2008 National Film Registry selections
EmptyThe Asphalt Jungle (1950)
John Huston's brilliant crime drama contains the recipe for a meticulously planned robbery, but the cast of criminal characters features one too many bad apples. Sam Jaffe, as the twisted mastermind, uses cash from corrupt attorney Emmerich (Louis Calhern) to assemble a group of skilled thugs to pull off a jewel heist. All goes as planned — until an alert night watchman and a corrupt cop enter the picture. Marilyn Monroe has a bit part as Emmerich's "niece."
Four Atlanta professionals (Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronnie Cox and Jon Voight) head for a weekend canoe trip — and instead meet up with two of the more memorable villains in film history (Billy McKinney and Herbert Coward) in this gripping Appalachian "Heart of Darkness." With dazzling visual flair, director John Boorman and cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond infuse James Dickey's novel with scenes of genuine terror and frantic struggles for survival battling river rapids — and in the process create a work rich with fascinating ambiguities about "civilized" values, urban-versus-backwoods culture and man's supposed taming of the environment.
Disneyland Dream (1956)
The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel, were among 25 families who won a free trip to the new Disneyland in Anaheim as part of a contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration ("The landscape was very different from back home in Connecticut"), we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956.
A Face in the Crowd (1957)
Before Andy Griffith became a TV legend playing a likable small-town sheriff, he portrayed a different type of celebrity in this dark look at the way sudden fame and power can corrupt. In his film debut, Griffith plays a rural drunk, drifter and country singer who becomes an overnight success when a radio station employee (Patricia Neal) puts him on the air. Behind the scenes, he turns into a power-hungry monster who must be exposed. This film is based on a short story by Budd Schulberg, who also wrote the script for director Elia Kazan.
Flower Drum Song (1961)
This film version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical marked the first Hollywood studio film featuring performances by a mostly Asian cast. Starring prominent Asian-American actors Nancy Kwan and James Shigeta, this milestone film presented an enduring three-dimensional portrait of Asian America as well as a welcomed, non-cliched portrait of Chinatown beyond the usual exotic tourist façades.
Foolish Wives (1922)
Director Erich von Stroheim's third feature, staged with costly and elaborate sets of Monte Carlo, tells the story of a criminal who passes himself off as a Russian count in order to seduce women of society and steal their money. This brilliant and, at the time, controversial film fully established von Stroheim's reputation within the industry as a difficult-to-manage creative genius.
Free Radicals (1979)
Born in New Zealand, avant-garde filmmaker Len Lye moved to the U.S. and became a naturalized citizen in 1950. For his four-minute work "Free Radicals" (begun in 1958 and completed in 1979), Lye made scratches directly into the film stock. These scratches became "figures of motion" that appear in the finished film as horizontal and vertical lines and shapes dancing to the music of the Bagirmi tribe in Africa.
The all-black-cast film "Hallelujah" was a surprising gamble by normally conservative MGM, allowed chiefly because director King Vidor deferred his salary and MGM had proved slow to convert from silent to sound films. Vidor had to shoot silent film of the mass-river-baptism and swamp-murder Tennessee location scenes. He then painstakingly synchronized the dialogue and music. The passionate conviction of the melodrama and the resourceful technical experiments make "Hallelujah" among the first masterpieces of the sound era.
In Cold Blood (1967)
In 1959, two men brutally murdered four members of a Holcomb, Kan., family. Truman Capote reported on the infamous incident, first in a series of New Yorker articles and later in his nonfiction novel, "In Cold Blood." With an unsparing neo-realism, director Richard Brooks adapted Capote's novel, focusing on the motivations, backgrounds and relationship of the killers and society's failure to spot potential murderers. Filmed in striking black-and-white documentary style by cinematographer Conrad Hall, the film starred then-unknown actors Robert Blake and Scott Wilson.
The Invisible Man (1933)
Universal released many classic horror films during the 1930s, and director James Whale crafted some of the greatest from that famous cycle: "Frankenstein," "Bride of Frankenstein," "The Old Dark House" and "The Invisible Man." Whale brought a dazzling stylishness to what were essentially low-budget horror films and, in the case of "The Invisible Man," produced sophisticated special effects, aided by John P. Fulton. As in his discovery of Boris Karloff to play "Frankenstein," Whale made another inspirational choice in picking British-born Claude Rains, in his American film debut, to portray H.G. Wells' tormented scientist.
Johnny Guitar (1954)
Often described as the one of the stranger, kinkier Westerns of all time, Nicholas Ray's film noir-esque "Johnny Guitar" possesses enough symbolism to keep a psychiatrist occupied for years and was a favorite of French New Wave directors. "Johnny Guitar," filmed in the Trucolor process and CinemaScope, also rates significance as one of a few Westerns featuring women as the main stars (Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge).
The Killers (1946)
Director Robert Siodmak took the original Ernest Hemingway short story as the film's opening point and developed it with an elaborate series of flashbacks, creating a classic example of film noir. Two killers shatter a small town's quiet before an insurance investigator (Edmond O'Brien) digs up crime, betrayal and a glamorous woman (Ava Gardner) behind an ex-fighter's death (Burt Lancaster's electrifying film debut).
The March (1964)
George Stevens Jr., who headed the U.S. Information Agency Motion Picture Service unit from 1962-67, brought in several young talented documentary filmmakers such as Charles Guggenheim, Carroll Ballard, Kent McKenzie, Leo Seltzer, Terry Sanders, Bruce Herschensohn and James Blue, who directed "The March." Examining the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington from the ground level and focusing on the idealistic passion of the crowds, Blue's doc lets us see the event take shape from the planning stage — with sound checks and worries about whether people will attend — to the arrival of enormous crowds. It culminates in Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
No Lies (1973)
Done in faux cinema verite style, Mitchell Block's 16-minute New York University student film begins on a note of insouciant amateurism and then convincingly moves into darker, deeper waters. Opening with a scene of a girl getting ready for a date, the camera-wielding protagonist adroitly orchestrates a mood shift from goofiness to raw pain as an interviewer tears down the girl's emotional defenses after being raped. It's one of the first films to deal with the way rape victims are treated when they seek professional help.
On the Bowery (1957)
Lionel Rogosin's acclaimed, unrelenting docudrama about the infamous New York City neighborhood focuses on three of its alcoholic skid row denizens and their marginal existence amid the gin mills, missions and flop houses. Rogosin and his crew spent months on the Bowery observing and talking with residents. The film remains a wrenching portrait of hopelessness and despair.
One Week (1920)
"One Week" is the first publicly released two-reel short film starring Buster Keaton. Considered astonishingly creative even by contemporary standards, "One Week" is rife with hilarious comic, often surrealist, sequences chronicling the ill-fated attempts of a newlywed couple to assemble their new home.
The Pawnbroker (1965)
"The Pawnbroker" was the first Hollywood film to depict in a realistic, psychologically probing manner the trauma of a Holocaust survivor, a subject previously taboo because of the fear of poor boxoffice or offending delicate sensitivities. Rod Steiger's astounding performance — as he tries to repress his memories of the anguish, physical and emotional shame of being an internment-camp inmate — also serves a perfect allegory for American film's own struggles to represent this tragedy.
The Perils of Pauline (1914)
"The Perils of Pauline" was the first American movie serial. Produced in 20 episodes, in a groundbreaking longform motion-picture narrative structure, the series starred Pearl White as a young, wealthy heiress whose ingenuity, self-reliance and pluck enable her to regularly outwit a guardian intent on stealing her fortune. The film became an international hit and spawned a succession of elaborate American adventure serial productions.
Sergeant York (1941)
Gary Cooper won his first Oscar for his dead-on portrayal of Tennessee pacifist Sgt. Alvin York, who in an Argonne Forest World War I battle single- handedly captured more than 130 German soldiers. The stirring film appeared six months before America entered World War II as a nation and inspired Americans.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Special-effects master Ray Harryhausen provides the hero with fantastic antagonists, including a giant cyclops, fire-breathing dragons and a sword-wielding animated skeleton, all in glorious Technicolor. His stunning Dynamation process, which blended stop-motion animation and live-action sequences, and a fantastic score by Bernard Herrmann make this one of the finest fantasy films.
So's Your Old Man (1926)
While W.C. Fields' talents are better suited for sound films — where his verbal jabs and asides still delight and astound — he also starred in some memorable silent films. Fields began his career as a vaudevillian juggler, and that humor and dexterity shines through here in his role as inventor Samuel Bisbee.
George Stevens World War II Footage (1943-46)
Having already directed classics such as "Swing Time," "Gunga Din" and "Woman of the Year," Stevens joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps and headed a motion picture unit under Gen. Eisenhower from 1943-46. He shot many hours of footage chronicling D-Day, including rare color film of the European war front; the liberation of Paris; American and Soviet forces meeting at the Elbe River; and the Dachau concentration camp.
The Terminator (1984)
Only the third film from director James Cameron, "The Terminator" blended an ingenious, thoughtful script — clearly influenced by the works of sci-fi legend Harlan Ellison — and relentless action moved along by an outstanding synthesizer and early techno soundtrack. Most notable was Arnold Schwarzenegger's star- making performance as the mass-killing cyborg with a laconic sense of humor and the superb special effects crafted by Stan Winston.
Water and Power (1989)
Winner of a Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Pat O'Neill's influential experimental work juxtaposes images of downtown Los Angeles with scenes from the Owens Valley, Los Angeles' source of water. It's a brilliant examination of water in all its forms and the one-sided sharing of energy between the two places, representing nature and civilization.
White Fawn's Devotion (1910)
James Young Deer is recognized as the first documented movie director of Native American ancestry. When Pathe Freres of France established its American studio in 1910, in part to produce more authentically American-style Western films, Young Deer was hired as a director and scenario writer. He is believed to have written and directed more than 100 movies for Pathe from 1910-13.