Sailor-Man into cartoons and creating Betty Boop. It is the first appearance by Superman on film, and includes several lines that have become iconic for describing the character. (“Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!” and “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!”) While perhaps not the most-well known film adaptation of the character, it was a pioneer for the way the character was depicted and stands as an animation classic for the ages. 

Reefer Madness (1936-39, dir. Louis J. Gasnier) While very few film fans would attest to the aesthetic quality of the infamous cult film Reefer Madness, I believe it reaches the Registry’s qualifications that films be preserved that are “culturally or historically significant.” In our own era where marijuana policy is being debated, and several states have gone so far as to legalize it, it is important to look at a propaganda movie that helped shape discussion of marijuana policy in the United States despite its numerous fallacies, its exaggerated, melodramatic storyline and its exploitive nature. I think the inclusion of Reefer Madness would be like the inclusion of another controversial propaganda film, The House in the Middle, which is already in the Registry. Despite its negative reception and controversial legacy, I believe Reefer Madness is an important film to study in the history of marijuana policy in the United States.

The Birds (1963, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds remains one of the most acclaimed, popular, and influential films from the “Master of Suspense”. It was named the 7th greatest thriller by the American Film Institute, and was a breakout role for Tippi Hedron. Its horrific scenes and imagery of bird-related chaos have been both paid homage to and parodied throughout American film and television.  It is truly a classic of American cinema.

Die Hard (1988, dir. John McTiernan) Die Hard is routinely ranked as one of the best action movies of all time. Props from the film, including Bruce Willis’ famous bloodstained undershirt, were donated to the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. It spawned four sequels, a franchise that is going strong even today, and inspired high concept action movies for years due to its significant popularity and acclaim.

The Hunt for Red October (1990, dir. John McTiernan) John McTiernan’s follow-up to Die Hard was The Hunt for Red October, a tight Cold-War thriller based on the popular Tom Clancy novel of the same name. Considered by many to be one of the best spy movies of all time, the film follows CIA agent Jack Ryan, played by Alec Baldwin, as he tests his theory that a Soviet submarine captain, played by Sean Connery, will defect to the United States. The film critic Roger Ebert called it "a skillful, efficient film that involves us in the clever and deceptive game being played” and it was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning one for Best Sound Editing. It highlights the end of the Cold War, and the conflict between Soviet and American militarism in the 1980s in a way few other movies ever could.

Bull Durham (1988, dir. Ron Shelton) Writer/director Ron Shelton’s look at a minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, through the eyes of its biggest fan, Annie Savoy, is routinely called one of (it was ranked the fifth-best sports movie by the American Film Institute in 2008, and ranked third in sports movie by The Moving Arts Film Journal), if not the greatest sports movie of all time (a distinction bestowed on it by Sports Illustrated magazine). The film also costars Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins as the team’s catcher and pitcher, respectively. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and it is a testament to the power of the nation’s pastime when it comes to matters of the heart, fandom, and devotion to “the Church of Baseball”. It is one of my favorite movies, and I was lucky enough to go a screening of the movie at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD where seeing it on the big screen made apparent to me what a gripping, wonderful movie Bull Durham really is.

 Luxo Jr. (1986, dir. John Lasseter) Luxo Jr. has become a trademark short for Pixar Animation Studios. The titular Luxo lamp is the mascot for the company, and his trademark stomp appears at every Pixar title screen. It was the first CGI short to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Short Film. It earned praises for its photorealism, but John Lassester, the director and Pixar founder, said that he realized it resonated emotionally when an audience member at a technical conference, rather than asking him about the technical aspects of the film, asked if the bigger lamp was “a mommy or a daddy.” As early Pixar leader Edwin Cutmull writes, “As Luxo Jr. sent shock waves through the entire industry – to all corners of computer and traditional animation. At that time, most traditional artists were afraid of the computer. They did not realize that the computer was merely a different tool in the artist's kit but instead perceived it as a type of automation that might endanger their jobs. Luckily, this attitude changed dramatically in the early '80s with the use of personal computers in the home. The release of our Luxo Jr. ... reinforced this opinion turnaround within the professional community.”

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971, dir. Mel Stuart) Based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story about a magical candy factory run by the eccentric Willy Wonka (played by Gene Wilder) and the five lucky golden-ticket winners who get to tour the strange and wonderful place, filled with Fizzy Lifting Drinks, squirrels who crack nuts, and of course, singing Oompa Loompas. While originally made as a vehicle to promote a new candy bar from Quaker Oats, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has delighted fans of all ages thanks to its impressive visuals and special effects, Wilder’s memorable performance as Wonka, and the great songs such as “Pure Imagination” and “The Candy Man Can” that have become a part of American popular culture. It was a childhood favorite movie of mine because of the immersive nature of Wonka’s factory and the catchy music, one that I believe I share with countless millions around the world.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979, dir. Robert Benton) Winner of the 1979 Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as additional awards for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for Robert Benton, Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman and Best Supporting Actress for Meryl Streep, and four more additional nominations, Kramer vs. Kramer still remains one of the most important films to tackle the subjects of divorce, single parenthood, and parental custody, and became a part of larger conversations in American society about these issues.

Amadeus (1984, dir. Milos Forman) Winner of the 1984 Academy Award for Best Picture, as well as additional awards for Best Director for Milos Forman, Best Adapted Screenplay for Peter Shaffer, Best Actor for F. Murray Abraham, Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup and Best Sound Mixing, as well as four additional nominations, Amadeus is truly a film for all time. The film, which deals with composer Antonio Salieri’s competition with the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in late 18th century Vienna, is a landmark period piece and stands amongst the most acclaimed films of all time thanks to its intriguing story, memorable performances from Abraham as Salieri and Tom Hulce as Mozart, and an intense visual sensibility brought to the project by director Milos Forman.

Jurassic Park (1993, dir. Steven Spielberg) Based on Michael Crichton’s acclaimed, best-selling novel about an island where the DNA of dinosaurs is harvested to make the extinct, ancient beasts come to life as theme park attractions, Jurassic Park still remains one of the highest-grossing and popular films of all time. Thanks to its groundbreaking realistic computer generated special effects, Jurassic Park is among one of the earliest and most successful adaptors of CGI technology with effects that still hold up as groundbreaking today. It delighted moviegoers, and inspired thousands, if not millions of young children to be interested in dinosaurs and the related science of paleontology.

Boogie Nights (1997, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) Paul Thomas Anderson’s parable about the pornography industry in the 1970s San Fernando Valley, California shines a light on a unique and unusual time and place in American history. It follows the escapades of Dirk Diggler, played by Mark Wahlberg, a young man who falls into the seedy underbelly of pornography after being scouted by a director, played by Burt Reynolds. The film received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay, and features supporting turns from acclaimed actors such as John C. Reilly and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The movie that helped establish Anderson as a director is also one of his best, highlighting a history that people prefer to ignore and analyzing sexual and social norms during the Sexual Revolution.

The Lion King (1994, dirs. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff) The most popular film of the “Disney Renaissance” of the late 80s-early 90s is an animated tale for the ages, a Disney film with no human characters that focuses on the rich natural history of the African continent. A modern take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the film deals with a lion cub named Simba, a prince who competes with his uncle Scar for who will rule his kingdom. Featuring some of the best Disney animation of all time, and immortal songs such as “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?” and “Hakuna Matata”, a subsequent adaptation as a Broadway musical, and numerous parodies and references in popular culture, The Lion King has cemented itself as a guaranteed phenomenon for children and adults of all ages. The Lion King was the first film I saw in theaters when I was 3, and it holds a special place in my heart.

 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982, dir. Nicholas Meyer) Star Trek is an American icon, fueling space-age imagery and optimism about the future thanks to its groundbreaking vision by creator Gene Roddenberry. While it originated on television, Star Trek lived on for a new generation of fans in theatrical movies. The second film, The Wrath of Khan, is widely considered the best film in the long-running Star Trek film series. The plot deals with a reluctant Captain Kirk (William Shatner) returning to duty on board the starship Enterprise to deal with the promised vengeance of an old antagonist from the television series, Khan Noonien Singh, played by Ricardo Montalban. Featuring groundbreaking computer special effects, one of the most impactful and celebrated movie deaths in film history, The Wrath of Khan secured Star Trek’s place as a guaranteed cultural phenomenon, and became one of the franchise’s most popular and acclaimed outings.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968, dir. Roman Polanski) A scary thriller that examined sexual norms, norms about maternity and pregnancy, and still resonates with viewers today. Rosemary’s Baby is a horror tale of a young pregnant woman, played by Mia Farrow, who comes to believe that she’s pregnant with the spawn of the devil. Winner of a Best Supporting Actress award for Ruth Gordon, and a major watershed film in terms of the development of the respective careers of both star Mia Farrow and writer/director Roman Polanski, Rosemary’s Baby is an icon of American horror cinema that deserves to be ranked among the greatest.

Ghostbusters (1984, dir. Ivan Reitman) One of the most popular films of the 1980s, and indeed possibly of all time, Ghostbusters is the perfect combination of comedy and sci-fi action that has compelled audiences around the world for 30 years. Three paranormal scientists (Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and the late Harold Ramis) discover that they can trap ghosts, and begin to form a massive business enterprise as supernatural exterminators. But when their evidence suggests an ancient god is going to destroy the world, starting with New York City, the Ghostbusters unite to use their smarts and skills to save it. Thanks to its witty script, celebrated comedic turns by the films’ leads, particularly Bill Murray as the egotistical Ghostbuster Peter Venkman and fun sci-fi action that enthralled kids and adults alike, Ghostbusters truly deserves a place on the National Film Registry, in this its 30th anniversary and the year in which one of its stars and writers, Harold Ramis, passed away. Ghostbusters is one of my favorite movies, and I hope its long-overdue recognition by the Registry happens in this significant year in the film’s legacy.

The Princess Bride (1987, dir. Rob Reiner) A fantasy beloved by kids and adults alike, The Princess Bride is an oft-quoted cult film that has captured the imaginations of generations of audiences. When a little boy (Fred Savage) is sick, his loving grandfather (Peter Falk) reads him a fairy tale story of the beautiful Princess Buttercup (Robin Wright), her long lost love Westley (Cary Elwes) and his competition for her heart with the cruel Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon). Featuring supporting turns from Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Carol Kane, Andre the Giant, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin as the iconic swashbuckler Inigo Montaya (“You killed my father. Prepare to die.”) Ranked in the Writers Guild of America’s list of top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride is a timeless film that combines action, adventure, comedy, and true love into one very sweet package.

 Platoon (1986, dir. Oliver Stone) One of the biggest box office draws of 1986, and winner of Academy Award for Best Picture, Director, and Editing, Platoon is one of the best films about the Vietnam War, written and directed by Vietnam vet Oliver Stone, who brings his unique touch to the material. With iconic imagery and a gritty telling of the war, Platoon stands as one of the definitive visions of the Vietnam War.

Ordinary People (1980, dir. Robert Redford) Winner of the 1980 Best Picture Academy Award, Ordinary People is an intense drama that deals with a family’s struggle a mother, father, and son grieve the loss of an older son. Famous for its dramatic turn by Mary Tyler Moore, as well as Donald Sutherland, Judd Hirsch, and newcomer Timothy Hutton who received an Oscar for his work, Ordinary People is considered revolutionary for its depiction of young people and depression, two topics Hollywood had typically shied away from before this groundbreaking picture was released.

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir. Richard Linklater) Richard Linklater’s breakout hit about the last day of school in 1976 covers a multitude of young characters over the span of one day. Dealing with such themes as transitions and the drug culture of the 1970s, and featuring some of the most prominent music of the era, Dazed and Confused is a nostalgic look-back along the similar vein of American Graffiti. Notable for early turns from future Academy Award winners Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck and establishing Linklater as a filmmaker, Dazed and Confused was an icon of the 90s indie film movement, one whose legacy we are still feeling today.

Reds (1981, dir. Warren Beatty) Warren Beatty’s epic about American journalist John Reed (played by Beatty) and his wife Louise Bryant (Diane Keaton) combines documentary-esque testimonies from real life people who knew the characters at the center of this drama and a stunning narrative about a fascinating time in history. The film chronicles Reed and Bryant’s relationship, and their journey getting involved with communism in various forms, culminating in Reed’s book Ten Days That Shook the World, where he chronicles what happened with the rise of communism in the former Soviet Union. One of the rare films to have nominations in all four acting categories at the Academy Awards, and winner of the Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, and Best Director, Reds is an intimate look at a person, a culture, and a political movement that shook the world.

The Big Lebowski (1998, dir. Joel Coen) One of the most famous cult films of the past 20 years, and quite possibly of all time, is the Coen Brother’s send up of everything from Los Angeles slacker culture to old film-noir mysteries. Slacker Jeff Lebowski, who prefers to be called “The Dude” (Jeff Bridges) is a man without a job who likes bowling with his friends Walter (John Goodman) and Donnie (Steve Buscemi) and smoking joints all day. That changes when, in a case of mistaken identity and a violation of the Dude’s beloved rug (“That rug really tied the room together, did it not?”), the Dude is thrown into a plot that is way over his head. Famous for its quick, quirky, profanity-ridden dialogue, along with Bridges’ laid-back performance as the Dude, The Big Lebowski has overcome its initial mixed reception to become a revered comedy classic.

Once Upon A Time… When We Were Colored (1996, dir. Tim Reid) Director Tim Reid’s story of segregation in the Deep South is a groundbreaking picture and a unique portrait of American history. As film critic Roger Ebert put it, “It is almost impossible to express the cumulative power of Once Upon a Time… When We Were Colored. It isn't a slick, tightly packaged docudrama, but a film from the heart, a film that is not a protest against the years of segregation so much as a celebration of the human qualities that endured and overcame.”

Paper Moon (1973, dir. Peter Bogdanovich) Peter Bogdanovich’s tale of a con-man (Ryan O’Neal) and the young girl who accompanies him who may or may not be his daughter (played by Ryan O’Neal’s real life daughter Tatum) is a black-and-white exploration of the Great Depression. Notable for the performance of Tatum O’Neal, who at age 10 was and still remains the youngest Oscar winner ever, Paper Moon is a stylistic and well-written film about lies, deceit, and a bond that evolves between two unlikely characters. 

Rain Man (1988, dir. Barry Levinson) Barry Levinson’s Rain Man, which in 1988 won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, and a Best Actor award for Dustin Hoffman in his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, an autistic savant. Raymond’s brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) learns of his brother’s existence after their late father leaves Raymond the majority of his estate after he dies. While Charlie, initially jealous, kidnaps Raymond away from the mental institution where he is being held, Charlie learns to appreciate his brother, and over time the two learn how to bond. Considered groundbreaking for its depiction of autism, Rain Man is a masterly directed, well-acted cautionary tale about the importance of family. 

1776 (1972, dir. Peter H. Hunt)A musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence may not be the most appealing idea to many, but director Peter H. Hunt, adapting Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s acclaimed Broadway musical of the same name, pulls it off. John Adams (William Daniels) convenes a committee comprised of Benjamin Franklin (Howard Da Silva) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), among others, to draft the document that would become the Declaration of Independence. It also was politically controversial, as President Richard Nixon personally requested that the producer cut a song entitled “Cool, Considerate Men” because Nixon believed it to be an insult to his Republican party and conservative politics. Rooted in catchy tunes and an obligation to the real life history of the event, including talking about issues of loyalty to the King, slavery, and even “deep sea fishing rights,” 1776 deserves a place on the Registry because of its unique take on a quintessentially American story. 1776 was a family favorite of my family, and educated me, a young kid, far more about the factors and creation of the Declaration of Independence than I ever learned in school.

The Dark Crystal (1982, dir. Jim Henson) Jim Henson, perhaps most popular as the creator of the Muppets and his work on Sesame Street, brought some of his genius to realm of fantasy and special effects as he created The Dark Crystal, a dark children’s film featuring groundbreaking puppetry related effects to create the film’s many monsters and creatures. Filled with gothic imagery not usually found in the other children’s films of its time, The Dark Crystal stands as a testament to Henson’s genius and his pioneering work in puppetry, which would also be used in his subsequent film, the David Bowie musical Labyrinth.

The Thing (1982, dir. John Carpenter) Usually ranked as one of the scariest films of all time, John Carpenter’s The Thing has scared and thrilled audiences for over 30 years. A remake of The Thing From Another World (which is already in the Registry), which in turn was an adaptation of John W. Campbell’s novel Who Goes There?, The Thing takes place at a research base in Antarctica, as a shape-shifting alien threatens the group of scientists living in the desolate tundra. Hailed for its gory, graphic visuals and creature-based special effects, The Thing is an important icon in the history of American horror cinema.

Robocop (1987, dir. Paul Verhoeven) Robocop is a dark satire masquerading as an action/sci-fi movie. In future Detroit, police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is shot, but brought back to life as Robocop, a half-man, half-robot police officer with superhuman abilities that will be used to bring order back to the city. While its action scenes are well known, Robocop is a biting satire against the action movie culture and pop culture landscape of the 1980s. Predicting everything from the rise of compact discs to 24 hour news networks, the film has inspired fans of both satire and science fiction alike, thanks to the imagery brought to it by director Paul Verhoeven. The film was even featured and analyzed in the television series The Story of Film, and the city of Detroit will be erecting a statue of Robocop sometime in the near future.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994, dir. Frank Darabont) Constantly ranked one of the most popular movies of all time, particularly on the website IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) where it has held the top spot for many years as the movie ranked highest by users of the site, The Shawshank Redemption is a powerful film that is a testimony to the human spirit and friendship. Based on a short story by acclaimed writer Stephen King, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) becomes friends with Red (Morgan Freeman) at the Shawshank Prison, where Dufresne has wrongly been convicted of murder. Dufresne perseveres despite a strict warden (Bob Gunton) and threats from other prisoners. While not an initial success, The Shawshank Redemption found second life on home video and cable television, and has subsequently left its mark on millions of viewers around the world.

The Shining (1980, dir. Stanley Kubrick) A film whose imagery has permeated all aspects of popular culture, The Shining is ranked as one of the scariest films of all time, thanks to its lead performance by Jack Nicholson and the meticulous effort put into by director Stanley Kubrick. Adapted from Stephen King’s bestselling novel, Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and his son Danny (Danny Lloyd) stay at an hotel as its caretakers during the off season. Jack then begins a decent into madness, motivated by the hotel’s mysterious history and the ghosts that haunt the building. Famous for Nicholson’s screaming “Here’s Johnny!” as he attempts to break into a bedroom, The Shining has inspired so much analysis and so many theories that it was the subject of a documentary, Room 237, released in 2012. It is worthy of all of it, as The Shining keeps viewers guessing and coming up with new interpretations viewing after viewing, year after year.

Der Fuhrer’s Face (1943, dir. Jack Kinney) An unusual oddity of World War II propaganda, Der Fuhrer’s Face features Disney’s famous Donald Duck in Nazi Germany, satirizing the Nazi’s blind devotion to Der Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler, and satirizing Nazi Germany itself, depicting Germans as bumbling, fat, angry and militaristic. Donald Duck, realizing the horrors of Nazi Germany, wakes up and realizes he’s dreaming, and hugs a miniature Statue of Liberty, saying how grateful he is to be American. A unique example of World War II propaganda, Der Fuhrer’s Face was lauded at the time with an Academy Award for Best Animated Short, and popularized Spike Jones’ popular song for which it was named. Historically, it serves as an interesting examination of how Disney animators decided to spotlight the Nazi menace during the Second World War. 

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