2022 NFR Nominees: Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mishima
Superheroes, Pirates, and Japanese literature
It’s that time of year again, folks. Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation estimates that “one half of all films made before 1950 and over 90% made before 1929 are lost forever.” This makes the mission of the National Film Registry (NFR) all the more pertinent, as we can no more afford to lose these amazing shadows of our national heritage. Every year since 1989, the film archive selects 25 American films to be listed as deserving of preservation due to their historical, cultural, or aesthetic significance. The films must be at least 10 years old and the public is free to nominate up to 50 films each year.
I’m proud to announce that for the year of 2021, the NFR included four of my nominees for preservation: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), and Strangers on a Train (1954). Other important films listed that year include Selena, WALL-E, Flowers and Trees, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
2021 NFR Nominee: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001–2003)
National Film Registry Essay: It’s that time of year again, folks! Every year I make a list of films which I am…
Without any further ado, here are the nominees:
Alongside Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000), Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002) is credited with kick-starting the modern superhero craze. Marvel’s “Spider-Man”, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962, has long been an iconic superhero in American popular culture. His film debut remains the most accurate live-action representation of the character’s Silver Age run.
The film stars Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, a nerdy high school student who is bitten by a radioactive spider on field trip and gains the powers of a spider, including super-strength, spider-sense, wall-climbing, and organic web shooting. His rise is paralleled with that Willem Dafoe’s delightful performance as the villainous Green Goblin, who threatens to steal from Peter all that he holds dear.
What really helps Spider-Man stand out from a now-crowded gang of superhero films is its visual style. Scenes are arranged to mirror the panels of the comics, the screen is filled with colors, and the editing carries great dynamism. The special effects made great use of CGI to show Spider-Man swinging through the streets of New York with epic sweep. The powerful musical score by Danny Elfman is now about as iconic as the one he made for Batman in 1989.
Beneath all of the action, though, is David Koepp’s script, which colors the film with a mix warmth, humor, and maturity. Spider-Man draws from a variety of film genres, such as romance, screwball comedy, high school drama, and action thriller. The supporting cast also stands out, with J.K. Simmons giving a spot-on performance as Jonah J. Jameson, Rosemary Harris as a loving Aunt May, and Kristen Dunst as an alluring, though headstrong Mary Jane Watson. The most emotional, though, belongs to Cliff Robertson as Ben Parker, who imparts onto Peter the famous Spider-Man creed: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
Spider-Man is also an interesting work of post-9/11 art. Being one of the first major blockbuster films set in New York City after 9/11, it carried a message to Americans of solidarity and optimism.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Spider-Man 2 (2004) belongs to that rare cadre of superhero sequels, such as Superman II (1980) and The Dark Knight (2008), which managed to surpass their predecessors. More than a superhero film, it is a personal drama which goes deeper into struggles and sacrifices that Peter Parker must make in balancing his superhero life and his personal life. Drawing upon the comic storyline “Spider-Man No More”, Peter finds the burden of Spider-Man to be too much, and calls it quits. He finds, however, that the conscience of a hero is not so easily ignored.
The film also marks the introduction of Doctor Octopus, played with great emotion and intimidation by Alfred Molina. Unlike the original comic incarnation, this version of “Doc Ock” is a tragic figure, helplessly bound by his own ambitions. Doc Ock’s iconic four tentacles are brought to life by mix of animatronic puppetry and computer animation. Indeed, the CGI is so advanced that the battles between Spider-Man and Doc Ock are better able to resemble those of the comics, such as the gravity-defying bank robbery or the heart-stopping train fight. It’s of little surprise, then, that Spider-Man 2 won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects in 2004.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
Inspired by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride at Disneyland and controversially adopting plot points from the Monkey Island video game, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) could have easily been a clunky mess. In fact, the pirate genre had long been unsuccessful at the box office and many predicted that the film would be a flop.
To everyone’s surprise, Pirates of the Caribbean was a box office smash that breathed new life into the pirate genre. A swashbuckling adventure that paid clear tribute to Hollywood’s Golden Age movies, such as Errol Flynn’s The Sea Hawk, and drew upon the imagery of classic books like Treasure Island. Another surprise is that, despite being a Disney film, the studio allowed director Gore Verbinski to push the envelope of what could be done in a Disney film, depicting plenty of violence, drinking, swearing, and sensuality. This made it the first Disney film to get a PG-13 rating.
The star of this film is Johnny Depp, giving an iconic performance as the charismatic and goofy Captain Jack Sparrow. Sparrow proved so popular upon release, that Depp was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar at the 2003 Academy Awards. Rivaling Depp is Geoffrey Rush as the equally entertaining antagonist Captain Hector Barbossa. Other memorable performances are provided by Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Johnathan Pryce, Kevin McNally, Lee Arenberg, Mackenzie Cook, and Zoe Saldana.
Most of the film was shot on location at the beautiful island of St. Vincent, while Klaus Badelt provided an instantly memorable score. Though what made Pirates of the Caribbean stand out from other films of the genre was its touch of supernatural horror. The pirates of Barbarossa’s crew are cursed to be walking zombies, and the moonlight reveals their deathly look. Industrial Light and Magic created the ghoulish effects of the undead which are still impressive to this day.
Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
Yukio Mishima was one of the great Japanese novelists of the 20th century, whose works explored homosexuality, sadomasochism, and the beauty of destruction (especially that of the self). His contradictory life and shocking ritual suicide in 1970 have left many readers around the world fascinated with him ever since.
Though Mishima was a filmmaker in his own right, predicting his end in the short Patriotism, the most famous film about him was done by the American screenwriter Paul Schrader: Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985). The film is a unique biopic which blends Mishima’s life with some of his most famous books: Confessions of a Mask, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Runaway Horses, and Kyoko’s House. The result is a biopic which is less concerned with accuracy to historical detail, and more concerned with accuracy to the soul of its novelist.
Ken Ogata gives a strong and convincing performance as Mishima. John Bailey’s cinematography and the production design by Eiko Ishioka pays tribute to various Japanese performing arts, such as old black-and-white movies or Noh plays. The great Phillip Glass also provides a moving classical score.
Though the West has a history of sensationalism and fetishization when it comes to Japanese culture, Mishima, despite its shocking subject matter, avoids stereotype. It invites the viewer to try and understand Mishima’s strange outlook on life, and also why so many around the world remain captivated with his literature. The film also proved controversial in Japan due its depiction of Mishima’s homosexuality.
2022 NFR Nominees Full List
- Barney Oldfield’s Race For A Life (1913)
- Bottle Rocket (1996)
- The Cat Concerto (1947)
- Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
- 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
- The Defiant Ones (1958)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
- Rape Culture (1973)
- Gimme Shelter (1970)
- What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
- The Patterson-Gimlin Film (1967)
- Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
- Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
- Carrie (1977)
- The Blues Accordin´ To Lightning Hopkins (1968)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer´s Stone (2001)
- Batman (1989)
- Fight Club (1999)
- Mulholland Dr (2001)
- The Mind’s Eye: A Computer Animation Odyssey (1990)
- Beyond the Mind’s Eye (1992)
- The Gate to the Mind’s Eye (1994)
- Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye (1996)
- The Secret of NIMH (1982)
- The Color Purple (1985)
- The Truman Show (1998)
- Pleasantville (1998)
- WarGames (1983)
- The Crow (1994)
- Crumb (1994)
- Lake Of Fire (2006)
- Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
- Boogie Nights (1997)
- Inherit The Wind (1960)
- Scarface (1983)
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
- Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)
- Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
- Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
- The Sixth Sense (1999)
- The Haunting (1968)
- Somewhere In Time (1980)
- Lonely Are The Brave (1962)
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
- Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956)
- Spider-Man (2002)
- Spider-Man 2 (2004)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
- Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters (1985)
2022 NFR Nominee Justifications:
- Barney Oldfield’s Race For A Life (1913)
A classic silent comedy that immortalized the famous image of a damsel in distress being tied to the train tracks by a mustachioed villain. The film also features the Keystone Cops, who stand along with Chaplin and Keaton as comedy icons of America’s silent film era.
2. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Wes Anderson’s films have gone on to represent independent filmmaking in America for many years, and much of that started with his meandering debut Bottle Rocket. The film, though flawed, maintains a strong focus of friendship between its cast, through the adventures of bored middle class suburban teenagers who try to become professional criminals. Bottle Rocket is a looking-glass, perhaps, into America’s restless Generation X, as well as into the creativity of Anderson’s own mind.
3. The Cat Concerto (1947)
Tom and Jerry are one of the most popular duos in animation history, and the oft copied Cat Concerto stands as one of their finest examples. Tom and Jerry compete with a piano while Franz Liszt’s famous Hungarian Rhapsody №2 plays on. The film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject and was included on Jerry Beck’s 50 Greatest Cartoons.
4. Der Fuehrer’s Face (1943)
During World War II, Disney produced multiple animated propaganda films to sway public opinion in favor of the war. Der Fuehrer’s Face is an excellent example as it features Donald Duck living under the horror of the Nazi regime. Much like Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, it is a great satire of Nazi Germany. The film one the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Subject.
5. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954)
Walt Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea is one of the most famous and critically acclaimed adaptations of Jules Verne’s enduring novel. The film has a cast of some of Old Hollywood’s best actors: Paul Lukas, Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre, and most famously, James Mason as the chilling Captain Nemo, who stands as one of the most morally complex characters ever put onto film. The film is one of Disney’s most mature, carrying many of Verne’s themes on personal freedom, the dangers of science, and the failings of society. It is especially interesting that the film was released during the Cold War, so much of the growing fears about nuclear war are cleverly added to the film. The movie itself is a special effects milestone, featuring an impressive giant squid and winning the Oscar for Special Effects that year.
6. The Defiant Ones (1958)
Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones is great film about America’s changing attitudes towards racism against blacks. The film stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as prisoners on the run chained together. The two, in many ways, are a microcosm for the racial tensions between blacks and whites in America, but their ultimate ability to work together shows the superiority of friendship over racial prejudice. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
7–8. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2002–2003)
- The Two Towers (2002)
- The Return of the King (2003)
Peter Jackson’s critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings Trilogy, alongside with Harry Potter, reinvigorated an interest in fantasy, and promoted the accessibility of blockbusters over two hours. The film is a fantasy epic with an ensemble cast, including the likes of Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, and Hugo Weaving among others, which centers on the friendship between its leads, Frodo and Sam, as they go on an odyssey to throw the One Ring into the fires of Mt. Doom. The film echoes back to older epics, such as Ben-Hur and Gone With The Wind, that has a memorable grand score, along with a balanced use of computer animation and practical effects to create truly breathtaking shots and scenes. The author of the original trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien, once called his books “unfilmmable”. Conversely, film trilogy, as one of the first major pictures of the 21st century, represents how far American films have come since D.W. Griffith’s opuses. Indeed, it is a culmination of all the breakthroughs American movies have made in the 20th century, and a golden standard by which future American films would be set to. The Lord of the Rings film trilogy won 17 out its 30 Oscar nominees, with Return of the King taking home Best Picture
9. Rape Culture (1973)
A raw documentary produced by Prisoners Against Rape, the DC Rape Crisis Center, and political filmmakers Margaret Lazarus, and Renner Wunderlich, Rape Culture is probably one of the first movies to examine the crime of rape in its ugly forms and the roles that Hollywood films, pornography, masculinity, and racism have played in its persistence. The film also features various feminists such as Mary Daly, who give viewers a glimpse into radical second-wave feminism. Although many aspects of the film may seem quite obtuse today, the film represented a time in American history when the causes of rape began to be identified, or at least discussed. Whether or not one agrees with all of its assertions, or even the existence of rape culture, the film represents a visual milestone in the start of a conversation that still continues to this day.
10. Gimme Shelter (1970)
Ever since the British Invasion of the 1960’s, The Rolling Stones have been a staple of American rock music. The first half of the movie shows their energetic live performances on concert and the stresses that go into recording their songs. The Stones were not at Woodstock, but they did have their own sort of festival at the Altamont Free Concert. Thus, the second half of Gimme Shelter depicts the concert itself, set up at the Altamont Highway. This section of the film shows some of the crude excesses of the counterculture, which tragically culminated in a murder during The Stone’s song, “Sympathy For The Devil”. In a sense, this film is a gritty contrast to idealistic flower power of Woodstock. Gimmie Shelter has since been added into the Criterion Collection.
11. What’s Up, Doc? (1972)
Peter Bogdanovich’s excellent tribute to the screwball comedies of the 1930’s that manages to be something of a great comedy in itself. The movie keeps in the tradition of the New Hollywood era which were the first films directed by people who had grown up on films. The American Film Institute included it as one of the nation’s best comedies.
12. The Patterson-Gimlin Film (1968)
The Patterson-Gimlin film is believed by many to be the best evidence for Bigfoot captured on film. At the very least, it has captured the fascination of many since its release. Even if one doesn’t believe in Bigfoot, the film has played a big role in shaping our popular understanding of the elusive beast. Indeed, if there could be one film you would use to symbolize our ongoing fascination with Bigfoot, this one is probably it.
13. Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982)
The series, Star Trek, has proven to be iconic in the world of American television. So too does The Wrath of Khan hold an enduring impact for bringing the best of Star Trek onto the silver screen. Leonard Nimoy’s role as Mr. Spock has become lauded within the annals of science-fiction. Of course, Spock’s place in The Wrath of Khan is particularly famous, including a heartfelt moment where he utters, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Of course, none of this is to diminish the superb cast of the USS Enterprise, played by William Shatner, Deforest Kelley, George Takei, James Doohan, Walter Koening, and Nichelle Nichols. Though few stick out as well as the fearsome Khan himself, portrayed viciously by Ricardo Montalban.
14. Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
This work is a marvel of Ray Harryhausen’s spectacular stop-motion effects, from the many headed Hydra to the army of skeletons.
15. Carrie (1977)
Based on Stephen King’s debut novel of the same name, Brian DePalma’s horrifying adaptation has helped launch King’s narrative into a popular myth of contemporary America’s culture. Carrie touches a nerve in many, the social outcast with an unappreciated talent. The horror film has particularly haunting performances by Piper Laurie, as Carrie’s fundamentalist mother, and Sissy Spacek, whose portrays our conflicted protagonist’s spiral into madness. Both of whom were nominated for Oscars, a rarity among horror films today.
16. The Blues Accordin’ To Lightning Hopkins (1968)
Lightning Hopkins is considered one of America’s finest guitarists, and Les Blanc’s documentary shows just why. Blues is an integral part of our cultural history and Hopkins plays with an emotional understanding of this fact. Throughout we see the impact of his music on ordinary people. The Blues Accordin’ To Lightning Hopkins has also been added to the Criterion Collection.
17. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Harry Potter launched from a bestselling book series and into a global phenomenon. This influence was felt no less by film. The inaugural entry into the popular film series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, was successful in creating Hogwarts, the fantasy world where goblins run banks, sports are run on broomsticks, and chess pieces can run you over. Harry Potter also provided America with a showcase of Britain’s best talent, from Alan Rickman to Richard Harris to Maggie Smith, as well as a catapult for bringing fantasy novels and young adult fiction onto the silver screen.
18. Fight Club (1999)
Based on the equally controversial book by Chuck Palaniuk, David Fincher’s Fight Club is a film that examines masculinity, consumerism, and meaning in a changing society. Edward Norton plays the unassuming narrator, whose directionless life is given an injection of adrenaline by the wild Tyler Durden, played by Brad Pitt. Tyler starts a fight club, which allows men to fight out their aggression, within various rules, of course. The first rule of Fight Club being that you cannot talk about it. Fight Club is a dual image, both a condemnation and a celebration of our twisted society, along with the men who reside in it.
19. Batman (1989)
Batman, along with Superman, Wonder Woman, or Spider-Man, is one of the most iconic superheroes in American comics. Tim Burton’s adaptation of the character in 1989 is considered, alongside Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, one of the definitive interpretations of Batman on film. The film was successful in returning Batman to his darker origins from his campy image on the Adam West show. The movie is a showcase of talent: Tim Burton’s artistic use of sets, models, and lighting, Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson’s performances in the leading roles, Danny Elfman’s sweeping score, and Prince’s pop additions. Batman would go on to define the character, and superhero films for the years to come.
20. Mulholland Dr. (2001)
David Lynch’s magnum opus, and one of the most acclaimed and divisive films of 2001, Mulholland Dr. was directed in pure Lynchian style: obscure, enigmatic, strange, thoughtful, ambiguous, and addictive. The film explores identity, desire, dreams, and the many faces of Hollywood. Much like Sunset Boulevard, Lynch’s Mulholland Dr. is as much a critique of the Hollywood system as it is a celebration of it. The film is also among the first to start the craze of Internet forums and websites analyzing and interpreting movies of this kind. Mulholland Dr. is also one of the few films from the 2000’s that came of BFI’s Sight and Sound poll for greatest films of all time.
21–24. The Mind’s Eye (film series) (1990–1996)
- “The Mind’s Eye: A Computer Animation Odyssey” (1990)
— “Beyond the Mind’s Eye” (1992)
— “The Gate to the Mind’s Eye” (1994)
— “Odyssey into the Mind’s Eye” (1996)
In the past, the NFR has recognized the relevance of computer animated films, having previously selected Toy Story, Luxo Jr, Tin Toy, and The Computer Animated Hand for preservation. The experimental Mind’s Eye films made by Odyssey Productions pushed the technological boundaries of computer animation at a time when it was still a novel device. The films have found a new life in the vaporwave genre of music, which often recycles images from these shorts to express the aesthetic of 1990’s computer technology.
25. The Secret of NIMH (1982)
While Disney floundered throughout the 1980’s, former Disney animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman filled the gap in quality cartoon films. The best of these works was Bluth’s magnum opus The Secret of NIMH, based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien. NIMH stands above many other animated features, in that it has a subtlety and adult sensibility that is often left by the wayside in children’s entertainment. It also carries a female protagonist in the lead who has no special powers or alluring beauty, but simply seeks to save her home.
26. The Color Purple (1985)
Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Alice Walker, the film, directed by Steven Spielberg, provides an important lens into an area of American history, particularly the struggles of African-American women in the early 1920’s, who had to deal with racism, poverty, and sexism, as seen through the eyes of Celie, a woman who takes a slow odyssey of liberation from her abusive husband. The film is also a grand showcase of African-American talents, Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, Margaret Avery, Adolph Caesar, and Oprah Winfrey. The Color Purple was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress In A Leading Role, and Best Actress In A Supporting Role. Film critic Roger Ebert added it to his Great Movies list.
27. The Truman Show (1988)
One of Jim Carrey’s most acclaimed films, which is about a man whose entire life is a well-constructed television show, but he’s the only one who does not know it. The film satirizes and questions the utopian concept of the “American Dream”, like The Matrix, examines the concept of simulated reality, and like Network, examined the endless shock factor of burgeoning reality television.
28. Pleasantville (1998)
A clever tribute as well as parody of the black and white sitcoms that were popular during the 1950’s. The film features two 90’s teenagers who enter the world of the fictional 1950’s television show, “Pleasantville”, and come face to face with the ideals that America projected onto the screen, and see their strengths as well as shortcomings. The film also examines the conflict between the culture of that era and the culture of the later decades, through art, music, literature, and sex. This is mainly achieved through the film’s mixture of black-and-white and color visuals. The film also stars the late Don Knotts of The Andy Griffith Show as a guiding force.
29. WarGames (1983)
One of the first films to accurately portray hacker culture to a mass audience, WarGames also examines the strategy of “mutually assured destruction” and the growing roles of computers and artificial intelligence in governmental affairs.
30. The Crow (1994)
Alex Proyas’s film adaptation brought to life James O’Barr’s gritty comic book that features the resurrection of Eric Draven, a rock musician who seeks to avenge the rape and murder of his fiance. The film is foremost the last, and perhaps best performance of Brandon Lee, who died during the production of the film, just as he began to emerge from his father’s shadow. The film’s creative special effects echo the minaturesque macabre of Tim Burton’s Batman as well as the dystopian hell of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Also, keeping in the theme of Draven’s former role as a rock musician, The Crow also serves as a showcase of some of the 90’s most popular rock groups, from The Cure to The Stone Temple Pilots.
31. Crumb (1994)
A documentary which examines the strange and obscene lifestyle of one of America’s most famous underground cartoonists, Robert R. Crumb. Through the film, we see his legacy through creations such as Fritz The Cat, Mr. Natural, Keep On Truckin’, and his album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, as well as the grotesque and pornographic side of American cartoons never explored through the films of either Disney or Warner Bros. In the film, we also see the broken lives of Crumb and as his brothers as they struggle with loneliness and depression, and how for Crumb, cartooning provided him a unique escape.
32. Lake Of Fire (2006)
Abortion, alongside gun control, remains one of the most divisive topics in American politics, with a comfortable resolution yet in sight. Through this 152 minute documentary, filmed over 16 years, and costing $8 million dollars, director Tony Kaye allows for all points of view from across the political, religious, legal, medical, and philosophical spectrum to be heard, without editing or judgement. The film examines the pro-life movement, the murders of abortion doctors, the pro-choice movement, and shows us two actual abortion procedures. Among those interviewed include Norma McCorvey, Noam Chomsky, Peter Singer, Alan Dershowitz, Nat Hentoff, and most importantly, the women who have been directly affected. The film is shot in black, white, and shades of grey, reflecting, perhaps, the various perspectives.
33. Mutiny On The Bounty (1935)
Considered by many to be finest film on the true Bounty mutiny, if not the most historically accurate, is the most influential in shaping the popular perception of what occurred during the incident. Most notably framing Christian Fletcher (Clark Gable) as righteous and Captain William Bligh (Charles Laughton) as sadistic. For their convincing roles, Gable, Laughton, and Franchot Tone, were all nominated for the Oscar of Best Actor that year, with none of them winning. Mutiny did, however, win the Oscar for Best Picture. The American Film Institute has listed it as the 86th greatest film of all time, and Laughton’s depiction of Captain Bligh as the 19th greatest villain of all time.
34. Boogie Nights (1997)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights is one of the few dramas to depict the Golden Age of Pornography in American cinema, and as well as one of the few to humanize pornographic filmmakers, producers, actors, and actresses as people. With its ensemble talent of Mark Wahlberg, Julianne Moore, Burt Reynolds, Don Cheadle, John C. Reiliy, William H. Macy, Heather Graham, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzman, and Alfred Molina. Through the film we see the behind the scenes of how pornographic films were made, their near-mainstream popularity, the effects of the rise of home video, and the discrimination these people faced, and indeed, still do face, for their work. The film also has cameo appearances from Golden Age porn stars Nina Hartley and Veronica Hart.
35. Inherit The Wind (1960)
Inspired by the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, which to many Americans symbolized the conflict between scientific progress and religious fundamentalism, the film is a rarity, as it acutely and boldly explores questions of faith, education, and fraud. At the center of the film are powerful performances from Spencer Tracy, Gene Kelly, and Fredric March, all playing characters inspired by the American icons, Clarence Darrow, H.L. Mencken, and William Jennings Bryan. Film critic Roger Ebert added Inherit The Wind to his Great Movies list.
36. Scarface (1983)
Brian De Palma’s controversial remake of Howard Hawk’s 1932 mob film. Scarface is the story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban refugee from the Mariel boatlift who rises to great wealth through his involvement in cocaine trafficking. Much like Bonnie and Clyde, the film pushed the limits of violence that could be shown on screen. The script, written by Oliver Stone, it both a critique of the American Dream as well as the War On Drugs. The film launched the career of actress Michelle Pfeiffer, and made Montana an icon for rap and hip-hop artists. The American Film Institute listed it as the 10th greatest gangster film of all time, and film critic Roger Ebert added it to his Great Movies list.
37. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Conceived by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a signature film for the art of stop-motion animation. The film carries elements of both Christmas and Halloween, making it an effective tale for both holidays. Drawing from the German Expressionist movement, the film is a great palette of Tim Burton’s creativity, Danny Elfman’s musical talents, and Henry Selick’s attention to detail. The Nightmare Before Christmas has gone on to become a seminal part of America’s gothic subculture.
38. Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)
James Stuart Blackman’s three minute short carries the unique significance of being the first animated film. An important landmark in the history of animation.
39. Bambi Meets Godzilla (1969)
One of the most famous student films of all time, that features a brief, but humorous, encounter between Bambi and Godzilla. Created by Marv Newman, it reveals the creative skills of one who can make a memorable joke with limited resources. Animation historian Jeff Back listed it as one the greatest animated shorts of all time. Bambi Meets Godzilla was also preserved by the Academy Film Archive.
40. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
Regarded as the best Thanksgiving film, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles signified a shift in John Hughes’s direction from movies about teens to those about adults. The film also portrays the ranging comedic talents of John Candy and Steve Martin. Film critic Roger Ebert added the movie to his Great Movies list.
41. The Sixth Sense (1999)
The debut film of director M. Night Shaymalan, which remains his most famous and critically acclaimed work. Drawing upon elements of Hitchcockian thriller and the Twilight Zone, Shyamalan crafts a sentimental tale of death and the afterlife. The film established Shyamalan as a director of thrillers, particularly those with twist endings, and launched the career of child actor Haley Joel Osment. The Sixth Sense was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and the American Film Institute listed it as the 60th greatest thriller of all time, and in 2007, the 89th greatest movie of all time. The Writers Guild of America listed its screenplay as the 50th best of all time.
42. The Haunting (1963)
Based on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel The Haunting Of Hill House, and adapted by Sound Of Music and West Side Story director Robert Wise, this film is about four people who enter into a house that is believed to be haunted. The Haunting is skilled in ambiguity, as the ghosts are never shown, and the black-and-white cinematography adds a menacing air to the house, a demonstration most evident in the notable staircase sequence. The film is also bold in its addition of the lesbian character Theodora, whose lesbianism while not explicitly stated, added a nuanced and sensual LGBT representation in the film. The Haunting is also the standout performance of Julie Harris as a psychologically fragile Eleanor who is driven mentally insane.
43. Somewhere In Time (1980)
Based on the romance novel Bid Time Return by I Am Legend novelist Richard Mattheson, the film stars Christopher Reeve, who goes back in time to meet his love Elise, played by Jane Seymour. It is also the first and only movie to be filmed almost entirely on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, and a treasured visual representation of that land. While met with lukewarm reviews in theaters, the film earned a a strong fanbase after its replays on cable television and the resonance of John Barry’s musical score. Activism from the fanbase helped lead to both Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour earning stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, and the annual “Somewhere In Time Weekend” at Mackinac, where fans dress up as characters from the film.
44. Lonely Are the Brave (1962)
A film that Kirk Douglas himself regards as his best, Lonely Are the Brave belongs alongside Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance! as a mediation on the death of cowboy lifestyle. The films stars Douglas as a cowboy on the lam, and with a screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, it could be interpreted, like Spartacus, as a statement on the McCarthy era.
45. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
2019 NFR Nominees: The Blues Brothers (1980) and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923)
It’s that time of year again, folks.
The first major American film adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel which launched the iconic Universal Monsters series. In this silent picture, the hunchback Quasimodo, is played by Lon Chaney Sr. in his famously fearsome makeup. This film along with The Phantom of the Opera helped establish Chaney as an icon of American cinema and was one of Universal’s most successful silent films.
46. Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956)
2020 NFR Nominee: “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” (1956)
National Film Registry Essay: Every year I make a list of films that I am nominating for the National Film Registry…
While drawing most of its footage from the Japanese kaiju film Gojira (1954), the American adaptation, directed Terry Morse, included new actors and sets filmed in California. Such acting talent included Rear Window’s Raymond Burr, as well as Asian-American talents, like Frank Iwanaga. Not only was the film an innovator of future hybrid works like Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, but it was the only version that most international audiences saw until 2004.
Make Your Own Nominations to the 2022 National Film Registry! Due by August 15, 2022!