What’s on your family’s movie menu this weekend?
The start of any new year can remind us how a movie reflects the specifics of time. As I often tell my sons, we can fully appreciate a film if we look at what it offers through the lens of its release date. Some films may age better than others; some, in retrospect, may not seem as magical a few years later. But all films, at a given moment, were fresh.
Here are a few classics from the Hollywood archives showing this weekend on cable.
A Beautiful Mind
When this film opened in late 2001, critics and audiences embraced its examination of the emotional challenges of a brilliant man. With Russell Crowe delivering a striking performance as the tormented genius, the movie hit a chord with a public hungry for resolution following the tragedy of September 11. Years later, the manipulations in Ron Howard’s Oscar-winning treatment of the material may seem obvious, while the subtleties of Crowe’s work actually feel more authentic. If you are new to the film, you may appreciate how it explores the path that brilliance must travel; if the film is familiar, you may enjoy spotting all the gaps in the narrative. This Best Picture winner also secured an Oscar for Jennifer Connelly as Best Supporting Actress.
Friday, Jan. 3, 10:15 p.m., Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
Shakespeare in Love
Film buffs were stunned when this romantic comedy defeated the acclaimed Saving Private Ryan to be named the Best Picture of 1998. Despite the creativity of its premise — of the acclaimed playwright confronting writer’s block in a most romantic way — the significant issues addressed by Steven Spielberg’s D-Day epic seemed more likely to attract Oscar votes. But the Academy reminded everyone that, now and then, it likes to laugh, and the Bard emerged as the star of the awards. Paltrow, in her Oscar-winning turn, has a lot of fun as a cross-dressing heroine who is quite pleased to inspire the man of many words; Judi Dench, in only a few minutes on screen, made enough of an impression to walk off with the year’s Supporting Actress award. Years later, the movie still makes us smile.
Saturday, Jan. 4, 3 p.m., FXM
No Country for Old Men
Some movies get better with time. As the years pass, and we take fresh looks at Oscar-winning films, we recognize the craft behind the magic that compels our attention in the first place. For Ethan and Joel Cohen, this movie from 2007 remains a high point of their prolific collaboration. By focusing on the core strength of Corman McCarthy’s novel, the Cohens successfully translate a novel of many words to a medium of many visuals as they create a world where actions never explain the realities they reflect. Javier Bardem won a well-deserved Oscar for his devastating turn as a villain who haunts many lives and he is matched, frame by frame, by Josh Brolin’s portrayal of an unlikely participant in a situation beyond his grasp. See this most welcome Best Picture victor any chance you can.
Saturday, 8 p.m., IFC Channel
Oscar loves a surprise and, in 2002, this meaningful look at the life of a Jewish musician struggling to survive in war-torn Warsaw was a surprise victor at the Academy Awards. Few predicted a victory for Roman Polanski as Best Director; no one imagined that Adrien Brody would deliver the evening’s most touching acceptance speech when named the year’s Best Actor. At the time, audiences and critics were overwhelmed by the authenticity of Polanski’s recreation how one man tries to defeat an enemy during World War II. Years later, we continue to appreciate the film as a hallmark of this director’s talent and a most authentic tribute to a time in world history from which lessons continue to emerge.
Saturday, 9 p.m., the Sundance Channel
Serving worthwhile movies can be as easy as turning on the television.
As you watch together, be sure to share what you observe, question and consider. Watching movies together can begin some good family conversations.