Happy TCMFF season to all who celebrate! And there’s a lot to celebrate: after going through well-produced but not-quite-the-same virtual festivals in 2020 and 2021, the theme of this year’s festival is appropriately “All Together Now: Back to the Big Screen.”
It does feel … different this year, and I’m not sure if it’s me that has changed, or the festival, or just the world in general. Since it hasn’t happened since 2019, TCMFF as a concept feels so solidly part of the “before times” that it’s hard to imagine what it will be like now, and also hard not to feel at least a little melancholy about the fact that it won’t ever be the same. That would have happened anyway, of course—our priorities and interests and friend groups will always shift over time, so, for me, the “magic” of the mid-to-late 2010s TCMFFs would be hard to replicate regardless. But I think it’s going to feel much more pronounced this year, coming back after such a long break, without the benefit of seeing these things change more gradually. Anyway…….. lmao.
For the first time ever, I bought myself an actual pass, which means I don’t have to rely on the good graces of the TCM Press/Social Media team or the luck of the standby line. Even with that, it didn’t really start feeling “real” until last week when we got the full schedule release. That brought about a whole host of other decisions though, which made me start to feel anxious, so I did what I always do when I feel anxious: I made a spreadsheet about it:
Here, I could catalog the factors that were most important to me, like whether I’d seen the movie, the screening format, and the location. This will be my 7th-ish? in-person festival, so I know that many of my best-laid plans are often thrown aside for spur of the moment decisions when it comes down to the day. But, I have found that it really helps me to have a plan—from which I can freely deviate—but a plan, nonetheless.
- Well, I’m starting this post with a bang by having absolutely no idea what I’ll do in the first slot. The only two of these I haven’t seen are The Slender Thread (1965) and Tender Mercies (1983); if I want something new, I’ll probably lean towards prime Poitier. Factoring in the rewatches makes things a little tougher though—Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) is one of my favorite movies, and over all the years of coming to TCMFF, I’ve still somehow never done a poolside screening. But I also just watched it fairly recently, and it has the latest end time, which would limit my choices for the next slot. I would typically go for Jewel Robbery (1932), and still might, but I’ve also rewatched it fairly recently, and it’s in the infamously tiny Theater 4. That being said, I’ve never had an issue with getting into any opening night films, since usually the people with upper level passes want to get their money’s worth at the red carpet screening. (My first ever TCMFF screening, in fact, was Road to Utopia  in 2013, when my husband and I sailed into Theater 4 from the standby line.) So it’ll probably be the least-hard Theater 4 pre-Code of the festival, though that’s of course still not a guarantee.
- For the late evening slot on Thursday, I’m deciding between two new-to-me movies: Topkapi (1964) and Hail the Conquering Hero (1944). Both of them sound fun! I’m intrigued by the sumptuous visual potentials of Topkapi’s Technicolor on location in Europe (and this is a 35mm screening), and heist films almost always score for me. But the premise, cast, and crew of Hail the Conquering Hero sound almost too good to be missed, and the screening of The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek at TCMFF a few years ago was one of my favorite festival experiences.
- The early morning Friday slot for me will probably be a choice between Ann Sothern and Red Skelton in Maisie Gets Her Man (1942) (if your lead character is described as a “showgirl” in the plot description, that’s usually an automatic yes for me), or, if that’s looking dicey in Theater 4, George Burns and Walter Matthau in The Sunshine Boys (1975), which sounds really sweet and also Richard Benjamin will be there! (I’m generally not swayed by guest appearances, but he is my exception this year.)
- For mid-day, my first instinct is The Group (1966), whose female ensemble cast is truly a collection of some of the best women of the ’60s/’70s, and sounds like exactly the type of movie that could become a new favorite. However, another strong choice is Spy Smashers Strikes Back (1942), in which Ben Burtt seems to have just casually edited a 12-part serial into a tight, 91-minute action thriller? Going this way would also allow time for A Little Song, A Little Dance (2022) immediately afterwards, and a clip show of musicals from the head of Paramount’s archives sounds like an amazing pick-me-up at this point in the festival.
- I have known my Friday afternoon was reserved for Joan Crawford in Queen Bee (1955) since the moment it was announced, end of story. If I can say I’ve made one solid decision at least, this is it.
- The next slot will require a slightly careful negotiation: my first choice is Cocktail Hour (1933), which sounds absolutely delightful (phrases that popped out from its plot description on the site: “Atlantic cruise,” “amorous prince,” “notorious philanderer” … like, literally, enough said). But it’s also the latest starting film, which means if it’s popular (and I suspect it might be) I could get shut out without other options. So if I’m feeling cautious I may opt for It’s Always Fair Weather (1955), an old favorite that I haven’t seen for a bit, which is playing on film. I also LOVE Giant (1956) but I already know that it would be a stretch for me to handle such an epic narrative of that length during the festival.
- Sometimes by the end of the day (or by the end of the festival in general), there’s a point where my brain can simply no longer absorb new information. I’m intrigued by I, The Jury (1953)—especially being in 3D!—but I may go for The Gay Divorcee (1934) if I’m at the point where I just need familiar, pretty things floating around in front of my face.
- The midnight Miracle Mile (1988) is on the table, but we’ll see! My higher priority is Saturday’s midnight, and I usually only do one…
- As I’ve noted, I have about three solid choices throughout this festival, and Return of the Seacaucus Seven (1980) is one of them. It sounds wistful and nostalgic, but most importantly… David Strathairn. I’ve watched a few new-to-me John Sayles movies over the past year as well, and have enjoyed them all. I also knew I needed to get at least one Hollywood Legion screening in here, and this seemed like a good place to prioritize.
- The next two slots I’m considering slightly in tandem: if I want to be sure I’m positioned well for Baby Face (1933) in the later afternoon slot, I’ll probably be sure to stick around for The Flame and the Arrow (1950), which features an always-entertaining Burtt/Barron conversation, as all of these are up at the Legion. I did rewatch Baby Face fairly recently though, so if I’m willing to let that go, I can try to make it back down for The Last of Sheila (1973), which I saw a few years ago and loved but have never seen on the big screen. If I’m not doing Baby Face, the late afternoon slot is a little tough—seeing The Wizard of Oz (1939) in the TCL Chinese seems like it might melt my face off (in a good way); I’m really intrigued by the general “vibes” of Somewhere in Time (1980), though I think Jane Seymour being in person will make it a big draw; and I could also do A Man Called Adam (1966) to continue my Sammy Davis Jr. journey.
- For Saturday evening, I’m leaning towards the Elaine May-scripted Heaven Can Wait (1978), as this would be new to me, and I’ve seen several others in this block recently. But I also might take a longer break and then head into Invaders from Mars (1953), which sounds like it might be a good shift if I’ve been doing more serious stuff throughout the rest of the day.
- Drunken Master II (1994) has also been one of my must-sees since it was included in the early announcements! I love Jackie Chan (I am of course also seeing the Police Story double playing at New Beverly on the Monday before the festival!!) and am especially excited to see this one in its rarely screened original, uncut form. I’m pleased it’s playing in a block where it was a relatively easy decision (sorry, Singin’ in the Rain…).
- I recently flew back to Baltimore for a friend’s wedding, and obviously my #1 tourist destination was the John Waters Restrooms, which were recently unveiled at the Baltimore Museum of Art. So, needless to say, I will be at Polyester (1981), in the poorest of taste. I mean, Mink Stole is there. Come on.
- Sundays are typically hard to plan, in part because of the variable options of the TBA screenings—which might be something I was dying to see but couldn’t, but also might be something I don’t care about at all—but also no matter how hard I try to plan, by this point at the end of the festival, usually other factors win out: skipping a block to catch up with someone I haven’t really gotten to see yet, or realizing I haven’t seen anything in the TCL Chinese or another theater yet, or wanting to hit the gift shop, or just deciding to go with whatever starts next in the theater closest to my current position. Sunday is a lawless space where my plans have no authority over what actually happens.
- Which is a long way to say that my Sunday is pretty much open, and will almost certainly be winged day-of. Currently, I haven’t even ventured a priority list for the morning, and it could go in any direction. (Also valid: after the midnight screening, I might just be OK with a late start.) For the afternoon/evening I’m looking at Evenings for Sale (1932), Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952), and 7th Heaven (1927). I would have said Coffy (1973) for sure if I didn’t literally just see it in 35mm last week, and hadn’t seen Pam Grier in person several times! But the live orchestra screenings are generally a solid bet, and if there’s not a big musical for me to close out the fest with (which is usually my go-to choice), this seems like a solid alternative.
As I’ve said repeatedly: all this is subject to change, and as I’ve read some of my past entries, it’s funny to see the differences between what I thought I would Definitely See in my selections before the festival, and what I actually ended up seeing. Many of my favorite festival experiences have happened based on random, last-minute choices. I think that’s a big part of what I missed during the virtual festivals—though you gain some mental energy from not having to make choices, it is precisely in making the choices that I find a lot of my joys of discovery!