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Only one of Oscars' top winners added to National Film Registry

December 30, 2009 |  2:59 pm

Every year since 1989, the National Film Registry -- a branch of the Library of Congress -- has chosen 25 movies to preserve for posterity. This year, as usual, most of its choices aren't the ones deemed the best of their day by Hollywood -- that is, they're not past Oscars contenders. One of the picks isn't even a pic -- it is the 1983 music video "Thriller," starring Michael Jackson.

While 19 of this year's entries were eligible for Oscars, only nine of them received nominations and just five -- "Dog Day Afternoon," "Jezebel," "Mrs. Miniver," "Pillow Talk" and "Precious Images" -- were Oscar champs. Even with this inclusion of 1942 best picture winner "Mrs. Miniver," 26 of the first 70 best picture winners still remain absent from a registry that now boasts 525 entries dating from 1893 to 1996.

The press release from the NFR says that "each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the registry that are 'culturally, historically or aesthetically' significant to be preserved for all time. These films are not selected as the 'best' American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture."

Yet James H. Billington -- the Librarian of Congress who makes the final selections after discussion with the National Film Preservation Board and the library's motion picture staff -- says "the National Film Registry spotlights the importance of protecting America’s matchless film heritage and cinematic creativity. By preserving the nation’s films, we safeguard a significant element of our cultural patrimony and history."

National_film_registry As the registry enters its third decade, these 26 best picture winners are even more glaringly obvious by their absence: "Broadway Melody" (1929), "Cimarron" (1930), "Cavalcade" (1933), "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935), "The Great Ziegfeld" (1936), "You Can't Take It With You" (1938), "Rebecca" (1940), "The Lost Weekend" (1945), "Gentleman's Agreement" (1947), "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956), "My Fair Lady" (1964), "A Man For All Seasons" (1966), "Oliver" (1968), "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), "Ordinary People" (1980), "Terms of Endearment" (1983), "Amadeus" (1984), "Out of Africa" (1985), "Platoon" (1986), "Rain Man" (1988), "Driving Miss Daisy" (1989), "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991), "Forrest Gump" (1994), "Braveheart" (1995) and "The English Patient" (1996).

Though the registry finally has chosen to preserve Bette Davis' second Oscar-winning performance in "Jezebel" (1938), it has kept "Dangerous" (1935) on the endangered list. Indeed, the registry estimates that half of the movies produced before 1950 have been lost because of the deterioration of nitrate- or acetate-based celluloid.

And while the registry has worked to save films from the golden era like "Lassie Come Home" (1943) and "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948), it has not bothered to rescue any of these other pics with performances which won lead acting Oscars: "Coquette" (1929), "In Old Arizona" (1929), "Disraeli" (1930), "The Divorcee" (1930), "A Free Soul" (1931), "Min and Bill" (1931), "The Champ" (1932), "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1932), "The Sin of Madelon Claudet" (1932), "Morning Glory" (1933), "The Private Life of Henry VIII" (1933), "The Informer" (1935), "The Story of Louis Pasteur" (1936), "Captains Courageous" (1937), "The Good Earth" (1937), "Boys Town" (1938), "Goodbye, Mr. Chips" (1939), "Kitty Foyle" (1940), "Suspicion" (1941), "The Pride of the Yankees" (1942), "Song of Bernadette" (1943), "Watch on the Rhine" (1943), "None but the Lonely Heart" (1944), "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" (1945), "The Razor's Edge" (1946), "To Each His Own" (1946), "A Double Life" (1947), "The Farmer's Daughter" (1947), "Johnny Belinda" (1948), and "Key Largo" (1948).

Though all of these Oscar champs still survive, they are not in the mint condition that NFR protection guarantees. Lots of modern movies number among the 525 registered even though there's far less of a threat of losing them compared with those oldies but goodies. Among the more recent inclusions: "The Nutty Professor" (1964), "Alien" (1979), "Terminator" (1984) and "Groundhog Day" (1993).

Imagine what Katharine Hepburn would have to say about the fact that none of the four films featuring her Oscar-winning performances are included in the registry. And neither are either of Spencer Tracy's two back-to-back winning films. But 1996 best actress champ Frances McDormand is there with the newest movie on the list -- "Fargo." You can see the full list of rescued films here and a list of movies still neglected here.

The following descriptions of this year's nine Oscar-nominated entries are taken from the official National Film Registry announcement. In italics is how each film fared at the Oscars.

"Dog Day Afternoon" (1975) -- Director Sidney Lumet balances suspense, violence and humor in Frank Pierson’s Oscar-winning adaptation of a true-life bank robbery turned media circus. Al Pacino is the engaging Sonny, a smart yet self-destructive Brooklyn tough guy whose plan to rob the local bank to pay for his lover’s sex change goes awry. Lumet artfully conducts his talented cast through machinations that twist and turn from the political to the personal, and inevitably lead to a downward spiral played out before an audience of millions.
One Academy Award: adapted screenplay. Five other Academy Award nominations: picture, director, actor (Pacino), supporting actor (Chris Sarandon), editing.

"Jezebel" (1938) -- Bette Davis won her second Academy Award for this William Wyler-directed classic. Cast to perfection as a tempestuous southern belle, Davis’ head-strong heroine must eventually learn self-sacrifice in order to save the man she loves. Despite its melodramatic underpinnings, the film endures because of Davis’ flawless performance and for its examination of both the American South and women’s societal roles. The movie co-stars Henry Fonda and Fay Bainter, who also won an Oscar for her work.
Two Academy Awards: actress (Davis); supporting actress (Bainter). Three other Academy Award nominations: picture, cinematography, score

"The Mark of Zorro" (1940) -- Under Rouben Mamoulian’s inventive direction, Tyrone Power plays Don Diego, son of a 19th-century Los Angeles governor who has been unseated by a mercenary despot and his sadistic captain, portrayed by Basil Rathbone. Convincingly foppish by day, Don Diego conceals his heroic alter-ego to avenge his father and the terrorized citizenry, carving his signature “Z” with his trusty sword as he goes. Mamoulian cleverly cuts in and out of scenes to heighten the drama and action as the film crescendos to a thrilling duel between Rathbone and Power.
One Academy Award nomination: score

"Mrs. Miniver" (1942) -- This remarkably touching wartime melodrama pictorializes the classic British stiff upper lip and the courage of a middle-class English family (headed by Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon) amid  the chaos of air raids and family loss. The film’s iconic tribute to the sacrifices on the homefront, as movingly directed by William Wyler, did much to rally America’s support for its British allies.
Six Academy Awards: picture, director, actress (Greer Garson), supporting actress (Theresa Wright), screenplay, cinematography. Six other Academy Award nominations: actor (Walter Pidgeon), supporting actor (Henry Travers), supporting actress (Dame May Whitty), editing, sound, special effects.

"The Muppet Movie" (1979) -- Muppet creators Jim Henson and Frank Oz immersed their characters into a well-crafted combination of musical comedy and fantasy adventure. Kermit the Frog leads TV series regulars Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Ralph and Animal on a road trip to Hollywood where they encounter numerous characters played by such actors as Steve Martin, Mel Brooks and Charles Durning.
Two Academy Award nominations: song, song score

"Pillow Talk" (1959) -- The first film to co-star Doris Day and Rock Hudson, “Pillow Talk” remains one of the screen’s most definitive, influential and timeless romantic comedies. Sweet and sophisticated, it is a time capsule of 1950s America. Two single New Yorkers develop an anonymous, antagonistic relationship by sharing a telephone “party line.” Both romance and complications ensue when they finally meet in person. The film is a perfect showcase for its two charismatic stars, especially the effervescent Day who demonstrates why she was both America’s Sweetheart and one of cinema’s finest comediennes.
One Academy Award: original screenplay. Four other Academy Award nominations: actress (Day), supporting actress (Thelma Ritter), art direction, score

"Precious Images" (1986) -- Chuck Workman’s legendary compilation film to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Directors Guild of America is also a dazzling celebration of the first near-century of American cinema. The pioneer of rapid-fire film history montages, “Precious Images” contains in the
space of seven short minutes nearly 500 clips from classic films spanning the years 1903-1985. It
became the most influential and widely shown short film in history. Workman is known for creating the montages shown during the annual Academy Awards broadcast.
One Academy Award: live-action short

"The Story of G.I. Joe" (1945) -- William Wellman’s gritty portrayal of the realities of war was based on the newspaper columns of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, played with understated realism by Burgess Meredith. In the film, Pyle follows a small group of ordinary infantrymen from North Africa into Italy, and his observations reflect the full gamut of human emotion that war invokes while trying to make sense of the inhuman randomness of war’s destruction.
Four Academy Award nominations: supporting actor (Robert Mitchum), screenplay, song, score

"Under Western Stars" (1938) -- “Under Western Stars” turned Roy Rogers into a movie star. In the film, Rogers plays a populist cowboy/congressman elected to champion for small ranchers’ water rights during the Dust Bowl. He and his golden palomino Trigger appeared in nearly 100 films and a long-running television series. Known as “King of the Cowboys,” the popular Rogers had an enormous impact on American audiences. Rogers was perceived as the almost perfect embodiment of what a cowboy should be in appearance, values, good manners and chivalrous behavior.
One Academy Award nomination: song

Top left photo: "Rebecca." Credit: United Artists

Top right photo: "Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein." Credit: Universal

Bottom photo: "Groundhog Day."  Credit: Columbia

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The comments to this entry are closed.


All I can say is thank God the Academy is not doing the choosing. I like to think that there is SOMEONE out there preserving something based on real critical analysis and not on favoritism, influence, $ value, or status.

Actually, this is a pretty erroneously considered article. There are many views of what makes a film historically significant and an Oscar is just a small part of the equation. Many films that are listed above do not qualify as great films nor even the best of its year. But that's not the point.

Selection to the National Film Registry does NOT mean that these films are automatically preserved or restored. It just means that the LOC and their committees suggest they should be. There are no funds or requirements of preservation to be selected. But it does give important recognition for the films and thus many films do get saved thanks to the Registry.

And frankly, studios and archives tend to restore first the films that are popular and so there's already great attention paid to the restoration and preservation of Oscar-winning films. Some of them have been restored several times over. It's the orphaned films -- either by their lack of ownership or by historical neglect -- that need championing.

Thriller is indeed a film shot on 35mm, costing more money than many features at that time. It had a profound influence on a generation. Is it more important than Gone with the Wind to people who grew up in the 1980s? It could be argued either way and it doesn't even matter. The National Film Registry makes us think what film is and how it affects our culture. It gets people to check out films they never heard of. By those standards, it's an enormous success.

This article mentions that the registry "has not bothered to rescue any of these other pics with performances which won lead acting Oscars" and cites PRIDE OF THE YANKEES as one such pic. The lead actor of PRIDE OF THE YANKEES, Gary Cooper, did not win an Oscar for this film nor did any other actor featured.

Siskel & Ebert at the time gave Thriller a thumbs-down - go figure!

Without getting caught up in "Groundhog Day," I think by "National Registry" they are referring to the United States in which case "Braveheart" about a Scot directed by someone who would rather pretend to be Australian instead of American doesn't apply.

Sorry but you are very wrong if you think that the number of Oscars a film wins has anything to do with its artistic or historical significance or its eligibility to be included in the National Film Registry. I could say more unkind things but it is the holiday season. Good luck with your blog.

The fact that people campaign for Oscars is all that needs to be said when discussing why the Oscar winners are not in the Library Registry. Fortunately for all of us, the Librarians operate independently of the money hungry, fame seeking sorts who vote for and campaign for both Oscar nominations and awards.

Neither list includes "The Lion in Winter" from 1968.
My all time favorite film.

As others have pointed out, it is quite ridiculous to get up in arms about the general lack of Oscar winners in the National Film Registry, a) because the NFR has its own mission statement and raison d'etre, neither of which is beholden to the Academy, and b) the Oscars have so frequently missed the boat that they are not a reliable barometer of greatness in film achievement.

yes, but, all the films mentioned, for the most part, are part of the past. only so many can be saved to represent a certain era and we must make room for modern day. so many modern day greats (past 30 yeares) have not even been considered. i just checked with my 75 year old grandmother and she doesn't even know half the old movies mentioned. there can only be a couple representing each decade.

Since when are Oscar nominees and/or winners synonymous with greatness? There are quite a few poor best picture Oscar winners and a slew of even weaker nominees in the same category. On the other hand, there are many great films that weren't even nominated for Oscars, never mind best picture. I'm an avid follower of these awards, which are very important to the industry, but that does not mean that I don't recognize their many poor choices and Mrs. Miniver is one of them and Around the World in 80 Days and The Greatest Show on Earth are both embarrassments as Oscar winning "best" pictures. The first is a travelogue and the second is a bad soap under a tent. I could probably count on two or three hands (if I had three!) how many best picture winners I agree with.

I agree with the previous comments- I'd also add that if the goal of the NFR is to preserve culturally important movies, which are otherwise at risk of being lost, then it makes sense to draw attention to films which didn't win major awards. Oscar winners aren't at quite as much risk of decaying from archival neglect, since they already get the most attention. The priority should be to save first what needs to be saved now.

While the Oscars don't always seem to coincide with conventional wisdom, they do for the most part get it right most of the time. That is, with what they have to choose from. As far as promoting their own, certainly they do. But remember, they make the movies and know more about them and how to make them than their intended audiences. Hollywood politics? Absolutely, can't be helped. It's the same with the Grammys.

I can understand that the Registry aims to select films that resonate with American culture or influence it in some way. But what I don't understand is some of the reasoning behind their selections or exclusions. Certainly, a film like "Forest Gump" appears to be overlooked. Why limit the selections to 25? If it's good, put it in.

The success of the Oscars has always befuddled me. It usually seems to make the worst choices among major film awards. It's the Oscar voters who should be embarrassed they didn't reward the films selected by the Library of Congress, not the other way around.

I am not sure why you assume that Oscars are the benchmark by which great movies are decided. Or to say it another way, I'm not sure why you assume that the Oscars and the National Film Registry are choosing films for the same reason. A movie can be total crap and still be culturally significant and therefore eligible for inclusion in the National Film Registry.

The National Film Registry is about preserving American Culture, which means the culture that the average person lives in, not some imagined ideal about the best of our labors. Even if a movie is superb, if it just didn't make that big a difference on the culture of the average citizen, it's not important to the National Film Registry. The Oscars on the other hand not only about great movies, but also a way for the film industry to create hype about itself and increase ticket sales. The idea that every year exactly one film, actor, actress and director is better than all the rest is ridiculous.

Aren't the Academy Awards an inward view of their own works, like car companies voting for the best car? Perhaps the movie goers and the Library of Congress have a different perspective.

The Oscars don't follow historical importance in film. They reflect the politics and issues of the time they're issued. Orson Wells never won an oscar but many of his films hold a high regard in cinema. Some of the films mentioned are very important, but use the films merits not some award it received 60 years ago. I can list 25-30 oscar winners that don't hold water today.



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