Pretty good grab bag of Newly Featured ones this week, from Christmas classics like A Christmas Carol (the 1938 version, Monday on TCM) and A Christmas Story (Tuesday on TCM) to more recent releases like Nights and Weekends (Wednesday on Sundance) and that thing you do! (Tuesday on Fox Movie Channel). Plus, W.C. Fields’ finest hour in The Bank Dick, playing Saturday on TCM.
Monday, December 5
11:45am – IFC – A Prairie Home Companion
One of Robert Altman’s final films, and one I’ve not yet gotten up to in my attempts to rectify my Altman blind spot. As much as I’ve enjoyed the films of his I have seen, though, I’m definitely putting his entire filmography higher on my to-watch list.
2006 USA. Director: Robert Altman. Starring: Woody Harrelson, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Lily Tomlin.
12:15pm – TCM – The Man With the Golden Arm
Frank Sinatra gets one of his best acting roles as card dealer Frankie Machine, recently back from rehab and wanting to become a drummer, but held back and lured back into dealing and addiction by those around him. Solid direction and supporting performances, plus a great jazz score, make this a hard-hitting and excellent film.
1955 USA. Director: Otto Preminger. Starring: Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak, Eleanor Parker.
9:45pm – TCM – A Christmas Carol (1938)
Generally, the 1951 British version of Dickens’ classic novella is considered the best of the classic adaptations, but this 1938 version is pretty solid, too, with a solid group of character actors taking on the roles of Scrooge, Cratchit, and others.
1938 USA. Director: Edwin L. Marin. Starring: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Leo G. Carroll, Ann Rutherford.
12:35am (6th) – IFC – Valhalla Rising
Nicholas Winding Refn’s nearly wordless take on the Viking action film, privileging visual storytelling and a somewhat surreal and philosophical feel.
2009 Denmark. Director: Nicholas Winding Refn. Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maarten Stevenson, Alexander Morton.
(repeats at 2:35am)
Tuesday, December 6
6:00am – TCM – Johnny Belinda
Jane Wyman won an Oscar for playing a deaf/mute woman surrounded by a rape/pregnancy scandal, and may have given the best acceptance speech ever. Paraphrased: “You gave this to me for keeping my mouth shut, and I think I’ll do the same now.”
1948 USA. Director: Jean Negulesco. Starring: Jane Wyman, Lew Ayres, Charles Bickford.
10:00am – IFC – Hero
Jet Li is the titular hero in this Zhang Yimou film, arguably the best of Yimou’s period action-on-wires films (though I’m partial to House of Flying Daggers myself). The story unfolds in flashback as Li explains to a warlord how he eliminated three would-be assassins (who happen to be three of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest stars, incidentally) – but all may not be precisely how it seems.
2002 China. Director: Zhang Yimou. Starring: Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung.
(repeats at 4:00pm)
4:00pm – Fox Movie – that thing you do!
Tom Hanks took his first turn behind the camera of a feature film with this film about a 1960s one-hit wonder band. It’s pretty slight, but it’s a lot of fun, with a rollicking soundtrack of oldies and imitation oldies.
1996 USA. Director: Tom Hanks. Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Steve Zahn, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron.
6:00pm – Fox Movie – An Affair to Remember
For some reason, this has become one of the best-loved melodramas of classic Hollywood (possibly because its main plot point is memorialized in Sleepless in Seattle); it’s not one of my personal favorites in the genre, but as three-handkerchief romantic weepies go, it’s not bad.
1957 USA. Director: Leo McCarey. Starring: Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr.
8:00pm – IFC – Full Metal Jacket
Kubrick takes on the Vietnam war with one of his most highly-regarded films, following a unit of Marines from basic training under a tyrannical sergeant through fighting in the streets of Vietnam.
(1987 UK/USA. Director: Stanley Kubrick. Starring: Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey.
(repeats at 11:00pm)
9:00pm – TCM – A Christmas Story
A staple on cable channels for years, this classic of childhood holiday cheer takes its turn on TCM (but only plays once, instead of all day!). The adventures of Ralphie are well-known to most everybody under the age of 40, but it’s always fun to revisit them around this time of year.
1983 USA. Director: Bob Clark. Starring: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin.
9:00pm – Sundance – Hunger
A look at the last days of IRA member Bobby Sands, the leader of a 1981 hunger strike undertaken by IRA prisoners in the face of brutal prison conditions. I have yet to see it, but first-time director Steve McQueen’s stark yet artful style brought him huge amounts of critical acclaim, plus the film stands as Michael Fassbender’s breakout.
2008 UK. Director: Steve McQueen. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Stuart Graham, Laine Megaw, Brian Milligan.
10:05pm – Fox Movie – The Panic in Needle Park
A harrowing tale of NYC heroin addicts, exemplifying the dark side of youth culture that New Hollywood does so well. A star-making turn for Al Pacino, just a year prior to The Godfather.
1971 USA. Director: Jerry Schatzberg. Starring: Al Pacino, Kitty Winn, Alan Vint.
(repeats at 2:05am on the 7th)
12:00M – TCM – Miracle on 34th Street
The original classic Christmas tale of a Macy’s department store Santa who claims to be the real thing and the family whose cynicism is tested by his presence. One of Natalie Wood’s most memorable pre-growing-up roles, and an Oscar-winner for Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle.
1947 USA. Director: George Seaton. Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne.
2:00am (7th) – TCM – Meet Me in St. Louis
The ultimate nostalgia film, harking back to the turn of the century and the year leading up to the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair. Judy Garland holds the film and the family in it together as the girl who only wants to love the boy next door, but it’s Margaret O’Brien as the little willful sister who adds the extra bit of oomph, especially in the manic Halloween scene and the violent Christmas scene that carries the film from an exercise in sentimentality into a deeper territory of loss and distress.
1944 USA. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Starring: Judy Garland, Tom Drake, Lucille Bremer, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor.
Wednesday, December 7
8:45am – TCM – You Can’t Take It With You
Capra won his third directing Oscar for this film (the others were for It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), but to me it’s not one of his more interesting pieces. Young couple James Stewart and Jean Arthur invite chaos when his staid, wealthy family meets her wacky, irreverent one.
1938 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Spring Byington.
10:45am – IFC – Dancer in the Dark
Bjork plays a factory worker whose increasing blindness threatens to keep her from being able to do her job, which will keep her from earning the money she needs for an operation that will prevent her son from suffering the same blindness. Add in the relationship with her not-as-happy-as-they-seem neighbors and a trenchant critique of the justice system and death penalty, not to mention several musical numbers juxtaposed throughout, and you have a film that’s unlike any other.
2000 Denmark. Director: Lars von Trier. Starring: Bjork, Catherine Deneuve, David Morse, Peter Stormare.
1:00pm – TCM – The Misfits
John Huston directs and Arthur Miller writes this final film for both Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe. Though the film is remembered for that tragic fact, it’s also a pretty solid film on its own, about a divorcee caught between two rough and ready men of the west (Gable and Montgomery Clift), then opposing them when she discovers their plans for the wild horses in the area. And of course, with Miller behind it, there’s far more going on than just that.
1961 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Thelma Ritter, Eli Wallach.
3:15pm – TCM – How the West Was Won
Mostly notable for cramming pretty much every star in Hollywood (and three directors!) into the same film, this film is quite Hollywoodized from actual history and rather overlong in its attempt to tell a long and sprawling history, but for fans of westerns and cameos, it’s an enjoyable watch.
1963 USA. Director: John Ford, Henry Hathaway, George Marshall. Starring: Caroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach, John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Walter Brennan, Andy Devine, Raymond Massey, Agnes Moorehead, Harry Morgan, Thelma Ritter, Russ Tamblyn.
3:30pm – MGM – Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Tom Stoppard’s brilliant play about the “in-betweens” of Hamlet, following two minor characters around as they discuss existential philosophy and various other topics while the main action of the play happens elsewhere, becomes an almost-as-brilliant film. I still recommend seeing the play if you can, as it’s slightly different and I think better, but the film is still wonderful.
1990 UK/USA. Director: Tom Stoppard. Starring: Gary Oldman, Tim Roth, Richard Dreyfuss.
8:00pm – TCM – From Here to Eternity
There’s the famous part, yes, where Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr make love on the beach among the crashing waves. But there’s also a solid ensemble war tale, involving young officer Montgomery Clift and his naive wife Donna Reed, and embittered soldiers Frank Sinatra and Lee J. Cobb.
1953 USA. Director: Fred Zinnemann. Starring: Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed, Montgomery Clift, Lee J. Cobb.
10:45pm – Sundance – Nights and Weekends
Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig are two of the most visible faces in the Mumblecore movement, such as it is, and this is one of their more highly-regarded collaborations (both credited as directors, writers, and actors), with a typically lo-fi relationship-driven story of two people struggling through a long-distance relationship.
2008 USA. Director: Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig. Starring: oe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Alison Bagnall.
12:00M – MGM – Manon of the Spring
The sequel to the equally good Jean de Florette (but not really dependent on it), this quiet and pastoral French film focuses on Jean’s daughter Manon, who tries to right the wrongs done to her father.
1986 France. Director: Claude Berri. Starring: Yves Montand, Daniel Auteuil, Emmanuelle Beart, Hippolyte Girardo.
4:15am (8th) – TCM – They Were Expendable
There are films that don’t seem to be all that while you’re watching them – no particularly powerful scenes, not a particularly moving plot, characters that are developed but don’t jump out at you – and yet by the time you reach the end, you’re somehow struck with what a great movie you’ve seen. This film was like that for me – it’s mostly a lot of vignettes from a U-boat squadron led by John Wayne, the only one who thought the U-boat could be useful in combat. But it all adds up to something much more.
1945 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: John Wayne, Robert Montgomery, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond.