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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter

One of the perks of a press pass to a festival is the welcome bag you get upon arrival. This past year at the 2016 TCMFF there was the usual tote filled with a variety of fun stuff - really it was the best one they’ve had in years. And what made it especially good was the presence of the latest TCM publication, The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter. It’s a beautiful book I would have been happy to buy for my self, so how cool was it that TCM just gave one to every press person? It was very cool!

Although it’s not hard bound, this is a beautifully crafted book. Each entry has its own specifically designed layout with production stills, movie posters, curated description, behind the scenes info and selected quotes from past hosts of the long running TCM anthology. These aspects of course enhance the book, but it’s the insightful remarks of author Jeremy Arnold that provide the reader with a fascinating look into the films considered “essential”. It’s obvious he’s done a tremendous job researching the history of the various productions, putting to good use his experience as a writer for Variety, Premier, and TCM. And if I didn’t already know that he had an impressive resume as a commentary track contributor I’d say he was a prime candidate to do just that.

The actual list of films comes directly from those that have appeared on the TCM show, The Essentials. Since the popular weekend program has been on the air for seven years the author had quite a few plum examples of cinematic greatness from which to choose for the final fifty-two selected for this book. And for the most part I am satisfied with the roster, but I do have a few qualms about a couple of them. I know it’s important to keep in mind that the films collected here are not meant to represent any kind of “Best” or “Greatest” list (read the books forward by Robert Osborne), but I’m still gonna be just a tad nit-picky. After all, “Essential” does have a certain implication of superiority and so standards should be maintained.

In particular, I don’t care for Leave Her to Heaven. To me the basic “soap opery” plot is a bit over the top with what I consider to be Gene Tierney’s melodramatic performance. And although I’m a fan of Winchester 73, I wouldn’t call it an essential (but I do love what Stewart had to say about the horse he worked with - it gave me chills). If you’re looking for a truly fine Jimmy Stewart/Anthony Mann western I’d recommend you watch The Naked Spur or The Man From Laramie. The plots are far more involved and each film sports a very impressive cast.

Getting back to the book itself, it’s the kind you can leave out for your friends and family to browse through. That’s if you can tear it away from your bedside. Since it’s an anthology it’s an easy book to pick up and put down before going to bed. But you will have to discipline yourself in order to keep from staying up all night, rushing from entry to entry. At the same time, if you leave it out you’ll more than likely inadvertently be responsible for some classic film fan converts. Which could be a great way to get the younger members of your family in to watching “old movies”. Just be sure to keep an eye out... you don’t want anyone walking off with this beauty. Not only is it just plain fun to roam through, but you’ll want to refer to it the next time TCM airs one of these “essentials”. Which as all classic film fans hope, will be for years and years to come.

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