At the end of every year, twenty five movies are selected for the American Library of Congress seal of approval. These pictures are promised eternal life via preservation and their inclusion on this roster of cinematic top dogs.
Well, at least until the giant asteroid comes.
Here’s this year’s full list of 25 picks with my notes. The selection is nothing if not varied.
Experimental animator and abstract filmmaker Jordan Belson passed away in September of this year. Allures was one of his most beloved films. It has been pretty hard to see this film, though it is included on a compilation DVD from the Centre for Visual Music.
One of the cruellest Disney films, but a benchmark in the studio’s animation style. There’s a fine blend of caricature and naturalism in the design and movement of the characters. And the scenes of danger and sadness are amongst the most dangerous and sad in all of family-friendly cinema.
The Big Heat (1953)
The best of Fritz Lang’s English language features, and one of the most brutal films of its era. Lee Marvin’s portrayal of mobster Vince Stone is amongst the great monsters. You won’t forget his violent outburst with a pot of hot coffee in a hurry.
A Computer Animated Hand (1972)
What Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull was capable of in the early 70s. Here it is – the world’s first 3D-rendered film.
Crisis: Behind A Presidential Commitment (1963)
A documentary by American verite pioneer Robert Drew, this film chronicles the dispute between JFK and Senator George Wallace when the latter sought to prevent two African-American students from enrolling in the University of Alabama. I’ve not seen this film, but I’m certainly going to seek it out now.
The Cry of the Children (1912)
Another film I hadn’t seen, but I managed to find this copy online.
A Cure for Pokeritis (1912)
A silent comedy with John Bunny, often referred to as the first big comedy star, sometimes billed as “The Man who Makes More than The President.” This is an absurdly broad and silly film, but a good indicator of what was keeping them queuing down the street in the early days. I chuckled.
El Mariachi (1992)
Robert Rodriquez’ infamously cheap debut film, and perhaps still the most personal film he ever made. A real favourite of mine, I have to admit, and I absolutely admire the gusto it took.
One of John Cassavetes best pictures, the performances by John Marley, Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel are extraordinary. I’m not a fan of the faux-documentary aesthetic, but I certainly appreciate what Cassavetes created in tone and character when freed up to work that way.
Fake Fruit Factory (1986)
An avant garde documentary on Mexican immigrants at work making, yes, fake fruit. I’ve never seen it and can’t really comment, but will seek it out.
Forrest Gump (1994)
Robert Zemeckis’ ironic and subversive film foxed a lot of people. It’s not the political propaganda piece it was often mistaken for but rather a sly and witty examination of how political meaning can be projected onto a blank slate. Gump is also a technical tour de force, and one of my favourite films of the 90s.
Growing Up Female (1971)
A study of female socialisation through interviews with and observational film of six women, aged from 4 to 35. One of the most discussed films of the “women’s movement” and a mainstay on university courses for students of film, sociology and other humanities. I’d need to look at it again but, frankly, it seemed rather weighted to me when I last watched it.
Hester Street (1975)
Joan Micklin Silver’s adaptation of the novel Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto lives up to that description. The story of Jewish Immigrants at the end of the 19th Century, it’s a detailed and compelling film that produces a very believable, three dimensional sense of time and place. I’m quite the fan of Micklin Silver, and this one was well worth tracking down.
I, An Actress (1977)
More from the avant garde, this time courtesy of George Kuchar and Barbara Lapsley, actress. Here it is, in full.
The Iron Horse (1924)
A silent epic from John Ford, the October edition of our Masters of Cinema Monthly looked at a new DVD of the film in-depth.
The Kid (1921)
One of the defining films of Charlie Chaplin’s career, and his first feature-length picture. As such, I found it extensively mawkish and off-putting despite some good comedy bits and a strong sense of character.
The Lost Weekend (1945)
Billy Wilder’s superb drama of alcoholism, apparently informed by Wilder’s work with the alcoholic Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity. Sad and powerful and unforgettable.
The Negro Soldier (1944)
A sequel film to Frank Capra’s propaganda piece Why We Fight, this was directed by the sometime special FX man, Stuart Heisler. It’s a documentary but The Negro Solider was quite carefvully sculpted to convince African Americans to enlist during World War 2.
Nicholas Brothers Family Home Movies (1930s-40s)
Home movies by Fayard and Harold Nicholas, the flash dancing choreographers who gave Stormy Weather its swing. I remember getting really excited as a kid when the Nicholas Brothers appeared in That’s Entertainment. I’d love to see these clips from their personal archives.
Norma Rae (1979)
The film for which Sally Field won the Best Actress Oscar and as good a reminder as any why we love her. The Erin Brockovich of its day, I suppose, and a great dramatisation of the struggle for the Unions.
Porgy and Bess (1959)
The great Otto Preminger’s film of Gershwin’s opera is not amongst his very best, but it’s more than solid. Set in an early 20th century black community, and telling the story of the titular Porgy and Bess, a disabled beggar and a drug addict who try to love one another amidst great danger. Even if you don’t know the film, you almost certainly know Summertime.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Jonathan Demme’s excellent direction and some great performances propelled what is, really, an intermittently silly screenplay to infamy and, as is very rare for horror films, awards glory. Hopkins’ portrayal of Hannibal Lector won’t be forgotten in a hurry.
Stand and Deliver (1988)
This is the big surprise on the list, I think. One of those “inspirational teacher” dramas somewhere in the ballpark of Dangerous Minds or Freedom Writers, Ramón Menéndez’ film showcases a brilliant performance from Edward James Olmos as a calculus teacher somehow managing to inspire a line-up of anti-social under achievers.
Twentieth Century (1934)
Named for the Twentieth Century Limited, a train that carries John Barrymore, suitably cast as a dazzlingly hammy actor, and Carole Lombard, as the actress he’s looking to reconnect with in order to resurrect his career. Screwball ain’t the half of it, but there’s no other film more enjoyable in the full set of twenty five. Everything Hawks ever made belongs in the Library of Congress bunker.
War of the Worlds (1953)
Byron Haskin and George Pal’s colourful, well-designed and crowd-pleasing take on the HG Wells novel. I’m particularly taken with some of the FX, not least the “skeleton beam” with which the aliens attack. It’s a particularly Californian version of an originally very London-y tale, and seems to be where most adaptations of the novel have stolen their best ideas.
And that’s it for another year. Nominations are now open for the 2012 list.