Wednesday, December 19, 2012

National Film Registry Class of 2012

The Library of Congress has made its annual announcement of the latest 25 films added to the National Film Registry of movies to be preserved for their historic and artistic value. The LOC has been doing this since 1989, so we're past the point of obvious choices. Still, each year's selection can provoke debate, whether the subject is "what took them so long?" or "are you kidding?" Each year brings a mix of Hollywood features, documentaries, art films, newsreels and home movies. The new class ranges in time from 1897 (a complete film of a 14-round heavyweight title fight, the longest movie made to that point) to 1999 (The Matrix). The Hollywood cohort includes two 1914 feature films, Laurel & Hardy's Sons of the Desert (1933), Born Yesterday (1950), the original film of 3:10 to Yuma (1957) by still-underrated western director Delmer Daves, Otto Preminger's taboo-breaking and Duke Ellington-scored Anatomy of a Murder (1959), 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's (perhaps simultaneously controversial and historically significant for Mickey Rooney's clownish turn as a Japanese man), Dirty Harry and Two Lane Blacktop from 1971, Ivan Dixon's Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973), Bob Clark's A Christmas Story (1983), Richard Linklater's Slacker (1991) and Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own (1992) -- included, one suspects, primarily for feminist content. Among the documentaries, the best known is probably The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), while the induction of 1967's They Call It Pro Football has an air of homage to the late (and deserving) NFL films co-founder Steve Sabol. The annual announcement is always a good conversation starter, but the LOC ought to arrange with a network like Turner Classic Movies to show the whole lineup over a weekend. That might impress more people with the significance of the selection -- or get more debates started. Meanwhile, the LOC offers a helpful list for future reference of a remaining multitude of potential inductees, and invites the public to make suggestions for the Class of 2013. The canon of essentials seems far from exhausted -- if anything, older classics miss out in favor of films with more recent cultural significance, though the historical-value principle justifies some of that. You're invited to nominate up to 50 films, but the real challenge may be limiting yourself to that number.

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