Thursday, December 27, 2007

By an Act of Congress ....

This morning, 27 Dec 2007, The National Film Registry (whose website can be found here) announced its 25 new entries. The NFR and particularly its National Film Preservation board do tremendous work ensuring that this country's most influential art form will be passed down to future generations. About 50 percent of all films made before 1950 and 90 percent of films made before 1920 have already been lost to neglect or poor film stock.

Among this year's 25 inductees are some favorites of mine:

-- 12 Angry Men. Sidney Lumet is currently in the theaters with his powerful new film Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. He is 83 and his career stretches back to 1957 when he gave us this taut jury room drama based on a Broadway play. Henry Fonda gives one of the iconic performances of his storied career, and there's also great work from Jack Warden, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman and eight others.

-- Oklahoma! It might be hard to realize in this year of top-notch, experimental musicals like Across the Universe and Sweeney Todd, but there was a time when this Rodgers and Hammerstein chestnut shattered stage and then screen conventions. The songs are directly entwined with and further the plot. The dream sequence was the first use of ballet in a mainstream Broadway musical (and in film), a device Gene Kelley would refine in An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. It's a great rousing film and far more influential than it might seem.

-- The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. John Ford's elegiac western is about the passing of the torch in the old west. And it's his passing of the torch to a new generation of filmmakers. John Wayne, who gets too much credit as a symbol and not enough as an actor, is nothing short of monumental. Jimmy Stewart is complicated and conflicted, using the persona he'd crafted in his Anthony Mann-directed westerns of the fifties, and subverting it. And the great Lee Marvin is a mean, ornery, low-down skunk, God love him.

-- Bullitt. Steve McQueen in the car chase film that defined car chase films for years. From The French Connection to this year's Death Proof half of Grindhouse, they all bow down before the original. Steve McQueen, the coolest guy in movies ever, with his coolest movie guy name ever, runs down a bunch of scumbags in a Dodge Charger with his exceptionally cool 1968 Ford Mustang. The car became such a legend, Ford actually issued a limited edition "Bullitt Mustang."

-- Wuthering Heights. I was actually surprised to learn that this one wasn't already in The National Film Registry, it's so routinely listed as a member in good standing of the legendary roster of 1939's great movies. Merle Oberon is achingly beautiful (and I do mean aching). Laurence Olivier -- before he was "Sir" Laurence Olivier -- made his first major Hollywood splash as the brooding and impossibly cruel Heathcliff. This is melodrama at a wild, over-the-top level. Completely unapologetic and true to its overwrought source material.

And there are more. 20 more actually. For a complete list of this year's inductees, click here.

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