An arbitrary guide to TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, week 1

I admit it. I’m a Turner Classic Movies junkie.imagesIf that makes me an old man, so be it. I am old (almost 60, which at least makes me the young old person), but I’ve always been a huge fan of TCM. When the cable companies are forced to start selling channels a la carte, TCM is one of the few that I will be willing to pay for individually. If you’re not familiar with TCM, its forte is old movies — thousands and thousands of old movies. Most are in glorious black & white, some are even silent. All are presented unedited, and without commercials, and this is the true glory of TCM. I refuse to watch any movie on TV with commercials — American Movie Classics is an atrocity — because they invariably insert commercials into critical moments, edit for time and language, and generally ruin the film. TCM, on the other hand, loves movies, and treats them like the cultural treasures they often are.

February is TCM’s best month, with the annual 31 Days of Oscar, when every film shown will have an “Oscar credential” attached. That means winners and nominees, well known categories and lesser lights. So if I may (and who is going to stop me?) here’s my entirely arbitrary list of some of the films to watch and PVR in February. All times are MST.

Monday, Feb. 1: You can kill off most of Feb. 1 with THREE of the all time great epics, 1959’s Ben Hur (2 pm), 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia at 8 pm, and 1957’s The Bridge on the River Kwai at midnight. That’s about 10 hours of movie watching, so I recommend a brisk jog sometime during the way so your limbs don’t start to atrophy.

Tuesday, Feb. 2: I recommend a suspenseful Spencer Tracy film, Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) at 1:30 pm. At 6 pm, Robert Redford and Paul Newman at their most beautiful in the 1973 Best Picture winner The Sting (you’ve got that song going through your head now, don’t you?). At 10:30, the 1953 drama From Here to Eternity brought Frank Sinatra and Oscar, and saved his career.

Wednesday, Feb. 3: If you’re a fan of the small subset of movies based in the newspaper world, you have to watch Five Star Final (1931) at 9:15 am, starring the great Edward G. Robinson.  I Am A Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) at noon is an old-school message movie, still powerful, starring the mostly forgotten Paul Muni.

Thursday, Feb. 4: It’s Paul Newman again at 6 pm in the great Cool Hand Luke  (1967) (featuring the immortal movie line, “What we have here, is a failure … to communicate”.) The Wild Bunch (1969) at midnight is famous for its violence, and even today in our blood stained era, the final shootout is a classic.

Friday, Feb. 5: James Cagney is at his mother fixated, snarling best in White Heat, (1949) at 8:15 am, featuring the immortal final line, “Top of the world, Ma!” At 9:45,  It Happened One Night (1934) one of the all-time biggest Oscar winners (the first to win the five major Oscars), staring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in what was, for the time, the ultimate in sophisticated comedy.

Saturday, Feb. 6: Broadcast News (1987) at 6 pm is one of those era-defining movies from the 1980s, with a great performance by Albert Brooks. Still with era-defining films, how about Easy Rider (1969) at 10:30 pm (oh so cool Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Denis Hopper on motorcycles), and Rebel Without a Cause (1955) at 12:15, with its star making turn by the doomed James Dean (my favourite part of the movie is the fact that Mr. Howell, Jim Backus, plays his dad).

Sunday, Feb. 7: Alfred Hitchcock makes his first several appearances during the 31 Days of Oscar at 4 a.m. with Suspicion (1941), starring the world’s most handsome movie star, Cary Grant. (The ending if a bit of a dud, apparently imposed by the censors.) Don’t miss another Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest (1959) at 7:45 am, the movie with not one but two iconic scenes: Cary Grant chased by a crop dusting plane; and the Mount Rushmore sequence. Eva Marie Saint is the Hitchcock blonde in this one. The Judy Garland classic A Star is Born (1954) is a must-see I haven’t seen at 2:45 pm. After wasting several hours on the Super Bowl, wrap up the evening with a dose of Bogie and Bacall in the gritty John Huston film Key Largo (1948) at 12:15 am. Edward G. Robinson is at his snarling best.

Next week, another selection of my choices. I recommend checking out the TCM website, which is terrific, for all of the films. Your choices may vary from mine, but just remember … your choices are wrong.



By Maurice Tougas

Maurice Tougas is a lifelong Albertan, award-winning writer and reporter, and a former MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

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