Ann Hornaday on National Film Registry movies and holiday season fare

Dec 28, 2010

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday will be online Tuesday, Dec. 28, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the 25 films selected this year for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, plus the current films of the holiday season.

Gallery: National Film Registry 2010

Library of Congress names 25 films to 2010 list of National Film Registry titles

Hi everyone, Ann Hornaday here, let's get chatting!

Hollywood Blockbusters, Independent Films and Shorts Selected for Preservation in the 2010 National Film Registry

Is there any film that you feel shouldn't have been included this year or are less than enthused about. For me it would be Empire and the other Lucas short film.

Hi there! I don't really have any major issues with this year's National Registry choices -- I was particularly happy to see George Lucas's student film included, because he's made such a huge contribution to movie sound, and it's important for people to realize that these things don't emerge from out of nowhere...And I think the "Empire" choice reminds us that sequels don't have to be lazy, phoned-in franchise extenders -- which, ironically, the later "Star Wars" sequels pretty much were.

If you could only see one movie from this year, what would that be and why?

What a great question! I think it would be a toss-up between "Cry of Jazz," a 1959 film exploring the jazz scene and African American life in Chicago at that time, and Peter Hutton's "Study of a River." I'm hoping that both will be on view next year either at the Library of Congress's Packard campus in Culpeper, or here in D.C.

It's only now being added to the Film Registry?

True, but think of it: Literally thousands of movies are 'nominated' every year, many of them by the public at large! And only 25 can make the cut. When I spoke to Librarian of Congress James Billington, he said that often suggested films will come up from year to year until they're finally selected. So for achievements like "Empire Strikes Back," it most likely is only a matter of time.

Who were the biggest film greats we lost this year -- both famous and maybe not so famous?

Oh, that's a tough one. I'm sure I'll forget someone. Off the top, I'd say Dennis Hopper, Arthur Penn -- and my beloved Tony Curtis, who I got to interview years ago when I wrote a story about "Sweet Smell of Success." I actually heard him spontaneously tell someone, "The cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river." When I asked if it was for my benefit, he said, "Oh no, I end every conversation that way. It's my favorite line in the world." A lovely man and he'll be missed!

Chatters, who am I missing?

Down here in Brazil, the TMC satellite TV channel is showing "50 films you should see before you die" (thee are many lists with similar titles). One of them is "Star Wars 4." Excuse me? The first film, perhaps, but #4? Tonight's film is "Jailhouse Rock." In comparison, the films going to the National Film Registry look pretty darn good, though I wonder if "Airplane!" would have made the list if Leslie Nielsen hadn't died. Just what are the criteria used? Everyone could say, "I liked this film, so it should bein the registry."

Hmmm are they talking about "Episode IV," which is the first movie? Or "Phantom Menace," the fourth installment? If the latter, I take your point!

As for "Airplane!" I'm pretty sure the board voted before Leslie Nielsen's death in late November -- and I was heartened to see it included as the beginning of self-referential Hollywood satires that we now take for granted. At the time, it was an arguably subversive -- and let's face it, hilariously funny -- take on the industry's addiction to disaster spectacles. So I'm with the Library on this one!

I'll miss him very much. He was amazing in his comedy work.

So,  so true! RIP Shirley!

I don't think it makes much sense to have modern films on lists like this--I mean, with digital technology these films are not going anywhere. But there are untold numbers of disappearing silent and early talkie films that desperately need preservation, and the National Film Registry may be the only way to get them serious attention. Try finding more than a handful of Clara Bow, Louise Brooks, Theda Bara, Thomas Ince or Tom Mix films anywhere (just to name a few). That's where the focus of this program should be.

I completely agree with you and I think that's absolutely the primary mission of the Library of Congress -- they take their mandate to preserve America's cultural patrimony very, very seriously. Here's a thought: By including movies that most people remember easily and hold dear, they help bring attention to lesser-known films, thereby raising all boats. Maybe "Star Wars" fans drawn by the inclusion of "Empire" will have their interest piqued by the Thomas Edison film or "Tarantella," a 1940 color and sound abstraction. We can hope!

When you mentioned your interview with Tony Curtis, I had totally forgotten about him, and sadly his recent passing. I looked at his filmography on Wikipedia just now, and he has quite a body of work. Actually, it is amazing. Goodbye Charlie has always stuck with me as one of his best. Did he happen to say anything about the film? Or working with Debbie Reynolds?

No we really only talked about "Sweet Smell of Success" -- which, as it happens, is on the National Film Registry! I will check out "Goodbye Charlie," thanks for reminding us!

Do you know what, considering Russ Meyer's influence on filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, you never know!

550 films so far in the registry? Where can we find the entire list? I imagine classics like "Citizen Kane" were on the list from the start, though I actually thought "Third Man" was a better Welles film.

Yes we'll link to the list of films selected from 1989 to 2009. And yes, "Citizen Kane" is on the list, as well as my favorite, "Touch of Evil" and "The Magnificent Ambersons." I'm sure it's only a matter of time until the flawless "Third Man" makes the cut! (Speaking of the great Carol Reed, who directed, let's also praise "The Fallen Idol," an amazing and often overlooked film!)

Films Selected to The National Film Registry, Library of Congress 1989-2009

Another significant loss. I saw Face in the Crowd again the other day, and she is terrific.

Ah yes, thank you. She was magnificent. Everyone should see "A Face in the Crowd" if they haven't lately -- one of those films that turned out to be surprisingly (and depressingly) prescient. I also loved her in "Hud."

Is there a link to a complete list of films on the Registry? Did Animal House and the Vatican's favorite film the Blues Brothers make the list? If not both should be on the registry beucase of their ongoing impact on Modern American film.

We're happy to link to the complete list of films. Alas, no "Animal House" or "Blues Brothers," but hang in there, they might make it one of these years!

Was glad to see Airplane was added. This was the year three cast members from that movie passed away.

That's right, we lost Barbara Billingsley and Peter Graves! Sad. All great.

I am someone who likes to order copies of these historic films. I ofen find that many are not available for public purchase, or at least I have had difficulty finding someone selling copies. I am wondering why there aren't more entrepreneurs out there selling these movies. Maybe there are copyright issues although the older films are the ones that are harder to find.

I think copyright is a much more tangled issue than we realize. When I asked officials at the Library of Congress about public viewings of these films, they said that copyright does come into play. (Although I believe all the Thomas Edison films are now in the public domain, making it possible for the Library to stream them from their site.) I agree that it would be a great boon to have these more readily available for viewing once people learn that they exist.

I'm fairly knowledgeable about movies, but so many of the films on the list I've never heard of. I'm happy for Empire and ecstatic about Airplane, but what about some of the classic musicals, for example? Carousel? Kiss Me Kate? What about Little Women? I want movies I love on the list, and movies that have stood the test of time.

You've brought up an excellent point that gets to what distinguishes this list from, say, the American Film Institute's "best" lists (Westerns, musicals, comedies, etc.). What the Library is honoring here isn't the "best" movies, but films that in some way expressed American culture and identity, and/or moved the cinematic medium forward in some way. So "Saturday Night Fever" is included, not on the basis of its overall quality (although I'm sure that was a factor), but in how it integrated music into the dramatic narrative in a realist way. I think for "movies we love" the AFI lists are more in that vein.

Saw this movie in college and thought it was a total waste of time. What did I miss?

Again, my impression is that they chose "McCabe" for how Robert Altman re-defined the classic Western genre, in this case making it of-its-time in the 1970s, with naturalistic dialogue and the Leonard Cohen soundtrack. Again, a title chosen for the innovation it introduced to an otherwise convention-bound genre.

I'm sure you've received a great deal of feedback on your ranking of Coen brothers movies. Allow me to pile on: To suggest that "No Country for Old Men" is simply a vehicle to follow around a serial killer is reducto ad absurdum, like saying "The Host" is a movie about a monster or "Saving Private Ryan" is about World War II. Javier Bardem may catch the eye most, but he's simply the film's central disaster or plane crash. The real show is how the other characters react. "No Country for Old Men" is about the codes we choose to live by, and how we struggle to survive the repercussions of those codes.

Well said! Obviously I was in the minority on this one, so I'll just have to claim my annual get-out-of-jail-free card! Thank you for your insights --- maybe one day I'll see the film in a new light!

I didn't see many movies, but mine was Big Baby from Toy Story 3. That lazy eye just creeps me out!

What a delicious question! It would have to be a toss-up between Gru in "Despicable Me" and Megamind.

I looked at the film list in the registry.  Somewhat disappointed. Expected to see films such as these: Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- this film is genius. Buster and Billie.  I can't imagine a film capturing life in a small Georgia town in 1948 more successfully. But the film also takes the viewer deep into a complex world of metaphors on human nature. A Hard Day's Night.  Although a British film, it is 1964 and you are immersed in Beatlemania. The raw energy, watching George singularly take on an advertising firm, just hearing that chord at the beginning of the film -- omg.

All good ideas! Keep watching the list, maybe one or all will make it one day!

Sigh, I just had to tell someone that a part of me died when I heard Natalie Portman got engaged and pregnant. I liked her so much, I sat through "Where The Heart Is" because of her...

Heck she's just having  a baby, not retiring! I still can't banish the adorable kid she played in "Beautiful Girls." A hugely gifted young woman, and I'm sure she'll be back!

You and I usually agree on movies -- no one agrees all the time -- but Fargo makes me want to throw up. My sister watched about 15 minutes and turned it off. All that point-blank violence and thoroughly unlikable characters. Just because the sheriff has a funny accent? Others have tried to explain this to me to no avail. So I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Same with Sideways, not that that's considered a classic. Man behaving very badly gets the wealthy bride (he may give her AIDS) and lives happily ever after? No no no no no. But I know others liked it, too.

Oh I *totally* agree with you on "Sideways"! I did not understand the love that movie go. I completely agree with you on that protagonist -- another person I really resented following through a whole movie, then was asked to care when everything went okay for him. Bleh.

As for "Fargo": You're right, we'll call that one a push!

Folks, it's time for me to sign-off. Once again, you chatters have been lovely and amazing. Thanks so much for taking the time  to join me today, and Happy New Year!

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Ann Hornaday
Ann Hornday is a film critic for The Washington Post.
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