A Christmas Story (1983)
Humorist Jean Shepherd narrates this memoir of growing up in Hammond, Ind., during the 1940s when his greatest ambition was to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The film is based in part on Shepherd’s 1966 compilation of short stories titled “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” which originated on his radio and television programs. Writer-director Bob Clark had long dreamed of making a movie based on Shepherd’s work and his reverence for the material shows through as detail after nostalgic detail rings true with period flavor. Dozens of small but expertly realized moments reflect an astute understanding of human nature. Peter Billingsley—with his cherubic cheeks, oversized glasses and giddy grin—portrays Shepherd as a boy.  Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon are his harried-yet-lovable parents.

I have loved watching the evolution of this movie's place in pop culture.  I remember which theater I saw it in, a small mall multiplex in Atlanta, and I remember seeing the first "Ghostbusters" trailer in front of the film and freaking out about that, and then I remember being absolutely floored by the wit and the wisdom of Bob Clark's best movie.  I was 13.  The perfect age to identify with Ralphie the first time through.  And the brilliance of the script, so perfectly adapted from Jean Shepherd's work, is the way I can watch the film now and see myself in Ralphie and in his father both.  It is a film that is positively drenched in nostalgia, but not in a bad way.  This isn't about pandering to a demographic.  It is a snapshot of a time and a place and a particular childhood, and in its specific focus, it speaks to the way so many of us have grappled with family and holidays in our own lives.  TV rescued this film the same way it rescued "The Wizard Of Oz," and now it is omnipresent, but in 1983, I felt like I was pretty much alone on how great it was.  My friend Bill was the one I saw it with, and he dug it, but almost nobody saw it.  I'm always glad to see a film get its due eventually if it doesn't happen at first, and "A Christmas Story" is one of the best examples of how that can happen.

The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight (1897)
Independently produced motion picture recordings of famous boxing contests were a leading factor in establishing the commercial success of movies in the late 19th century.  Championship boxing matches were the most widely popular sporting contests in America in that era, even though the sport was banned in many states in the 1890s.  Soon after Nevada legalized boxing in 1897, the Corbett-Fitzsimmons title fight was held in that state in Carson City on St. Patrick’s Day of that year.  The film recorded the introductions of famous personalities in attendance and all 14 of the fight’s three-minute rounds, plus the one-minute breaks between rounds.  With a running time of approximately 100 minutes, “The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Title Fight” was the longest movie produced at that time. Films of championship matches before 1897 had been unsuccessful because they ended too quickly with knockouts, leaving movie audiences unwilling to pay high-ticket prices to see such short films.  “Corbett-Fitzsimmons” was a tremendous commercial success for the producers and contestants James J. Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons (the victor), generating an estimated $750,000 in income during the several years that it remained in distribution.  This film also is deserving of a footnote in the technical history of motion pictures. Producers of early boxing films protected their films from piracy by engineering film printers and projectors that could only accept film stock of a proprietary size.  The film prints of the fight were manufactured in a unique 63mm format that could only be run on a special projector advertised as “The Veriscope.”

Again… never heard of this, but I love their description.

Dirty Harry (1971)
Clint Eastwood’s role as rogue police officer Harry Callahan in director Don Siegel’s action-packed, controversial paean to vigilante justice marked a major turning point in Eastwood’s career. A top 10 box-office hit after its release, “Dirty Harry” struck a nerve in the era’s politically polarized atmosphere with those who believed that concern over suspects’ rights had gone too far.  While a number of critics characterized the film as “fascistic,” Eastwood countered that Harry, who disregards police procedure and disobeys his superiors, represents “a fantasy character” who “does all the things people would like to do in real life but can’t.” “Dirty Harry,” he stated later, was ahead of its time, putting the “rights of the victim” above those of the accused. The film’s kinesthetic direction and editing laid the aesthetic groundwork for many of the 1970s’ gritty, realistic police dramas. 

Awesome.  I love how cynical this film is, and it's weird how much the imagery from the "Mad" magazine parody gets tangled up in my memory with the images from the film itself.  The film is subversive and dangerous and nasty and treats law enforcement's relationship with the sickest elements of the criminal world as pathology to be dissected.  Clint Eastwood's greatest strength as a filmmaker, both in front of the camera and behind it, has been his almost innate understanding of iconography.  He knows exactly how to play Harry as mythological figure, and it's almost like the less he cracks, the more epic he seems.

Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2 (1980-82)
Nathaniel Dorsky shot the footage for what would become his silent tone poem, “Hours for Jerome,” between 1966 and 1970.  He edited that footage over a two-year period. The film’s title evokes the liturgical “Book of Hours,” a medieval series of devotional prayers recited at eight-hour intervals throughout the day. Dorsky’s personal devotional loosely records the daily events of the filmmaker and his partner as an arrangement of images, energies and illuminations. The camera intimately surveys the surroundings, from the pastoral to the cosmopolitan, as fragments of light revolve around the four seasons. “Part 1” presents spring through summer and “Part 2” looks at fall and winter—a full year in 45 minutes. Named filmmaker of the decade in 2010 by Film Comment magazine, Dorsky creates his works to be projected at silent speed, between 17 and 20 frames per second instead of the usual 24 frames per second for sound film. Projecting his films at sound film speed, he writes, “is to strip them of their ability to open the heart and speak properly to their audience. Not only is the specific use of time violated, but the flickering threshold of cinema’s illusion—a major player in these works—is obscured.”

The Kidnappers Foil (1930s-1950s)
For three decades, Dallas native Melton Barker and his company traveled through the southern and central sections of the United States filming local children acting, singing and dancing in two-reel narrative films, all of which Barker titled “The Kidnappers Foil.” Barker recognized that many people enjoyed seeing themselves, their children and their communities on film.  Since home movies were an expensive hobby, he developed a business to provide them. Other itinerant filmmakers produced similar fare, but Barker appears to have been the most prolific. Enlisting local movie theaters and newspapers to sponsor and promote the productions, Barker auditioned children and offered “acting lessons” to the most promising for a fee of a few dollars.  He then assembled 50 to 75 would-be Shirley Temples and Jackie Coopers, ages 3 to 12, to act out the melodramatic story: a young girl is kidnapped from her birthday party and eventually rescued by a search party of local kids. After the “rescue,” the relieved townsfolk would celebrate with a party where the budding stars showcased their musical talents. A few weeks after filming, the town would screen the 15- to 20-minute picture to the delight of the local audience. Most prints of these films no longer exist, although some have been discovered in vintage movie houses or local historical societies. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image holds a collection of these itinerant films and hosts Internet resources for those who appeared in them as children.

Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests (1922)
This two-color (green-blue and red) film was produced as a demonstration reel at the Paragon Studios in Fort Lee, New Jersey, under the direction of Kodak scientist John Capstaff.  It features leading actresses, including Mae Murray, Hope Hampton, and Mary Eaton, posing and miming for the camera to showcase the capability of the complex Kodachrome process to capture their translucent movie star complexions and colorful, high-fashion clothing.  Hampton wears costumes designed for “The Light in the Dark,” the first commercial feature film to incorporate scenes filmed with the Kodachrome process. During the first three decades of motion picture history, the most practical methods for adding colors to 35mm prints filmed on black-and-white film stock had been through laborious processes by which separate colors were either painted on individual film frames by hand or added by overlaying mechanically produced stencils on prints and applying colors in sequence.  While aesthetically pleasing, these color additive methods were complicated and costly.  Soon after 1900, inventors in several countries began experimenting with ways to advance the chemistry of color movies and create film stocks capable of reproducing the true colors of nature.  Leading the way in the U.S. were Technicolor in 1912 and Eastman Kodak, starting in 1914. The Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests of 1922 was the first publicly demonstrated color film to attract the general interest of the American film industry.  Many feature films produced by major studios incorporated two-color sequences using Kodachrome and the rival Technicolor film stocks until three-strip Technicolor became the industry standard in the late 1930s.

If we truly are at the end of film, or at a transition moment where we start to debate how long film is going to be the primary archival media, then it is appropriate that there be so many entries on the list for these experimental and/or amateur films, where the entire point of the inclusion is the fact that these things test the limits of film.

A League of Their Own (1992)
Director Penny Marshall used the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954) as a backdrop for this heartfelt comedy-drama.  “A League of Their Own,” featuring an ensemble cast that includes Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell, not only illuminates this fascinating, under-reported aspect of American sports history, but also effectively examines women’s changing roles during wartime. Rich with period detail and equally complex performances—especially Davis as a team ringer and Hanks as the down-on-his-luck coach—Marshall and her company delivered an enjoyably nostalgic film about women’s choices and solidarity during World War II that was both funny and feminist.

Uhhhh… sure.  Okay.  It's a really well-made piece of entertainment.  It wouldn't be my first choice or even my hundredth choice for a list like this, but I guess it's fine.
A respected critic and commentator for fifteen years, Drew McWeeny helped create the online film community as "Moriarty" at Ain't It Cool News, and now proudly leads two budding Film Nerds in their ongoing movie education.