TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar: 10 Lesser-Known Must-Sees

By Julia Ricci

For many movie buffs, Oscar season is the most wonderful time of the year. With the big night less than three weeks away, what better way to celebrate than with a month of Academy Award®-recognized films on Turner Classic Movies?

    TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar® runs February 1-March 3, celebrating 87 years of brilliance in movies as recognized by the Academy. Daytime programming will focus on relevant films from a particular genre, from romantic comedy to film noir, history to fantasy, sports to musicals. Nighttime programming will feature a chronological presentation of Academy Award®-nominated films, highlighting at least one Best Picture winner.

The series is also recognizing contemporary classics, with network premieres of The Artist (2011) and The King’s Speech (2010), as well as a night dedicated to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Other contemporary highlights include Shakespeare in Love (1998), Chicago (2002), and No Country for Old Men (2007).

And the best part? All films are uncut and commercial free. The compete 31 Days of Oscar® schedule is available via its informative interactive site or as a PDF.

While juggernauts like Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, and Casablanca are also included in this year’s lineup, TCM has programmed plenty of lesser-known Academy-honored pictures that are worth a watch. Here are ten of them in the order in which they will air:

1. The Brave One (1956)

    Based on a true event, The Brave One is about a young Mexican boy who tries to save his beloved bull from death at the hands of a celebrated matador. The suspenseful film earned a Best Story award for “Robert Rich”, which turned out to be a pseudonym for blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who finally claimed his Oscar in 1975.

Airs: February 8 at 1:15 p.m. ET

Won:

  • Best Writing, Motion Picture Story
Nominated for:

  • Best Sound, Recording
  • Best Film Editing

2. Laura (1944)

    Gone Girl fans will appreciate the mystery, suspense, and surprises in Laura, which follows a detective who investigates the murder of an enchanting young woman and soon becomes infatuated with her in his search for the truth. Laura started out as a B picture, but its great cast (Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Vincent Price) and startling plot twists has made it a classic. The film’s haunting theme and Clifton Webb’s sassy lines can’t be ignored either.

Airs: February 9 at 1 a.m. ET

Won:

  • Best Cinematography, Black-and-white
Nominated for:

  • Best Supporting Actor (Clifton Webb)
  • Best Director (Otto Preminger)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay
  • Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black and White

3. Gentleman’s Agreement (1947)

    This best picture winner stars Gregory Peck as a reporter who discovers the depths of bigotry and hatred as he pretends to be Jewish in order to cover a story on anti-Semitism in America. A forthright exploration of anti-Semitism in the wake of World War II, the film almost wasn’t made due to the fear that the heavy subject matter would “stir up a hornet’s nest,” but it received high acclaim and was Fox’s top grossing picture of 1948.

Airs: February 10 at 8 p.m. ET

Won:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm)
  • Best Director (Elia Kazan)
Nominated for:

  • Best Actor (Gregory Peck)
  • Best Actress (Dorothy Maguire)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Anne Revere)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay
  • Best Film Editing

4. Holiday (1938)

    Snuggle up this Valentine’s Day with this delightful romantic/screwball comedy starring Cary Grant as a free-spirited man betrothed to a millionaire’s daughter (Doris Nolan). Her family, with exception of his fiancee’s eccentric sister (Katharine Hepburn) and forbearing brother (Lew Ayres), wants him to settle down in banking, but he secretly wishes to travel the world so he can figure out his place in it. Although it is a comedy, Holiday delves into deeper themes such as understanding oneself, and college students especially can relate to the main characters as they each make decisions about what they want out of life.

Airs: February 14 at 10 a.m. ET

Nominated for:

  • Best Art Direction

5. The Defiant Ones (1958)

    The second of four racial prejudice-themed films from director Stanley Kramer, The Defiant Ones follows two escaped convicts, one white and one black, who are chained together and must get along in order to evade capture. The film deals with issues rarely seen on screen at the time and was a career turning point for both Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis, earning them each a Best Actor nomination.

Airs: February 15 at 11 p.m. ET

Won:

  • Best Writing, Story and Screenplay- Written Directly for the Screen
  • Best Cinematography, Black-and-white
Nominated for:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Director (Stanley Kramer)
  • Best Actor (Tony Curtis)
  • Best Actor (Sidney Poitier)
  • Best Supporting Actor (Theodore Bikel)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Cara Williams)
  • Best Film Editing

6. Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

    This sound film from the legendary Charlie Chaplin plays into the darkly comic sensibilities of the post-war era in its story of a suave, cynical man (Chaplin) who marries and murders rich women for their money in order to support his family. As the story goes, Orson Welles was originally set to direct the film, but because Chaplin did not want someone else directing him, he bought Welles’ story and rewrote parts of it himself, crediting Welles with only the “idea.” Welles surprisingly didn’t mind, and the film went on to receive a nomination for Original Screenplay.

Airs: February 17 at 9:15 a.m. ET

Nominated for:

  • Best Writing, Original Screenplay

7. Way Out West (1937)

    Once upon a time, the Oscars did, in fact, recognize comedies, and this Laurel and Hardy classic is an early example. In this Western parody, Stan and Ollie are on a mission to deliver the deed of a valuable gold mine to the daughter of a dead prospector and get in a pickle when it falls into the wrong hands. This film is filled with gags that show off the duo’s impeccable comic timing and onscreen chemistry and is absolutely hilarious from beginning to end.

Airs: February 21 at 12:45 p.m. ET

Nominated for:

  • Best Music, Score

8. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

    Martin Scorsese’s first Hollywood film stars Ellen Burstyn as a widow who is on the road with her young son in the American Southwest, determined to make a better life for herself as a singer. After fleeing from her abusive new boyfriend, becomes a waitress and finds her strength with the help of her coworkers and the local rancher (Kris Kristofferson) who falls for her. Alice generated significant feminist debate and was a box office hit, propelling Scorsese from the indie scene to Hollywood and allowed him to secure backing for Taxi Driver (1976). Scorsese learned a lot about different acting methods while making Alice, and the film gives us an early glimpse into the evolution of his distinctive style.

Airs: February 23 at 6 p.m. ET

Won:

  • Best Actress (Ellen Burstyn)
Nominated for:

  • Best Supporting Actress (Diane Ladd)
  • Best Writing, Original Screenplay

9. Running on Empty (1988)

    Directed by Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Network, Dog Day Afternoon), Running on Empty tells the story of a fugitive ‘60s counterculture couple (Judd Hirsch and Christine Lahti) and their eldest son’s (River Phoenix) coming of age and desire to live a life of his own. Phoenix, who was only nineteen at the time, received his first and only Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance in this drama about the bonds, responsibilities, and burdens surrounding family life.

Airs: February 27 at 8 p.m. ET

Nominated for:

  • Best Supporting Actor (River Phoenix)
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

10. Love Affair (1939)

    Released in what is widely considered Hollywood’s greatest year, this Romance tells the story of a French playboy (Charles Boyer) and a former nightclub singer (Irene Dunne) who fall in love aboard a cruise on the way to meet up with their respective significant others. The lovers agree to reunite in six months on the top of the Empire State Building, provided they still have feelings for each other. If the plot sounds familiar, the film did inspire two remakes: An Affair to Remember (1957), which is fondly referenced in Sleepless in Seattle (1993), and Love Affair (1994), starring real-life spouses Annette Bening and Warren Beatty. The original may have lost Best Picture (and almost everything else) to tour de force Gone With the Wind, but its story is just as timeless.

Airs: March 3 at 4:45 p.m. ET

Nominated for:

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress (Irene Dunne)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Maria Ouspenskaya)
  • Best Writing, Original Story
  • Best Art Direction
  • Best Music, Original Song