At the Movies: Clips from US 2010 Picks for National Film Registry (VIDEOS)

Airplanes, jedis, and disco floors.  Just a few memorable elements American history will never forget…officially.  In its annual roundup last week, The Library of Congress inducted 25 more films into its 2010 National Film Registry on the basis of preserving “works of enduring significance to American culture.”

Every year, the Library of Congress takes in recommendations from the National Film Preservation Board and the general public as to which 25 films should be included in the registry that year.  What qualifies?  “Anything more that 10 years old can be included,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.  He added that nominated films also need to have had a theatrical release.  From Hollywood to home videos, indies to ads, and newsreels to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, pretty much anything we’ve seen on the big screen is fair game. 

“The goal of the registry, which began in 1989,” the AP reported, “isn’t to identify the best movies ever made, but to preserve films with artistic, cultural or historical significance.”

For 2010, the library received 2,112 recommendations, which were then sifted through by the board’s committees to a smaller, more manageable list of finalists.  A board comprised of film greats Martin Scorsese, Leonard Maltin, and Alfre Woodard, as well as representatives from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Motion Picture Association of America, the National Alliance of Theatre Owners, crafts unions, and filmmaking institutions came together in November to whittle those finalists down to this year’s 25 inductees.

Although heavy in films produced during the ’70s, the films selected for 2010 range from 1891 (Newark Athlete) to 1996 (Study of a River).  Watch them in chronological order, and they provide a good survey of the history, changes, and innovations in Hollywood filmmaking.

In addition to the big names of All the President’s Men, Malcolm X, Airplane!, and The Exorcist, are lesser known films, such as the 1913 Preservation of the Sign Language, the 1940 avant-garde Tarantella, and 1969′s I Am Joaquin, which helped introduce Chicano cultural identity. There was also the 1906 short A Trip Down Market Street, in which a camera mounted on the front of a cable car documented what a San Francisco street looked like just before it was virtually destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire, and the 1946 Let There Be Light, which was banned by the Pentagon for 35 years because it depicted traumatized veterans of World War II.  

“It’s the ones that I didn’t know about that thrill me the most,” Billington remarked. “That’s where I really have a feeling of satisfaction that, by golly, this really is a creative country.”

Improperly stored film can rapidly deteriorate, which we’ve already seen with about half of the films made before 1950 and 90 percent of those produced before 1920.  When a film is selected for the registry, its original copies are sent to the library so that they can be preserved in its cold-storage vaults at the Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.  Safe, preserved films means a longer shelf-life for future generations who want to watch them.  With these 2010 selections, the registry’s roster is now up to 550 films.

And this is perhaps the most important honor the registry bestows: The gift of timeless stories, endless passages, and the ever-evolving narrative that reshapes, every day, the history we call American.  “Somebody has to be the institutional memory of the country,” Billington said.  “And that’s pretty much what Congress has empowered its library to do and to be.” 

“Everybody with something to say can do it through moving pictures.”

So what made the cut?  Below is the NFR’s Class of 2010, along with the library’s reason for including each film and clips that remind us why they awed and inspired us in the first place:

Airplane! (1980): 

“Introduced a much-needed deflating assessment of the tendency of theatrical film producers to push successful formulaic movie conventions beyond the point of logic.”


All the President’s Men (1976): 

“A rare example of a best-selling book that was transformed into a hit theatrical film and cultural phenomenon in its own right.”


The Bargain (1914): 

“Selected because of [William S.] Hart’s charisma, the film’s authenticity and realistic portrayal of the Western genre and the star’s good/bad man role as an outlaw attempting to go straight.”

Cry of Jazz (1959): 

“An historic and fascinating film that comments on racism and the appropriation of jazz by those who fail to understand its artistic and cultural origins.”


Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB (1967): 

“This film has evoked comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984 and impressed audiences with its technical inventiveness and cautionary view of a future filled with security cameras and omnipresent scrutiny.”


The Empire Strikes Back (1980): 

“Sustained the action-adventure and storytelling success of its predecessor and helped lay the foundation for one of the most commercially successful film series in American cinematic history.”


The Exorcist (1973): 

“Provides a rare example of a popular novel being ably adapted for the big screen.”


The Front Page (1931): 

“A historically significant early sound move that successfully demonstrates the rapid progress achieved by Hollywood filmmakers in all creative professions after realizing the capabilities of sound technology to invent new film narratives.”


Grey Gardens (1976): 

“Documents a complex and difficult mother-daughter relationship and a vanished era of decayed gentility.”


I Am Joaquin (1969): 

“Important to the history and culture of Chicanos in America, spotlighting the challenges they have endured because of descrimination.”


It’s a Gift (1934): 

“The popularity and influence of W. C. Fields continues with each succeeding generation, distinguishing him as one of the greatest American comedians of the 20th century.”


Let There Be Light (1946): 

“Provides important historical documentation of the efforts of psychiatric professionals during World War II to care for emotionally wounded veterans and prepare them to return to civilian life.”


Lonesome (1928): 

“Recognized for its success as both a comic melodrama and for its early use of dialogue and two-color Technicolor.”


Make Way for Tomorrow (1937): 

“Deftly explore themes of retirement, poverty, generational dissonance and the nuances of love and regret at the end of a long married life.”


Malcolm X (1992): 

“Exemplifies the willingness of the American film industry in the early ’90s to support the making of mainstream films about earlier generations of social leaders.”

McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971): 

“An aesthetically acclaimed film that demonstrates why the Western genre, especially when reinvented by acclaimed Robert Altman, endured in the 20th century as a useful model for critically examining the realities of contemporary American culture.”


Newark Athlete (1891): 

“This experimental film was one of the first made in America at the Edison Laboratory in West Orange, N.J.”


Our Lady of the Sphere (1969): 

“A surrealistic dream-like journey blending baroque images with Victorian-era image cut-outs, iconic space age symbols, various musical themes and noise effects, including animal sounds and buzzards.”

The Pink Panther (1964): 

“The influence of the great comics of the silent era on [Blake] Edwards and [Peter] Sellers is apparent throughout the film, which is recognized for its enduring popularity.”

The Preservation of the Sign Language (1913): 

“Made specifically to record sign language for posterity at a time when oralists (those who promoted lip reading and speech in lieu of sign language) were gaining momentum in the education of the hearing-impaired.  The film conveys one of the ways that deaf Americans debated the issues of their language and public understanding during the era of World War I.”

Saturday Night Fever (1977): 

“Produced long after the heyday of classic Hollywood musicals, this cinematic cultural touchstone incorporated set-piece music and dance numbers into a story of dramatic realism.”

Study of a River (1996): 

“A meditative examination of the winter cycle of the Hudson River over a two-year period, showing its environment, ships plying its waterways, ice floes, and the interaction of nature and civilization.”

Tarantella (1940): 

“Influenced many other filmmakers working with abstract animation during the ’30s and ’40s, and with experimental imagery in the ’50s.”

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945): 

“Released at the end of World War II, helping to remind post-war audiences of the enduring importance of the American dream.”


A Trip Down Market Street (1906): 

“A fascinating time capsule from over a 100 years ago, the film showcases the details of daily life in a major American city, including the fashions, transportations and architecture of the era.”



Photo courtesy of Jonathan Henderson via Flickr


Martha Eberle
Martha Eberle6 years ago

FASCINATING -- so glad you included this article in Care2. Can't wait to see if I can get some of these from Netflix.
Thanks, very much.

Sandra Q.
Sandra Q6 years ago

Just had a flash back...(Sat Nite Fever).. I sure did love to dance..Is dico realy dead?..

ruth a.
ruth a7 years ago

glad to see this work is being done!

Karen & Edward O.
Karen and Ed O7 years ago

I learned first hand the importance of preserving and restoring old film. When I was a kid I went to Yellowstone with the parents. While there I took color photos of the geysers and pools as they were then. Sadly the film I used was notorious for fading, and recently I decided I had to throw them away, they were so faded and the color was so degraded.
I am so glad this project was established when I think of all the great movies I have seen. Let's hear it for their choice of "Airplane", one of my favorite comedies.

Melissah Chadwick
Melissah C7 years ago


Yvette T.
Past Member 7 years ago

LOVE this! I hope that my friend's BARAKA will be recommended and included in the registry, as well as CHRONOS, and FLASHING ON THE SIXTIES.