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."
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