by Julian Spivey
There are two months classic film lovers must pay complete attention to Turner Classic Movies (TCM) every year – February and August. Every February the only cable network dedicated completely to classic film does “31 Days of Oscar,” where the network shows nothing but films that have been nominated for Academy Awards for 31 straight days. Every August the network does ‘Summer Under the Stars,’ where they pick a legendary actor or actress and show movies starring them all day long.
Since TCM’s ’31 Days of Oscar’ begins today I thought I’d make my 10 recommendations on what you should be sure to either tune in or set your DVRs for …
10. “Citizen Kane” (3/2, 4 a.m.)
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Director (Orson Welles), Best Actor (Orson Welles), Best Original Screenplay (Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction (Interior), Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Score
Won: Best Original Screenplay
“Citizen Kane” is a must-watch for any lover of film. Many experts, including the American Film Institute rank the movie as the greatest American film ever made (interesting it didn’t win Best Picture, in fact despite the nomination it was considered a failure when it was released). While I don’t agree it’s the greatest American film ever made, it’s certainly one of the most important due to the innovative techniques the young maverick Orson Welles used in making it. Four a.m. isn’t exactly a good spot to place such a classic, so I recommend DVRing it or watching after the fact on TCM’s wonderful app.
9. “Stagecoach” (2/16, 1:30 a.m.)
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Director (John Ford), Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, Best Score
Won: Best Supporting Actor, Best Score
I had to get a classic Western on this list. Not just any Western, but arguably one of the 10 greatest ever made – John Ford’s “Stagecoach.” “Stagecoach” is known as the movie that made John Wayne a star and would be worth watching solely for that reason, but it’s also one of the greatest movies made in what’s considered cinema’s greatest year (1939). Thomas Mitchell who would win Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Stagecoach” may have had the greatest year of any character actor in movie history as he also had big roles in “Gone with the Wind” (that year’s Best Picture) and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” that same year.
8. “Yankee Doodle Dandy” (2/15, 9 p.m.)
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), Best Actor (James Cagney), Best Supporting Actor (Walter Huston), Best Original Screenplay (Robert Buckner), Best Editing, Best Sound, Best Score
Won: Best Actor, Best Sound, Best Score
Now, you may have an excuse for skipping “Yankee Doodle Dandy” this month if you’re anything like me and watch it either annually or biannually (in my case) on the Fourth of July (I alternate it with “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington). But, if you’ve never seen it there are three reasons why you should: 1) it’s one of the greatest biopics in film history 2) it’s one of the greatest musicals in film history 3) it’s the film that won the incomparable James Cagney his Best Actor Oscar.
7. “Rebel Without a Cause” (2/7, 1:15 a.m.)
Nominated: Best Supporting Actor (Sal Mineo), Best Supporting Actress (Natalie Wood), Best Writing (Nicholas Ray)
“Rebel Without a Cause” continues to be probably the greatest teen angst movie ever made more than 60 years after its release thanks to the incredible performance from James Dean (in his second of three movies). The movie, released a month after his death, is the only one in which he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, despite the fact that both of his co-stars were.
6. “Easy Rider” (2/6, 11:30 p.m.)
Nominated: Best Supporting Actor (Jack Nicholson), Best Original Screenplay (Terry Southern, Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda)
“Easy Rider” was sort of the “Rebel Without a Cause” of its era with its take on hippies and the counter-culture aspect of the ‘60s. It’s also important as one of the first truly successful indie films, as it really was the baby of co-stars and co-writers Dennis Hopper (who also directed) and Peter Fonda. It’s also noted for a star-making supporting turn from Jack Nicholson (who received his first of many Oscar-noms for the film).
5. “Young Frankenstein” (2/26, 7 p.m.)
Nominated: Best Adapted Screenplay (Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder), Best Sound
The Academy Awards have a history of mostly ignoring comedies (especially in the last few decades) – and frankly I can’t blame them. Comedies are rarely great, even when they are funny/good. But, possibly the greatest comedy of all-time is the Mel Brooks classic “Young Frankenstein” – which he and star Gene Wilder co-wrote. It’s a brilliantly hilarious spoof of the old-timey Frankenstein movies and they truly deserved their screenwriting nomination.
4. “Diner” (2/27, 9 p.m.)
Nominated: Best Original Screenplay (Barry Levinson)
This is going to be controversial, but I think “Diner” is better than “American Graffiti.” I compare the two because they are both about boys becoming men in the late ‘50s. Both are good, if not great films (‘Graffiti’ was nominated for more Oscars, including Best Picture), but I just found myself enjoying Barry Levinson’s story and cast more than George Lucas’. This is all to say that “Diner” is an incredibly underrated film.
3. “Double Indemnity” (2/28, 2:45 p.m.)
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Director (Billy Wilder), Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck), Best Screenplay (Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder), Best Cinematography, Best Sound, Best Score
“Double Indemnity” was nominated for seven Oscars, but didn’t win a single one – that’s almost criminal. Billy Wilder’s classic is arguably the greatest film noir of all-time (the only other I’d consider is “The Maltese Falcon”) and features the steamy on-screen pairing of Best Actress nominee Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.
2. “Cool Hand Luke” (2/4, 7 p.m.)
Nominated: Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Supporting Actor (George Kennedy), Best Adapted Screenplay (Donn Pearce, Frank Pierson), Best Score
Won: Best Supporting Actor
“Cool Hand Luke” is arguably the greatest performance of Paul Newman’s career (just watch the “Plastic Jesus” scene), but he wouldn’t win his Best Actor Oscar until “The Color of Money” in the ‘80s (which some accuse of being a “we should’ve awarded you before” choice). His performance as the rebellious Luke is a revelation that has had many say the character is an allegory of Jesus Christ.
1. “Casablanca” (2/14, 7 p.m.)
Nominated: Best Picture, Best Director (Michael Curtiz), Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Supporting Actor (Claude Rains), Best Screenplay (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, Howard Koch), Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Score
Won: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay
“Casablanca” is the greatest movie of all-time in the eyes of many – that’s enough reason on its own to watch. Uniquely enough it’s the only choice on my list this year that actually won Best Picture. It also includes arguably the greatest performances of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman’s (how was she not even nominated for Best Actress?) careers. It’s also a perfect watch on Valentine’s Day, as it proves how strong true love can be, albeit in an atypical Hollywood way.
10 More To Consider:
“Lawrence of Arabia” (2/1, 9 p.m.)
“Bridge on the River Kwai” (2/2, 1 a.m.)
“The Third Man” (2/3, 9 p.m.)
“White Heat” (2/5, 9:15 a.m.)
“North by Northwest” (2/8, 8:45 a.m.)
“Bullitt” (2/10, 10 p.m.)
“The Gunfighter” (2/12, 3:15 p.m.)
“Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (2/15, 11:15 p.m.)
“The Maltese Falcon” (2/19, 10 a.m.)
“Bonnie & Clyde” (2/25, 1:30 a.m.)