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Top Ten: Alfred Hitchcock Films

Alfred Hitchcock, celebrating what would have been his 114th birthday last week, is undeniably my favorite director. I’ve seen almost all of his filmography, barring a few scattered ones here and there and most of the silents, and even though there are a few I’m not that crazy about (looking at you, Under Capricorn), by and large I’m going to be at least entertained and often blown away by his work. In fact, an Alfred Hitchcock film is my #1 of all time, and three Hitchcock films are in my Top Twenty, more than any other filmmaker by far. Looking farther down, all of my Top Ten Hitchcock films are in the top 15% of my Flickchart, and I have 16 Hitchcock films in my Top 1000 (basically the top 1/3 of my chart). Not too shabby for the Master of Suspense.

Flickchart is a movie ranking website that pits two random films against each other and asks you to choose which one is better, meanwhile building a list of your favorite films. I rank according to what I like the best, prioritizing personal preferences and emotional connections, so my Flickchart is in no way meant to be objective.

10 – The Trouble with Harry (1955)

The Trouble with Harry is my go-to recommendation for underrated Hitchcock films. In a small New England town, one of those places where everyone knows everyone else, a man ends up dead in the woods and no one seems particularly upset about it. In fact, several people are fairly convinced they’re the ones who killed him. The dark comedy side of Hitchcock is in full view here, and it’s gleefully macabre and dry. Also, Shirley MacLaine’s screen debut. So there’s that.

9 – The 39 Steps (1935)

The sole British film on my list, The 39 Steps epitomizes the witty charm that characterized Hitchcock’s British period while also foreshadowing many of the themes that would run throughout his career – mistaken identity, the wrong man on the run from shadowy pursuer, a forced entanglement leading to a romance, a cool blonde, etc. Robert Donat is the man mistaken for a spy who ends up handcuffed to Madeleine Carroll while they suss out the spy ring threatening England.

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Film on TV: August 31-September 6

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A Hard Day’s Night, playing at 7:25am on Friday, September 4th, on IFC

Monday, August 31

6:15pm – IFC – Before Sunrise
Though some people think Richard Linklater’s 2004 follow-up Before Sunset is better than this 1995 original, I’m going to disagree, at least until I get the chance to see both together again. Before Sunrise may be little more than an extended conversation between two people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who meet on a train in Europe and decide to spend all night talking and walking the streets of Vienna, I fell in love with it at first sight. Linklater has a way of making movies where nothing happens seem vibrant and fascinating, and call me a romantic if you wish, but this is my favorite of everything he’s done.
1995 USA. Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.
Must See
(repeats at 5:05am on the 1st)

8:00pm – TCM – The Spy Who Came In From The Cold
Based on John LeCarre’s bleak novel, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold is the anti-James Bond spy story, full of world-weary cynicism and spies who just want to get out, but can’t. It’s hard, and cold, and its edge of sadness and grief won’t let you go.
1965 UK. Director: Martin Ritt. Starring: Richard Burton, Claire Bloom, Oskar Werner.
Newly Featured!

10:00pm – TCM – The Haunting (1963)
No worries, this is the good, 1963 version of The Haunting, not the overblown 1999 remake. The story’s the same, but Robert Wise’s original is creepy, disturbing, and, like, good.
1963 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Russ Tamblyn.

12:00M – IFC – The Proposition
Australia’s answer to the western; Guy Pearce must hunt down and capture his brothers for the law in order to save his own skin. Gritty and violent almost to a fault, and it definitely brought new life to the Western genre.
2005 Australia. Director: John Hillcoat. Starring: Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone.

Tuesday, September 1

7:30am – TCM – The Window
Young boy Bobby Driscoll is a chronic liar, which makes it very difficult to make his family and other adults believe him when he claims he saw a murder being committed. But when the murderer finds out what he knows… A solid little thriller told from a child’s point of view.
1949 USA. Director: Ted Tetzlaff. Starring: Bobby Driscoll, Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman.
Newly Featured!

2:00pm – TCM – Mildred Pierce
In quite probably Joan Crawford’s best role (only perhaps excepting her catty “other woman” in The Women), she plays a woman trying to work her way up in the world from lowly waitress to entrepreneur, all the while dealing with her shrew of a daughter. Melodrama isn’t a particularly prized genre these days, but films like Mildred Pierce show how good melodramas can be with the right confluence of studio style, director, and star.
1945 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Joan Crawford, Zachary Scott, Ann Blyth, Eve Arden.
Must See

8:30pm – IFC – Office Space
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office will identify with Office Space immediately – with the paper-jamming printers, the piles of beaurocratic paperwork, and the difficulty of keeping up with staplers if not the plot to make off with boatloads of money due to an accounting loophole. In fact, if you do or have worked an office job, I’m gonna call this required viewing.
1999 USA. Director: Mike Judge. Starring: Ron Livingston, Jennifer Aniston.

11:30pm – TCM – Citizen Kane
Widely considered the greatest American film ever made, I’d be very surprised if anyone reading this hasn’t seen it. The quest for what makes publisher/politician Charles Foster Kane tick takes a journalist through a fractured narrative that never seems to give any definitive answers. Personally, I respect and recommend Kane for its innovations in narrative, cinematography, and cinema language, but I find it a difficult film to love (yet even that is fitting, as the difficulty of loving or being loved by Kane himself is a central theme).
1941 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead.
Must See

1:45am (2nd) – TCM – The Magnificent Ambersons
Welles followed up Citizen Kane with this film about a wealthy but decaying American family, but wasn’t given nearly as much creative freedom. But even with studio interference, it’s well worth seeing.
1942 USA. Director: Orson Welles. Starring: Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter, Agnes Moorehead.

Wednesday, September 2

8:00pm – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Frank Capra puts on his idealist hat to tell the story of Jefferson Smith (James Stewart), an inexperienced young man appointed as a junior senator because the corrupt senior senator thinks he’ll be easy to control. But Smith doesn’t toe the party line, instead launching a filibuster for what he believes in. Wonderful comedienne Jean Arthur is the journalist who initially encourages Smith so she can get a great story from his seemingly inevitable downfall, but soon joins his cause.
1939 USA. Director: Frank Capra. Starring: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Eugene Pallette, Thomas Mitchell.

8:00pm – IFC – Gangs of New York
I found this film a difficult one to like when I watched it, but I haven’t seen it for five years – perhaps a rewatch is in order. It certainly is hard to argue with the concept of a Scorsese/diCaprio/Day-Lewis trifecta in a story about Irish gangs at the dawn of New York’s existence.
2003 USA. Director: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo diCaprio, Cameron Diaz.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 2:30am on the 3rd)

10:15pm – TCM – Casablanca
Against all odds, one of the best films Hollywood has ever produced, focusing on Bogart’s sad-eyed and world-weary expatriot Rick Blaine, his former lover Ingrid Bergman, and her current husband Paul Henreid, who needs safe passage to America to escape the Nazis and continue his work with the Resistance. It’s the crackling script that carries the day here, and the wealth of memorable characters that fill WWII Casablanca with life and energy.
1943 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains.
Must See

2:45am (3rd) – TCM – Notorious
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, and one of the greatest spy films ever. Spy Cary Grant recruits Ingrid Bergman because of her relationship with suspected enemy spy Claude Rains – but how far is she willing to go? Simply fantastic on every level.
1946 USA. Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Starring: Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains.
Must See

4:30am (3rd) – TCM – Four Daughters
Something of a high-B-level programmer, Four Daughters tells the fairly routine story of four sisters and their love interests; there’s more to it than meets the eye, though, and starlet Priscilla Lane (notably of Arsenic and Old Lace) carries it well with her two sisters Lola and Rosemary. It’s interesting to contrast with its 1954 musical remake Young at Heart, which boasts the greater star power of Doris Day and Frank Sinatra. They’re virtually identical in script, but this one strikes a more sincere note with me. It also spawned three sequels (Daughters Courageous, Four Wives, and Four Mothers), which TCM is playing in a row, but this is the only one that’s more than half-way decent.
1938 USA. Director: Michael Curtiz. Starring: Priscilla Lane, Claude Rains, John Garfield.
Newly Featured!

Thursday, September 3

4:00pm – TCM – Shane
Alan Ladd plays the titular cowboy, idolized by the young son of the family he takes refuge with as he tries to escape Jack Palance.
1953 USA. Director: George Stevens. Starring: Alan Ladd, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Jack Palance.
Must See

8:00pm – TCM – The Magnificent Seven
Homage comes full circle as American John Sturges remakes Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai as a western – Kurosawa’s film itself was a western transposed into a Japanese setting. Sturges ain’t no Kurosawa, but the story of a group of outcast cowboys banding together to protect an oppressed village is still a good one, plus there’s a young Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson in the cast.
1960 USA. Director: John Sturges. Starring: Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson.

Friday, September 4

7:25am – IFC – A Hard Day’s Night
Richard Lester’s 1964 Beatles-starring film straddles several genres – musical, concert film, documentary, comedy. The good news is that it’s an excellent film in any genre. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any film an exuberant as this one, and with the Beatles right on the cusp of becoming the greatest band of all time.
1964 UK. Director: Richard Lester. Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr.
Must See
(repeats at 12:35pm)

8:00pm – TCM – The War of the Worlds (1953)
The post-H.G. Wells, post-Orson Welles, pre-Steven Spielberg version. Mysterious ships land, disintegrate people with their laser beams, and generally wreak havok. The special effects are hokey now, of course, but still pretty cool-looking in a retro way; the really interesting thing is the way Haskin cut in actual newsreel war footage to lend an air of realism in with all of George Pal’s science fiction effects.
1953 USA. Director: Byron Haskin. Starring: Gene Barry, Ann Robinson.
Newly Featured!

Saturday, September 5

1:30pm – IFC – Waking Life
Richard Linklater’s first foray into overlaid animation is a philosophical dreamscape that’ll either leave you cold or inhabit your thoughts for weeks. It’s the latter for me. Like most of Linklater’s films, it’s largely made up of people talking, but with the added interest of the unique ever-shifting, never-solid animation style (which he’d reuse with a slightly more standard sci-fi story in A Scanner Darkly).
2001 USA. Director: Richard Linklater. Starring: Wiley Wiggins, Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy.

8:00pm – IFC – Garden State
First-time director Braff brings his quirky personality and taste in indie music to this story of a young man who returns to his home town for the first time in years for his mother’s funeral. While there, he meets a girl who teaches him how to feel for the first time since his father started prescribing meds to him as a child. It’s become a popular pastime to hate on Garden State and its self-conscious quirk, but I refuse. I loved it when I first saw it, and I love it now.
2004 USA. Director: Zach Braff. Starring: Zach Braff, Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard.
(repeats at 2:00am and 8:15am on the 6th)

Sunday, September 6

8:00am – TCM – Gilda
Gilda was the last person Johnny ever expected to meet again, much less as the wife of his boss, a sleazy casino operator in South America. Glenn Ford plays a quintessential defeated noir narrator in Johnny, while Rita Hayworth imbues Gilda with all her available mystique to make Gilda one of the more memorable films of the 1940s.
1946 USA. Director: Charles Vidor. Starring: Glenn Ford, Rita Hayworth, George Macready

4:15pm – IFC – Bride and Prejudice
Laugh at me if you must for recommending Chadha’s Bollywood-infused version of Pride and Prejudice, but I love it. It’s silly, it’s beautiful, it’s a fun exercise in adaptation of literary classics, and it’s only slightly weighed down by Martin Henderson’s woodenness.
2005 UK. Director: Gurinder Chadha. Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Martin Henderson, Naveen Andrews, Alexis Bledel.
Newly Featured!

6:30pm – TCM – The Purple Rose of Cairo
A love letter to cinema, The Purple Rose of Cairo has Woody Allen at his most romantic. Unhappy housewife Cecilia (Mia Farrow) escapes to the cinema to see The Purple Rose of Cairo again and again, where she fantasizes over hunky character Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels). Much to her surprise (and the other characters’ consternation), Baxter steps off the screen to join her. It makes it even more complicated when Gil, the actor who played Baxter, turns up as well.
1985 USA. Director: Woody Allen. Starring: Mia Farrow, Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello.

2:00am – TCM – La Ronde
A dazzling cyclical story following an interconnected series of lovers from encounter to encounter in turn of the century Vienna. Sounds lascivious, but in the hands of Ophüls, it’s charmingly sophisticated and beautifully realized. See also Ophüls’ The Earrings of Madade de…, which has a similar structure, but centered on the travels of the titular earrings.
1950 France. Director: Max Ophüls. Starring: Anton Walbrook, Simone Signoret, Simone Simon, Danielle Darrieux.
Newly Featured!

Film on TV: August 3-9th

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Gilda, playing on TCM at 8pm on Friday, August 7th

There aren’t a whole lot of must-see films this week, but there are a number of Newly Featured films – I’ve tried to highlight some hidden gems this week.

Monday, August 3

8:10am – IFC – Primer
Welcome to sci-fi at its most cerebral. You know how most science-dependent films include a non-science-type character so there’s an excuse to explain all the science to audience? Yeah, this film doesn’t have that character, so no one ever explains quite how the time travel device at the center of the film works. Or even that it is, actually, a time-travel device. This is the sci-fi version of getting thrown into the deep end when you can’t swim. Without floaties.
(repeats at 1:30pm)

9:35am – IFC – I Heart Huckabees
Not too many films take philosophy as their base, but this one basically does, following a man (Jason Schwartzman) plagued by coincidence who hires a couple of existentialists to figure out what’s going on. I remember being a bit underwhelmed when I initially saw the film, but now that some time has gone by, I’m a bit curious to revisit it.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 2:55pm)

Tuesday, August 4

CATCH-UP DAY! :)

Wednesday, August 5

10:30am – TCM – Safety Last
Everyone knows Charlie Chaplin, and most know Buster Keaton – Harold Lloyd is generally considered the third in the triumverate of great silent comedians, and this is his best film. He plays a schmoe working in a department store trying to convince his country girlfriend that he’s really more important than he is, culminating in a brash attempt to scale the outside of a skyscraper. The stunts are magnificent, making the film still a joy to watch. TCM’s playing Lloyd films all day today, and I’m sure many of them are worth checking out; I just haven’t seen many of them myself to know which ones to pick out. Must See
Newly Featured!

8:00pm – Sundance – Talk to Her
Talk to Her is one of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s finest and most moving works, drawing heavily on the passion of bullfighting and dancing. Marco and Benigno develop a friendship as they care two women in comas – Marco’s girlfriend Lydia, a bullfighter gored in the ring, and nurse Benigno’s patient Alicia, whom he has fallen in love with. There’s a touch of the bizarre, as there always is in Almodóvar, but the film is richly rewarding in mood and vision.
(repeats at 3:00am on the 6th)

8:00pm – IFC – With a Friend Like Harry
Harry seems like a nice guy when our main character meets him, but there’s something a little off about him – and that little something off keeps growing and growing until, well, who needs enemies? Quirky little suspense film that earns all of its payoff.
Newly Featured!
(repeats 1:30am on the 6th)

Thursday, August 6

6:15am – Sundance – The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Buñuel made a career out of making surrealist anti-bourgeois films, and this is one of the most surreal, most anti-bourgeois, and best films he ever made, about a dinner party that just can’t quite get started due to completely absurd interruptions.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 1:00pm)

6:45pm – IFC – Raising Arizona
This relatively early Coen Brothers comedy has Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter as a childless ex-con couple who decide to rectify that situation by stealing one of a set of quintuplets. They’ll never miss him, right? Wrong. Zany complications ensue.
(repeats 9:30am and 2:05pm on the 7th)

10:00pm – TCM – The Clock
This was Judy Garland’s first real purely dramatic role, directed by her then-husband Vincente Minnelli in 1945. It’s a wartime story of a soldier on leave (Robert Walker) who meets a girl (Garland) and their attempts to get married before he has to return to his unit. It’s a sweet, unassuming little film that showcases Garland’s charm quite well, and has a nice supporting role for comedian Keenan Wynn.
Newly Featured!

12:00M – 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. Must See

2:00am (7th) – TCM – The Pirate
A flop when first released, The Pirate looks more and more like a potential cult classic all the time. Gene Kelly is an entertainer who impersonates the dread pirate Mack the Black Mococo to get close to Spanish heiress Judy Garland in a period Caribbean seaport. It’s over-the-top, has some of Cole Porter’s most outlandish songs, and is somehow immensely, compulsively watchable.
Newly Featured!

Friday, August 7

8:00pm – TCM – Gilda
Gilda was the last person Johnny ever expected to meet again, much less as the wife of his boss, a sleazy casino operator in South America. Glenn Ford plays a quintessential defeated noir narrator in Johnny, while Rita Hayworth imbues Gilda with all her available mystique to make Gilda one of the more memorable films of the 1940s.
Newly Featured!

11:30pm – TCM – 3:10 to Yuma (1957)
The original version of 2007′s highly successful Christian Bale-Russell Crowe western is well worth watching in its own right – a little less actiony, a little more thoughtful, though its story of a peaceful farmer shuffled into the role of law enforcement to get a criminal to the train for his trial without having him rescued by his gang remains largely identical.
Newly Featured!

Saturday, August 8

8:00pm – TCM – The Man Who Came to Dinner
A rare comedic film for Bette Davis, though the film mainly focuses on Monty Woolley as an acerbic newspaper critic forced to take up residence with a midwestern family when he breaks his hip outside their house. Woolley was a great character actor here given the spotlight, and he takes it and runs with it. A great script by Julius and Philip Epstein (of Casablanca) doesn’t hurt, either.
Newly Featured!

8:30pm – IFC – Office Space
Anyone who’s ever worked in an office will identify with Office Space immediately – with the paper-jamming printers, the piles of beaurocratic paperwork, and the difficulty of keeping up with staplers if not the plot to make off with boatloads of money due to an accounting loophole.
(repeats at 2:00am on the 9th)

11:05pm – IFC – Secretary
Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader – making sado-masochism fun since 2002! But seriously, this was Maggie’s breakout role, and it’s still probably her best, as a damaged young woman whose only outlet is pain. And despite the subject, Secretary is somehow one of the sweetest and most tender romances of recent years.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 3:30am on the 9th)

12:00M – TCM – The Letter
In this cut-above-average melodrama, Bette Davis shoots a man in self-defense. Or was it self-defense? Director William Wyler lays the twists and the gothic style on heavy in this one.

Sunday, August 9

9:00am – TCM – My Favorite Wife
After being shipwrecked and believed dead for seven years, Irene Dunne returns home to her husband Cary Grant on the eve of his marriage to another woman. Oh, and she brought Randolph Scott, her fellow shipwreckee, with her. Hijinks ensue. Not quite as strong a screwball comedy as the earlier Grant-Dunne opus The Awful Truth, but still fun for fans of the genre.
Newly Featured!

10:45am – TCM – The Awful Truth
This is one of the definitive screwball comedies, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a married couple who constantly fight and decide to divorce, only to wind up meddling in each other’s lives (and screw up other relationship attempts) because they just can’t quit each other. Dunne’s impersonation of a Southern belle showgirl is a highlight. Must See

5:15pm – IFC – The Proposition
Australia’s answer to the western; Guy Pearce must hunt down and capture his brothers for the law in order to save his own skin. Gritty and violent almost to a fault, but it definitely brought new life to the Western genre.
Newly Featured!
(repeats at 12:15am on the 10th)

6:00pm – TCM – To Catch a Thief
Not one of my personal favorite Hitchcock films, but certainly one of his classiest, most sophisticated entries. Cary Grant is a notorious cat burglar, Grace Kelly the Monte Carlo socialite he woos. It’s one of Kelly’s last films, and she’s already looking like the princess she was about to become.

8:00pm – TCM – Notorious
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, and one of the greatest spy films ever. Spy Cary Grant recruits Ingrid Bergman because of her relationship with suspected enemy spy Claude Rains – but how far is she willing to go? Simply fantastic on every level. Must See

Film on TV: June 22-28

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Rear Window, playing on TCM on Sunday, June 28th at 12:15am

As TCM nears the end of their month of Great Directors, they shine the spotlight on George Stevens, Ernst Lubitsch, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock, and George Cukor. And a mini-spotlight on David Lean on Friday morning.

Monday, June 22

10:45am – IFC – Mon Oncle
Jacques Tati’s Chaplin-esque character, Mr. Hulot, this time takes on modern life in the form of his sister’s house that has been mechanized with all the most modern electronic aids – think Disney’s 1950s House of Tomorrow. Of course, everything goes wrong.
(repeats 5:05am on the 23rd)

4:00pm – TCM – The Caine Mutiny
Humphrey Bogart’s Captain Queeg is a piece of work, and by that I mean some of the best work Bogart has on film. He’s neurotic, paranoid, and generally mentally unstable. Or is he? That’s the question after first officer Van Johnson relieves him of duty as being unfit to serve and faces charges of mutiny.

Great Directors on TCM: George Stevens
I’m not a huge fan of Stevens, personally, but I think my apathy is largely based on how overrated I think Giant is, and TCM isn’t playing that anyway.

10:00pm – TCM – Shane
Alan Ladd plays the titular cowboy, idolized by the young son of the family he takes refuge with as he tries to escape outlaw Jack Palance.

12:00M – Sundance – Talk to Her
Talk to Her is one of Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar’s finest and most moving works, drawing heavily on the passion of bullfighting and dancing. Marco and Benigno develop a friendship as they care two women in comas – Marco’s girlfriend Lydia, a bullfighter gored in the ring, and nurse Benigno’s patient Alicia, whom he has fallen in love with. There’s a touch of the bizarre, as there always is in Almodóvar, but the film is richly rewarding in mood and vision.

2:15am (23rd) – TCM – Swing Time
Many people call Swing Time the best of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musicals, and it’s certainly up there. Frothy story? Check. Jerome Kern music? Check. Fantastic dances? Check. Of course. Must See

Tuesday, June 23

7:00am – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Masina as a woman of the night, following her around almost non-committally, yet with a lot of care and heart. And Masina is simply amazing in everything she does – not classically beautiful, but somehow incredibly engaging for every second she’s onscreen. Must See
(repeats at 10:00pm on the 28th)

9:00am – 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).
(repeats 2:35pm)

3:15pm – TCM – Anatomy of a Murder
One of the best courtroom dramas ever made – James Stewart vs. George C. Scott as lawyers on a murder/rape trial that may not be quite what it seems. And that’s aside from the top-notch jazz score by Duke Ellington, which is in itself reason enough to see the film. Must See

Great Directors on TCM: Ernst Lubitsch
Lubitsch was one of several directors who came over to the US from Germany in the 1920s – while Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau and others brought German Expressionism and the moody sensibility that would become film noir, Lubitsch brought a sparkling continental wit and sophistication that informed the screwball comedy. The famed “Lubitsch touch” proved inimitable, though, and his best films are impossible to mistake for anyone else’s. I feel a little let down by TCM, though, that they’re not playing To Be or Not to Be, not only Lubitsch’s finest hour, but one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen.

8:00pm – TCM – The Shop Around the Corner
The original version of You’ve Got Mail has James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as feuding employees of a shop who are unknowingly exchanging romantic letters. Ernst Lubitsch brings his warm European wit to bear, making this dramedy a cut above the norm.

10:00pm – TCM – Ninotchka
“Garbo Laughs!” proclaimed the advertisements, playing up the comedic factor of the usually implacable Greta Garbo’s 1939 film. True enough, though it takes a while for the charms of Paris and Melvyn Douglas to warm the Communist Ninotchka to the point of laughter. Pairing up director Ernst Lubitsch and writers Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder (who had yet to become a director himself) turns out to be a brilliant move, as Ninotchka has just the right combination of wit and sophistication.

2:00am (24th) – TCM – The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg
In this silent film, Ramon Novarro is the titular prince and Norma Shearer the barmaid whose love tempts him away from his royal duty – a bit like Roman Holiday in reverse. There’s a later musical version, but even with the voice of tenor Mario Lanza, it can’t really compare to Lubtisch’s original.

Wednesday, June 24

4:00pm – TCM – The Thin Man
William Powell and Myrna Loy made eight or ten films together, but none more memorable, witty, sophisticated, or enjoyable as The Thin Man. Their portrayal of Nick and Nora Charles, a married detective couple pulled into a case of disappearance by an old friend, remains one of the most refreshing views of married life in all of cinema. Plus the script is fantastic, the plot decent (though a bit reliant on familiar Agatha Christie techniques), and the wildly varying acting styles of the supporting cast amusing. No seriously, I promise. Must See

6:00pm – TCM – After the Thin Man
The Thin Man was such a rousing success that it spawned five sequels – this second in the series the only other one really worth watching (though Powell and Loy are generally worth watching anyway). It also boasts an extremely young James Stewart in only his second or third year in Hollywood.

Great Directors on TCM: Stanley Kubrick
Too bad Kubrick tended to make rather long movies; TCM is only playing two of them tonight, and neither one is 2001: A Space Odyssey. Boo. There’s not much I need to say about Kubrick – he was a visionary in both form and content, constantly pushing the envelope on what he could put in movies, from the Cold War satire of Dr. Strangelove, the ultraviolence of A Clockwork Orange and the bloody glee of The Shining, to the sexual obsessions of Lolita and Eyes Wide Shut. And the man had an eye for visuals like no other.

10:30pm – TCM – Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Trust Kubrick to find the funny side of the Cold War. Peter Sellers plays multiple parts, including the President, an insane general who wants to nuke Russia, and the limb-control-impaired doctor of the title. It’s zany, it’s over-the-top, it’s bitingly satirical, and it remains one of Kubrick’s best films in a career full of amazing work.

12:15am (25th) – TCM – Lolita
I haven’t seen Kubrick’s Lolita, and having just finished reading and being heavily disturbed by the book, I’m debating whether or not I want to. But it is on, and it is Kubrick, so I’ll list it.

Thursday, June 25

6:30pm – IFC – Pi
Darren Aronofsky’s first feature is this fever dream of a mathematician searching for the numeric patterns that will unlock the secrets of the stock market – paranoid, fearful of human contact, and beset by terrible headaches, he’s also pursued by Wall Street factions and Hasidic Jews, each seeking the results of his formulas. It’s heady stuff, but Aronofsky’s the right guy for that.

Great Directors on TCM: Federico Fellini
Fellini is one of the touchstone figures of European cinema, no question. From his sort-of neo-realist (but too quirky to really be neo-realist) films of the 1950s through his autobiographical opuses of the 1960s and his flamboyantly surreal 1970s films, he never made a film that wasn’t undeniably Fellini, and yet it’s easy to see his ties to nearly every cinematic movement that took place during his long career. (See also Nights of Cabiria, playing on Sundance on the 23rd and 28th.)

8:00pm – TCM – La Strada
Fellini’s most enduring muse, Giulietta Masina, here plays the apparently simple but amazingly good-hearted Gelsomina, indentured to circus strongman Zampano (Anthony Quinn) – her loyalty unshaken despite his cruelty. Masina is perfection here. Must See

10:00pm – TCM – Juliet of the Spirits
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Juliet of the Spirits, and I remember finding it difficult when I did see it, but it makes a nice double feature with La Strada. Both start Giulietta Masina, but they’re from distinctly different periods in Fellini’s career. He’s quite surrealist here, from what I recall, having Juliet retreat into fantastic reveries to escape her life with an unfaithful husband, as opposed to La Strada‘s distinct tendency toward neo-realism.

10:00pm – Sundance – Wristcutters: A Love Story
Patrick Fujit (Almost Famous) slits his wrists and finds himself in a strange, limbo-like place where all the suicides get stuck after they die. But then he meets Shannyn Sossamon, who claims she’s there by mistake, and embarks on an odyssey to get her out of limbo. It’s a bit of a strange film, but it’s also very sweet and Sundancey.

2:45am (26th) – Roma
Fellini returns to nostalgic auto-biography here, giving a series of impressionistic and over-the-top scenes of Rome through the eyes of a returning filmmaker who grew up there.

Friday, June 26

12:00N – TCM – Brief Encounter
Beautifully understated romantic drama of a chance encounter at a railway station cafe between two married people who know better than to indulge their burgeoning love for each other, but do so anyway. David Lean directs.

5:00pm – TCM – The Bridge on the River Kwai
British prisoners of war are commanded to build a bridge over the River Kwai for their Japanese captors – a task which becomes a source of pride for old-school British commander Alec Guinness. But American William Holden is having none of that and makes it his mission to blow the bridge up. One of the great war films.

5:50pm – IFC – Stage Beauty
Sometime around Shakespeare’s time, theatrical convention changed from having all female parts played by males on stage to allowing women to perform female roles themselves. Caught in this shift were the effeminate men who had made their careers and indeed, their identities, out of playing women. Stage Beauty is about one such man and his crisis of self when he no longer had a professional or personal identity. It’s a fascinating film in many ways.

Saturday, June 27

Great Directors on TCM: Alfred Hitchcock
I figured TCM was saving Hitchcock for the last weekend of their Great Director’s month. They really like Hitchcock over there, which works out for me, since he’s one of my all-time favorite directors.

7:15am – TCM – Suspicion
Joan Fontaine thinks her husband Cary Grant is poisoning her, but she can’t be quite sure. Neither can the audience, really, although that depends on whether you go with Hitchcock’s original ending or the one the studio tacked on because they thought Hitchcock’s would be unpalatable to audiences.

9:00am – TCM – Rebecca
Hitchcock’s first American film, based on Daphne du Maurier’s romantic novel. Rebecca is actually the previous wife of our mousy narrator’s new husband – her greatest fear is that he still loves Rebecca too much to care for her, but the truth may be more sinister than that. A lot of people really love this film, but I personally dislike the Hollywoodized ending enough that I’m not a huge fan.

11:15pm – TCM – Spellbound
Hitchcock indulged the 1940s Freudian craze with this suspenser starring Gregory Peck as a disturbed individual and Ingrid Bergman as his psychiatrist. Throw in a trippy Salvador Dali dream sequence and you’re all set!

1:15pm – TCM – Marnie
Marnie gets something of a bad rap, I think, because it comes right after Hitchcock’s amazing Vertigo-North by Northwest-Psycho-The Birds streak of genius, but I think it’s one of Hitchcock’s most underrated films, despite a few somewhat obvious plot devices and the fact that ‘Tippi’ Hedren can’t act. In some ways, the imperfections in this one are what makes it interesting. And Sean Connery’s husband is fascinating, whether or not you agree with everything he does.

3:30pm – TCM – Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock built the foundation for all future psycho-killer movies with this classic. It’s not as terrifying as it once was, but that doesn’t at all diminish its brilliance, because it doesn’t depend on scares, really, for its greatness. Must See

5:30pm – TCM – North by Northwest
Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant) gets mistaken for George Kaplan and pulled into an elaborate web of espionage in one of Hitchcock’s most enjoyable and funniest thrillers. So many great scenes it’s impossible to list them all. Must See

8:00pm – TCM – Notorious
One of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films, and one of the greatest spy films ever. Spy Cary Grant recruits Ingrid Bergman because of her relationship with suspected enemy spy Claude Rains – but how far is she willing to go? Simply fantastic on every level. Must See

12:15am (28th) – TCM – Rear Window
Hitchcock, Stewart, and Kelly mix equal parts suspense thriller, murder mystery, romance, voyeristic expose, ethical drama, caustic comedy and cinematographic experiment to create my favorite film of all time. Must See

2:15am (28th) – TCM – Vertigo
James Stewart is a detective recovering from a vertigo-inducing fall who’s asked by an old friend to help his wife, who has developed strange behavior. Hitchcock plays with doubling, fate, and obsession, all the while creating one of his moodiest and most mesmerizing films. And watch for a great supporting turn by Barbara Bel Geddes as Stewart’s long-suffering best friend. Must See

4:30am (28th) – TCM – The 39 Steps
My vote for Hitchcock’s finest British-era film follows Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll though a twisty and witty tale of spies and mistaken identities.

Sunday, June 28

Great Directors on TCM: George Cukor
Cukor has a reputation for being a great woman’s director, and he was, in fact, a favorite of many of MGM’s most bankable female stars, from Norma Shearer and Vivien Leigh to Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn. His films are great exemplars of MGM’s polished studio style, while yet having a vitality that not every MGM director managed to capture.

8:00am – TCM – Dinner at Eight
Dinner at Eight is the best example of a 1930s MGM ensemble comedy. You got two Barrymores (Lionel and John), Jean Harlow (one of her top couple of roles), Wallace Beery (fresh off an Oscar win), Marie Dressler (forgotten now, but also just a recent Oscar winner at the time), and others converging for a dinner party. Sparkling dialogue is the real star here.

12:15pm – TCM – Adam’s Rib
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn take on the battle of the sexes as married lawyers on opposite sides of an assault case involving gender politics. It’s a great movie in dialogue and acting, and still interesting for the 1949 view of women struggling for even basic equality. Some of its approach to gender may be a bit strange today, but…that’s why it’s interesting.

8:00pm – TCM – The Philadelphia Story
Hepburn here is Tracy Lord, a spoiled socialite about to marry Ralph Bellamy when ex-husband Cary Grant turns up. Throw in newspaper columnist James Stewart and his photographer Ruth Hussey, along with a bunch of great character actors filling out the cast, and you have both rollicking wedding preparations and one of the best films ever made. Must See

10:00pm – TCM – The Women
Only the cattiest, most man-less film every made (there are no men at all, so of course George Cukor directed it, right?). Several of Hollywood’s greatest female stars, from established divas like Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford to up-and-comers like Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine to character actresses like Mary Boland and Marjorie Main (and even non-actresses like gossip columnist Hedda Hopper), give their all to one of the wittiest scripts ever written. I don’t know if this is really a must-see in the grand scheme of cinematic history, but dang it, I don’t care. I find it incredibly entertaining. Must See

12:30am (29th) – TCM – My Fair Lady
George Cukor finally won an Oscar in 1964 for this film, a high-quality adaptation of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, itself an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, itself based on the Greek story of Svengali and Trilby. Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn acquit themselves well as phonetics professor Henry Higgens and street urchin Eliza Doolittle. I guess I just find it a bit overlong and overproduced, as most 1960s musicals were, but I may be in the minority.

Film on TV: Feb 23 – March 1

Monday, Feb 23rd

Nothing today!

Tuesday, Feb 24th

Probably getting this posted a bit late for the first couple of these, but what the heck. Rent them, because they’re worth it. :)

1:45pm – TCM – The 400 Blows
One of my favorite films, and the one that started off my current love affair with the French New Wave. Director Francois Truffaut’s first film is a tender (and somewhat less sentimental than some of his later films) look at growing up in Paris – it’s a coming of age film, but a very sweet one.

3:45pm – TCM – Au revoir, les enfants
A new boy arrives at a French school and becomes close friends with one of the French boys. But it’s the early 1940s and the new boy turns out to be Jewish. Louis Malle directs this achingly lovely portrait of schoolboy friendship in an uncertain time.

10:00pm – TCM – Rashomon
I’m the first to admit that I don’t “get” Japanese film as much as I should, but even I have to admit the brilliance of Rashomon. It’s pretty much the first film that is absolutely ambiguous – two men and a woman are in the woods, and one of the men dies. But we get three different eyewitness versions of how his death transpired, and the film shows us all three without ever privileging any of them as true – any of them or none of them may be what really happened. With this film, Akira Kurosawa forever banished any sense that what you see on film is the truth (cinematically speaking, I mean – before this, whatever was visually presented could be taken as true within the narrative over whatever any of the characters had to say).

11:30pm – TCM – The Seven Samurai
I’m still working on my appreciation of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, despite how highly it ranks on every single best-of list. I know it’s me, not the film, so I continue to recommend it.

Wednesday, Feb 25th

8:00pm – TCM – Dark Victory
Bette Davis is stricken with a blindness-causing brain disease. This is classic old Hollywood melodrama – not, I don’t think, as well-turned as Mildred Pierce or some of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s work, but still a must-see for Davis fans. Plus a great supporting turn Geraldine Fitzgerald (who deserved more work than she got) and a quite frankly baffling role for Humphrey Bogart as an Irish stable hand. I know, right?

Thursday, Feb 26th

6:00am – TCM – The Gold Rush
Not my favorite Charlie Chaplin film, but it’s still one of the best comedies/best silent films ever. Charlie’s Little Tramp goes to the Yukon and has all sorts of misadventures mixed in with Chaplin’s trademark poignancy.

8:00pm – TCM – The African Queen
I may be the only person in the history of the world who doesn’t think The African Queen is all that. I mean, it’s not BAD, but I wasn’t blown away. Still, you’re not gonna see Kate Hepburn and Bogey together in any other film.

Friday, Feb 27th

7:00am – TCM – Notorious
Alfred Hitchcock. Cary Grant. Ingrid Bergman. One of the best spy movies ever. ‘Nuff said.

9:00am – TCM – North by Northwest
Do I need to do the Hitchcock.Grant thing again? Nah.

8:00pm – TCM – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
Jimmy Stewart is the epitome of idealism as a small-town man brought to Washington as a puppet senator – but he takes the Senate into his own hands. Call it Capra-corn if you want, but its hopeful message is still inspiring.

12:15am (28th) – TCM – The Manchurian Candidate
The original 1962 version, not the pale comparison of a 2004 remake. Former soldier Frank Sinatra starts having nightmares about his war experience, then finds that he and his unit were part of a brainwashing experiment – the result of which was to turn his colleague Laurence Harvey into a sleeper agent assassin. A classic of the Cold War era, full of well-honed suspense and paranoia.

Saturday, Feb 28th

Not too much going on today, either…hold onto your hats for Sunday, though.

Sunday, March 1st

11:15am – TCM – Gaslight
Ingrid Bergman won her first Oscar for this film, as the harried wife that psychopath Charles Boyer is trying to drive nuts. It’s possible that the Oscar is partially in recognition of her work in the previous year’s Casablanca and For Whom the Bell Tolls (Oscar’s been known to do that), but Gaslight is a solid melodrama on its own terms.

1:15pm – TCM – Rear Window
My favorite movie of all time. ‘Nuff said.

2:00pm – IFC – Howl’s Moving Castle
All of Hayo Miyazaki’s animated films are worth watching, and a lot of people will put Spirited Away at the top of the list, but I think Howl’s Moving Castle is my favorite. Howl is a prince with a castle (a walking ramshackle building) which can open up anywhere. I was entranced the whole time I was watching it.

3:15pm – TCM – Vertigo
Hitchcock again. Yes, I will always point out all Hitchcock films, because they’re my favorite.

5:30pm – TCM – Close Encounters of the Third Kind
It’s interesting to me to compare the Spielberg of Close Encounters and E.T. (aka “friendly alien Spielberg”) with the Spielberg of War of the Worlds (aka “evil faceless alien Spielberg”). But besides whatever conclusions you can draw from Spielberg’s move from curiosity to fear, Close Encounters is still a film full of wonder and imagination. Plus a fantastic John Williams score.

8:00 – TCM – The Three Faces of Eve
Joanne Woodward portrays a woman with multiple personalities in an Oscar-winning role; Lee J. Cobb is allowed an uncharacteristically sympathetic role as her doctor (usually he’s the villain, or at least antagonist).

8:00 – IFC – Fargo
Still one of the Coen Brothers’ best films, despite over a decade of mostly good films in the intervening years. Dark comedy is not an easy genre, and Fargo is the gold standard, blending shocking violence and a noir-ish crime story with comical inept criminals and a perfectly rendered performance from Frances McDormand.
(repeats at 1:30am on the 2nd)

9:45pm – IFC – The Cooler
I’ve mentioned this one a few times before, but every time it shows up on IFC’s schedule I’m always like “The Cooler! Yay!” It’s just such a sweet, well-done under-the-radar kind of film – great performances from William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin, and Maria Bello.
(repeats at 3:15am on the 2nd

10:00pm – TCM – Psycho
It’s on. Watch it.

12:00midnight – TCM – Spellbound
Another Hitchcock (must be Hitchcock day at TCM or something), this one with Gregory Peck as a disturbed individual and Ingrid Bergman as his psychiatrist. Throw in a trippy Salvador Dali dream sequence and you’re made!