Every year, the Library of Congress’ The National Film Registry creates a list of 25 films worthy of preservation. And then, more importantly, the organization preserves them. The films are chosen for “their cultural, historic or aesthetic importance.” In other words, they’re not all masterpieces, but they’re all important.
This year’s selection includes popular classics, forgotten gems, and movies I should really get around to watching one of these days. Here are a few that really caught my eye:
Steamboat Bill, Jr (1928)
Well, yes, of course. Almost every Buster Keaton movie made in the 1920s belongs in the National Registry. But Steamboat Bill, Jr, his last independent, stands as one of his best. It’s hilarious, exciting, touching, and contains what is probably the most dangerous stunt ever performed by a major star.
East of Eden (1955)
A good but often overwrought melodrama, based on part of John Steinbeck’s novel, made James Dean a star. And in doing so, it helped define the word teenager. For what it’s worth, the movie is an allegory about Cain and Abel, set in Salinas in the 1910s.
The Birds (1963)
This isn’t one of my favorite Hitchcocks by a long shot, but it contains a few brilliant sequences, and broke ground in special effects. Besides, everyone else considers it one of his best.
Ball of Fire (1941)
How can you not like a screwball comedy written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper. I only saw this fairy tale about a tough dame and a lot of eggheads once, and that was more than 20 years ago. Maybe I should revisit it.
Life of an American Fireman (1903)
This early one-reeler narrative was once thought to be exceptionally advanced for its time, thanks to its use of cross-cutting. To build suspense, it cut back and forth between people trapped in a burning building and firemen racing to rescue them. But historians have now discovered that the cross-cutting was added later. The original version showed the rescue from inside the building, then repeated it from the outside.
The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
After you watch Life of an American Firemen, check out this D.W. Griffith short to discover just how much the art of cinema progressed in just nine years.
Point Blank (1967)
I’ve really got to see this potboiler one of these days.
This one, too.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
I recently revisited this somewhat adult family movie that brilliantly mixed live action, classic cartoons, slapstick comedy, and film noir. Amazingly, it all works. It’s also contains some of the most impressive analog special effects ever created.
Putney Swope (1969)
Before Robert Downey, Jr., there was just plain Robert Downey–maker of absurd, offensive, independent comedies. In this 1969 feature, black militants take over a Madison Ave. ad agency. I haven’t seen it in a very long time.
You’ll find the complete list on the Library of Congress website.