Each year, the Library of Congress adds 25 films to the National Film Registry, which means these movies will be preserved by the United States Government instead of whatever distributor owns them. On Monday, the Library announced this year’s selections.
These are not all masterpieces, nor are they intended to be. The films must have “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significance. That word or makes a big difference. No one considers Becky Sharp a great film (Rotten Tomatoes gives it 31%). But as the first three-strip Technicolor feature film, it has historical significance (it was inducted last year). The films must also be at least ten years old.
Frame from Becky Sharp
This year, nine of the 25 were directed by women. Seven were directed by people of color. This is, apparently, a record.
The 2020 list contains two very popular movies recent enough for most people to remember: The Dark Knight and Shrek. I love both. Older features that you’ll probably remember include Cabin in the Sky, Lilies of the Field, A Clockwork Orange, Grease, and The Blues Brothers.
Five entries go back to the silent era. I’m amazed that it took this long for the Library of Congress to include cinema’s first appearance of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp in Kid Auto Races at Venice. Other non-talkies include the early one-reel thriller Suspense and the recently restored Laurel and Hardy short The Battle of the Century. Three of the silents were directed or co-directed by a woman.
The Battle of the Century
Speaking of women directors, Kathryn Bigelow became the first one to win a Best Director Oscar, for The Hurt Locker – another film newly added to the Registry. And she did it in a very male-oriented genre: the war movie.
Both Wattstax and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song looked at the African-American experience, and had Black directors. Of all the films the Library selected, Sweetback is the only one I personally saw in rough cut before it was released (my stepfather worked on it). Wayne Wang directed The Joy Luck Club, and to my knowledge, he was the first Asian American to make a major Hollywood film.
I’ve never heard of some of these films. Others I never got around to seeing. Some didn’t excite me much. One of them, Freedom Riders, was a two-part PBS American Experience documentary.
Here’s the entire list, in chronological order:
- Suspense (1913)
- Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914)
- Bread (1918)
- The Battle of the Century (1927)
- With Car and Camera Around the World (1929)
- Cabin in the Sky (1943)
- Outrage (1950)
- The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
- Lilies of the Field (1963)
- A Clockwork Orange (1971)
- Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971)
- Wattstax (1973)
- Grease (1978)
- The Blues Brothers (1980)
- Losing Ground (1982)
- Illusions (1982)
- The Joy Luck Club (1993)
- The Devil Never Sleeps (1994)
- Buena Vista Social Club (1999)
- The Ground (1993-2001)
- Shrek (2001)
- Mauna Kea: Temple Under Siege (2006)
- The Hurt Locker (2008)
- The Dark Knight (2008)
- Freedom Riders (2010)