Looking back over the entire history of American cinema, the Library of Congress, having conferred with the National Film Preservation Board and a few of its own specialists, has selected twenty-five titles to add to the National Film Registry. Selection to the registry, which turns thirty this year, ensures that the Library will see to it, either on its own or in cooperation with other archives, studios, and filmmakers, that “these films will be preserved for all time.”
As always, the registry’s selection makes for an eclectic list, reflecting the range of over a century of moviemaking in the country. The oldest film in this year’s round dates back to 1898 and runs all of twenty-nine seconds. Something Good – Negro Kiss is one of several “kissing films” made in the early days of the medium aimed at attracting curious audiences, and it features vaudeville actors Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown in what Allyson Nadia Field of the University of Chicago calls “a seemingly improvised performance” that makes for “a significant counter to the racist portrayal of African Americans otherwise seen in the cinema of its time.” The youngest addition, and in fact, the newest film of all 750 now added to the registry, is Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005). In a statement, Lee expresses his surprise that this love story between two cowboys “ended up striking a deep chord with audiences; the movie became a part of the culture, a reflection of the darkness and light—of violent prejudice and enduring love—in the rocky landscape of the American heart.”
Naturally, we’re pleased to see a number of titles in the Criterion Collection among the twenty-five: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street (1953), Marlon Brando’s One-Eyed Jacks (1961), and two landmark documentaries, D. A. Pennebaker’s 1968 concert film Monterey Pop and Peter Davis’s fiery 1974 polemic against the war in Vietnam, Hearts and Minds. The selection also includes popular favorites such as Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Hollywood classics like Orson Welles’s The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and John M. Stahl’s Leave Her to Heaven (1945), the animated films Cinderella (1950) from Disney and Ayoka Chenzira’s 1984 short Hair Piece: A Film for Nappy-Headed People, and independent films such as Kasi Lemmons’s Eve’s Bayou (1997) and Chris Eyre’s Smoke Signals (1998).
Best of 2018
Snapping back to the present fleeting moment, Sight & Sound has polled 164 international critics and curators and Film Comment has tallied votes from its editors and contributors to come up with two somewhat surprisingly divergent lists of the twenty best films of 2018. There is some overlap, of course. Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, the clear critical favorite so far this year, tops the S&S list but comes in at #4 on FC’s, where we find Lucrecia Martel’s Zama at #1 (and at #9 on the S&S list). Lee Chang-dong’s Burning scores well on both lists (#2 for FC, #3 on the S&S list) as does Paul Schrader’s First Reformed (#3 for FC, #5 for S&S).
But a good number of films on the S&S list don’t show up at all on FC’s, including Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (#2), which topped several lists in the States last year but wasn’t released internationally until early this year, Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War (#4), and Debra Granik’s Leave No Trace (#6). In turn, FC has made room for Claire Denis’s Let the Sunshine In, RaMell Ross’s Hale County This Morning, This Evening, Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Andrew Bujalski’s Support the Girls, Frederick Wiseman’s Monrovia, Indiana, and Bill Gunn’s Personal Problems, none of which appear in the S&S poll results. The Film Comment team has also put together a roster of the best films still without distribution in the U.S., and the list of twenty is headed by Roberto Minervini’s What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?
For all the fun of sorting through the rankings, both lists are especially valuable for the links to further reading about each title from the magazines’ pages. Contributors to RogerEbert.com and the Playlist, on the other hand, have revisited their respective selections anew, offering fresh paragraph-length assessments. Sheila O’Malley writes about Roma, which tops the ten at RogerEbert.com, while Lena Wilson argues the case for You Were Never Really Here, which leads the Playlist’s round of twenty-five.
A jury of critics and film industry types in France has presented this year’s Louis-Delluc Award for best French film to Christophe Honoré’s Sorry Angel and named two best French debuts, Xavier Legrand’s Custody and Bertrand Mandico’s The Wild Boys. Meantime, the Screen Actors Guild has announced the nominations for its twenty-fifth annual awards, and as Dave McNary reports for Variety, Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born leads with four. The African American Film Critics Association has named Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther best film of the year, while the San Diego Film Critics Society has gone for Leave No Trace. Notable recent lists from individuals include those from Variety critics Peter Debruge and Owen Gleiberman, novelist Dennis Cooper, and critics Miriam Bale, Sheila O’Malley, Girish Shambu, Michael Sicinski, Scott Tobias, and Alissa Wilkinson.
Finally for now, during the last weekend of this year and the first weekend of the next, the Museum of the Moving Image in New York will be screening some of 2018’s best films as selected by curators Eric Hynes and David Schwartz. And there will be guests: Ari Aster (Hereditary), Zoe Kazan (who cowrote Wildlife with Paul Dano), Robert Greene (Bisbee ’17), RaMell Ross, Bing Liu (Minding the Gap), and Steve James, whose documentary series America to Me, an examination of racial, economic, and class issues at Oak Park and River Forest High School, located in an affluent suburb of Chicago, will screen in full on December 29 and 30. James (Hoop Dreams, Life Itself) is already working on his next feature, Chicago Story, which Kartemquin Films tells us will be a “mosaic portrait” of the city on the eve of the upcoming mayoral election in February 2019.
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