Recently the Library of Congress announced the 2021 additions to the National Film Registry, a list of films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” that are earmarked for preservation. These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.
“Films help reflect our cultural history and creativity — and show us new ways of looking at ourselves — though movies haven’t always been deemed worthy of preservation. The National Film Registry will preserve our cinematic heritage, and we are proud to add 25 more films this year,” said Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. “The Library of Congress will work with our partners in the film community to ensure these films are preserved for generations to come.”
Return of the Jedi, 1983
The original “Star Wars” trilogy reached its first apex with this film, the third release in the “a galaxy far, far away” trifecta. Directed by Richard Marquand, from a story by, of course, George Lucas, “Jedi” launches Lucas’ original, legendary characters — Luke, Leia, Han Solo, C-3PO, R2-D2 and others — on a series of new adventures, which takes fans from the planet of Tatooine to the deep forests of Endor. Populated by intriguing new characters — including Ewoks and the gluttonous Jabba the Hutt — and filled with the series’ trademark humor, heart, thrills and chills, “Jedi,” though perhaps not quite up to the lofty standards of its two predecessors, still ranks as an unquestioned masterpiece of fantasy, adventure and wonder.
Stop Making Sense, 1984
Director Jonathan Demme captures the frantic energy and artsy groove of Talking Heads in this concert movie shot at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in 1983. The band’s frontman, David Byrne, first appears on an empty stage, armed with only an acoustic guitar, and is gradually joined by bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, keyboardist Jerry Harrison and a cadre of backup singers as they perform the band’s hits, culminating in an iconic performance featuring Byrne in an enormous suit.
Strangers on a Train, 1951
In one of Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense classics, tennis pro Guy Haines chances to meet wealthy wastrel Bruno Anthony on a train. Having read all about Guy, Bruno is aware that the tennis player is trapped in an unhappy marriage to to wife Miriam (Laura Elliott) and has been seen in the company of senator’s daughter Ann Morton. Baiting Guy, Bruno reveals that he feels trapped by his hated father. As Guy listens with detached amusement, Bruno discusses the theory of “exchange murders.” Suppose that Bruno were to murder Guy’s wife, and Guy in exchange were to kill Bruno’s father? With no known link between the two men, the police would be none the wiser, would they? When he reaches his destination, Guy bids goodbye to Bruno, thinking nothing more of the affable but rather curious young man’s homicidal theories. And then, Guy’s wife turns up strangled to death. Co-adapted by Raymond Chandler from a novel by Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train perfectly exemplifies Hitchcock’s favorite theme of the evil that lurks just below the surface of everyday life and ordinary men.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962
As a child, “Baby Jane” Hudson was the toast of vaudeville. As an adult, however, Baby Jane was overshadowed by her more talented sister, Blanche, who became a top movie star. Then, one night in the early ’30s, came the accident, which crippled Blanche for life and which was blamed on a drunken, jealous Jane. Flash-forward to 1962: Jane, decked out in garish chalk-white makeup, still lives with the invalid Blanche in their decaying L.A. mansion. When Jane isn’t tormenting the helpless Blanche by serving her dead rats for breakfast, she is plotting and planning her showbiz comeback. Convinced that her days are numbered if she remains in the house with her addlepated sister, Blanche desperately tries to get away, but all avenues of escape are cut off by the deranged Jane.
The year is 2700, and planet Earth has long been uninhabitable. For hundreds of years, WALL-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) has been taking out the trash, and collecting precious knick-knacks in order to stave off the boredom of his dreary routine. Little does WALL-E realize that he has recently stumbled onto a secret that could save planet Earth, and once again make the ravaged planet safe for all humankind. When highly advanced search robot EVE makes friends with WALL-E and realizes the value of his remarkable discovery, she excitedly races back to let the humans know that there’s hope for their home planet after all. But after centuries alone in space, WALL-E can’t stand the thought of losing the only friend he’s ever known, and eagerly follows her into the deepest reaches of space on the adventure of a lifetime.
The Flying Ace, 1926
A veteran World War I fighter pilot returns home a war hero and immediately regains his former job as a railroad company detective. His first case: recover a stolen satchel filled with $25,000 of company payroll, locate a missing employee, and capture a gang of railroad thieves.
Pink Flamingos, 1972
Notorious Baltimore criminal and underground figure Divine goes up against a sleazy married couple who make a passionate attempt to humiliate her and seize her tabloid-given title as “The Filthiest Person Alive”.
Set in rural Louisiana during the Depression, this heartfelt story tells of a sharecropper family struggling to overcome adversity. After stealing to feed his family, Nathan is sent to a prison camp. In their fight for survival, his determined wife and their eldest son hold the family together. Once the boy becomes an adult, he searches for his father but instead discovers manhood.
The Long Goodbye, 1973
For The Long Goodbye, Robert Altman successfully transports Philip Marlowe, incarnated by Elliott Gould, to the over-privileged, full-color 70s. Marlowe is lonely and shabby, yet does not seem an anachronism in the contemporary world. Unlike Bogart’s Marlowe, this is a not especially tough Marlowe. He’s a bright, conscientiously solemn nut, a guy who hopes for the best but expects the worst. This particular Philip Marlowe, despite evidence to the contrary, persists in believing that not all relationships need be opportunistic or squalid.
Flowers and Trees, 1932
In one of Walt Disney’s Silly Symphonies, a jealous stump threatens two trees that are in love by starting a forest fire. When the rain comes and puts out the fire the forest revives and celebrates the wedding.
Cooley High, 1975
In 1964, a group of high school friends who live on the Near North Side of Chicago enjoy life to the fullest…parties, hanging out, meeting new friends. Then life changes for two of the guys when they meet a pair of career criminals and get falsely arrested in connection with stealing a Cadillac. We follow their lives through the end of high school and the dramatic end to their school year.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, 1979
Richard Pryor’s classic 1979 concert film has him discussing a wide range of topics, including race, the police and his favorite target — himself.
A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984
When her best friend Tina is brutally murdered, teenager Nancy suspects the killer isn’t Tina’s boyfriend but rather a much more horrifying figure from her dreams. Convinced that this vicious murderer is stalking her friends and killing them as they sleep, Nancy enters a desperate race against time to bring him out of her dream world and stop the bloodbath … before she falls asleep and becomes his next victim.
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 2001
A young Hobbit named Frodo has been entrusted with ancient ring. Now, he must travel to the place where the ring was forged to destroy the ring and end the Dark Lord’s reign.
The Watermelon Woman, 1996
Cheryl, a young black woman in a video store, is making a documentary about an obscure black actress from the 1930’s. When she discovers that the actress (known as “the Watermelon Woman”) had a white lesbian lover, Cheryl just happens to fall in love with a very cute white woman herself!
From the humble Texas barrio roots to stardom’s center stage. Music, family, triumph, and joy abound in this dynamic story of the beloved, ill-fated singer whose following continues to grow. It’s a story of a girl who had a spirit to believe in a dream and the courage to make it come true.
Hellbound Train, 1930
Arguably the most significant rediscovery in Pioneers of African-American Cinema. The film is the work of self-taught filmmakers James and Eloyce Gist, African-American evangelists who employed cinema as a tool for their traveling ministry. Their surreal visual allegories were screened in churches and meeting halls, accompanied by a sermon and the passing of a collection plate. Rather than having a linear story, the film is instead a catalog of iniquity, a car-by-car dramatization of the sins of the Jazz Age (including gambling, dancing, alcohol, and the mistreatment of animals), presided over by a horned devil, culminating in a colossal derailment (a model train tossed into a bonfire). Admittedly, the production values are minimal—being shot with hand-held 16mm equipment with natural light, and without audio—but the surreality of it all makes for a compelling viewing experience, and shows that renegade, visionary filmmakers can be found in the most unexpected places.
Also added to the registry: Ringling Brothers Parade Film, 1902, Jubilo, 1919, Evergreen, 1965, Requiem-29, 1970, The Murder of Fred Hampton, 1971, Chicana, 1979, The Wobblies, 1979, and Who Killed Vincent Chin?, 1987.