Today Turner Classic Movies starts their annual “31 Days of Oscar” programming; every movie they play throughout the month of February is an Oscar-winner or nominee. They interpret that broadly, including stuff that was nominated, for, like Best Musical Direction in 1937. But still, the ratio of great film to B-movie programmers is even higher this month than usual. And me being me, I made a recommendation list. Set your DVRs. I know mine is going to be overloaded. I’ve mostly recommended things that I’ve seen, but there are lots more that are probably good, so check out the whole schedule. I bolded ones I really, really recommend.
And there’s no repeats that I could tell! Times are in Central Standard Time, because that’s where I am and I’m ego-centric.
5:00 am – The Adventures of Robin Hood – Still stands as one of the greatest adventure movies ever made. Plus, gorgeous early Technicolor.
10:30 am – The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – Quite probably Humphrey Bogart’s best role, as a blind-with-greed prospector. Crackling.
7:00 pm – Jaws – Spielberg proves his mastery of suspense timing. Forget the animatronic shark. Focus on the editing.
11:15 pm – Network – I haven’t seen this in forever, so it’s going on my DVR for a rewatch.
8:15 am – Forbidden Planet – Haven’t seen this one at all, but it’s the science fiction version of The Tempest. Come on!
9:30 am – The Harvey Girls – Okay, this is perhaps a guilty pleasure. But I love the old west and I love Judy Garland and I love trains. And this is an admittedly slight but still enjoyable musical combining those things.
11:15 am – The Band Wagon – This, on the other hand, is one of the greatest musicals ever made. Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse. Don’t really need to say more.
1:15 pm – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – And another great one here, which if you haven’t seen, I’d be very surprised.
3:00 pm – Gigi – A musical that’s a bit more on the adult side, dealing with mistresses and whatnot. Speaking of mistresses, why isn’t TCM playing Cabaret? I just noticed that. Wow.
5:00 pm – An American in Paris – Not as good as Singin’ in the Rain, but this is the one that won the Oscar. Go figure.
7:00pm – Sense and Sensibility – Off musicals, onto Jane Austen. This is the Emma Thompson version, which is really good, and really sparked off the late-1990s Austen mania.
9:30 pm – Sunrise – OMG, I am so excited about this! Sunrise shared the first Best Picture Oscar (sort of), and is widely regarded as one of the best silent films ever, and it’s incredibly hard to find. I’ve never seen it, so I’m pumped.
11:15 am – The 400 Blows – One of my all-time favorite films, Francois Truffaut’s debut film which set off the French New Wave. It’s truly wonderful; don’t miss it.
7:00 pm – The Best Years of Our Lives – A really good look at the lives of the men returning home after WWII.
12:00MID – Casablanca – I don’t need to say anything about this, right? Good.
1:45 am – Rebecca – Hitchcock’s first American film; not one of my favorites, but still quite good.
1:00 pm – Libeled Lady – It’s been so long since I’ve seen this…but I remember loving it. And with a cast including Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, William Powell, and Myrna Loy, all running around acting screwbally, how could you not?
2:45 pm – Citizen Kane – AFI calls it the greatest American movie ever made. It’s certainly one of the best at any rate.
4:45 pm – Foreign Correspondent – This is a lesser-known Hitchcock film, but it’s a hidden gem.
7:00 pm – Vertigo – This is a really well-known Hitchcock film, and it deserves every accolade it’s ever been granted.
9:15 pm – Rear Window – This is certainly my favorite Hitchcock film, and is probably my all-time favorite film period.
7:00 pm – 2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick’s masterpiece, probably; a bit slow-moving, but totally mind-bending.
12:30 am – Easy Rider – I actually just saw this for the first time a few weeks ago, and I was really impressed. It’s the prototype for American indie films, road films, etc.
11:00 am – Mildred Pierce – One of the films that has convinced me of the great value of melodrama. Joan Crawford gives the performance of her life, and her supporting cast does so admirably.
1:00 pm – Grand Hotel – One of the first great ensemble films, pulling together most of MGM’s big names, including Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Joan Crawford, and I don’t know who all else.
12:15 am – Apocalypse Now – I’m ashamed to say I haven’t seen Coppola’s Vietnam-inflected version of Heart of Darkness, but this is my chance to rectify that.
9:00 am – Topper – Absolutely delightful screwballish comedy about a middle-aged man and the beautiful ghost who prods him into doing crazy things.
7:00 pm – Who Framed Roger Rabbit – Remember Robert Zemeckis when he mixed live action and animation like this, instead of by putting them on top of each other in weird and unnatural ways? Yeah…
12:45 am – Dead Poets Society – This great-teacher story gets slammed in film circles a lot for being maudlin, but I don’t care. I love it. And my friend teaches at the boarding school where it was filmed, and I am very jealous of her.
3:00 am – Au revoir, les enfants – Haunting French film of a boys school in the 1940s which takes in a couple of German students–one of whom turns out to be Jewish.
10:30 am – Spellbound – You know I have to put all of Hitchcock’s film on this recommended list? Okay, just so we’re clear. This is the one where Ingrid Bergman plays psychologist to Gregory Peck, who has dreams designed by Salvador Dali.
12:30 pm – The Maltese Falcon – One of the first films noirs, and one of the definitive hard-boiled detective films, with a star-making turn by Humphrey Bogart.
2:15 pm – Murder on the Orient Express – An incredible ensemble cast takes on one of Agatha Christie’s best detective stories.
4:30pm – Sleuth (1972) – Laurence Olivier vs. Michael Caine, tricking each other back and forth for the love of a woman. Really great stuff.
7:00pm – The Nightmare Before Christmas – Tim Burton! And stop-motion animation! And Jack Skellington! Why don’t I own this movie again?
12:00MID – Silence of the Lambs – Probably the greatest serial killer movie ever made. It’s brilliant on every level.
2:15 am – Se7en – A very good serial killer movie. ;)
7:30 am – The Great Dictator – Charlie Chaplin speaks. And plays Hitler. And a Jewish Hitler-lookalike. Daring satire, from one of the greatest comedians of all time.
2:30 pm – Mr. Smith Goes to Washington – James Stewart as the bright-eyed, greenhorn senator tasked with reminding us what America’s all about. One of Frank Capra’s best films.
7:00 pm – It Happened One Night – And Frank Capra in a much less Capra-corny mood, with one of the greatest screwball comedies ever.
9:00 pm – Mr. Deeds Goes to Town – Back to Capra-corn, but whimsically wonderful, with Gary Cooper standing in for the American everyman this time.
11:00 pm – The Awful Truth – Possibly the actual greatest screwball comedy, with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne divorcing, driving each other crazy-jealous, and then realizing they really love each other.
2:45 pm – The Apartment – Billy Wilder was one of the more consistent directors throughout the ’40s and ’50s, and moved with remarkable ease between most of the established genres; The Apartment is one of his best.
9:30 pm – The Red Shoes – The famous story of the ballerina who couldn’t stop dancing is brought to gorgeous and tragic life.
1:45 am – Yankee Doodle Dandy – James Cagney is best known for his gangster parts, but he was also a song-and-dance man, which was put to tremendous use as he plays Broadway legend George M. Cohan.
4:00 am – Brief Encounter – Quiet romance displays all the best that British film of the 1940s had to offer.
11:15 am – My Favorite Wife – Wouldn’t you know that the very day you have your wife declared legally dead seven years after her ship wrecked and marry again, she’d turn up? Yep, that’s what Irene Dunne does to Cary Grant in this screwball farce.
7:00 pm – The Quiet Man – One of the greatest John Ford-John Wayne-Maureen O’Hara is neither a western nor a war film, but this tender Irish romance which was ROBBED of Best Picture by the overblown Greatest Show on Earth. For shame.
9:15 pm – Roman Holiday – If all this film did was introduce Audrey Hepburn to the world, it would be great. Thankfully, it’s also a great film on its own.
4:30 am – Written on the Wind – Melodrama might not be your thing, but check this one out before you write them off. If nothing else, it has the best mise-en=scene I’ve ever seen.
5:00 pm – Kiss Me Kate – The Taming of the Shrew. With Cole Porter songs. And parallel on-stage/off-stage stories.
12:15 am – My Fair Lady – Oh, you’ve all seen this, right?
7:00 am – The Circus – One of Chaplin’s last fully silent films; a bit of a lesser Chaplin, but still well worthwhile.
11:15 am – A Day at the Races – The Marx Brothers made three masterpieces. This is the only one TCM is playing this month. So see it. (The other two are Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera, just fyi.)
5:00 pm – Tootsie – Dustin Hoffman can’t get work as an actor–but he can as an actress! One of the best cross-dressing stories ever.
1:15 am – Nashville – I haven’t seen this one yet, but I’m working on seeing more Altman films, and this one is supposed to be one of his best.
8:30 am – The Lion in Winter – Kate Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Peter O’Toole as Henry II. Two great actors portraying one of the most dynamic royal couples in British history. Great stuff.
12:00 pm – True Grit – John Wayne earned his Oscar for this film which I haven’t yet seen.
4:30 pm – They Were Expendable – Ford and Wayne lead the way in one of the best contemporary WWII films, about u-boats in the Pacific.
12:00MID – L.A. Confidential – AKA the film that should have won Best Picture in 1997. Neo-noir at its very finest.
7:00 pm – Gone With the Wind – No introduction necessary.
11:00 pm – Wuthering Heights (1939) – 1939 was one of film’s greatest years, and this well-done version of Emily Bronte’s gothic romance.
7:00 pm – The Ox-Bow Incident – This film is highly regarded in many circles, but it doesn’t seem to get the popular attention it deserves; it’s a western, but one extraordinarily driven by moral dilemmas.
4:15 am – Mrs. Miniver – The epitome of the WWII home front film, as Greer Garson holds her London family together during the Blitz.
3:00 pm – Ninotchka – Garbo laughs! But not a lot, not till the end, because she’s a Communist and laughing would be frivolous; until she meets Melvyn Douglas on an assignment in Paris and suddenly Western life starts looking pretty good.
5:00 pm – One, Two, Three – Billy Wilder directs James Cagney in fast-talking near mania as a Coca-Cola manager in Berlin tasked with keeping tabs on the boss’s daughter. This comedy moves at breakneck speed; not Wilder’s best, but highly enjoyable.
7:00 pm – Some Like It Hot – This is Wilder’s best. Or Double Indemnity. I can never decide. Come on, gangsters, cross-dressing musicians, Marilyn Monroe, what more do you want?
9:15 pm – Stalag 17 – Wilder’s take on POW camps, starring William Holden; I haven’t seen this one, but I’ve been meaning to for a long time.
11:30 pm – The Caine Mutiny – There’s four way to do things: the right way, the wrong way, the navy way, and Capt. Queeg’s way. When Queeg is Humphrey Bogart, guess which way you should pick? One of Bogart’s best late roles.
4:00 am – On the Waterfront – Marlon Brando, yada yada yada. Someday I’m going to learn to appreciate method acting, but until that day, you watch this film and tell me how amazing it is.
6:15 am – From Here to Eternity – Best known for the scandalous rolling-in-the-surf Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr love scene, but there’s a lot more to this South Pacific military drama; enough to win Oscars for Donna Reed and a non-singing Frank Sinatra.
2:15 pm – Sergeant York – I haven’t seen this story of WWI pacifist-hero Alvin York, but one of my most trustworthy friends loves it, so I’m gonna check it out.
9:45 pm – The Great Escape – Highly enjoyable POW escape film, which largely plays like a heist film in reverse.
9:30 am – The Pride of the Yankees – Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, of Gehrig’s disease. One of the better examples of the biopic genre.
10:45 pm – Manhattan – My favorite Woody Allen film! Might just be the Gershwin soundtrack, though.
6:30 am – Shadow of a Doubt – Said to be Hitchcock’s favorite of his own films; could young Teresa Wright’s idolized uncle actually be the notorious Black Widow killer? We know the answer is yes, but Hitch makes us squirm like mad.
8:30 am – Notorious – Part love story, part espionage thriller, and all brilliant; probably the best of Hitchcock’s black & white period.
10:15 am – The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – Lesser Hitchcock, to my mind, but still good, of course.
12:30 pm – North by Northwest – I actually just watched Notorious and North by Northwest back to back, and they’re essentially the same movie, except North by Northwest is funny. Heh.
3:00 pm – Psycho – I see more in this film every time I see it; don’t reduce it to the shower scene, because it’s SO much more than that.
5:00 pm – The Birds – For sheer intensity, not even Psycho beats The Birds. I seriously can never breathe for like the last five minutes.
8:00 am – Bachelor Mother – A little film, but one that I always enjoy a lot; David Niven mistakenly thinks working girl Ginger Rogers has a fatherless child, and all sorts of comedic (and tender) hijinks ensue.
2:00 pm – Oliver! – Oliver Twist is one of the few Dickens novels I think I might actually like to read someday, and it’s largely because I enjoy Oliver! so much.
4:45 am – Annie – I doubt anyone would rank Annie among the best ever musicals, but I had to point it out for one reason: it’s one of the few ways to see legendary Broadway performers Bernadette Peters and Ann Reinking up close. (For Reinking, also see All That Jazz.)
9:00 am – Key Largo – Bogart and Bacall, together for the last time (on film, anyway), holding off gangsters and hurricanes in the Florida Keys. Great stuff.
12:45 pm – White Heat – Cagney owns the screen as psychotic robber Cody Jarrett, who only wants the best for his ma.
7:00 pm – Stagecoach – John Wayne came into his own as the Cisco Kid in John Ford’s cross-country western, which also features a brilliant performance by Claire Trevor.
8:45 pm – Only Angels Have Wings – It’s been too long since I’ve seen this one to remember much plotwise, so I’ll just throw out names: Howard Hawks, Cary Grant, Rita Hayworth.
11:00 pm – The Public Enemy – James Cagney’s star-making role.
7:30 am – The Magnificent Ambersons – Orson Welles’ follow-up to Citizen Kane isn’t as virtuosic, but is still quite solid, retaining much of his Kane cast plus Anne Baxter.
11:00 pm – To Be or Not to Be – To my mind, one of the most brilliant comedy/dramas ever made; a Polish acting troupe finds themselves driven to extraordinary measures upon Hitler’s invasion. Farcical, tender, hilarious, and moving all at once.
12:45 am – Hamlet (1948) – Branagh’s been giving Olivier a run for his money in the “best Shakespeare adapter” category, especially on Henry V, but Olivier’s moody Hamlet still holds its own.
11:30 am – Captain Blood – Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland are together for the first time in this boisterous pirate adventure film, second in quality only to Robin Hood among their ten films together.
9:30 pm – High Noon – Gary Cooper stands alone against a gang of outlaws, and Grace Kelly makes one of her earliest appearances.
11:00 pm – The Seven Samurai – Kurosawa’s greatest samurai film, and many would say one of the greatest films of all time.
2:30 pm – Rashomon – But I prefer this Kurosawa film, which changed filmmaking forever by presenting three eye-witness versions of a murder and refusing to choose which one is accurate.
8:15 am – Father of the Bride – The original Spencer Tracy one, that is, not the Steve Martin remake.
10:00 am – The Philadelphia Story – When you look up “classy comedy” in the dictionary, there’s a still of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, and James Stewart from The Philadelphia Story.
7:00 pm – A Man for All Seasons – Haven’t seen this retelling of Sir Thomas More and his stance against Henry VIII, but I’ve always meant to.
5:15 pm – 12 Angry Men – Minimalist filmmaking at its best: one room, twelve jurors, one verdict. Who knew twelve guys sitting around talking could be so riveting?