The Library of Congress's National Film Preservation Board has announced the latest annual additions to its National Film Registry of historically valuable cinema. As always, the Board's criteria are broad and diverse, allowing for the inclusion of culturally significant popular movies, documentaries, art films and so on. Probably the most high-profile addition to the canon this year is The Exorcist, followed by Saturday Night Fever and The Empire Strikes Back. The first two are pop-culture landmarks, whatever you think of them as films. The global influence of the Travolta movie in particular was confirmed recently by the Chilean feature Tony Manero, in which a Seventies psycho obsesses over the disco hero. The class of 2010 has a sentimental quality to it. People impressed by TCM's use of Airplane! clips during its annual Remembers short to mark the deaths of Peter Graves, Barbara Billingsley and Leslie Nielsen may nod approvingly at the elevation of the film itself into the canon, while Blake Edwards is remembered by the inclusion of The Pink Panther and Irving Kershner is honored by The Empire Strikes Back. George Lucas, meanwhile, is honored not only by "Episode 5" but by the canonization of his original THX-1138 short film.
I was pleased to see Lewis Milestone's 1931 version of The Front Page make the Class of 2010. The film is a hurricane of hard-boiled fast talk and rapid-fire editing that marked the maturity of talking pictures and secured the sound career of one of my favorite classic character actors, Adolphe Menjou. I also applaud the elevation of It's A Gift, the definitive W. C. Fields vehicle for many people, or at least the definitive expression of the comedian's harassed family-man mode. Also worth a shout-out is Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller, a great revisionist western and a representative exercise in the director's inimitable style. Meanwhile, there are a lot of films I haven't heard of, but that's a good thing. One of the objects of the annual selection is to educate us about the importance of movies we don't know about. They prove that commercial popularity isn't the only criterion of greatness, and their inclusion alongside the greatest hits reminds us of how much, exactly, movies are capable of.