filmmaker shooting smoky scene

A production still from These Amazing Shadows. Independent Lens will rebroadcast this entertaining documentary on Christmas Eve. Check local listings.

Last night, Anatomy of a Murder was on cable into the wee hours, and since I couldn’t sleep thanks to a combination of a touch of the flu and the raging storm outside, I curled up on the couch next to my yellow Lab and watched.

I expected sleep to get the better of me long before it was over at 4:30 a.m., but the gripping courtroom Otto Preminger drama would have none of that. The 1959 classic is one arguably Preminger’s best film, and probably one of the best movies of its genres ever made. There’s no leaving that film ‘til the closing credits.

So this morning, a bit groggy, I sat down to write about the Independent Lens rebroadcast of These Amazing Shadows, which airs on Christmas Eve (check local listings). It’s a delightful, engaging documentary about America’s most beloved films and their preservation by the Library of Congress.

poster-these-amazing-shadowsThese Amazing Shadows explores the process of how these films are selected and why it’s critical to preserve the nation’s celluloid history. Thanks to the 1988 National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress – with input from the public and advice from the National Film Preservation Board – names 25 films to the National Film Registry. These cinematic treasures are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. They must be at least 10 years old to be nominated. The oldest film is from 1897.

This year’s selection of films was just announced, and that brings the number of Registry films to a nice, round 600. Guess which film is high on the list? Hint: It’s high on the list in part because it’s in alphabetical order. Another hint: I didn’t mention the Preminger film only because I’m hallucinatory with fatigue.

If you guessed Anatomy of a Murder,  bravo! Looks like I’m not the only one riveted by this real-life-based drama. Among the other films selected for the 2012 National Film Registry are Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), Dirty Harry (1971), and the Laurel and Hardy favorite, Sons of the Desert (1933).

Here’s a complete list of Registry films so far. Are your favorites on there? If not, tell us what films you think should be selected. You can really let your voice be heard, and nominate your favorite films for next year. Your opinion does count. Check out this list of some beloved American films not yet selected for the Registry for some ideas if you’re coming up blank.

Remember, the films don’t have to be considered the greatest films ever in order to be on the list. “These films are not selected as the best American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture,” says Librarian of Congress James M. Billington. “They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.”

Independent Lens recently asked These Amazing Shadows filmmakers Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton which two films they think should make the list. Mind you, this was before the latest list was mentioned. Turns out Mariano chose one that actually made the list last week.

Mariano wanted to see The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) chosen, “because it speaks to and represents such an important historical time and cultural movement in our society.” That wish came true with last week’s announcement. He also hopes Two for the Road (1967) can make a future list, “because it is one of my all-time personal favorite films, starring Audrey Hepburn and directed by a master…Stanley Donen, who (although he already has two films on the Registry) deserves a third.”

Ken Norton would like Key Largo (1948) to be selected, “because it is a story that offers moral complexity and moral decisions in ways that are mostly absent from contemporary films. The beautiful performances by Edward Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and many others combined with John Huston’s fine direction produces a melodrama of great atmosphere and humanity that easily satisfies the National Film Registry’s standards of cultural, historical and aesthetic value,” Norton says.

His other top selection is The Princess Bride (1987). “It’s one of those films that has had a huge impact on a particular generation – the so-called Millennial Generation – and has also become part of pop culture in general (it’s endlessly quotable seemingly for all occasions),” says Norton. “Its cultural and aesthetic value comes from the combining of classic romantic adventure storytelling with a wit and wicked edge rarely seen and successfully pulled off.”

Tell us: Which films would you want to be preserved in perpetuity?

Be sure to tune in to Independent Lens on Dec. 24 for the rebroadcast of These Amazing Shadows. And if you want to take a super challenging film quiz (Even Roger Ebert had a tough time with it!), check out our really hard film IQ quiz.