My business partner and I (the other half of Cryptic Pictures, Christian Stavrakis) were recent guests on the movie podcast, The Fisch Bowl hosted by Sam Fisch. During our conversation the topic of The National Film Registry popped up and I made the profound declaration that the only film of the last five years fitting enough to be added to the list would probably be Mad Max Fury Road or perhaps Moonlight. My gentlemen friends balked at my lack of insight. Suddenly, movie titles got thrown around (Rouge One: A Star Wars Story and Blade Runner 2049) and as movie minds will do, a devolution into passionate discussion of
what makes a 'good' film 'great' got underway.
But after further evaluation, I reminded my cinephile pals that the Library of Congress doesn't have a list of 'great films', rather The National Film Preservation Board has created a list of "culturally significant" films, which is something entirely different. As explained on the NFR website, The National Film Registry is essentially "a list of films deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" that are earmarked for preservation by the Library of Congress. These films are not selected as the 'best' American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a
people and as a nation. "
Only 25 films are selected for inclusion each year, from public nominations that number in the thousands. There were almost 100 films nominated in 2006 alone, but not one of them has been added to the list as of yet. I guess we'll need to see if Talledega Nights reaches its full maturity before being recognized. (If you think that one is a surprise, you should see some of the other suggestions made by the public; Snake on a Plan anyone?) Unless we forget, Airplane (1980) made the list in 2010, so anything is possible. (More on this later.)
Sadly, Hollywood hasn't been producing much in the way of culturally memorable fare as of late. Ingenuity as that seen in the likes of Mad Max Fury Road or the poignant mix of gender and racial relations as seen in Moonlight are a rarity these days. Both of these films did remarkably well at the Oscars, but only one reached a mainstream audience. And that in my opinion, says much about who we are as a movie going nation.
Hollywood doesn't make films for the purpose of prestige anymore, because now their pushing pulp. Why? Because pulp is more profitable. And that does say much about our current cinema and cultural zeitgeist. But I fear we won’t have much in the way of lasting cinema that explores our better side, the side we would want future generations to remember us by. (Not that previous entries always showed the best side of earlier generations.) To further examine, let's take the films from the year 1980 that have
made the National Registry… thus far:
Now, before everyone realizes I wasn't joking earlier, and then throws their hands in the air and exclaims, "Airplane!?", do note that that film is still to this day one of the more quotable movies of a generation, and a culturally significant film with regards to the adolescent awakening for many a young man. (I'll just leave it at that). But this film also reflects much about the nature of the film industry at the time (and well into the eighties for that matter). Its use of satire and stereotypes make this parody a significant reflection of all that
was "wrong" with Hollywood at the time of its release.
Airplane aside, once you remove the documentaries and the single animated short from the above list, we are left with five films, three of which, I am sure, just about any film lover remembers (Airplane, The Empire Strikes Back and Raging Bull). The final lesser know films, Atlantic City (a five time Oscar nominee underdog) and Return of Secaucus 7 (the precursor to the Big Chill) have their place and do upon viewing explore the cultural quagmires of the late seventies and early eighties, probably far more than the recollected films do. But its the number that is astonishing. Five films… that's it. That is all that have made it to the list
for the year 1980.
Now comes the bigger question… what films of the last five years might come close to making a lasting impression on our society (?) or were technologically significant films (I propose Mad Max Fury Road) or say something about the industry (insert your pick of Marvel super hero films here) or reflect the various cultural machinations of our country's current political or sociological landscape (perhaps Moonlight). The list of nominees might be
long, but the actual entries will be few in number.
Which leads me to the title of this article, Hollywood: A Time of Cultural Reckoning. When the current slate of Hollywood releases doesn't extend much beyond the visuals they achieve, a time will come when the empty coffers will motivate the company leaders to seek new audience trends and exploit them. This is a two way street where in we the viewing public play a part (the biggest part, I dare say). It's time to stand up and demand better!
Now before everyone comments below, begging me to stop putting down pulp, let me be heard. I see a Hollywood release once a week, at a movie theatre, which is more than I can say for most. I keep my independent filming viewing in the comfort of my own home with purchased copies that help support the filmmakers, but I support the industry with my hard earned dollars too. I see what is being produced (or pushed on, us as the case maybe). I love a good super hero movie, good being the operative word. I love spectacular visuals, but I also want to see stories that say something about who we are as a nation, or what we want to be, or who are as a peoples and what we are capable of achieving. Rehash doesn't move me.
We as a movie going nation must demand more. We must also be more selective about what films we support. There are stories of an entire generation that remain unheard of and unseen and we can't let that happen; small art house films, foreign films and independent fare that we must ourselves promote via social media and encourage others to view.
So #startyourregistrylistnow! Get out to the theater and stop being a complete slave to streaming. Begin letting others know about films both underground and popular that you recommend. Become a part of the cinematic conversation. Perhaps the next
culturally significant piece of art is sitting right under our noses.