There’s something for everyone this weekend as movies — new and familiar — help us count the days until the year-end holidays. The weekend menu offers a balance of familiar and lesser-known titles. Check these out.
From Here to Eternity (1953)
Of the films that highlight the attack on Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941, this Oscar-winner resonates with its sensitive treatment of the strains of human frailty that come together on a fateful Sunday morning. Based on the novel by James Jones, the movie manages to simplify the author’s complex narrative without sacrificing the texture. Director Fred Zinneman breezes through the action in a tight two hours as he carefully reveals the layers his characters bring to that day in history. Montgomery Clift devastates as a soldier who refuses to fight in a boxing ring while Deborah Kerr shines as a lonely housewife who looks for attention outside her marriage. But the film belongs to Frank Sinatra as a fun-loving soldier who can’t edit what he says and Donna Reed as a smooth-talking bar hostess who can’t hide what she wants. Both won well-deserved Oscars.
Sunday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m., Turner Classic Movies (TCM)
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
The meaning of life is not always easy to talk about. While this special film from director Frank Capra is known as a perennial holiday classic, the film’s content offers more than a holiday message. Capra creates an authentically human story with so much love that we always pull for George Bailey even when we may not understand his behavior. And the director gives the film such inherent warmth that we fall in love with Bedford Falls and its residents even though such a town may not really exist (even if it looks a lot like Ridgefield at the holidays). Capra gives the film an authenticity that reaches beyond the standard in the 1940s. When George tries to talk himself out of being in love, James Stewart brings an honesty to those feelings that compare with any contemporary love story and later, when he begs the town villain for help, the sequence could work in any new film about economic meltdown. The film inspires us to make the most of each moment we have the opportunity to live and share.
Saturday, Dec. 6, 8 p.m., NBC
Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
In what are now considered “the golden years” of the Broadway musical, a hit stage show would become a big film just as soon as the producers could seal the deal. While the moviemakers might proudly promote the production of the new film they may whittle the work to fit a shorter running time. This adaptation of Irving Berlin’s hit show about sharp shooter Annie Oakley illustrates the best and worst of Broadway-to-Hollywood transfers. On the plus side, director George Sidney keeps the action moving and MGM spends the money to make it all look good. But Betty Hutton plays to the final row in the balcony in a performance that overpowers the camera. She is simply too big. And Howard Keel looks a bit bewildered in their scenes together. But the score is so lovely, and the story a lot of fun, that it’s easy to overlook the weaknesses. Just think how good Judy Garland — who started making the film but had to drop out because of illness — could have been in the part.
Friday, Dec. 6, 6 p.m., TCM
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
The recent death of director Mike Nichols marked the end of a remarkable film career that started with this adaptation of Edward Albee’s exploration of a married couple who thrive on trying to hurt each other. One night, in the midst of their latest issues, they invite a young married couple to join their dysfunction. Together the quartet begin to discover what we emotionally hide from other people can, ultimately, destroy any hopes for healthy relationships. Nichols carefully avoids the temptation to simply photograph what worked on the state as he insists on digging beneath the surface of these characters to help audiences see themselves. Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis won well-deserved Oscars for performances so fresh and natural that it’s impossible to imagine a camera was even there.
Friday, Dec. 6, 8 p.m., TCM
Sharing movies can be as easy as turning on the television or going online. And, when you watch as a family, take the time to chat about what you’re seeing. That makes it even more fun.