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  • Carrie Specht

Oscar-Winning Director Brad Bird To Join TCM’s 'The Essentials'


Oscar Winning Director Brad Bird will join TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz to co-host a new season of, "The Essentials". The long standing series has had many co-hosts over the years including, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore, and Ava DuVernay. Now, Bird will curate a selection of hand-picked films to be presented in a series of Saturdays beginning May 2 at 8pm (EST), complete with commentary before and after the show. The before and after discussions will touch upon the cultural significance of each film, its influence on other films, behind-the-scenes stories and the co-hosts own personal reflections.


I think the decision to chose Bird this season is an inspired one. It's important to have a well-informed individual sitting across from Mankiewicz for these fact filled introductions, and who better than a two-time Academy Award winner who directs, screen-writes, animates, produces and even does the occasional job of a voice-over actor? The network's popular franchise showcases the best of the best “must-see” classic films. And many of Bird's own films fall into the category of classic "must sees", including the animated films The Incredibles, Ratatouille, The Iron Giant (a personal favorite of mine), and the live action, Tom Cruise vehicle, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The following two effusive quotes demonstrate the enthusiasm both Bird and Mankiewicz have for the coming season.


“I love jabbering about movies almost as much as I enjoy watching them,” said Brad Bird. “In fact, I first met Ben Mankiewicz while jabbering about movies. My wife and I were at a film festival walking briskly up a street when we wound up walking alongside Ben, who was heading to the same screening. Who knew that our casual movie-talk would morph into a wonderful TCM event? Ben is very knowledgeable about cinema, as well as being a sharp, funny person to hang around with, and a perfect host. Getting the opportunity to talk with him about indelible films on TCM was an absolute joy. My biggest challenge was figuring out which films to choose, because for each great film that I mentioned there were 10 I left out!”


"Following the return of The Essentials last season with Ava DuVernay, we feel so fortunate to be able to bring in another elite filmmaker this season as my co-host, Brad Bird,” said Ben Mankiewicz. “Brad’s particular artistic sense works his way into every conversation we had together. He sees so many stories through the eyes of an animator, providing a rare perspective on movies we think we know well, like Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove, and The Searchers. And his childlike enthusiasm for movies, animated and live action, is unparalleled and infectious. What a thrill it is to be able to bask in it this season on The Essentials."


And the answer to the question, "What has Bird selected as essential classic films" will impress the most ardent of movie fans. Yet, the universal appeal will welcome those new to film classics. The list includes many familiar friends beloved by TCM regulars, with a few interesting surprises that complement the eclectic list. For the most part these films are the ones that bring joy to the heart, sentimental tears to the eye, and provocative thought to the mind. Bird’s selection of films for this season of The Essentials are as follows:


The quintessential Hollywood story, Singin’ in the Rain from 1952. Co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s musical comedy focuses on Hollywood stars adjusting to the coming of sound. I show this film every year on the first day of my History of the Moving class. The college students LOVE it!


Billy Wilder's 1951's reflection on the ethics of tabloid journalism, Ace in the Hole. Kirk Douglas stars as a big-city reporter relegated to milking a small-town disaster in order to make it back into the big time regardless of the outcome. This is one of my absolute favorite Wilder films that is not a comedy.


The General is a 1926 Buster Keaton silent in which the star writes, acts and co-directs the story of a Confederate railroad engineer fighting to save his train and his girlfriend from the Union army. This is a great one for introducing kids and any naysayers to silent movies.


1942's Casablanca is a must for any movie essential list. This beloved classic features Humphrey Bogart as an American saloon owner in North Africa who is drawn into World War II when his lost love unexpectedly turns up. This film has the distinction of being the most played film on TCM. And for good reason.


Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes from 1948 is a take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of a young ballerina torn between her art and her romance with a young composer. The film is a glorious, highly saturated example of the Technicolor process at its absolute best.


Lawrence of Arabia (1962) is perhaps the finest example of the Hollywood epic. It tells the, sweeping story of real life British soldier T.E. Lawrence who enlists the Arabs for desert warfare in World War I. An interesting side fact is that Brad Bird has the distinction of being the only guest on TCM to talk about this film who has directed Peter O’Toole in a film: 2007’s Ratatouille.


I believe no "must-see" film list is complete without a production from the greatest film year in history, 1939. Gunga Din is one of the most distinguished films of that great year. Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Victor McLaglen star as three British soldiers seeking treasure during an uprising in India. To me, much of the end of this film bares a striking resemblance to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Now that I've stuck that in your head, see if you don't think the same thing.


A Matter of Life and Death (1947) is another film from the British filmmaking team of Powell and Pressburger. In this film an injured aviator argues in celestial court for the chance to go on living. This lesser known film of the seasons is well-worth the viewing, AND stars David Niven. You can't go wrong with David Niven.


A Hard Day’s Night from 1964 is perhaps the most unusual pick for a list of film "must-sees". However, this typical day in the life of The Beatles is not only the godfather of music videos, but it can be seen as a prototype for the genre known as "mockumentary", later to be utilized in such films as This is Spinal Tap.


Before he was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor in Victor/Victoria, Robert Preston was best known for the 1962 production of The Music Man. He plays a con artist hawking musical instruments and band uniforms to small-town America and meets wholesome Shirley Jones in the process.


Stanley Kubrick is a filmmaker everyone should know. His mastered many genres and the satirical, black comedy was one of them. Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) features Peter Sellers in three distinct roles, including the US President and the mad presidential advisor who encourages an air strike against Russia.


The 1941 version of The Maltese Falcon is one of those films whose parts are greater than its whole. The plot is cumbersome and the story is hard to follow, but this essential films noir stars Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled detective Sam Spade who gets caught up in the murderous search for a priceless statue, which just happens to be one of the most sought after pieces of movie memorabilia in the world. A recent auction fetched more than 4 million dollars for one of the original props from the iconic film.


Stanley Kubrick makes a reappearance on the list with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick’s classic sci-fi epic about a mysterious monolith that seems to play a key role in human evolution. It didn't make a lot of sense to the audiences of 1968, but it has become one of the most revered films in cinema history.


Now, back to comedy! In Ball of Fire (1941) Howard Hawks directs a group of professors (led by Gary Cooper) who take in a nightclub singer (Barbara Stanwyck) hiding from the law to protect her gangster boyfriend. The combination of the usual tough-skinned Stanwyck with the unusual nerdy Cooper mixes into a delightful romantic comedy with a stress on the comedy.


Although nearly all productions were now produced in sound, Charlie Chaplin made the 1931 City Lights as a silent film, and it works to great effect. Chaplin writes, directs and stars as the Little Tramp who tries to help a blind flower seller to see again. It's a very funny film with a heart lifting ending.


Although I prefer the aforementioned Singin' In The Rain, An American in Paris (1951) won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Gene Kelly once again stars, but this time its Vincente Minnelli directing Gene Kelly as an American artist who finds love with Leslie Caron in Paris. The final dance sequence is amazing. It is the dance sequence to end all dance sequences.


My absolute favorite Western of all time is The Searchers from a John Ford in 1956. Of course, it stars John Wayne as a Native American-hating Civil War veteran who tracks down the tribe that slaughtered his family and kidnapped his niece. Considered by many as the best of its genre, Wayne contributes to a shockingly nuanced performance, proving to his detractors that the Duke can act.


No "must-see" list is complete without a Hitchcock film. North by Northwest (1959) is Alfred Hitchcock’s final film with star Cary Grant. Grant plays to perfection a New York advertising man mistaken for a spy, triggering a deadly cross-country chase from a wonderfully sinister James Mason. Naturally, the chase ends at a national monument North by Northwest from New York City.


In Guys and Dolls (1955) Frank Sinatra bets Marlon Brando that he can’t seduce missionary Jean Simmons. Despite the description, the film is a musical comedy often presented at community colleges and in high school productions. This version is better than those. Although Sinatra begged for the leading role, it was the non-singing, non-dancing Brando who got the part. Which is just as well, since I can't imagine anyone else singing, "Sue Me".


And finally, one of the best Noirs of all time, Out of the Past from 1947. One of Robert Mitchum’s many films noir, this is the one in which he portrays a private eye who becomes the dupe of a homicidal moll. I know I should probably be more specific than that given all of the Noirs Mitchum made. Suffice it to say, this is the one to use as a ruler to all other Noirs. And it has a very young Kirk Douglas!


For more information including a complete schedule, bios, images and film information, please visit tcm.com/essentials.