100 American Films to Save: Introduction and Index

Voting is like mowing the lawn or folding socks. it’s one of those activities that you know you have to take care of but you can’t help but feel like it doesn’t matter even while you’re doing it. I live in a swing state (for now, anyway) and I still feel like that when I vote; you can only imagine how I feel when I send in my recommendations and hopes for the National Film Registry each year. Each year the Registry accepts fifty nominations per person; each year they release a list of up to twenty-five films that they’re keeping because they are especially valuable as socio-historical and/or aesthetic monuments. As I begin this, there are over 800 films in their locker. I keep voting; I’ve never actually managed to convince anyone at the Library of Congress that they should take even one of the movies I’ve suggested. On the other hand, as I’m fond of reminding people, there are a lot of movies, and I’m kind of a doofus.

Earlier this year I made a list of what I thought were the best 250 American feature films. (It’s been a couple months, I’ve seen more movies, this list would already be different if I did it again, pro captu lectoris habent sua fata libelli) This list shares a handful of movies with that one, but in my mind they are meant to serve entirely different purposes. The top 250 is about the best of the best. This list of films to save, as I intend to whip it up, is a narrative treatment of the national cinema without recourse to The Searchers. There are only so many times that a person can wax rhapsodic about that film and its artistic compeers—trust me, I’ve been known to simply not shut up about The Searchers—and this list doesn’t ask for another consideration of expressly canonical titles. In fact, it’s looking for titles unlike The Searchers, which was elected to the National Film Registry in its inaugural 1989 class alongside Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, and Citizen Kane. Other people have taken care of the classics. It’s time for us to take care of some of those wanderers who haven’t been invited to sit by the hearth.

While I haven’t included any films I think are flat out bad on this list, there are a few that I’d say are maybe not particularly good. There are some movies which I think are historically great, like Safe and Manhunter, which I am just leaving off out of whimsy. This is hardly the only group of 100 movies I would want to see safeguarded. I’ve also tried to meet the spirit of the National Film Registry, which I’m afraid, in my feature-focused heart, I have still kind of missed out on. They call for and include shorts, industrial films, experimental work. I’ve tried to be mindful and include some things that I excluded from that top 250 list on general principle, and on top of that I’ve decided that some texts count as short films or industrial pictures even if they are expressly not cinematic.

Other rules, for the people who love rules: The National Film Registry limits nominations and admissions to films which were released more than ten years prior. In the spirit of the thing, I’ve complied; the newest film is from 2010. I also limited myself to one film per director/filmmaker. Just because I could (and desperately want to) build a National Film Registry out of minor John Ford doesn’t mean that’s what this is about.

I’ll be writing about the films in groups of ten, from earliest to newest, and linking posts as they’re ready. Enjoy the ride!

Part 1 / Origins

Part 2 / Confrontations

Part 3 / Mirrors

Part 4 / Dismay

Part 5 / Awe

Part 6 / Sneers

7 thoughts on “100 American Films to Save: Introduction and Index

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