National Film Registry continues to spurn Oscars’ top winners

Every year since 1989, the National Film Registry — a branch of the Library of Congress — selects 25 motion picutres to preserve for posterity. This year, as usual, most of its choices aren’t the ones deemed the best of their day by Hollywood — that is, they’re not past Oscars contenders.

Indeed, as with last year, 19 of this year’s entries were eligible for Oscars but again there are only nine nominated films among those named to the registry. And just four of these won Academy Awards: “All the President’s Men” (1995); “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) ; “The Exorcist” (1973); and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945). 

None of these new entries took home the academy’s top honor. Even with 550 films dating up to 1996 now on the registry, 26 of the first 70 Best Picture champs remain missing: “Broadway Melody” (1929), “Cimarron” (1930), “Cavalcade” (1933), “Mutiny on the Bounty” (1935), “The Great Ziegfeld” (1936), “You Can’t Take It With You” (1938), “Rebecca” (1940), “The Lost Weekend” (1945), “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947), “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952), “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956), “My Fair Lady” (1964), “A Man For All Seasons” (1966), “Oliver” (1968), “Kramer vs. Kramer” (1979), “Ordinary People” (1980), “Terms of Endearment” (1983), “Amadeus” (1984), “Out of Africa” (1985), “Platoon” (1986), “Rain Man” (1988), “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Braveheart” (1995) and “The English Patient” (1996).

The NFR press release says that “each year the Librarian of Congress names 25 films to the registry that are ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically’ significant to be preserved for all time. These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture.” James H. Billington — the Librarian of Congress who makes the final selections after discussion with the National Film Preservation Board and the library’s motion picture staff — says “the nation’s repository of American creativity, the Library of Congress, with the support of the U.S. Congress, must ensure the preservation of America’s film patrimony.”

He notes that half of the movies produced before 1950 have been lost because of the deterioration of nitrate- or acetate-based celluloid. Yet while the registry has worked to save films from the golden era like “Lassie Come Home” (1943) and “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” (1948), it has not bothered to rescue any of these other films with performances which won lead acting Oscars: “Coquette” (1929), “In Old Arizona” (1929), “Disraeli” (1930), “The Divorcee” (1930), “A Free Soul” (1931), “Min and Bill” (1931), “The Champ” (1932), “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1932), “The Sin of Madelon Claudet” (1932), “Morning Glory” (1933), “The Private Life of Henry VIII” (1933), “The Informer” (1935), “The Story of Louis Pasteur” (1936), “Captains Courageous” (1937), “The Good Earth” (1937), “Boys Town” (1938), “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1939), “Kitty Foyle” (1940), “Suspicion” (1941), “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942), “Song of Bernadette” (1943), “Watch on the Rhine” (1943), “None but the Lonely Heart” (1944), “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945), “The Razor’s Edge” (1946), “To Each His Own” (1946), “A Double Life” (1947), “The Farmer’s Daughter” (1947), “Johnny Belinda” (1948), and “Key Largo” (1948).

Though all of these Oscar champs still survive, they are not in the mint condition that NFR protection guarantees. Lots of modern movies number among the 550 registered even though there’s far less of a threat of losing them compared with those golden oldies. Among the more recent inclusions: “The Nutty Professor” (1964), “Alien” (1979), “Terminator” (1984) and “Groundhog Day” (1993). You can see the full list of rescued films here and a list of movies still neglected here.

The official announcement describes this year’s four Academy Award-winning entries as follows, along with their Oscar hauls.

“All the President’s Men” (1975) — Based on the memoir by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about political dirty tricks in the nation’s capital, “All the President’s Men” is a rare example of a best-selling book that was transformed into a hit theatrical film and a cultural phenomenon in its own right. Four Academy Awards: Supporting Actor (Jason Robards), Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction Sound

“The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) — The much anticipated continuation of the “Star Wars” saga, Irvin Kershner’s 1980 sequel 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. One Academy Award: Sound

“The Exorcist” (1973) — One of the most successful and influential horror films of all time. Its influence, both stylistically and in narrative, continues to be seen in many movies of the 21st century. The film’s success, both commercially and cinematically, provides a rare example of a popular novel being ably adapted for the big screen. Two Academy Awards: Adapted Screenplay, Sound

“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1945) — Elia Kazan’s first feature film, based on the novel by Betty Smith, focuses on a theme that he returned to many times during his film career: the struggle of a weak or ill-prepared individual to survive against powerful forces. A timely film, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” was released at the end of World War II, helping to remind post-war audiences of the enduring importance of the American dream. One Academy Award: Supporting Actor (James Dunn)

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