Bicycle Thieves, playing late Sunday night on TCM
Well, it’s Christmas this week, and TCM’s throwing a Christmas party of course, with some of Robert Osbourne’s favorite Christmas films – they aren’t all the obvious well-known ones you might expect, though, which is part of the fun. That starts on Christmas Eve with Remember the Night and Christmas in July, then moving on to Meet Me in St. Louis and The Shop Around the Corner. On Christmas Day, they’re throwing us a marathon of Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films – whether they’re consciously trying to counter Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, opening on Christmas, I’m not sure. But I figure you can never have too much Holmes. Meanwhile, it’s still Humphrey Bogart month, and all four Bogart-Bacall films are lined up on Wednesday night.
Among our newly featured films this week, IFC has Fellini’s nostalgic Amarcord on Monday, Sundance breaks out hard-hitting thriller 13 Tzameti on Thursday, and late Sunday TCM is showing Bicycle Thieves, a masterpiece of Neo-Realist cinema that should not be missed.
Monday, December 21
6:15am – 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).
2004 Japan. Director: Hayao Miyazaki. Starring (dubbed voices): Christian Bale, Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Lauren Bacall
(repeats at 1:05pm)
8:15am – TCM – Jules and Jim
Jules and Jim are best friends. Then Catherine falls into their lives like a hurricane – she’s almost a force of chaotic primal nature. She marries Jules, but when Jim reconnects with the couple after WWII (in which the two friends fought on opposite sides), their relationship gets…um…complicated. This is one of the classics of the New Wave, and exemplifies the movement’s realistic style, dispassionate camera and narration, and intellectual pursuits.
1963 France. Director: François Truffaut. Starring: Jeanne Moreau, Oskar Werner, Henri Serre.
10:30am – IFC – Amarcord
One of Federico Fellini’s four Best Foreign Film statuettes is for this film, and though I rail against many of Oscar’s choices when it comes to foreign films, Fellini deserved all of his. Amarcord is a slice-of-life film showcasing a small 1930s Italian village, with Fellini’s typically flair.
1973 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Bruno Zanin, Pupella Maggio, Armando Brancia, Josiane Tanzilli.
(repeats at 5:20pm)
12:15pm – TCM – Tom Jones
The book Tom Jones, written in the late 1700s by Henry Fielding, is usually considered one of the earliest novels, and part of its charm is the way it pastiches earlier literary forms as it tells its story of a rakish young English nobleman and his adventures with women. Though the film version can’t really claim the same place in cinematic history that the novel does in literary history, it’s still quite enjoyable, and manages to convey a similar playfulness by pastiching earlier filmmaking styles – which never fails to earn it a spot in texts on adaptation.
1963 UK. Director: Tony Richardson. Starring: Albert Finney, Susanna York, Hugh Griffiths.
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, 12:30pm, and 4:00pm on the 22nd)
10:15pm – 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.
Tuesday, December 22
7:45am – TCM – The Women
Only the cattiest, most man-less film ever made. 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.
1939 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Virginia Weidler, Mary Boland, Marjorie Main, Hedda Hopper.
10:00am – TCM – Fiddler on the Roof
A Tzarist-era Russian Jewish village doesn’t seem a particularly likely place to set a musical, but Fiddler on the Roof does a good job of it, exploring the clashing cultures as patriarch Tevye tries to marry his daughters off to good Jewish husbands with decreasing success.
1971 USA. Director: Norman Jewison. Starring: Topol, Norma Crane, Leonard Frey, Rosalind Harris, Michele Marsh, Neva Small, Michael Glaser.
8:00pm – 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’m in the minority.
1964 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Rex Harrison, Audrey Hepburn, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White.
1:00am (23rd) – TCM – Silk Stockings
The musical version of Ninotchka, about a staid, repressed Communist woman who goes to Paris on a mission, only to get loosened up by a Western guy. You’re better off with Ninotchka, honestly (and this week, you’re in luck, it’s on next). Silk Stocking substitutes Cyd Charisse (who’s really only ever convincing when she’s dancing), Fred Astaire (who’s fine, though a bit on the old side by 1957), and adds Cole Porter music, which is really the major reason to check this version out.
1957 USA. Director: Rouben Mamoulian. Starring: Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse, Janis Paige, Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, George Tobias.
3:00am (23rd) – 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.
1939 USA. Director: Ernst Lubitsch. Starring: Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas.
Wednesday, December 23
7:45am – Sundance – Nights of Cabiria
Nights of Cabiria, one of the films Federico Fellini made during his sorta-neo-realist phase, casts Giulietta 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.
1957 Italy. Director: Federico Fellini. Starring: Giulietta Masina, François Périer, Franca Marzi.
(repeats at 6:20am on the 26th)
8:00pm – TCM – To Have and Have Not
It’s said that this film came about because Howard Hawks bet Earnest Hemingway that he (Hawks) could make a good film out of Hemingway’s worst book. Of course, to do that, Hawks ended up basically changing the story entirely, but hey. It’s the thought that counts. Mostly notable for being Lauren Bacall’s first film, the one where she met Humphrey Bogart, and the one that spawned the immortal “you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve” bit of dialogue. That one scene? Worth the whole film.
1944 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan.
10:00pm – TCM – The Big Sleep
One of the greatest detective/mysteries/films noir ever made. Humphrey Bogart is the definite hard-boiled detective, Lauren Bacall is the potential love interest/femme fatale. Don’t try to follow the story; whodunit is far less important than crackling dialogue and dry humor. Watch out for future Oscar-winner Dorothy Malone (Written on the Wind) in the small but extremely memorable part of the bookshop girl.
1946 USA. Director: Howard Hawks. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Martha Vickers, Elisha Cook Jr., Dorothy Malone.
12:00M – TCM – Dark Passage
Okay, so this is the least memorable of the four films that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together. It’s still Bogart and Bacall, and it’s a perfectly respectable and enjoyable film noir.
1947 USA. Director: Delmer Daves. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett.
2:00am (24th) – TCM – Key Largo
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall team up for the final time on this great noirish melodrama of a group of people, including a wheelchair-bound hotel owner, his recently widowed daughter-in-law (Bacall), a war veteran (Bogart), and a ruthless gangster and his girl, forced to take refuge against a fierce hurricane. Among the best films for all involved, and that’s saying something considering who all is involved.
1948 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Edward G. Robinson, Claire Trevor.
Thursday, December 24
5:45pm – IFC – The New World
Terrence Malick may not make many films, but the ones he does make, wow. Superficially the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, The New World is really something that transcends mere narrative – this is poetry on film. Every scene, every shot has a rhythm and an ethereal that belies the familiarity of the story we know. I expected to dislike this film when I saw it, quite honestly. It ended up moving me in ways I didn’t know cinema could.
2005 USA. Director: Terrence Malick. Starring: Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale, Christopher Plummer.
(repeats at 5:00am on the 25th)
8:00pm – TCM – Remember the Night
Barbara Stanwyck is caught shoplifting just before Christmas. The prosecuting attorney, Fred MacMurray, puts off the trial till after Christmas and ends up feeling sorry for her, bailing her out, and taking her home with him so she won’t have to spend Christmas alone in jail. It’s fairly predictable what’s going to happen next, but as usual, Stanwyck makes relatively routine material worth watching. And of course, a Preston Sturges script doesn’t hurt either.
1940 USA. Director: Mitchell Leisen. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Beulah Bondi, Elizabeth Patterson, Sterling Holloway.
9:45pm – TCM – Christmas in July
A bit of a lesser Preston Sturges film to my mind, but it has its vociferous defenders. A lowly office clerk dreams of winning a contest that would make his fortune and allow him to marry the girl he loves; as a joke, his friends fake a telegram telling him he’s won one, but things get out of hand quickly. It’s pretty slight, but has a lot of charm.
1940 USA. Director: Preston Sturges. Starring: Dick Powell, Ellen Drew, Raymond Walburn, Alexander Carr, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn.
10:00pm – 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.
1972 France. Director: Luis Buñuel. Starring: Fernando Rey, Paul Fankeur, Delphine Seyrig, Stéphane Audran, Jean-Pierre Cassel.
1:00am (25th) – 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.
5:00am (25th) – 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 directs, bringing his warm European wit to bear.
1940 USA. Director: Ernst Lubitsch. Starring: James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan.
6:00am (25th) – Sundance – 13 Tzameti
A young man acquires instructions meant for someone else and decides to follow them anyway, soon finding himself immersed in an underground gambling ring betting on the lives of desperate men. Ultra-low budget and minimalistic, but does a lot with what it’s got. This is in process of being remade in the US, but check out the original first.
2005 France. Director: Géla Babluani. Starring: George Babluani, Pascal Bongard, Aurélien Recoing, Fred Ulysse.
(repeats at 12:00N on the 25th)
Friday, December 25
7:00am – TCM – Little Women (1933)
This first sound version of Little Women has a young Katharine Hepburn in the lead, along with a roll-call of great 1930s starlets and character actors. It’s a bit wooden compared to the 1994 version, but it’s got a lot of charm nonetheless.
1933 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Bennett, Paul Lukas, Edna May Oliver, Jean Parker, Frances Dee.
10:15am – 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.
1942 USA. Director: William Keighley. Starring: Bette Davis, Ann Sheridan, Monty Woolley, Jimmy Durante, Billie Burke.
12:15pm – TCM – Christmas in Connecticut
The always-worth-watching Barbara Stanwyck is a magazine columnist who makes up a traditional country home for her column while living in New York, a subterfuge which causes no problems until a serviceman on leave wants nothing more than to spend Christmas on her farm and her editor thinks it’s a great human interest piece. Her attempts to recreate that world while falling for the serviceman are funny, warm, and enjoyable enough to add this to your holiday rotation.
1945 USA. Director: Peter Godfrey. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, Una O’Connor.
8:00pm-6:30pm 26th – TCM – Sherlock Holmes marathon
Guy Ritchie’s new Sherlock Holmes movie comes out on Christmas day, but TCM reminds us that Basil Rathbone made literally dozens of Holmes films in the 1930s and 1940s by playing a whole slew of them, starting at 8pm on Christmas Eve and running all the way through 6:30pm on Christmas Day. I haven’t seen most of these, but if you’re tired of family festivities and feel like kicking back with some old-school mystery serials, here you go.
12:00M – IFC – Kill Bill, Vol 2
On the one hand, Kill Bill Vol 1 isn’t quite complete without Kill Bill Vol 2. And there are a lot of good parts in here – the film noirish opening as the Bride catches us up on what’s going on, the fight with Daryl Hannah in the trailer, training with the kung fu master, her getting out of the coffin, etc. But the ending lags a little too much for me to truly say I enjoy watching it as much as Vol. 1.
2004 USA. Director: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen.
4:15am (26th) – Sundance – Oldboy
Ultra-violent revenge films don’t get much better than this. A man is inexplicably locked up in a room for several years then just as inexplicably released, at which point he seeks revenge. A bloody and at times disturbing film, but with an underlying thoughtfulness that sets it apart.
2003 Korea. Director: Park Chan-Wook. Starring: Min-sik Choi, Ji-tae Yu, Hye-jeong Kang.
Saturday, December 26
8:00pm – TCM – The Asphalt Jungle
The Asphalt Jungle was really MGM’s first foray into noirish crime films. Being MGM, it’s more polished and, to me, less interesting than the crime dramas that Warner Bros. and the smaller studios were putting out, but hey. It’s still pretty good. And has a really young Marilyn Monroe.
1950 USA. Director: John Huston. Starring: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe.
10:00pm – 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.
1949 USA. Director: George Cukor. Starring: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, Jean Hagen, Gig Young
2:00am (27th) – TCM – Singin’ in the Rain
Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly team up for what is now usually considered one of the greatest musicals of all time. Inspired by songs written by MGM producer Arthur Freed at the beginning the sound era, Singin’ in the Rain takes that seismic shift in film history for its setting, focusing on heartthrob screen couple Don Lockwood (Kelly) and Lina Lamont (the hilarious Jean Hagen) as the transition into sound – problem being that Lamont’s voice, like many actual silent screen stars, doesn’t fit her onscreen persona. Hollywood’s often best when it turns on its own foibles, and this is no exception.
1952 USA. Directors: Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. Starring: Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen.
Sunday, December 27
6:00am – IFC – The Station Agent
One of the most pleasant surprises (for me, anyway) of 2003. Peter Dinklage moves into a train depot to indulge his love for trains and stay away from people, only to find himself befriended by a loquacious Cuban hot-dog stand keeper and an emotionally delicate Patricia Clarkson. A quiet but richly rewarding film.
2003 USA. Director: Thomas McCarthy. Starring: Peter Dinklage, Patricia Clarkson, Bobby Cannavale.
(repeats at 2:45pm)
8:00am – TCM – Top Hat
For me, Top Hat and Swing Time battle it out for the top spot constantly, with the one I’ve seen more recently usually taking the crown. Mistaken identity follows mistaken identity here, as Ginger thinks Fred is her best friend’s husband, causing her a lot of consternation when Fred starts romancing her. That’s far from the end of it all, though. Also has the most definitive collection of Astaire-Rogers supporting actors.
1935 USA. Director: Mark Sandrich. Starring: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Helen Broderick, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore.
4:00pm – TCM – The Odd Couple
Before Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau became grumpy old men, they originated these neat-freak and slob characters forced to share an apartment. They actually did a lot of other films together all the way through the 1960s and 1970s, but this is the one that’s usually remembered the most, not least of all because it was turned into a highly successful TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. But the movie (itself based on a play by Neil Simon, which he adapted himself) is quite funny and worth a watch.
1968 USA. Director: Gene Saks. Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Fiedler, Herb Edelman, David Sheiner.
12:00M – Sundance – Volver
Pedro Almodóvar deftly straddles the line between drama and comedy in one of his more accessible films. Two sisters return to their home at the death of their aunt, only to find their mother’s ghost – or is it a ghost? And as always in Almodóvar’s films, there are related subplots aplenty. Penélope Cruz is incredible as the younger, fierier sister – she’s never been more moving than in her passionate rendition of the title song, nor funnier than when calmly cleaning up a murder scene.
2006 Spain. Director: Pedro Almodóvar. Starring: Penélope Cruz, Carmen Maura, Lola Dueñas, Blanco Portillo, Yohana Cobo
2:00am (28th) – TCM – Bicycle Thieves
One of the best and most iconic films from the Italian Neo-Realist movement. A man finally acquires a job, because he has the requisite bicycle needed to do the job. But when his bicycle is stolen, he and his son go on an increasingly desperate odyssey to try to recover it. Neo-Realism is known for its use of urban, location shooting and non-actors to deliver an authentic picture of life, and Bicycle Thieves succeeds superbly on every front. (aka The Bicycle Thief)
1948 Italy. Director: Vittorio De Sica. Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Gino Saltamerenda.
2:35am (28th) – Sundance – The Lives of Others
If any film had to beat out Pan’s Labyrinth for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, I’m glad it was one as good as The Lives of Others. A surveillance operator is assigned to eavesdrop on a famous writer who may be working against the government regime – he’s torn in both directions when he starts sympathizing with his subject. It’s really well done in tone and narrative, with a great performance by the late Ulrich Mühe.
2006 Germany. Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. Ulrich Mühe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck, Ulrich Tukur, Thomas Theime.