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The 25 Films Added to the National Film Registry in 2012

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By Scott Meslow

Every year since 1989, the Library of Congress has selected 25 films to preserve in the National Film Registry, a 600-film (and counting) collection of some of America's most important achievements in filmmaking. The movies, according to Librarian of Congress James M. Billington, are not necessarily "the best American films of all time," but the films that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" to the American people. This year's eclectic crop spans more than a century of filmmaking, from a taped boxing match to a film that revolutionized American action cinema. Which 25 films made the cut in 2012, and why? A guide:

1. The Corbett-Fitzsimmons title fight

A 100-minute film that captured all 14 rounds of a championship boxing match. It was the longest film of its era, and it generated $750,000 over the several years that it remained in distribution.

2. Uncle Tom's Cabin

Harriet Beecher Stowe's legendary anti-slavery novel was published in 1852, and was frequently adapted in the early days of American film — but until this version, the character of Uncle Tom was always played by a white actor. The 1914 film, with vaudevillian Sam Lucas in the title role, is thought to be the first feature-length American film to star a black actor.

3. The Wishing Ring: An Idyll of Old England

This light-hearted silent romance was thought lost for decades until film historian Kevin Brownlow discovered a print of the film in Northern England. Since its discovery, silent film experts have deemed it an early cinematic masterpiece, praising its use of camera work, lighting, and editing.

4. Kodachrome Color Motion Picture Tests

The first publicly demonstrated color film designed to attract the attention of the film industry. Prior to the introduction of Kodachrome and Technicolor film stocks, movies could only be made into color by hand-painting each frame or using a complex process involving mechanically produced stencils.

5. Sons of the Desert

A classic from Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy sees the men facing a series of hilarious setbacks after they sneak away from their wives to attend a fraternal lodge convention.

6. The Middleton Family at the New York World's Fair

An industrial film that follows a family of five as they look to the future by attending the New York World's Fair. The movie also offers a moralistic message as the daughter turns on her anti-capitalist boyfriend in favor of an industrious engineer who works at the fair.

7. The Kidnappers Foil

The product of a clever business started by Melton Barker, who intuited that people would want to see themselves on film. Barker traveled across the United States, assembling groups of children, charging their families for "acting lessons," and then having the children stage a short, melodramatic story about a kidnapped girl and the children who rescue her. The resulting film would then be screened for the town.

8. The Augustas

Traveling salesman and Amateur Cinema League member Scott Nixon documents 38 streets, storefronts, and cities named Augusta, which he encountered on his travels over several decades.

9. Born Yesterday

Judy Holliday won the Academy Award for Best Actress for this film, a comedic satire on corruption in Washington, D.C., that may still resonate with audiences.

10. 3:10 to Yuma

A western classic based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma chronicles a rancher's attempt to deliver a criminal to a jail in Yuma, Arizona. A remake starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe was released in 2007.

11. Anatomy of a Murder

This Jimmy Stewart-starring courtroom classic was enormously controversial for its frank discussion of rape and murder, which were largely considered taboo subjects in American film at the time.

12. Breakfast at Tiffany's

Truman Capote, who wrote the novella that Breakfast at Tiffany's was based upon, was reportedly unhappy with the film — he thought Marilyn Monroe should have the lead role — but the film remains a beloved American classic, noted for Audrey Hepburn's iconic performance as Manhattan socialite Holly Golightly.

13. Parable

An enormously controversial film that debuted at the New York World's Fair in 1964, Parable depicts Jesus Christ as a circus clown who takes on the suffering of oppressed workers, women, and minorities. Though the fair's president personally attempted to have it withdrawn, he was outvoted by attendees, and it became one of the fair's most popular attractions.

14. They Call It Pro Football

When NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed to form NFL Films to drum up public interest in the game, his goal was to capture the "struggle" of football. This groundbreaking film, which used techniques like close-ups on players' faces and microphones to capture the evolving strategies of players and coaches, offered Americans far more insight into professional football than they'd ever had before.

15. Two-Lane Blacktop

A minimalist classic about a cross-country road race, financed by Hollywood as a part of the first wave of the American booming class of young filmmakers.

16. Dirty Harry

"Do you feel lucky?" In this early peek at Clint Eastwood's acting career, he plays San Francisco cop Harry Callahan, who's trying to catch a sadistic killer who calls himself Scorpio. More than 40 years after its release, Dirty Harry remains controversial for what some have derided as its "fascistic" philosophy, which sees Harry circumvent the law to catch Scorpio.

17. The Spook Who Sat by the Door

An extremely controversial film based on a bestselling novel by Sam Greenlee, The Spook Who Sat by the Door centers on a black man hired to integrate the CIA who uses his position to spark a black nationalist revolution in America. Though the film was financially successful, distributor United Artists pulled it just three weeks after its release.

18. Hours for Jerome: Parts 1 and 2

An artistic "tone poem" by filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky, who offers a loose record of a year with his partner, with Part 1 focused on spring and summer, and Part 2 focused on fall and winter.

19. A Christmas Story

A beloved comedy that continues to get extensive play every holiday season, A Christmas Story, which is based on the works of humorist Jean Shepherd, chronicles a young boy's desperate attempt to convince his parents to buy him a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas in 1940s Indiana.

20. The Times of Harvey Milk

This winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary tells the life story of Harvey Milk, San Francisco's first openly gay elected official, who was assassinated in 1978.

21. Samsara: Death and Rebirth in Cambodia

Originally filmed as the master's thesis of Stanford University's Ellen Bruno, Samsara chronicles Cambodia's struggle to rebuild its culture in the years following Pol Pot's killing fields.

22. Slacker

An early classic in the American independent cinema movement of the early 1990s, Richard Linklater's quirky snapshot of life in Austin, Texas, which he filmed for just $23,000, earned more than $1 million at the box office and inspired an entire generation of young filmmakers.

23. A League of Their Own

This star-studded dramedy centers on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which sprung up during World War II, capturing a bygone era in American sports and offering insight into one early signifier of the American feminist movement.

24. One Survivor Remembers

An Academy Award-winning short documentary that recounts the experiences of Holocaust survivor Gerda Wiessmann Klein, a Polish Jew whose entire family was sent to a concentration camp when she was 16. She was the only member of her family to survive.

25. The Matrix

Andy and Lana Wachowski's mind-bending sci-fi action thriller set a new standard in the action genre. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, the savior of the human race in a war against machines, in this film that launched a thousand "bullet time" parodies.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]