Film on TV: 15-21 December

Though I obviously recommend all these films (or I wouldn’t list them here), I’m going to start putting MUST-SEE on ones that I’d say you, well, must see. That is, if you aren’t able to catch them on TV this week, put them in your Netflix queue. Or buy them. Something.

Thanks to those of you who’ve mentioned liking these recommendations. If you do end up seeing any of them, it’d be fun to hear what you thought!

Monday, 15 December

10:30am EST / 9:30am CST – TCM – My Favorite Wife
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne made three films together, and though My Favorite Wife doesn’t hold a candle to their earlier outing The Awful Truth, it’s still an enjoyable screwball comedy, if you’re a fan of that sort of thing. Dunne returns to her husband Grant after seven years of being shipwrecked and believed dead, only to find him about to be remarried. Oh, and she’s brought fellow shipwreckee Randolph Scott with her.

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Guys and Dolls
Marlon Brando gets his musical on as charming gambler Sky Masterson and romances straight-laced Jean Simmons as part of a bet – at first. But Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine steal the show as the city’s go-to craps game host and his long-suffering fiance.

9:00pm / 8:00pm – IFC – Trainspotting
Days in the lives of Scottish heroin addicts. Sounds like a downer, and I won’t say it’s not, but it’s also brilliant and searing. Danny Boyle is a director who can take stories that could be routine and make them into something special. His current film Slumdog Millionaire is getting rave reviews, so check that one out, too.
(repeats at 1:00am EST 16th)

10:45pm / 9:45pm – TCM – Hamlet (1948)
Is Laurence Olivier’s moody Dane the definitive Hamlet? I’m not sure, so take a look for yourself and get back to me.

Tuesday, 16 December

11:25am / 10:25am – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
Hayao Miyazaki has been a leader in the world of kid-friendly anime films for several years now, and while many would point to Spirited Away as his best film, I actually enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle the most of all his films. Japanese animation takes some getting used to, but Miyazaki’s films are well worth it, and serve as a wonderful antidote to the current stagnation going on in American animation (always excepting Pixar).

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – Shadow of a Doubt
Said to be Hitchcock’s personal favorite of all of his films – an interesting choice, given the plethora of more iconic films from him, but Shadow of a Doubt definitely has its charms. The ever-great and too often underused Teresa Wright is young Charlie, who idolizes her namesake Uncle Charlie, who we know (though she does not) is the infamous Black Widow murderer.

12:00pm / 11:00pm – TCM – The Third Man
Orson Welles is the elusive Harry Lime in this intelligent thriller from director Carol Reed and screenwriter Graham Greene, Joseph Cotten the journalist trying to track him down. From the moody noir lighting to Lime’s ingenious monologue about power and cuckoo clocks, The Third Man is one of the greatest films of all time. MUST SEE

1:00am / 12:00pm (17th) – Sundance – Topsy-Turvy
Gilbert & Sullivan played a large part in the development of the musical comedy, and Topsy-Turvy details their tumultuous working relationship and their stage successes. This film flew under the radar a bit a few years ago, but got a fair amount of critical praise and deserves more play than it’s had.

Wednesday, 17 December

2:45pm / 1:45pm – TCM – The Apartment
Billy Wilder had a knack for combining comedy and drama into bittersweet goodness, and that’s exactly what he does here, garnering Oscars for Picture, Director, and Screenplay in the process. Jack Lemmon lends his apartment to his boss Fred MacMurray for romantic trysts – a situation that gets even more complicated when MacMurray trysts with Shirley MacLaine, who Lemmon happens to love from afar. Everything comes together perfectly in this film, one of Wilder’s best. MUST SEE

5:00pm / 4:00pm – TCM – The Great Escape
I expected to mildly enjoy or at least get through this POW escape film. What happened was I was completely enthralled with every second of it, from failed escape attempts to planning the ultimate escape to the dangers of carrying it out. It’s like a heist film in reverse, and extremely enjoyable in pretty much every way.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – Sundance – 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days
In case you hadn’t noticed, I pretty much think this film is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Okay, that might be a little much. (Or not, since I’m not really a sliced bread fan. But that’s by the by.) Anyway, I’ve hyped 4 Months just about every chance I’ve gotten, so why should I stop now? See it. See it now. Or, like, Wednesday at 10pm. MUST SEE

Thursday, 18 December

2:00pm / 1:00pm – TCM – Topkapi
If The Great Escape is the greatest example of a reverse heist film, then Topkapi is at least one of the top five actual heist films. I love me some heist films.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – TCM – 12 Angry Men
My dad is fond of pointing out that 12 Angry Men must’ve been one of the most economical movies to make ever, given that it basically only needed one set. And yet, watching and listening to twelve jurors debate the fate of one defendant accused of murder remains a riveting experience, even sixty years later.

Friday, 19 December

9:45am / 8:45am – TCM – Paths of Glory
In this early Stanley Kubrick film, Kirk Douglas argues against implacable military brass for the lives of his soldiers, accused of cowardice in battle because they refused to obey an idiotic order calling for a suicidal charge. I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, but there are definitely a lot of interesting things going on – I particularly liked the exploration of the disconnect between old military tactics and new warfare reality (which is a particular favorite historical topic of mine, somehow, and likely the source of my fascination with World War I).

7:15pm / 6:15pm – IFC – The Player
I forget what all happens in this Robert Altman film. I remember it being good, except that Tim Robbins for some reason annoys me so I had a difficult time caring about his character, which was kind of a problem. So why did I put it on here? Because it has an amazing opening tracking shot, intentionally meant to beat the record for longest opening tracking shot but also serving as an extremely good introduction to the world of the Hollywood film studio within which the film is set.

9:30pm / 8:30pm – IFC – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
This is the one Wes Anderson film I haven’t seen. I need to rectify that, because I LOVE everything else he’s done.

Saturday, 20 December

10:25am / 9:25am – IFC – Strictly Ballroom
The first in Baz Luhrmann’s informal Red Curtain trilogy, set in the world of Australian ballroom dancing, which gets shook up when one of the dancers dares to introduce *gasp* his own flavor of Latin dancing into the highly-regulated competition.
(repeats 3:15pm EST)

12:15pm / 11:15am – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Naive and idealistic James Stewart gets appointed junior senator at the behest of conniving senator Claude Rains, who expects to control the state with Stewart in his pocket. But Rains underestimated Stewart’s drive for goodness and justice, which leads to one of the most famous filibusters in cinematic (or probably real-life) history. Capra favorite Jean Arthur is on hand as the hardboiled cynic warmed by Stewart’s presence. MUST SEE

6:35pm / 5:35pm – IFC – Gosford Park
Murder, intrigue, and understated class strife rule the day in Altman’s foray into British drama, though he keeps his signature ensemble cast.
(repeats 1:15pm EST on the 21st)

8:00pm / 7:00pm – TCM – You Can’t Take It With You
Capra again, with Stewart and Arthur again, this time as a newly affianced couple whose families – one conservative bankers, the other unconventional kooks – clash as they get to know each other.

10:00pm / 9:00pm – Sundance – All About My Mother
I have yet to see all of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar’s films, but if he had just made this one, he’d go down as a master in my book. A mother loses her son in a car accident, and in the process of mourning him returns to her home town to reconnect with her past. Oh, and there’s a lot of theatre (the title is a take-off from theatre story All About Eve), a pregnant nun, and some transvestites. Par for the course for Almodovar, really, but All About My Mother has such heart and depth that I can’t help falling in love with it every time, due in no small part to a terrific performance by Cecilia Roth. MUST SEE

Sunday, 21 December

6:30am / 5:30am – TCM – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
As far as I know, this is the only film Hitchcock made twice, directing a remake in 1956 with James Stewart and Doris Day. I actually haven’t seen the earlier version myself yet, but it has Peter Lorre in it, and that’s never a bad thing.

8:00am / 7:00am – TCM – Good News
If you’re the type of person who a) likes people randomly breaking out into song and b) is willing to believe that thirty-somethings June Allyson and Peter Lawford could be college students, you’ll probably like Good News. It’s mindless fun of the type MGM did so well, as braniac Allyson takes on the arduous task of tutoring jock Lawford in French. One of those that isn’t that great a film, but everyone seems to have had a lot of fun making it, and I’m willing to reciprocate by enjoying myself watching it.

1:15am / 12:15am (22nd) – TCM – Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1926)
Everyone knows about Charlton Heston’s Ben-Hur. You know, the one that won eleven Oscars, a record which stood for, like, fifty years? This isn’t that one. This is the 1926 silent version of the same story, with pre-talkie hearththrob Ramon Novarro as Ben-Hur, and an equally impressive (for its time) chariot race sequence. In some ways, I actually prefer this version to the bombastic 1959 version, and it’s definitely worth a watch.

3:45am / 2:45am (22nd) – TCM – The 400 Blows
Ah, Truffaut. Oh, The 400 Blows. Words can hardly describe how much I love this film, and what it has meant to me, cinematically speaking. It was the beginning of my love affair with the French New Wave, one of the first non-English films I whole-heartedly loved, and really opened up a whole world of filmic experience and critical thought to me. Beyond that, it’s a beautiful and unforgettable film in and of itself, a remarkably real, moving, and unmanipulative (okay, maybe a little manipulative) foray into the life of a young Parisian boy on the cusp of adulthood. Don’t miss it. MUST SEE

  • Holy Smokes, there are a lot of good ones in there. I think I'm going to catch The Third Man again, I saw it for the first time just a few years ago and it blew me away!

    I had no idea there was a silent Ben Hur, I think I'm going to have to check that out along with The Apartment and The 400 Blows.

    I'm not sure on Howl's Moving Castle though – Spirited Away sure freaked me right out!

  • I honestly need a rewatch on The Third Man myself. I've forgotten a lot of it.

    Good choices. :) I've seen The 400 Blows probably five or six times, and I never get tired of it. And Howl's Moving Castle is less freaky than Spirited Away, which is probably why I liked it more.

  • So….I rate the “guys and dolls” and “Strictly ballroom” inclusions. Seeing as i have “guys and dolls” to watch again (for at least the tenth time) and because you cannot understand the Red Curtain trilogy without Strictly ballroom. If nothing else the accents are fabulous – I should know.

    However, while i think one should see Olivier's hamlet, I don't think it is the definitive version – far from it; actually it is the one i watch when i want to laugh….his “To be or not to be” is so over the top as to have me rolling around on the floor! Even Mel Gibson's schmaltzy performance is better.

    I will take you up on a few of the other suggestions!

  • I actually agree with you; there are parts of Olivier's Hamlet that I like (the cinematography, for one thing), but his acting style isn't my thing. That said, I wouldn't rate Branagh's as definitive, and I haven't seen Gibson's. So I guess I don't think there has been a definitive Hamlet on screen yet. Thoughts?

  • I love the Branagh….for so many reasons. His understanding of the text for one – and his willingness to play with the puns – visual, physical, and verbal – is the best. I think it is definitive. The Keanu Reeves is interesting as a modern setting and I've seen a Kurosawa as well which is boundary pushing.

  • animatorswife

    We saw 4 Months on your recommendation and well, because it's hard to pass up anything Romanian around here. I don't think I can muster the same enthusiasm for the film that you do but a few things impressed me: I still understand a lot of Romanian (wow!), for a post-communist, creativity starved nation, they actually created an impressive work of cinematic art, and lastly it was the most unbiased look at abortion possible.

    But there were also just too many cringe moments!

  • Definitely a lot of cringe moments. It just impressed me so much how little the camera moved (and how few edits there are – the average shot length is almost a minute and a half), and yet how riveting it is to watch. I could hardly take my eyes away from it. And when the camera did move, like the sudden pan down to the fetus, it was that much more shocking and visceral. I'd never say it's an easy film to watch, but I still hold to my belief that it's one of the most well-made films I've seen recently.

    And yes, it's extremely unbiased about an extremely controversial subject – you could come away still for or against abortion, but I don't think you could come away without having your preconceptions challenged.

    I'm glad you and Steve watched it! Thanks for the feedback.

  • I might have to give the Branagh one another go, then. When I first saw it I found it overproduced.

    And there's a Kurosawa one? I knew he did Macbeth (Throne of Blood) and King Lear (Ran). I'll have to check that out. Somehow the Shakespeare adaptations that transpose him into different eras or culture often seem to work better for me.

  • beckymeyers

    have you read Howls Moving Castle??? SUCH a good book! movie is really good but the book is amazing!!

  • Dad

    Mom and I just finished “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. Wow, this thing could have been filmed live in politics this week. With the Blagojevich scandal in Illinois now in full swing, I thought all through the film, the state is Illinois, and we are watching realtime news. Thanks for the heads up of what was going to be on TV this week!

  • Dad

    Mom and I just finished “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”. Wow, this thing could have been filmed live in politics this week. With the Blagojevich scandal in Illinois now in full swing, I thought all through the film, the state is Illinois, and we are watching realtime news. Thanks for the heads up of what was going to be on TV this week!