TCM Film Festival 2021 Picks

As TCM prepares for its second virtual film festival, classic film fans are eagerly anticipating another excellent lineup for enjoyment from the comfort of their homes. With one virtual film festival under their belt, there are marked differences between the first virtual fest and this next iteration.

For one, there will be two “venues” for viewing films and special presentations: the TCM channel itself (including the Watch TCM app) as well as within the Classics Curated by TCM Hub on HBO Max. Moreover, there will be interviews, script readings, and a variety of special programs to enjoy throughout the festival’s May 6-9, 2021, duration. Additionally, there is a boutique in which TCMFF fans can purchase merchandise—something that I sorely missed last year!—as well as a unique, remote Club TCM, traditionally functioning as “home base” for the festival and offering five special events to be announced soon. Finally, last year, TCMFF fans created their own virtual passes, disseminated via social media. This year, TCM has crafted virtual passes for download.

This year’s festival offers another exciting lineup to enjoy, spanning across a wide array of film genres. Of course, there also special tributes, interviews, and past TCMFF footage to enjoy along the way. It is my delight to highlight my picks for this year’s festival.

Day 1: Thurs., May 6

West Side Story (1961), 8pm EST
There’s nothing quite like opening night at the festival! Just as this film would have drawn a crowd at the in-person festival, it is sure to be enjoyed by many viewers as a worthy kickoff to TCMFF 2021. With a moving story, brilliant choreography, and gorgeous music, this film is always a pleasure to see. This showing will also include a cast reunion conversation with Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn.

Doctor X (1932), 1:30am EST
This new-to-me film is intriguing to me not only because of its early 1930s release date but because it is a special TCM premiere of the recently restored film. The two-color Technicolor master was restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Film Foundation in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment. This macabre film tells the story of a reporter investigating a series of cannibalistic murders at a medical college.

Day 2: Fri., May 7

The Fortune Cookie (1966), 7:30am EST
I’m a huge Jack Lemmon fan, and this is a film I have not yet seen. This film focuses upon a crooked lawyer trumps up an insurance case for a cameraman injured at a pro football game. Given how much I’ve enjoyed Lemmon’s filmography over the years, I’m looking forward to viewing this film!

Annie Get Your Gun (1960), 11:45am, EST
Who can resist a fabulous Irving Berlin musical? While I have definitely seen this film before, this is another special premiere courtesy of TCM. This showing will feature the latest 4K restoration from the original nitrate technicolor negative. The film offers a fanciful musical biography of Wild West sharpshooter Annie Oakley, portrayed by Betty Hutton.

let me come in (2021), 3:15am EST
Though this film was released in 2021, it includes some fascinating footage from nearly a century ago. This is the world broadcast premiere presentation of Bill Morrison’s experimental short featuring decayed film reels from the lost, German silent film Pawns of Passion (1928). It is co-presented by The Los Angeles Opera with composer David Lang and soprano Angel Blue, with special thanks to the Library of Congress National Audio-Visual Conservation Center.

Day 3: Sat., May 8

Tex Avery: The King of Cartoons (1988), 6am EST
I absolutely loved cartoons as a child and still have an appreciation for early cartoons to this day. Tex Avery was one of the masters, so I am eager to see this documentary about his life and career.

Tex Avery at MGM (1943-1955) (1943), 7am EST
After getting some context about Avery, I look forward to seeing some of the work he did for MGM. The featured cartoons include Red Hot Riding Hood (1943), Bad Luck Blackie (1949), Deputy Droopy (1955), Screwball Squirrel (1944), King-Size Canary (1947), T.V. of Tomorrow (1953) and Symphony in Slang (1955).

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), 1pm EST
I’ve only recently begun to delve into Elizabeth Taylor‘s later work and have been enjoying her films. This is one of her big roles, alongside Richard Burton, that has long eluded me. This screening will feature a conversation with author Mark Harris, who wrote Mike Nichols: A Life.

On the Waterfront (1954), 3:30pm EST
Yet another classic that I have not seen! This is a notable and highly quotable film. It’s time!

The Won’t Believe Me (1947), 8pm EST
This film is a highly-anticipated moment in the festival. This is the world premiere of a recent 4K restoration from the nitrate film. This restoration returns the film to its original 95 minutes thanks to the return of 15 minutes of original footage cut by RKO at the film’s reissue in the 1950s. The film depicts a philandering playboy with a wealthy wife and two girlfriends, who ends up on trial for murder when two of the ladies turn up dead. As fate would have it, he is the most likely suspect.

Lady Sings the Blues (1972), 10pm EST
I adore biopics and this is one that I have yet to see. Bille Holliday faced many heartbreaking challenges and I am interested in learning more about her personal and professional life. This is presented in partnership with the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, featuring conversation with Jacqueline Stewart, TCM Host and Academy Museum Chief Artistic and Programming Officer.

From Broadway to Hollywood (2015), 3am EST
If you are a fan of the Great American Songbook and your heart just SINGS thinking of your favorite musicals, this special is not to be missed. My friend Richard Glazier is a highly gifted pianist with many wonderful experiences to share regarding his personal connections to the songs he plays so beautifully. This is a wonderful celebration of the music at the very core of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Day 4: Sun., May 9

Her Man (1930), 8:45am EST
Ahh, the early morning Pre-Codes! This new-to-me film is the world television premiere of the restored version. This is based loosely on the stage play Frankie and Johnny, telling the tale of a Havana prostitute who falls for a sailor.

Princess Tam Tam (1935), 12:45pm EST
Another film I have not seen that is from an era I tend to prefer. This is the world television premiere restoration of the film, depicting a French novelist who passes off a Tunisian shepherdess as royalty to get back at his cheating wife.

So This is Paris (1926), 8pm EST
Silents are golden and this one is sure to delight! This is the world premiere restoration of the film, featuring a new score by composer Ben Model. The film tells the story of a married doctor who falls for a dancer while his wife develops an attraction to the dancer’s husband. Oh, my!

Cheers to another exciting TCMFF!

To receive more festival information, sign up for TCM emails here.

About Annette Bochenek

Dr. Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is an avid scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for TCM Backlot, she also writes for Classic Movie Hub, Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
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3 Responses to TCM Film Festival 2021 Picks

  1. ‘On The Waterfront’ is “A Must See Film”

    • Robin R. says:

      ‘On The Waterfront’ is my all time favorite film! Greatest cast, best acting, best actor, greatest single scene in a film (glove scene), cinematography, sound, editing, directing, story, etc.

  2. Robin R. says:

    I made a very similar line-up of films to watch. I am looking forward to the premiers.
    Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf is at the top of my “Overrated Films” list. I absolutely do not understand the appeal of that film. I guess if you like yelling, crying, drinking, and fighting which gets progressively more intense as the film goes on, then this film is for you. Just keep two Advil close by.
    I second the, “On The Waterfront” is “A Must See Film”!

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