'Die Hard,' 'Titanic,' 'Superman' Enter the National Film Registry
Also in this year: 'Field of Dreams,' 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,' 'The Goonies' and two classics starring Kirk Douglas.
Yippee ki-yay and Merry Christmas! Die Hard is among the 25 motion pictures selected this year by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress to be preserved for future generations, it was announced Wednesday.
The latest round of films deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant also includes the James Cameron blockbuster Titanic (1997); Superman (1978) and The Goonies (1985), both directed by Richard Donner; the Phil Alden Robinson baseball fable Field of Dreams (1989), starring Kevin Costner; and Spencer Tracy's final film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967).
Two films starring Kirk Douglas, who just had his 101st birthday, made the cut this year: Billy Wilder's film noir Ace in the Hole (1951) and Stanley Kubrick's Spartacus (1960). And there are Cary Grant and Gregory Peck classics on the list as well: Howard Hawks' Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and Gentleman's Agreement (1947), Elia Kazan's study of anti-Semitism, respectively.
Several films this year showcase the ethnic diversity of American cinema, including new honorary Oscar recipient Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger (1990), which centers on the cultural and generational conflicts within a black family; Boulevard Nights (1979), about the struggles facing Chicano kids in Los Angeles; and La Bamba (1987), the biopic of Mexican-American rock 'n' roll icon Ritchie Valens.
"I cannot be more proud of its inclusion in the National Film Registry not in the least because, in this day and environment, La Bamba still speaks to the American Dream and to inclusion and representation," actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who starred as Valens, said in a statement. "The heart and light of this timeless movie continues to inspire young people of every background to claim their rightful place in American society."
The inductees span the years 1905-2000, with Christopher Nolan's tantalizing Memento (2000) now the newest of the 725 films in the Registry. Also represented this year are efforts showcasing the work of Spike Lee, Thelonious Monk, Barbara Loden and Lon Chaney.
Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, the Librarian of Congress each year selects 25 motion pictures at least 10 years old for posterity. The picks are made after the librarian confers with the National Film Preservation Board.
Also considered were 5,200 titles nominated by the public. Nominations for next year will be accepted here.
"Our love affair with motion pictures is a testament to their enduring power to enlighten, inspire and inform us as individuals and a nation as a whole," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a statement. "Being tasked with selecting only 25 each year is daunting because there are so many great films deserving of this honor."
Hayden will join movie critic Leonard Maltin on TCM to discuss the picks at 5 p.m. PT on Wednesday.
Bruce Willis' most-memorable line in Die Hard (1988) — "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!" (the actor ad-libbed that last part) — ranks No. 22 on The Hollywood Reporter's list of Hollywood's 100 Greatest Movie Quotes that was unveiled in February 2016.
Here's a look at this year's additions to the Registry, with descriptions supplied by the Library of Congress:
Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival) (1951)
A deeply cynical look at journalism, the film is based on an infamous 1925 case of Kentucky cave explorer Floyd Collins, who became trapped underground and whose gripping saga created a national sensation that lasted two weeks. Douglas stars as a once-famous New York reporter now a down-and-out has been in Albuquerque. His character plots a return to national prominence by milking the story of a man trapped in a Native American cave dwelling as a riveting human-interest story, complete with a tourist-laden, carnival atmosphere outside the rescue scene. The callously indifferent wife of the stricken miner is no more sympathetic: "I don't go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons." Providing a rare moral contrast is Porter Hall, who plays Douglas' ethical editor appalled at his reporter's actions. Such a scathing tale of media manipulation might have helped turn this brilliant film into a critical and commercial failure, which led Paramount to reissue the film under a new title, The Big Carnival.
Boulevard Nights (1979)
This had its genesis in a screenplay by UCLA student Desmond Nakano about Mexican-American youth and the lowrider culture. Director Michael Pressman and cinematographer (and now Academy president) John Bailey shot the film in the barrios of East Los Angeles with the active participation of the local community (including car clubs and gang members). This street-level strategy using mostly nonprofessional actors produced a documentary-style depiction of the tough choices faced by Chicano youth as they come of age and try to escape or navigate gang life ("Two brothers … the street was their playground and their battleground"). In addition to Boulevard Nights, this era featured several films chronicling youth gangs and rebellion, including The Warriors (1979), Over the Edge (1979), Walk Proud (1979) and The Outsiders (1983). The film faced protests and criticism from some Latinos who saw outsider filmmakers, albeit well-intentioned, adopting an anthropological perspective with an excessive focus on gangs and violent neighborhoods. Nevertheless, Boulevard Nights stands out as a pioneering snapshot of East L.A. and enjoys cult status in the lowrider community.
Die Hard (1988)
In this now-classic slam-bang thriller, Willis stars as New York cop John McClane, who faces off, alone, against a team of terrorists inside a high-tech, high-rise L.A. office tower. Gripping action sequences and well-crafted humor made this film a huge hit and the actor a box-office star. Alan Rickman, as witty insouciant terrorist and "exceptional thief" Hans Gruber, serves as Willis' memorable foe. Because the film is set during the Christmas season, many people now consider Die Hard a necessary part of their annual holiday viewing, a counterpoint to holiday staples like It's a Wonderful Life.
Disney's charming, trademark animation finds a perfect subject in this timeless tale of a little elephant with oversize ears who lacks a certain confidence until he learns — with the help of a friendly mouse — that his giant lobes enable him to fly. Disney's fourth feature film gained immediate classic status thanks to its lovely drawing, original score (which would go on to win an Oscar) and enduring message of always believing in yourself.
Field of Dreams (1989)
Iowa farmer Costner one day hears a voice telling him to turn a small corner of his land into a baseball diamond: "If you build it, they will come." "They" are the 1919 Black Sox team led by the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson. Although ostensibly about the great American pastime, baseball here serves as a metaphor for more profound issues. Maltin lauded Field of Dreams as "a story of redemption and faith, in the tradition of the best Hollywood fantasies with moments of pure magic."
4 Little Girls (1997)
An important documentary concerning America's civil rights struggle, 4 Little Girls revisits the horrific story of the young children who died in the 1963 firebombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Lee first became interested in the story as a student at NYU when he read a 1983 New York Times Magazine article by Howell Raines. The director combines his experience in fiction filmmaking with documentary techniques, sensitively rendered interviews, photos and home movies to tell the story. The timing of this production was important due to the ages of the key witnesses and relatives and the need to refresh viewers' memories regarding a dark period in U.S. history.
Fuentes Family Home Movies Collection (1920s-30s)
Home movies from the collection of longtime Corpus Christi, Texas, residents Antonio Rodriguez Fuentes (1895-1988) and Josefina Barrera Fuentes (1898-1993) — mostly from the 1920s and shot on 9.5mm amateur film format — are among the earliest visual records of the Mexican-American community in Texas and among the first recorded by Mexican-American filmmakers. As with the best home movies, the images provide a priceless snapshot of time and place, including parades, holidays, fashions and the rituals of daily life. The beautiful images also reflect the traditionally fluid nature of the U.S.-Mexico border. The collection is a joint project between the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Winning the 1947 Oscar for best picture and considered daring at the time, Gentleman's Agreement was one of the first films to directly explore the still-timely topic of religious-based discrimination. Philip Green (Peck), a gentile, is a renowned magazine writer. In order to obtain firsthand knowledge of anti-Semitism, he decides to pose as a Jew. What he discovers about society, and about his own friends and colleagues, radically alters his perspective and throws his life into turmoil. Kazan masterfully crafts scenes that reveal bigotry overt and insidiously subtle. The film was based on a book by Laura Z. Hobson.
The Goonies (1985)
The fingerprints of executive producer Steven Spielberg visibly mark every second of this film, with the plot sporting a narrative structure and many themes characteristic of his work. Spielberg penned the original story, hand-selected Donner and hired Chris Columbus (who had written 1983's Gremlins) to do the offbeat screenplay. With its keen focus on kids of agency and adventure, The Goonies feature protagonists who are Tom Sawyeresque outsiders on a magical treasure hunt, and the story lands in the continuum between where the quests in the Our Gang comedies leave off and the darker spaces of Netflix's Stranger Things pick up.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
Though it would be Tracy's last film and the second movie for which Katharine Hepburn would win an Academy Award for best actress, even these milestones are somewhat overshadowed by the then-novel plot of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Hepburn and Tracy play an older married couple whose progressiveness is challenged when their daughter (Katharine Houghton, Hepburn's real-life niece) brings home a new fiance, who happens to be black. Sidney Poitier plays the young man with his customary onscreen charisma, fire and grace.
He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
One of the earliest "creepy clown" movies, this was the first film produced completely by the MGM studio, though not the first released. It features Chaney in a memorable role as a scientist who is humiliated when a rival and his wife steal his ideas just as he is to present them to the Academy of Sciences. He then becomes a masochistic circus clown where the highlight of his act is being repeatedly slapped. One of many standout scenes occurs during a circus performance in which Chaney spots those who betrayed him and tries to call them out, but his fellow clowns are doing their normal crowd-pleasing routine of slapping him in the face. Filled with nightmarish vignettes, this landmark film from the silent era was directed by Victor Sjostrom (newly arrived from Sweden and using an anglicized last name of Seastrom) and features Norma Shearer and John Gilbert, each on the cusp of stardom.
Interior New York Subway, 14th Street to 42nd Street (1905)
This early actuality film documents the city's newest marvel, the subway, less than seven months after its opening. However, it's not as simple as it first appears. It required coordinating three trains: the one we watch, the one carrying the camera and a third (glimpsed on the parallel track) to carry a bank of lights. The artistic flair is the vision of legendary cameraman G.W. "Billy" Bitzer.
La Bamba (1987)
Luis Valdez's biopic of Valens (the film draws its name from his signature song) charts the rock superstar's meteoric rise until his tragic death at age 17 in a 1959 plane crash that also claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. The film's success not only reinvigorated interest in Valens' brief but notable musical legacy, it also brought the title tune back to the charts (in a version by Los Lobos) 28 years after its first appearance.
Lives of Performers (1972)
Yvonne Rainer was born in San Francisco in 1934. At a young age, Rainer's father introduced her to films, and her mother introduced her to ballet. She moved to New York in 1956, where she studied dance at the Martha Graham School and learned ballet at Ballet Arts. Much like other choreographers of her era, Rainer sought to blur the stark line separating dancers from nondancers. Her work has been described as "foundational across multiple disciplines and movements: dance, cinema, feminism, minimalism, conceptual art and postmodernism." Lives of Performers has been characterized as "a stark and revealing examination of romantic alliances … the dilemma of a man who can't choose between two women and makes them both suffer."
The innovative detective murder, psychological puzzle (and Nolan's breakthrough film) tells its story in nonlinear stops and starts in order to put the audience in a position approximating the hero's short-term amnesia. Guy Pearce tries to avenge his wife's murder, but his anterograde amnesia forces him to rely on sticky notes, tattoos and Polaroids. Nolan recounts, "My solution to telling the story subjectively was to deny the audience the same information that the protagonist is denied, and my approach to doing that was to effectively tell the story backward … so the story is told as a series of flashbacks that go further and further back in time." Nolan said he frequently intercut between the black-and-white "objective" sequences and "subjective" sequences in color. The goal was to show the conflict between how humans see and experience objective versus subjective and the complex relationship between imagination and memory.
Only Angels Have Wings (1939)
Considered by many the "quintessential" Hawks male melodrama, this film stars Grant as the tough-talking head of a cut-rate air freight company in the Andes. He has a dangerous business to run and spurns romantic entanglements, fearing that women blanch at the inherent danger. Displaced showgirl Jean Arthur arrives and tries to prove him wrong. Along with sparkling dialogue from Grant, Arthur and renowned character actor Thomas Mitchell, Only Angels Have Wings captivates with dazzling air sequences featuring landings on canyon rims, vertiginous ups and downs and perilous flights through foggy mountain passes.
The Sinking of the Lusitania (1918)
Having virtually established animation as a viable medium through films such as Little Nemo (1911) and Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), newspaper cartoonist Winsor McCay produced this propaganda short (combining animation, editorial cartoon and live-action documentary techniques) to stir Americans into action after a German submarine sank the British liner RMS Lusitania in 1915, killing 1,198 passengers and crew, including 128 Americans. McCay was upset with the isolationist sentiment present in the country and at his employer, the Hearst newspapers chain. It took McCay nearly two years working on his own to produce the film, debuting a year after America entered the war. Nevertheless, this is a significant film historically and a notable early example of animation being used for a purpose other than comedy. In American Silent Film, William K. Everson called the piece "a wartime film that was both anti-German propaganda and an attempt to provide a documentary reconstruction of a major news event not covered by regular newsreel cameramen. The incredibly detailed drawings of the Lusitania, intercut with inserts of newspaper headlines relative to the notable victims, and strongly worded editorializing subtitles concerning the bestiality of the Hun, make this a fascinating and seldom-repeated experiment."
Even among the mega epics being produced by Hollywood at the time (such as The Ten Commandments and Cleopatra), Spartacus stands out for its sheer grandeur and remarkable cast (Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov) as well as for Kubrick's masterful direction. The film also is credited with helping to end the notorious Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s — producer Douglas hired blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo to author the script, which was based on a book by another blacklisted author, Howard Fast.
Donner's treatment of the famous superhero was not the first time the character had been on the big screen. Kirk Alyn played the role in a 1948 serial, and George Reeves appeared in both theatrical and TV versions in the 1950s. However, for many, Christopher Reeve remains the definitive Man of Steel. This film, an "origins" story, recounts Superman's journey to Earth as a boy, his move from Smallville to Metropolis and his emergence as a true American icon. Beautiful in its sweep, score and special effects, which create a sense of awe and wonder, Superman — as the tagline reads — makes you "believe a man can fly."
On having two films join the Registry this year, Donner said: "They are both special films in my life, as was the cast and crew for both. "It's wonderful to see them listed among so many great films."
Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser (1988)
Charlotte Zwerin's insightful documentary of the jazz pianist-composer blends excellent interviews with those who knew him best and riveting concert performances, many shot in the 1960s by Christian Blackwood. Reviewing the film in The New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote that "Charlotte Zwerin's remarkable documentary … reminds us again and again that Monk was as important a jazz composer as he was a pianist."
Time and Dreams (1976)
Created by Mort Jordan, a student at Temple University, Time and Dreams is a unique and personal elegiac approach to the civil rights movement. The filmmaker has described it as a personal journey back to his Alabama home, where he contrasts two societies: the nostalgia some residents have for past values versus the deferred dreams of those who are well past waiting for their time to fully participate in the promise of their own dreams. Through vignettes and personal testimonies, the film portrays Greene County, Alabama, as its people move toward understanding and cooperation in a time of social change.
Cameron's epic retold the story of the great maritime disaster and made mega-stars of its leads, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Their upstairs-downstairs romance transported the audience to another world and time via spectacular sweeping scenes in the bow of the ship and beyond. The film cost $200 million to produce, leading many to predict a historic box-office disaster, but Titanic became one of the top-grossing films of all time and a cultural touchstone of the era. Newsweek's David Ansen wrote of how Cameron managed to fulfill expectations for the film: "When Cameron's camera pulls back from a close-up of the exuberant DiCaprio at the bow of the ship and lifts to peer down from the sky at the Titanic passing majestically underneath, you feel the kind of jaw-dropping delight you felt as a child overwhelmed by the sheer size of Hollywood's dreams. Titanic is big, bold, touchingly uncynical filmmaking."
To Sleep With Anger (1990)
Beginning with his UCLA student film, the austere, neo-realistic Killer of Sheep, Burnett has carved out a distinctive and exalted niche in American independent cinema. He often sets his films on a small scale but deftly explores universal themes, including the power to endure and the rewards and burdens of family. Maltin called To Sleep With Anger an "evocative domestic drama about the effect storyteller/trickster [Danny] Glover has on the various members of a black family. More than just a portrait of contemporary black society, it's a story of cultural differences between parents and children of how individuals learn (or don't learn) from experience and of how there should be no place for those who cause violence and strife."
"I can't imagine being in the mix with such great films and directors," Burnett said. "I'm so happy for the people who believed in the film. I'm thankful that the film reached so many people in a good way. I hope this means that people will be able to see the film for a long time to come and it will still be meaningful."
Film and TV actress Loden wrote and directed this affecting and insightful character study about an uneducated, passive woman from a coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, where the cinema verite-like film was shot. The title character possesses critically low self-esteem, leaves her kids and husband and then drifts aimlessly into a series of one-night stands and a dangerous relationship with a bank robber. Today, many consider this low-budget study of loneliness and personal isolation one of the finest works of independent cinema of the 1970s.
With the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain (1937-38)
This advocacy documentary about the Lincoln Brigade was shot during the Spanish Civil War to raise funds for bringing wounded American volunteers home. Some 2,800 Americans enlisted in the International Brigades to fight against fascism in defense of the Spanish Republic. It was directed by Henri Cartier-Bresson with Herbert Kline, and additional photography was provided by Jacques Lemare and Robert Capa. This film is held at New York University's Tamiment Library, part of a vast collection of materials in the Abraham Lincoln Brigades Archive.
CORRECTION: There is one Cary Grant film on this year's list, Only Angels Have Wings.