'Ferris Bueller,' 'Big Lebowski,' 'Rio Bravo' Enter National Film Registry

Gramercy/Courtesy Neal Peters Collection
Jeff Bridges in 'The Big Lebowski'

Also among the 25 films this year to be preserved: 'Rosemary's Baby,' 'Saving Private Ryan,' 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' and 'House of Wax'

It’s a great day to play hooky and go bowling! Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Big Lebowski have been selected for the National Film Registry.

The 1986 John Hughes comedy about a day in the life of a Chicago kid (Matthew Broderick) who skips out on a day of high school joins Joel and Ethan Coen’s trippy 1998 odyssey starring Jeff Bridges as abiding L.A. slacker “The Dude” among the 25 motion pictures selected this year by the Library of Congress to be preserved for future generations.

Howard HawksRio Bravo (1959), starring John Wayne, Walter Brennan and Angie Dickinson, also makes the list, as does another film set in the Old West: Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man (1970), with Dustin Hoffman as a 121-year-old man looking back at his life.

Two masterpieces of horror are in: the macabre House of Wax (1953), starring Vincent Price in the first full-length 3D color film produced and released by a major American film studio, and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), the unsettling Roman Polanski chiller toplined by Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes and Ruth Gordon.

The harrowing Saving Private Ryan (1998), Steven Spielberg’s fifth film in the National Film Registry, is set to be preserved, as is 16 mm footage, shot by future Hollywood writer-director Samuel Fuller, of Holocaust victims being prepared for burial in Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II.

Read more Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films

The selections are bookended (technologically speaking) quite nicely by Unmasked (1917), which starred Grace Cunard, who also wrote and directed the film, as a sort of silent-era Lara Croft, and Luxo Jr. (1986), the 2-minute, 30-second computer-generated film starring a pair of desk lamps from John Lasseter’s Pixar.

And if it’s frightening fantasy you want, there’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and Gene Wilder.

The Power and the Glory (1933), a serious effort from noted comedy maven Preston Sturges; State Fair (1933), starring Will Rogers and Janet Gaynor; Ruggles of Red Gap (1935), with Leo McCarey directing Charles Laughton; and Down Argentine Way (1940), featuring soon-to-be pin-up sensation Betty Grable, are on the list as well.

Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, the Librarian of Congress each year names 25 films (each must be at least 10 years old) that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. Selection helps ensure that these films will be preserved for all time.

Spanning the period 1913-2004, the slate includes documentaries and student films and brings the number of motion pictures in the registry to 650. The public can make nominations for next year’s list at the National Film Preservation Board's website

Here’s the complete 2014 lineup, with descriptions supplied by the Library of Congress:

Bert Williams Lime Kiln Club Field Day (1913)
In 1913, a stellar cast of African-American performers gathered in the Bronx, New York, to make a feature-length motion picture. The troupe starred vaudevillian Bert Williams, the first African-American to headline on Broadway and the most popular recording artist prior to 1920. After considerable footage was shot, the film was abandoned. One hundred years later, the seven reels of untitled and unassembled footage were discovered in the film vaults of the Museum of Modern Art and are now believed to constitute the earliest surviving feature film starring black actors. Modeled after a popular collection of stories known as Brother Gardener’s Lime Kiln Club, the plot features three suitors vying to win the hand of the local beauty, portrayed by Odessa Warren Grey. The production also included members of the Harlem stage show known as J. Leubrie Hill’s Darktown Follies. Providing insight into early silent-film production (Williams can be seen applying his blackface makeup), these outtakes or rushes show white and black cast and crew working together, enjoying themselves in unguarded moments. Even in fragments of footage, Williams proves himself among the most gifted of screen comedians.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
From the unconventional visionaries Coen brothers (the filmmakers behind Fargo and O Brother, Where Art Thou?) came this 1998 tale of kidnapping, mistaken identity and bowling. As they would again in the 2008 Burn After Reading, the Coens explore themes of alienation, inequality and class structure via a group of hard-luck, offbeat characters suddenly drawn into one another’s orbits. Bridges, in a career-defining role, stars as “The Dude,” an L.A.-based slacker who shares a first name with a rich man whose arm-candy wife is indebted to shady figures. Joining Bridges are John Goodman, Tara Reid, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Steve Buscemi and, in a now legendary cameo, John Turturro. Stuffed with vignettes — each staged through the Coens’ trademark absurdist, innovative visual style — that are alternately funny and disturbing, Lebowski was only middling successful at the box office during its initial release. However, television, the Internet, home video and considerable word-of-mouth have made the film a highly quoted cult classic.

“Bottom line, The Big Lebowski is just a great movie," Bridges told the Library of Congress. "The Coen brothers are master filmmakers. They give the impression that there is no effort or big deal about the movie, it’s just a rambling kind of story. Yeah, but, you can’t stop watching it.”

Down Argentine Way (1940)
Grable’s first starring role in a Technicolor musical happened only because Alice Faye had an attack of appendicitis, but Grable took advantage of the situation and quickly made herself as important to 20th Century Fox as Faye. Released slightly more than a year before America entered World War II, this film and others starring Grable established her as the pinup queen. The title explains much, with Grable traveling to South America and falling in love with Don Ameche. Carmen Miranda makes her American film debut, and the Nicolas Brothers’ unparalleled dance routines dazzle.

The Dragon Painter (1919)
After becoming Hollywood’s first Asian star, Japanese-born Sessue Hayakawa, like many leading actors of the time, formed his own production company — Haworth Pictures (combining his name with that of director William Worthington) — to gain more control over his films. The Dragon Painter, one of more than 20 features his company produced from 1918-22, teamed Hayakawa and his wife Tsuru Aoki in the story of an obsessed, untutored painter who loses his artistic powers after he finds and marries the supposed “dragon princess.” His passion and earlier pursuit of her had consumed him with the urge to create. Reviewers of the time praised the film for its seemingly authentic Japanese atmosphere, including the city of Hakone and its Shinto gates, built in Yosemite Valley.

Felicia (1965)
This 13-minute short subject, marketed as an educational film, records a slice of life in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles before the rebellions of 1965. Filmmakers Trevor Greenwood, Robert Dickson and Alan Gorg were UCLA film students when they crafted a documentary from the perspective of the unassuming-yet-articulate teenager Felicia Bragg, a high-school student of African-American and Hispanic descent. Felicia’s first-person narrative reflects her hopes and frustrations as she annotates footage of her family, school and neighborhood, creating a time capsule that’s historically and culturally significant. Its provenance as an educational film continues today as university courses use Felicia to teach documentary filmmaking techniques and cite it as an example of how nontraditional sources, as well as mainstream television news, reflect and influence public opinion.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Hughes, the king of both 1980s family comedy (Home Alone) and teen angst (Sixteen Candles), achieved a career highpoint with this funny, heartfelt tale of a teenage wiseacre (Broderick) whose day playing hooky leads not only to a host of comic misadventures but also, ultimately, to self-realization for both him and his friends. Hughes’ manner of depicting late-20th-century youth — their outward and inward lives — finds a successful vehicle in the “everyman” appeal of Broderick, whose early conning of his parents is really an honest and earnest attempt to help his best friend. With Chicago serving as backdrop and a now-iconic street performance of “Twist and Shout” serving as the film’s centerpiece, Ferris emerged as one of films’ greatest and most fully realized teen heroes. Alan Ruck, Mia Sara, Jennifer Grey and Jeffrey Jones co-starred in Hughes’ first film on the registry.

The Gang’s All Here (1943)
Although not remembered as well today as those put out by MGM, Fox’s big Technicolor musicals stand up well in comparison. Faye, Fox’s No. 1 musical star, is romanced by a soldier who uses an assumed name and then turns out to be a rich playboy. Miranda also is featured, and her outrageous costume is highlighted in the legendary musical number “The Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat.” Busby Berkeley, who had just finished a long stint directing musicals at MGM and an earlier one at Warner Bros., directs and choreographs the film.

House of Wax (1953)
A remake of 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, this film expanded upon the earlier horror tale of a mad sculptor who encases his victims’ corpses in wax. It added the dark talents of Price and helped introduce 3D visual effects to a wide audience. House of Wax, produced by Warner Bros., is considered the first full-length 3D color film produced and released by a major American studio. Along with its technical innovations, Wax also solidified Price’s new role as America’s master of the macabre, and his voice resonated even more with the emerging stereophonic sound process. Though he had flirted with the fear genre earlier in his career in Shock (1946), Wax forever recast him as one of the first gentlemen of Hollywood horror. Phyllis Kirk, Frank Lovejoy and Carolyn Jones (as one of Price’s early victims) complete the cast. Andre de Toth directed.

Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport (2000)
Just before World War II, a rescue operation aided the youngest victims of Nazi terror when 10,000 Jewish and other children were sent from their homes and families to live with foster families and in group homes in Great Britain. This Oscar-winning film was directed by Mark Jonathan Harris, writer and director of another Oscar winner, The Long Way Home, and produced by Deborah Oppenheimer, whose mother was among the children evacuated. The film examines the bond between parent and child, uncovering the anguish of the parents who reluctantly acknowledged they could no longer protect their children, but through their love saw a chance to still do it, by proxy if not proximity. Interviews with the surviving children reveal feelings of abandonment and estrangement that often took years to overcome. The film is a tribute not only to the children who survived but to the people of England who agreed to rescue the refugees when U.S. leadership would not.

Little Big Man (1970)
Hoffman (with exceptional assistance from makeup legend Dick Smith) plays a 121-year-old man looking back at his life as a pioneer in America’s Old West. The film is ambitious, both in its historical scope and narrative approach, which interweaves fact and myth, historical figures and events and fanciful tall tales. Little Big Man has been called an epic reinvented as a yarn, and the Western was reimagined for a post-1960s audience, one already well versed in the white hat/black hat tradition of the typical Hollywood Western saga. Against a backdrop that includes the cavalry, old-time medicine shows, life on the frontier and a climax at Custer’s Last Stand, director Penn, Hoffman and scriptwriter Calder Willingham (from the novel by Thomas Berger) upend Western motifs while skillfully telling a series of remarkable human stories filled with tragedy and humor.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this and am sad that Arthur Penn is no longer with us," Hoffman told the Library of Congress. "He would have been honored.”

Luxo Jr. (1986)
The iconic living, moving desk lamp that now begins every Pixar motion picture (from Finding Nemo to Monsters, Inc. to Up) has its genesis in this charming, computer-animated short subject, directed by Lasseter and produced by Lasseter and fellow Pixar visionary Bill Reeves. In the two-minute, 30-second film, two gray balance-arm lamps — one parentally large and one childishly small (the “Jr.” of the title) — interact with a brightly colored ball. In strikingly vivid animation, Lasseter and Reeves manage to bring to joyous life these two inanimate objects and to infuse them with personality and charm — qualities that would soon become the norm in such soon-to-be Pixar productions as Toy Story, Cars and WALL-E. Nominated for an Oscar for best animated short, Luxo Jr. was the first three-dimensional computer-animated film to be up for an Academy Award.

Moon Breath Beat (1980)
Lisze Bechtold created Moon Breath Beat, a five-minute color short subject, in 1980 while a student at California Institute of the Arts under the tutelage of artist and filmmaker Jules Engel, who founded the Experimental Animation program at CalArts. Engel asked, hypothetically, “What happens when an animator follows a line, a patch of color, or a shape into the unconscious? What wild images would emerge?” Moon Breath Beat reveals Bechtold responding with fluidity and whimsy. Her two-dimensional film was animated to a pre-composed rhythm, the soundtrack cut together afterward, sometimes four frames at a time, to match picture with track, she says. The dream-like story evolved as it was animated, depicting a woman and her two cats and how such forces as birds and the moon impact their lives. Following graduation, Bechtold was the effects animator for the Disney short The Prince and the Pauper (1990) and principal effects animator for FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992). Now primarily an author and illustrator, she claims many of her characters were inspired by pets with big personalities, including “Buster the Very Shy Dog,” the subject of her series of children’s books.

Please Don’t Bury Me Alive! (1976)
The San Antonio barrio in the early 1970s is the setting for writer, director and star Efrain Gutierrez’s independent piece, considered by historians to be the first Chicano feature film. A self-taught filmmaker, Gutierrez not only created the film from top to bottom on a shoestring, he acted as its initial distributor and chief promoter, negotiating bookings throughout the Southwest, where it filled theaters in Chicano neighborhoods. He tells his story in the turbulent days near the end of the Vietnam War, as a young Chicano man questioning his and his people’s place in society as thousands of his Latino brethren return from the war in coffins. Chon Noriega, director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, wrote, “The film is important as an instance of regional filmmaking, as a bicultural and bilingual narrative and as a precedent that expanded the way that films got made.” Cultural historians often compare Gutiérrez to Oscar Micheaux, the pioneering African-American filmmaker who came to prominence in the 1920s.

“The fact that we filled movie theaters, even outperforming Hollywood and Mexican films in some areas, made clear how important it was for Chicano culture to find a place on the silver screen,” Gutierrez told the Library of Congress. “Hopefully, this recognition will inspire other filmmakers to tell their stories.”

The Power and the Glory (1933)
Sturges’ first original screenplay, The Power and the Glory, is a haunting tragedy that contrasts sharply with the comedies of the 1940s that established him as one of America’s foremost writer-directors. Contrary to common practice of the time, Sturges wrote the film as a complete shooting script, which producer Jesse L. Lasky, believing it “the most perfect script I’d ever seen,” ordered director William K. Howard to film as written. Compared favorably to novels by Henry James and Joseph Conrad for its extensive mix of narration with dramatic action (Fox coined the word “narratage” to publicize Sturges’ innovative technique), Power and the Glory introduced a nonchronological structure to mainstream movies that was said to influence Citizen Kane. Like that film, Power and the Glory presents a fragmented rags-to-riches tale of an American industrial magnate that begins with his death, in this case a suicide, and sensitively proceeds to produce a deeply affecting, morally ambivalent portrayal. The Nation called Spencer Tracy’s performance in the lead “one of the fullest characterizations ever achieved on screen.”

Rio Bravo (1959)
As legend goes, this Western, directed by Hawks, was produced in part as a riposte to Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon. The film trades in the wide-open spaces for the confines of a small jail, where a sheriff and his deputies are waiting for the transfer of a prisoner and the anticipated attempt by his equally unlawful brother to break the prisoner out. Wayne stars as sheriff John T. Chance and is aided in his efforts to keep the law by Brennan, Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson. Dickinson is the love interest, and Western regulars Claude Akins, Ward Bond and Pedro Gonzalez also are featured. A smart Western where gunplay is matched by wordplay, Rio Bravo is a terrific ensemble piece and director Hawks’ last great film.

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
With Rosemary’s Baby, writer-director Polanski brought his expressive European style of psychological filmmaking to an intricately plotted, best-selling American novel by Ira Levin and created a masterpiece of the horror genre. Set in the sprawling Dakota apartment building on New York’s Central Park West, the film conveys an increasing sense of unease, claustrophobia and paranoia as the central character, convincingly played by Farrow in her first starring role, comes to believe that a cult of witches in the building is implementing a plot against her and her unborn child. The supporting cast that Polanski assembled — Cassavetes as Rosemary’s husband, Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as their neighbors and Ralph Bellamy as her doctor — portray believably banal New Yorkers who gain nearly total control over Rosemary’s daily life during her pregnancy. Insistent that “a thread of deliberate ambiguity runs throughout the film,” Polanski maintains that the film’s denouement can be understood in more than one way.

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)
Laughton, known for such serious roles playing Nero, King Henry XIII and later Captain Bligh, takes on comedy in this tale of an English manservant won in a poker game by American Charlie Ruggles, a member of Red Gap, Washington’s extremely small social elite. Laughton, in understated valet fashion, worriedly responds: “North America, my lord. Quite an untamed country I understand.” However, once in America, he finds not uncouth backwoodsmen, but rather a more egalitarian society that soon has Laughton reciting the Gettysburg Address, catching the American spirit and becoming a successful businessman. Aided by comedy stalwarts ZaSu Pitts and Roland Young, Laughton really shows his acting range and pulls off comedy perfectly. It didn’t hurt that McCarey, who had just worked with W.C. Fields and would next guide Harold Lloyd, was in the director’s chair. McCarey, who could pull heartstrings or touch funny bones with equal skill, started his long directorial career working with such comedy icons as Laurel & Hardy and created several beloved American films.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)
Through the years, Hollywood’s take on war, honor and heroism has taken many conflicting forms. Saving Private Ryan drops ordinary soldiers into a near-impossible rescue mission set amid the carnage of World War II’s Omaha Beach landing. The film’s beginning scenes vividly show us “war is hell,” as William T. Sherman said. Spielberg conveyed ultra-realism with harrowing intensity. “Omaha Beach was actually an ‘X’ setting,” says Spielberg, “even worse than ‘NC-17,’ and I just kind of feel that [he had] to tell the truth about this war at the end of the century, 54 years later. I wasn’t going to add my film to a long list of pictures that make World War II ‘the glamorous war,’ ‘the romantic war.’”

Shoes (1916)
Renowned silent era writer-director Lois Weber drew on her experiences as a missionary to create Shoes, a masterfully crafted melodrama heightened by Weber’s intent to create, as she noted in an interview, “a slice out of real life.” Weber’s camera empathetically documents the suffering her central character, an underpaid shopgirl struggling to support her family, endures daily — standing all day behind a shop counter, walking in winter weather in shoes that provided no protection, stepping on a nail that pierces her flesh. Combining a Progressive era reformer’s zeal to document social problems with a vivid flair for visual storytelling, Weber details Eva’s growing desire for the pair of luxurious shoes she passes each day in a shop window; her self-examination in a cracked mirror after she agrees to go out with a cabaret tout to acquire the shoes; her repugnance as the man puts his hands on her body; and her shame as she breaks down in tears while displaying her newly acquired goods to her mother. The film, which opens with pages from social worker Jane Addams’ sociological study of prostitution, was acclaimed by Variety as “a vision of life as it actually is … devoid of theatricalism.”

State Fair (1933)
For director Henry King to create a film that celebrated an institution as beloved and indomitable as the State Fair, it required the presence of a cherished and steadfast star — in this case, icon, philosopher and America’s favorite cowboy, Rogers. He found a superlative vehicle for his homespun persona in this small town slice-of-life setting. He is assisted by Gaynor (already the Academy’s very first best-actress winner), Lew Ayres and Sally Eilers. Enhancing the fair’s festivities, which include the making of mom’s entry for the cook-off and the fattening of the family pig, are diverse storylines rich with Americana and romance — some long-lasting and some ephemeral, rife with fun but fleeting as the fair itself. The film’s authenticity owes much to its director, widely known as the “King of Americana” through films such as Tol’able David, Carousel and Wait till the Sun Shines, Nellie.

13 Lakes (2004)
James Benning’s feature-length film can be seen as a series of moving landscape paintings with artistry and scope that might be compared to Claude Monet’s series of water-lily paintings. Embracing the concept of “landscape as a function of time,” Benning shot his film at 13 American lakes in identical 10-minute takes. Each is a static composition: a balance of sky and water in each frame with only the very briefest suggestion of human existence. At each lake, Benning prepared a single shot, selected a single camera position and a specific moment. The climate, the weather and the season deliver a level of variation to the film, a unique play of light, despite its singularity of composition. Curators of the Rotterdam Film Festival noted, “The power of the film is that the filmmaker teaches the viewer to look better and learn to distinguish the great varieties in the landscape alongside him. [The list of lakes] alone is enough to encompass a treatise on America and its history. A treatise the film certainly encourages, but emphatically does not take part in.” Benning, who studied mathematics and then film at the University of Wisconsin, now is on the faculty at CalArts.

Unmasked (1917)
At the time Unmasked was released, Cunard rivaled daredevils Pearl White (The Perils of Pauline) and Helen Holmes (The Hazards of Helen) as America’s Serial Queen. In the film, Cunard is a jewel thief pursuing the same wealthy marks as another thief played by Francis Ford, brother of directorJohn Ford and himself a director and character actor. Cunard, in the mode of many women filmmakers of that era, not only starred in the film but also wrote its script and parlayed her contributions into a directorial role as well. Produced at Universal Studios, the epicenter of female directors during the silent era, Unmasked reflected a style associated with European filmmakers of the time: artful and sophisticated cinematography comprised of complex camera movements and contrasting depths of field. With a plot rich in female initiative and problem-solving, Cunard fashioned a strong character who does not fit the image of traditional womanhood: she relishes her heists, performs unladylike physical exploits, manipulates court evidence, carries on with a man who is not her husband and yet survives the film without punishment. In essence, the character Cunard created echoed the woman behind the camera. Today, Unmasked serves as a succinct but illustrative example of the role of women in film history, as depicted in fact and fiction.

V-E +1 (1945)
The silent 16mm footage that makes up V-E +1 documents the burial of beaten and emaciated Holocaust victims found by Allied forces in the Nazi concentration camp at Falkenau, Czechoslovakia, as World War II ended in Europe. According to Samuel Fuller, who shot the footage while in the infantry unit that liberated the camp, the American commander in charge ordered leading civilians of the town who denied knowledge of the death camp to “prepare the bodies for a decent funeral,” parade them on wagons through the town and bury them with dignity in the town’s cemetery. Fuller later became an acclaimed maverick writer-director known for crafting films that entertained but nevertheless forced audiences to confront challenging societal issues. After making The Big Red One (1980), a fictionalized version of his war experiences that included scenes set in Falkenau, Fuller unearthed his V-E + 1 footage and returned to Falkenau to comment for the French documentary Falkenau: The Impossible Years.

The Way of Peace (1947)
Frank Tashlin
, best known for making comedies with pop icons like Jerry Lewis or Jayne Mansfield, directed this 18-minute puppet film sponsored by the American Lutheran Church. Punctuated with stories from The Bible, the film’s purpose was to reinforce Christian values in the atomic age by condemning the consequences of human conflict with scenes of the crucifixion, lynching and Nazi fascism. Wah Ming Chang, a visual effects artist who specialized in designing fantastic models, characters and props, created the puppets for the stop-motion animation and produced the film, which reportedly took 20 months to complete. The film is narrated by Ayres, who starred in the anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). He was so influenced by that experience, he became a vocal advocate for peace and famously declared himself a conscientious objector during World War II. The Rev. H. K. Rasbach, a frequent adviser on big-budget films such as The Ten Commandments and The Greatest Story Ever Told, provided technical supervision and story concept. The film premiered at Constitution Hall in Washington, with more than 2,700 in attendance, including members of Congress, representatives of the Supreme Court and 750 leaders from various branches of government.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Author Roald Dahl adapted his own novel, Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley wrote a memorable musical score and producer David Wolper wisely cast Wilder as Wonka in this film musical about a contest put on by an often-sadistic candymaker. Harkening to the classic Hollywood musicals, Willy Wonka is surreal yet playful and suffused with Harper Goff’s jaw-dropping color sets, which richly live up to the fanciful world found in one of the film’s signature songs, “Pure Imagination.” Wilder’s brilliant portrayal of the enigmatic Wonka caused theatergoers to like and fear Wonka at the same time, while the hallucinogenic tunnel sequence, like the scariest scenes from The Wizard of Oz, has traumatized children (and adults) for decades.

Twitter.com: @mikebarnes4

comments powered by Disqus