What I’m Nominating to the National Film Registry This Year
It’s a period of consideration in America. This fall, many Americans will want their voices heard, and will nominate and vote for choices that best represent them. They back these candidates, hoping they turn out victorious, cheering them on and supporting them even in defeat. It’s a process I hope my fellow Americans take seriously because the choices we make now will stay with us for years to come.
No, I’m not talking about the imminent presidential and congressional elections in November (but, if you’re reading this, VOTE), I’m talking about the nomination process for the National Film Registry.
Established by an act of Congress in 1988, the National Film Registry is a program of the Library of Congress. Each year, the National Film Preservation Board, comprised of film industry professionals, filmmakers, critics, and historians, adds 25 movies that are at least 10 years old and considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically” significant to the Registry. Final approval goes to the Librarian of Congress, currently the wonderful Dr. Carla Hayden, whom I have met on several occasions and is doing much to revitalize America’s library. As of last December, 775 titles have been added to the Registry, with the announcement of new selections this December making the number a nice, round 800.
The Registry itself compromises everything from feature-length films to animated shorts to documentaries to home movies to, yes, even one music video (which would, of course, be Michael Jackson’s Thriller). Most of the great classics of American cinema have made it on: Citizen Kane; Casablanca; The Wizard of Oz; Vertigo; The Graduate; both The Godfather and The Godfather Part II; both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back; various Scorsese films (Taxi Driver; Raging Bull; Goodfellas), various Spielberg films (Jaws; E.T.; Raiders of the Lost Ark; Schindler’s List), and various Kubrick films (2001; Dr. Strangelove).
But there are also cult classics, crowd-pleasers, and fairly mainstream movies: The Big Lebowski; Ghostbusters; Top Gun; The Shawshank Redemption; The Lion King; The Princess Bride; Die Hard; The Goonies; Titanic; Superman; Jurassic Park; and The Shining, just to name a few. It also has its eyes on diversity, trying to be inclusive to as many Black, female, and LGBTQ filmmakers as possible. It has also retroactively fixed Best Picture Oscar winners, such as when the landmark gay film, 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, was added 2 years ago instead of what did win Best Picture that year, the divisive Crash.
But occasionally, the National Film Registry can be a bit of an enigma. While last year included selections like bona fide classics like Amadeus, Platoon, and Clerks, which writer and director Kevin Smith has been over the moon about, it also included the, let’s say, interesting choice of the 1984 Prince star-vehicle Purple Rain. (I quote Fox Mulder from The X-Files: “Great album, deeply flawed movie.”)
Regardless of who gets chosen, the best possible copy of the film will be taken or sent to the Library of Congress Packard Campus in Culpeper, VA, where staff will preserve it and researchers can have access to it. The Packard Campus, which I refer to simply as “The Bunker” due to the facility originating as a nuclear bunker during the Cold War, is one of my favorite places in the world. The technology used to preserve classic pieces of media is impressive, as is the sense of mission and purpose in ensuring that future generations get to reap the benefits of these preservation efforts.
But what can the average person do to help these efforts? Simple, of course: nominate films to the National Film Registry. That means you can nominate and vote for titles that you want included on the NFR. There are substantial gaps in the Registry, but the National Film Preservation Board does in fact listen to the input of the general public. Several recent inductees, including Jurassic Park and Clerks, were selected in part because they were the biggest vote-getters of their respective years.
The deadline to submit is September 15th, meaning you still have time! Members of the public are invited to nominate up to 50 individual movies. And to inspire you to participate, I’ve included a list of what I’m nominating this year:
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: I really want one of the LotR movies added.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Ditto
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn: No Star Trek movies are on the NFR, and Wrath of Kahn is the most iconic, most revered, and most aesthetically interesting of the original movies.
- Robocop: Robocop is an American movie classic, hands down, full of smart satire, jaw-dropping action, and a dystopian vision of the future that mirrors our current reality. Director Paul Verhoeven, who later directed films like Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and Starship Troopers, is also completely absent from the NFR.
- The Thing: While John Carpenter is on the NFR with his breakout slasher, Halloween, his best film, the claustrophobic, Arctic-set thrilling remake of The Thing from Another World is one of the blind spots of the Registry thus far.
- Risky Business: One of my favorite movies. While everyone remembers Tom Cruise’s iconic dance to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll,” Risky Business is a funny, deeply sexual, and far more mature film than it typically gets credit for, particularly in comparison to other teen films from the John Hughes-dominated 1980s.
- Almost Famous: Another one of my favorite movies. Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical movie about a teen who travels with a hard-partying rock band in the 1970s in order to report on them for Rolling Stone is sweet, sincere, and reminds you of the inherent value of “being uncool.”
- Terminator 2: Judgment Day: Easily one of the greatest sequels ever made. Its predecessor is already on the NFR, but T2 is the one that people remember: liquid Terminator, buff Sarah Connor, “hasta la vista,” sad ending. Better directed, better written, better acted and with better action, the NFR should remember when the Terminator himself said he’d be back…
- Return of the Jedi: The only one of the original Star Wars trilogy not yet on the NFR. While it is the weakest out of the original three, it deserves entry for its iconic nature, everything from Jabba to Ewoks to the Emperor to the devastating finale with the redemption and death of Darth Vader.
- Good Will Hunting: No movies featuring the late, great Robin Williams are on the NFR, and that needs to change. I’m personally hoping it will be this one.
- Dead Poets Society: Ditto.
- Scarface: While its poster is a staple of dorm room walls, Brian de Palma’s remake of Scarface starring Al Pacino is one of the most iconic and quotable movies of all time.
- Lost in Translation: Sofia Coppola’s intimate dramedy about two lonely souls, played by Bill Murray at a possible career-best and Scarlett Johansson in her breakout role, lost in Tokyo was one of the defining movies of the 2000s.
- The Stepford Wives: The dark satire of suburbia where conforming housewives are revealed to be robot replacements is both a surprisingly feminist message and the inspiration for later movies in the same vein, most notably Jordan Peele’s Get Out.
- Boogie Nights: Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece about the pornography industry in the 1970s San Fernando Valley is an ensemble piece that was a breakout for Mark Wahlberg as lead character Dirk Diggler, a comeback for Burt Reynolds, a well-deserved Oscar nom for Julianne Moore, with a supporting cast that includes the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, Don Cheadle, John C. Reilly, Heather Graham, and William H. Macy.
- American Pop: My personal favorite movie from adult-animation auteur Ralph Bakshi. While Bakshi’s films like Fritz the Cat and The Lord of the Rings might be better known, American Pop is the story of four generations of American musicians, each of whom participates in and composes music of the respective eras (jazz, big band, 60s psychedelic rock, 80s stadium rock) they find themselves in. A visual feast featuring incredible music, breathtaking animation, and sympathetic characters.
- The Truman Show: Peter Weir’s prescient parable about Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey, in what is probably his best role) living in a constructed, reality TV world where his daily routine is watched by millions around the world is both a darkly funny satire of the media and a heartfelt drama about the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
- Bull Durham: A family favorite. Susan Sarandon stars as a groupie for a minor league baseball team in Durham, North Carolina, and the love triangle she’s in with the hot young rookie pitcher (Tim Robbins) and the jaded veteran (Kevin Costner). Filled with great moments, from a monologue that Costner gives to deciding wedding presents on the pitchers’ mound, Bull Durham is frequently hailed as one of (if not) the greatest sports movies ever made.
- The Social Network: Only a few films have gotten in during their first year of eligibility. One I hope joins that list this year is David Fincher’s masterful take on the early days of Facebook. Fincher’s visual flare, as well as an insightful script by Aaron Sorkin, distinguish The Social Network enough that many (myself included) consider it the best film of the 2010s.
- The Hunt for Red October: Director John McTiernan already has one entry on the NFR with Die Hard, but his follow-up to that, an adaptation of Tom Clancy’s blockbuster novel about the titular, stealthy Soviet submarine, is one of the best action movies ever made and the rare American action film that stresses peace rather than bloodshed.
- Ordinary People: Robert Redford’s directorial debut won Best Picture at the Oscars and serves as an intimate portrayal of a family (Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, and Timothy Hutton in an Oscar-winning performance) dealing with profound collective grief with the help of a therapist (Judd Hirsch).
- Reds: Warren Beatty wrote, directed, and stars in this epic about journalist John Reed and the crafting of his book Ten Days That Shook the World, which chronicled the Russian Revolution. Diane Keaton co-stars as his wife Louise Bryant, who at one point has an affair with playwright Eugene O’Neill, played by Jack Nicholson in an impressive supporting role.
- The Evil Dead: The first Evil Dead movie is a terrifying micro-budgeted experiment from a devilish auteur named Sam Raimi. Raimi has yet to get a movie into the NFR, and everything from the film’s two sequels to, yes, even his Spider-Man trilogy, begins right here.
- Witness: Another family favorite. Harrison Ford plays a Philadelphia police officer sent to Amish country to protect the family of a young boy who witnessed a murder. Peter Weir directed this heartfelt ode to America as a religious melting pot, and story about the necessity of respect for one another’s culture.
- Aliens: Alas, another James Cameron sequel. Just like T2, I think Aliens deserves its moment because of the radically different take it is from its more horror-focused predecessor. Plus, it features Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley at a franchise-best, which got her an Oscar nomination.
- Stand By Me: Rob Reiner’s adaptation of a Stephen King novella about boys in search of a dead body is a nostalgic tour de force that perfectly recalls the 1950s and will have any person missing their childhood, no matter what decade they came of age.
- Election: Alexander Payne’s dark comedy about Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in her quest to become student body president at any cost and by any means necessary, much to the chagrin of her vindictive teacher (Matthew Broderick), is a strange parable about the nature of politics, popularity, and ambition, as well as easily one of the best high school-set movies of the 1990s
- Carrie: The high school horror movie from which all others are judged. Sissy Spacek is unnerving as the titular telekinetic teen in Brian de Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel, but the true monster is her overbearing religious mother, played by Piper Laurie. The iconic climactic prom scene has distinguished itself as one of the scariest scenes in pop culture.
- Beverly Hills Cop: Eddie Murphy had big roles in movies like 48 Hrs. and Trading Places before, but none of them landed with quite the impact of Detroit cop Axel Foley as a fish-out-of-water in glitzy L.A. Murphy’s performance, the comedy and the action all hold up, making it stand out as one of the best action-comedies ever made.
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: This urtext of the slasher genre rocked the 1970s horror-movie scene, and we are still feeling the after-effects today. It is a foundational horror text in the latter half of the 20th century.
- Fight Club: One of the most quoted, watched, parodied, and misunderstood movies of the past 30 years. David Fincher’s direction helps elevate the story of a nameless narrator (Edward Norton) who forms a men’s underground fighting league with the help of his mysterious new friend Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), with whom the protagonist shares much in common…
- Apollo 13: Houston, we have a problem: this isn’t on the NFR yet. Ron Howard’s depiction of the infamous failed moon mission is about as American as a movie can get.
- Kramer vs. Kramer: A devastating portrait of a family in the midst of a divorce, Kramer vs. Kramer was a milestone when it was released for the way it depicted a disintegrating marriage, which helped earn it a Best Picture Oscar, along with the standout performances of Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Justin Henry, who was only 7 when the film was made.
- Smokey and the Bandit: The ultimate outlaw road-trip movie and an important relic of its era, it features Burt Reynolds as the fast-driving titular “Bandit” and Sally Field as a runaway bride, both of whom are trying to escape the wrath of Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason).
- Batman: No Tim Burton movies and no Batman movies are currently on the NFR. While my list contains other movies from both of those categories, nothing can match the blockbuster appeal of the original 1989 depiction starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, which served as an important step in the evolution of the superhero movie into the dominant movie genre it is today.
- The Karate Kid: While it might be best known for “wax on, wax off,” this touching sports movie about Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita in an Oscar-nominated performance) teaching his teenage neighbor Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) karate so he can defend himself against bullies isn’t just a classic, it served as the inspiration for the recent breakout Cobra Kai TV series.
- The Blues Brothers: Jake (John Belushi) and Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) might be on a mission from God to get the band back together in this feature-length adaptation of their Saturday Night Live-originated characters, but it’s the funny jokes and great moments that have viewers return time and time again to watch their adventures. The Vatican even declared this movie a “Catholic classic” recently!
- Dazed and Confused: Richard Linklater’s ode to the last day of school for teenagers in 1976 Texas is filled with fun, frivolity, and great music. Its cast, from Ben Affleck to Renee Zellweger, all went on to do impressive things. Ultimately, it’s a movie that when you put it on, it makes you feel alright, alright, alright….
- Dawn of the Dead: George A. Romero’s follow-up to his own Night of the Living Dead is a different, darker zombie movie. A pioneer in many of the tropes we now associate with the genre, it also had a stroke of genius by finding satirical purpose in having zombies emulate mindless consumers in a shopping mall.
- Wall Street: While greed might be good, but the fact that this hasn’t made it on isn’t. No other movie displays the excess of the 1980s more than Oliver Stone’s drama about a naïve young stockbroker (Charlie Sheen) who gets caught up with ruthless businessman Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, in an iconic, Oscar-winning role).
- Fatal Attraction: Glenn Close is downright devilish as Alex Forrest in this 1987 blockbuster, a psychopath who does everything from showing up unexpectedly to stalking to boiling bunnies all to get vengeance on a former lover (Michael Douglas).
- A Few Good Men: Can’t believe it’s not on the Registry? You can’t handle the truth! Rob Reiner’s adaptation of Aaron Sorkin’s play of the same name features Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, and Kiefer Sutherland in a moving legal drama set in the world of court-martialing.
- The Dark Knight: While it isn’t the only Batman movie that I’m nominating this year, you’d be hard-pressed to find one that’s better. 12 years after its release, The Dark Knight is still a high-water mark for the entire superhero movie genre.
- Labyrinth: While it might be a bit of a guilty pleasure, Jim Henson’s inventive fantasy about a goblin king (David Bowie at his…David Bowie-est) who steals a baby, and the baby’s teenage sister (Jennifer Connelly) who is trying to rescue him, features wonderful music written and performed by Bowie, as well as a mature sensibility for a children’s film.
- Wet Hot American Summer: Easily one of my favorite comedies of all time. In the years since its release, this hilarious summer camp romp written by and featuring the cast members of MTV’s sketch comedy show The State has become a cult classic that spawned two sequel miniseries on Netflix. Plus, not only was it the first movie for future superstar Bradley Cooper, but it also features early performances by the likes of Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks, and Christopher Meloni.
- Reefer Madness: The infamous anti-marijuana propaganda film was meant to warn parents and teens when it was first released in the 1930s. Later generations have mocked how inaccurate and over-the-top melodramatic it is. The copy that was popularized at midnight shows and college campuses was actually purchased by marijuana advocate Keith Stroup at the Library of Congress, so the film ending up on the NFR would bring its story full-circle.
- Rejected: This animated short by animation auteur Don Hertzfeldt is pretty widely known thanks to the Internet and is considered an important milestone in terms of the form and risk that American animation would take in the 21st century.
- Superman (1940): This is an animated short made by Fleisher animation studios, and serves as the first motion-picture depiction of the Man of Steel. The short was crucial to the development of Superman in the popular imagination a mere two years after his comic book debut in the pages of Action Comics #1.
- Der Fuehrer’s Face: A short made by Disney as pro-American propaganda during World War II. Donald Duck has a nightmare that he is stuck in Nazi Germany. When he wakes up, he is so relieved to be back home that he proceeds to hug and kiss a miniature Statue of Liberty. A tomato is then thrown at Hitler’s animated face. A historical oddity worthy of preservation.
- Vincent: A young Tim Burton made this stop-motion short film about a 7-year-old boy obsessed with Vincent Price and Edgar Allen Poe, and it’s narrated by none other than Price himself! Much of the aesthetic and gothic nature of Burton’s later work is evident in this short. If the Tim Burton entry this year can’t be Batman, it should be this.