If you don’t already think Turner Classic Movies isn’t the greatest cable channel to show classic movies in the known universe (turn away from watching HBO right now!)–then you will this year when they air their annual “31 Days of Oscar.” This year’s month-long marathon showcases some movies they’ve never shown before on the channel. Yes, that means Ted Turner has just about acquired the rights to every great movie ever made–including some modern ones. Not that it’s anything to worry about. The man finally came to his senses in the 1990’s about respect to classic films after his bad sense of judgment in the 80’s taking his damn Crayolas (as Orson Welles described the process) and colorizing classic black and white films that should have never seen the light of red blue and green.
I guess we can’t give entire credit to Ted Turner for the brilliant sense of programming TCM has overall–and especially during “31 Days of Oscar.” Only in February every year will you get a chance to see three (or more) epic classics back-to-back-to back within a six-hour block. It might seem like overload for even the most rabid classic movie fan, but let’s celebrate that it’s there. This probably wouldn’t happen under the aegis of any other company. Kudos to those in charge for hiring people on the network who get paid to sit around a table and program all those apropos movie themes in a way that’s nearly if not downright brilliant.
So what will you see that’s different from all the previous “31 Days of Oscar” marathons TCM has done for close to a decade now? Going in order of their programming–one of the first nights to catch my eye is on Saturday, February 9 and a “Fantasy” theme. Apparently a couple of famous classic Disney movies you’d think would never seep through the cracks at the Disney Company ended up having their copyrights expire–and TCM picked them up. These two are “Absent-Minded Professor” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (both favorites of mine and airing back-to-back). If you’ve never seen those–you’ve been living in a cave. Well, I guess some people still haven’t seen 1971’s “Bedknobs.” It’s not as great as “Mary Poppins”, though it comes close at times. Hopefully TCM will show the restored, more lengthy version Disney cobbled together about ten years ago. While also not the greatest, check out Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” that precedes both films earlier that day.
For the next night of February 10–you might want to catch the TCM premieres of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Return of the King (The Lord of the Rings)” that air back-to-back as a tribute to 90’s Oscar. Both of those movies have their supporters (or obsessive-compulsives)–but it makes for an interesting double bill. Why TCM only acquired the rights to “Return of the King” in the “LotR” series is a mystery, though. People say it can be watched as a stand-alone movie (which makes me skeptical), so it’s a 50-50 chance of a wholly satisfying movie-watching evening if you don’t already own those on DVD.
On February 18–1939 (still the greatest Hollywood year in history–despite a couple of other arguably great years) gets representation. For those who’ve never investigated all the great films of 1939, TCM is showing three of some of the very best: “Gone with the Wind” (probably the most emblematic for TCM the last ten to fifteen years), “Wuthering Heights” and “Intermezzo.” You’ll probably be exhausted after “GwtW” alone–but try to take in “Wuthering Heights” at least. And try to watch “Heights” without the realization that Merle Oberon and Laurence Olivier couldn’t stand one another off-camera.
Timothy Sexton here once wrote an article that said 1980 was also one of the best years in Hollywood. While I also throw 1994 in there as a third choice year–the people at TCM must have read Tim’s article, because they’re featuring a three-movie block of 1980 films in prime-time February 23. “Ordinary People”, “Raging Bull” and “Breaker Morant” might be a lot of drama to absorb in one evening. Even so, TiVo the last two if “Ordinary People” is all you can handle for the night. That was THE year for dramas with so many more not represented there because they didn’t necessarily get Oscar noms.
While I mention 1994 above–the irony is that the endearing “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (Richard Dreyfuss nominated for Best Actor in 1996) was filmed in Portland, Oregon in early 1994 and could have been released later that year had it not been withheld for two years. On February 24, you’ll be able to see that on TCM for the first time, along with several other popular 90’s movies that won various Oscars: “Men in Black” (I’m more entertained by it now than I was in 1995), “Contact” (one of the bravest statements made yet about intelligent life and spirituality), and 1997’s “The Bodyguard” (and I-I-I-I will always lov…oh, never mind).
One of the final nights in the marathon (February 28) has some interesting movies from the 1950’s. One is particularly rare and only gets shown on TCM occasionally: 1959’s “On the Beach.” This was one of the first nuclear war aftermath movies–and takes place in a potential post-nuclear Australia with an interesting top-level cast. Don’t think it odd that Fred Astaire has a memorable dramatic role in the movie…with absolutely no singing or dancing.
Don’t miss a rare airing of 1950’s “Rashomon” directed by the great Akira Kurosawa on that same night. Orson Welles continually said that his intention for “Citizen Kane” ten years earlier was to give the multiple point-of-view narrative that “Rashomon” eventually employed. It’s probably a good thing Welles didn’t use that technique–or “Kane” would have been accused of being even more pretentious.
When you see the entire schedule of this year’s “31 Days of Oscar”–it’s proof that TCM is the best repository today for films from a better time–so tune in every night in February to see an evening’s compendium of the best films made in the 20th century. It runs through March 2, too, which is beyond the airdate of the Oscar telecast. Better yet, you get introductions and end notes from Robert Osborne as always, who continues to be one of the best hosts on television…despite not hearing our spoken “Thanks for that trivia fact, Bob!” after we watch a classic on TCM late at night…