Highlights of the National Film Registry 2020 Class
Every year the Library of Congress selects a group of 25 films deemed essential to our national cinematic heritage to take their place on the National Film Registry. Established in 1988 by the National Film Preservation Act, movies that are important “historically, culturally, or aesthetically significant” are given this honor to be preserved for all time. This hallowed list consists of such masterpieces as: Casablanca, Halloween, Wizard of Oz, The Jazz Singer, Back to the Future and so many others. The 2020 class of films is an incredibly diverse one featuring women and people of color both in front of and behind the camera. From a silent era comedy to a recent superhero blockbuster these are a few of the highlights of the tremendous 2020 class of films for the National Film Registry.
Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914): Charlie Chaplin’s creation, the Little Tramp, stands as one of the iconic and recognizable characters in cinema. This 1914 short film served as his debut, as the Tramp wreaks havoc at a children’s soapbox derby. Giving audiences of early cinema something they had never seen before, Kid Auto Races at Venice not only broke the fourth wall but also gave people a look at a real movie camera in action. Aside from the revolutionary achievements, this feature, in true Chaplin fashion, is just as funny now as it was when it was originally released.
The Battle of the Century (1927): For decades Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy have stood as one of greatest duos in comedy history. This collaboration of theirs from the Silent Era was sadly thought lost for many years. But in 1979 the opening reel of the film was found and in 2015 the rest followed. After making the rounds at various film festivals, this summer we finally received a Blu Ray release courtesy of Turner Classic Movies. Now audiences get to see this hilarious masterpiece in its entirety. The gags in the Battle of the Century are perfection, culminating with a gargantuan epic pie fight which according to Guinness World Records used 10,000 of these creamy desserts.
Cabin in the Sky (1943): This musical from legendary director Vincente Minnelli, served as one of the rare films of its era to feature an all-black cast. Little Joe is a well-meaning man but his hobbies of drinking and gambling makes his afterlife fate a point of contention. With a set amount of time to redeem his soul he is torn between the angelic General who wants him to be a good husband and the evil Lucifer Jr. who is tempting him to the sultry gold-digger Georgia Brown. This Oscar nominated film features perfectly choreographed musical numbers and took a brave stand for equality in the process.
Outrage (1950): Throughout the 1940’s the number of women directing movies in Hollywood was a paltry ONE. That one was the multi-talented actress Ida Lupino. Whether it was her solely at the helm as in Never Fear or filling in for another director as in the noir masterpiece On Dangerous Ground, Lupino brought her unique perspective to filmdom. In 1950, she gave audiences a revolutionary film which looked at sexual assault in a harsh yet artistically striking way. While prepping to finally marry the love of her life, young bookkeeper Ann is stalked and assaulted by a coworker. Traumatized by her rape, Ann runs away from her family and fiancée, ending up in the care of a preacher, ultimately confronting what happened. This low-budget film initially flew under the radar but has slowly been recognized for the ground it broke.
Lilies of the Field (1963): Arguably the most iconic star vehicle of Sidney Poitier as, Homer, an itinerant worker who crosses paths with a group of European nuns. Refugees from their homeland, the convent is living a subsistence lifestyle in Arizona and our in need of Homer’s handyman skills. Though an African-American Protestant and East European nuns may not have much in common they forge a close bond over the course of this classic. His incredible performance in Lilies of the Field led to Poitier being the first African American to win the Oscar for Best Actor. No doubt many assumed this classic was already on the National Film Registry but in 2020 it assumes its spot.
A Clockwork Orange (1971): A controversial sci-fi flick with a punk attitude from the great Stanley Kubrick. Mozart-lover and droog-leader Alex DeLarge enjoys his milk with a side of ultra-violence. When he is inevitably arrested, Alex becomes the prime candidate for an experiment which could rid him of the urge to do evil. But the end product of this treatment could be worse than the actions which led him there. With quirky and odd dialogue mixed with an eye-catching style A Clockwork Orange is a movie which will not be forgotten once seen.
Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssssss Song (1971): For far too long mainstream cinema was dominated by Caucasian filmmakers and actors. Director, writer, actor, and producer Melvin Van Peebles changed the game forever with this neo-noir crime film which kicked off what is known as “Blaxpoitation”. When witnessing two white cops beating a young black man, male prostitute Sweet Sweetback fights back. This forces him on the lam as police across the country hunt him down. Luckily he has enough connections in the inner-city to stay under the radar on his way to Mexico. Along his journey his legend spreads and Sweetback becomes a folk hero in the black community. This watershed film of the 70’s kicked open the doors for other men and women of color to break into the movie business.
Grease (1978): Based on a hit stage show, this salute to 1950’s culture has become one of the great musicals of moviedom. After a summer romance, greaser Danny Zuko and good girl Sandy Olsson meet once again when school starts. While Sandy wants to rekindle what they once had, Danny has a bad boy image he is trying to protect. Can these two make up before he has to pit his Greased Lightning against the car of his rival gang? Bursting with energy and insanely catchy songs, Grease is film which has truly stood the test of time.
The Blues Brothers (1980): They were on a mission from God. Spinning off from Saturday Night Live, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi took their suit and shades wearing characters Jake and Elwood Blues to the big screen. After being released from prison, the Blues Brothers need to raise enough money to say the orphanage which raised them. In order to do this they must travel the country reuniting their band and playing gigs. Along the way the duo become Public Enemies Numbers 1 and 2 for: Nazis, hillbillies, and countless law enforcement agencies. This stone cold cool flick features cameos from a host of music icons to add their talents to the fold.
Losing Ground (1982): Not since the era of silent movies had a major production featured an African-American woman in the director’s seat. Kathleen Collins not only helmed, but wrote the screenplay to this movie about, philosophy professor Sara and her artist husband Victor. Following a major museum sale, Victor unilaterally decides to rent a cottage for the two of them for the summer. Focusing on their individual career paths, both Sara and Victor find others to tempt them away. Can their marriage survive the jealousy which arise? Over the past few years this film has seemingly been rediscovered and now will be preserved for future generations.
The Joy Luck Club (1993): Based on a book from Amy Tan, this Wayne Wang directed feature focuses on two generations of Asian-American women. A layered film which focuses on four women who immigrated to the United States from China and play mahjong together. What follows is an exploration between them and their American-born daughters and the complicated relationships between them. Wang uses this film to give audiences a compelling look at the generational and cultural gap between these mothers and daughters.
Shrek (2001): With the release of this film, famed animation studio Dreamworks made their presence known in cinema. The cranky ogre Shrek, sees his life interrupted when the conniving Lord Farquaad exiles all of the characters of fantasy into his swamp. He reluctantly gains a wisecracking sidekick Donkey and through happenstance they end up rescuing the captured Princess Fiona. This brilliant film gave audiences a fresh send-up of classic fairy tales in a way which appealed to kids and adults equally. Shrek has gone to spawn a number of sequels and become engrained in movie history.
The Hurt Locker (2008): This tense war flick made history by being the first film directed by a woman to take home the Best Picture statue at the Oscars. Bucking the tropes of the traditional war movie, director Kathryn Bigelow modernized the genre focusing more on the suspense of it all. Devil-may-care bomb diffuser Sgt. William James is brought into a new unit in Iraq. With his battle buddies Sgt. Sanborn and Specialist Eldridge, they navigate the brutal and often confusing battlefield of the 21st century.
The Dark Knight (2008): The film which not only highlighted this class, but was also the biggest surprise as it is not even 15 years old. For eight decades, Batman has stood as one of the greatest characters in fiction. In 2005, acclaimed director Christopher Nolan brought a fresh spin to the Dark Knight and in 2008 changed the game of superheroes as a whole. In one of cinema’s greatest performances Heath Ledger’s Joker has introduced a new level of chaos and evil in Gotham City. In order to protect his city, Batman is forced to question how far he is willing to go to stop his new enemy. Nolan took what could have been a popcorn superhero flick and created an engrossing exploration on the nature of good and evil while still giving audiences a thrilling action film.