The winter holidays season is a time of many delights, despite what one’s spiritual and/or religious beliefs are.
One of our favorite events, however, is the annual announcement each December by the Library of Congress of 25 films that are being named to the National Film Registry.
Some of these films are well-known award-winning titles, some are highly respected rarely seen titles and others are landmark productions reflecting the times they were made and changes in American culture.
The 25 films just named to the registry include one dealing with alcoholism (Days of Wine and Roses), sexual norms (Brokeback Mountain), the Vietnam War (Hearts and Minds), and the emergence of African-American filmmakers.
There are musicals on the list two including Academy Award-winning best picture My Fair Lady and the Gene Kelly-Frank Sinatra film On the Town.
“Monterey Pop,” 0ne of the best rock music movies ever made, is added to the list. It took place before Woodstock and some of the concert performances filmed are vastly superior to those of the festival that happened later.
For those with a hankering for science fiction and horror films, there are two added this year: Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” and Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
Lots of film making giants are reflected in this list including Spencer Tracy (Bad Day at Black Rock), Walt Disney (Cinderella), Paul Newman (Hud), Orson Welles (The Lady from Shanghai), and Alfred Hitchcock (Rebecca).
This is the sort of list that makes one want to learn more about film, particularly about titles that aren’t widely know.
So, take a look at the list and then, if you so choose, watch some of those you don’t know much about it. We recommend it.
Films Selected for the 2018 National Film Registry (alphabetical order)
The veritable explosion of great films beginning in the late 1930s earned that era the “golden age” of Hollywood tag. And many of the great films from that time wouldn’t be truly recognized for their artistry until many years later. The next five Oscar best picture winners described below are what was regarded as the cream of the crop.
“You Can’t Take it With You,” 1938, directed by Frank Capra.
A great comedy with tremendous cast directed by Frank Capra was the second best picture Oscar he won. The tremendous cast included Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Lionel Barrymore, Edward Arnold, Mischa Auer, Ann Miller, Spring Byington, H.B. Warner and Dub Taylor. It was adapted from a George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart play. Part of that adaptation included changing the play to allow Lionel Barrymore, who had a broken hip, to perform in a wheelchair. The highly entertaining film is about a man from a family of uptight, rich snobs who becomes engaged to a woman from a good-natured but decidedly eccentric family.
The competition for the 1938 honor was considerable-. It included “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Boy”s Town,” and the French classic “Grand Illusion.
“Gone with the Wind,” 1939, directed by Victor Fleming
“Gone with the Wind” is more than just the third movie Clark Gable starred in that won the best picture honor in the 1930s. It was a landmark film with some flaws that are rarely discussed.
This sweeping drama was the first Oscar winner released fully in color and it makes spectacular use of that palette. It would be several years before another movie in color won the best picture honor. At nearly four hours long, the film included an intermission and that was the case when this writer took a field trip while in high school to a downtown Louisville, Ky., (when downtowns still had theaters) movie theater and decades later at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
In case you haven’t read or heard, “Gone with the Wind” is the story of how the lives of southern aristocratic, slave-owning, plantation owners changed from the pre-Civil War days, during the war and after it. It’s a story of troubled romances, suffering and a change in lifestyle that some suspected would never happen.
The problem is the strong anti-union sentiment, the phony portrayal of the supposedly fine lives for slaves, a sympathetic nod to the Ku Klux Klan and terrible negative stereotypes of blacks.
That’s not to detract from the power of the film nor its great cast that includes Gable, Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel and Thomas Mitchell.
The competition for the 1939 honor was top notch. Those other films included “Dark Victory,” “Goodbye Mr. Chips,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Ninotchka, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Wuthering Heights.”
“Rebecca,” 1940, directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Despite his tremendous influence on film and the great library of films he created, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” was his only movie that won the best picture Oscar. That same year another of his films, “Foreign Correspondent,” also was nominated for best picture.
The extraordinary cast included Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, and Nigel Bruce. The story involves an unsophisticated, self-conscious bride who is tormented by the memory of her moody and prominent country gentleman husband’s dead first wife. In addition to Hitchcock’s other film, the competition in 1940 include “The Grapes of Wrath,” Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” and “The Philadelphia Story.”
“How Green Was My Valley,” 1941, directed by John Ford.
One of great director John Ford’s greatest motion pictures, “How Green was My Valley” may be one of the most underappreciated winners of the Academy Award for best picture. In 1941, a New York Times critic called the movie “a picture of great poetic charm and dignity, a picture rich in visual fabrications and in the vigor of its imagery.” The movie is a story about a group of Welsh mining people, their families’ lives and a few sturdy leaders. It’s a story about how black coal darkened the lives of those who mined it and the destruction to the verdant valley in which they live.
The cast includes Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O’Hara, Donald Crisp and Roddy McDowell. Once again in this golden era, there were several outstanding films that lost out to the winning film. Those competitors included “Citizen Kane,” regarded by many critics and cinematic enthusiasts as the greatest picture of all time; “Here Comes Mr. Jordan;” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Sgt. York” and “Suspicion.”
“Mrs. Miniver,” 1942, directed by William Wyler
Starring an always impressive Greer Garson, “Mrs. Miniver” was made during World War II. It shows the cruel effect total war has upon civilized people. The New York Times critic wrote in 1942, “It is the finest film made yet about the present war and a most exalting tribute to the British people who have taken it gallantly.” Garson is magnificent as Mrs. Miniver whose family lives in a small English town before the war sends members away. Her character’s strength even shines when she encounters a German flier in her home. In addition to Garson, the cast includes Walter Pidgeon, Teresa Wright, Reginald Owen and Henry Travers, The other competitors for the 1942 Oscar included “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “The Pride of the Yankees,” “Talk of the Town” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
Several years ago in an Indiana Science Fiction Sojourns column, I made a few suggestions for an October horror-related movie and other mediatmarathon.In case you didn’t see it, here’s what I suggested:
An Evening with Boris and Bela: Beginning in the 1930s, Universal Studios produced a multitude of classic horror movies with sound. The talents of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi were what in large part made those movies great.
Check out Boris in the Frankenstein movies, 1932’s “The Mummy,” and “The Body Snatcher.” These films are all tremendously enhanced by the mysterious qualities that black and white film-making provided. For a look at Boris in his later years, watch “The Terror,” a 1962 release that co-starred the-then up and coming Jack Nicholson.
Lugosi is probably best known for his starring role in “Dracula,” a role he had played on the stage. Of almost equal note are his performances in “White Zombie” and “The Body Snatcher.”
Here’s Jack (or is it Johnny?) Night: The great career of Jack Nicholson has included a few turns in horror films such as “The Terror” as mentioned above. His performance in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” is truly memorable.Who can forget him saying to Shelly Duvall as he breaks down a bathroom door, “Here’s Johnny.” And, of course, Jack once again delighted us in “The Witches of Eastwick,” a comedy, and “Wolf.” Then there’s his visit to a dentist’s office in the original “Little Shop of Horrors.”
A Hitchcock Double Feature: Alfred Hitchcock’s mysteries are among the greatest films ever made. “The Birds” and “Psycho” make a great combo of Hitchcock films that fit the horror genre. Among other things, after viewing “The Birds” many people became anxious anytime they saw a flock of birds lined up anywhere. “Psycho” scared many people away from taking a shower.
Spielberg and Friends: A Light and Dark Experience: Director/producer Steven Spielberg and his associates have given us some of the most memorable horror experiences in film, beginning in the 1970s.
Spielberg’s TV movie “The Duel” is a tale about a character (Dennis Weaver) making his way home on winding, dangerous roads, trailed by a mysterious truck driver, seemingly with murderous intent, with a vehicle belching smoke that Weaver can’t shake. The film helped ignite Spielberg’s career.
Spielberg’s “Jaws” set box office records and created the summer blockbuster.
After that, Spielberg directed or produced films with horror elements including “Poltergeist” and “Gremlins.”
On a sweeter, more positive note, Spielberg has also given us “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “E.T.: The Extraterrestrial,” which even takes place around Halloween.
“Jurassic Park” also works in this festival beginning with a marvelous sense of wonder and evolving into horror.
The It’s What You Don’t See That Gets Ya Scareathon: The scariest moments in films are about what you can’t see, but suspect is around the corner. “Psycho,” “Jaws,” and “Duel” all benefit from that approach.
“Rosemary’s Baby,” possibly my favorite among horror films, builds the terror throughout the movie as a woman, Mia Farrow, fears there is some sort of cult operating in her apartment building (filmed in the Dakota, the hotel that years later is where John Lennon lived when he was shot) and that something very strange is going on regarding her pregnancy. Never in this Roman Polanski film until the end do we clearly see what has been happening.
“Cloverfield,” which was released this year, also benefits from that approach. This J.J. Abrams’ production, directed by Matt Reeves, only gives us partial peeks for most of the film of what is attacking New York City and that has blown off the head of the Statue of Liberty. That approach adds to the terror.
It also better uses a technique used in “The Blair Witch Project.” “Cloverfield” supposedly was found by a U.S. government agency after the attack and was shot on a camcorder by people who had started out recording a going-away party of a friend.
The one unfortunate thing about this film — and this isn’t the filmmakers’ fault — is the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York gave us a good idea what it would look like if skyscrapers were destroyed. The film reflects that knowledge.
A few more quick suggestions:
Misunderstood Monsters Marathon: “King Kong,” the 1930s original and the much-longer Peter Jackson version, and “Frankenstein.”
Book, Radio and Movie Night: H.G. Wells’ great “War of the Worlds” led to the amazingly scary Orson Welles’ radio version that terrified America and the classic 1953 film version. Complete versions of Welles’ broadcast are available on CD.
Horror Comic Relief Night: “Young Frankenstein,” “Ghostbusters,” Beetlejuice,” “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Ed Wood.”
The Horror Favorites That Ronald Hawkins has Avoided Celebration: The “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” “The Exorcist,” “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “The Omen” movies.