December 27, 2007

National Film Registry, 2007


Back to the Future (1985)
Before "Beowulf" or "The Polar Express," writer/director Robert Zemeckis explored the possibilities of special effects with the 1985 box-office smash "Back to the Future." With his writing partner Bob Gale, Zemeckis tells the tale of accidental time-tourist Marty McFly.  Stranded in the year 1955, Marty (Michael J. Fox)—with the help of Dr. Emmett Brown (played masterfully over-the-top by Christopher Lloyd)—must not only find a way home, but also teach his father how to become a man, repair the space/time continuum and save his family from being erased from existence. All this, while fighting off the advances of his then-teenaged mother.  It's “The Twilight Zone” meets Preston Sturges.

Bullitt (1968)
For his first American film, British director Peter Yates made an inspired decision: shoot a crime drama on location in San Francisco, rather than on the usual streets of L.A. or New York City.  The pitched streets and stunning vistas of San Francisco, backed by a superb Lalo Schifrin score, play a central role in this film renowned for its exhilarating 11-minute car chase, arguably the finest in cinema history.  Steve McQueen as the cop in the title role romances Jacqueline Bisset and solves a murder case while fighting off the mob and a sleazy district attorney, played by Robert Vaughn.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
After his 1975 blockbuster “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg produced this intelligent sci-fi film in which the climactic scene is set far from an ocean: Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  Long a sacred place in Native American folklore, the monument served as an iconic image around which to construct this film about the quest for extraterrestrial life and UFOs. Also making the film effective and believable is Richard’s Dreyfuss’ Everyman character Roy Neary: “I wanna speak to the man in charge."   The five-tone musical motif used for communication with the aliens has become as quotable as any line of movie dialogue.  

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Although there were numerous women filmmakers in the early decades of silent cinema, by the 1930s directing in Hollywood had become a male bastion—with one exception.  Dorothy Arzner graduated from editing to directing in the late 1920s, often exploring the conflicted roles of women in contemporary society. In “Dance, Girl, Dance,” her most intriguing film, two women (Lucille Ball and Maureen O’Hara) pursue life in show business from opposite ends of the spectrum: burlesque and ballet. The film is a meditation on the disparity between art and commerce.  The dancers strive to preserve their own feminist integrity, while fighting for their place in the spotlight and for the love of male lead Louis Hayward.

Dances With Wolves (1990)
A personal project for star Kevin Costner, “Dances with Wolves” disproved a reputation  Western films had acquired in the latter years of the 20th Century for being money-losers. The film also became the second Western to win the Academy Award for Best Film. The movie presents a fairly simple, intimate story (the quest of a cavalry soldier to get to know a nearby Sioux tribe and his resulting spiritual transformation) in an epic fashion, with sweeping cinematography and a majestic John Barry score. The film marks one of the more sympathetic portraits of Native-American life ever shown in American cinema, and introduced the American public to Lakota Sioux folklore, traditions and language.

Days of Heaven (1978)
Often called one of the most beautiful films ever made (acknowledging the sublime cinematography of NĂ¿stor Almendros and Haskell Wexler), “Days of Heaven” is an impressionist painting for the screen. The wheat fields and prairies of the Texas Panhandle—filmed in Alberta—shine and undulate in wind currents and storms, framing the tale of a love triangle (Richard Gere, Brooke Adams and Sam Shepard) fated to end badly.  The dialogue is spare, punctuating an elegiac score by Ennio Morricone and haunting narration by Linda Manz, who speaks from a child’s point of view. After this film (his second after “Badlands”), director Terrence Malick disappeared from public view for 20 years, returning in 1998 with “The Thin Red Line.”

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