Why 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival on HBO Max Is Required Viewing

The 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival kicks off on HBO Max and Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, providing movie lovers with an exciting lineup of familiar classics and obscure works waiting to be rediscovered. The virtual format will not completely replicate how the in-person TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) works, but it gives those who have not been able to travel to Los Angeles a taste of what it's like. The lineups feature plenty of must-see movies and fun side programming that mix behind-the-scenes stories with analysis from historians and today's Hollywood stars.

While classic movies on TCM are nothing new, the streaming element is the best part of the virtual festival. HBO Max continues to stand apart from the other recently-launched studio-centric streaming services by adding more and more classics. All of the TCMFF content will be posted at 8 p.m. ET Thursday. The offerings are split into different sections, and hopefully, HBO Max subscribers explore every single one of them. If even one person sees The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) for the first time, the whole virtual TCMFF is a success. Another totally underseen classic in the lineup is Victim (1961), a devastating British drama starring Dick Bogarde as a closeted lawyer.

There is also a wealth of fascinating "special collections" that people should check out. "The L.A. Rebellion" is a collection of films by Black filmmakers, including Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry, and Julie Dash. Musical lovers will want to check out a selection of MGM musicals like It's Always Fair Weather (1955) and Singin' In The Rain (1952) that are accompanied by outtakes. But the one collection everyone should dig into is "By Powell & Pressburger," which will provide an introduction to the breathtaking masterpieces by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The Red Shoes (1948) is simply one of the greatest movies ever made, and one of the most entertaining.

The event kicks off on TCM on Thursday, May 6 at 8 p.m. ET with a 60th-anniversary celebration of West Side Story, just in time to prepare everyone for the Steven Spielberg remake coming later this year. The broadcast will include a cast reunion with Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, and George Chakiris. This will also be available to stream on HBO Max, along with TCM host Ben Mankiewicz's introduction with filmmaker Ava DuVernay. The really crazy highlight for the first night is Doctor X (1932), a two-strip Technicolor horror film directed by Casablanca's Michael Curtiz. TCM is airing a brand new restoration at 1:30 a.m. ET Friday morning. Get your DVR cleared for that.

Every TCMFF features weird events sprinkled throughout the schedule, and the one for the virtual edition is airing on Friday, May 7. At 8 p.m. ET, TCM is airing a table read of Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), featuring comedians Maria Bamford, Bobcat Goldthwait, Oscar Nuñez, Laraine Newman, Bob Odenkirk, David Koechner, Janet Varney, Jonah Ray, Paul F. Tompkins, Gary Anthony Williams, Baron Vaughn, Deborah Baker Jr. and Kat Aagesen. Comedian Dana Gould adapted the script and the event is presented by SF Sketchfest. It will be followed by the real Plan 9 From Outer Space, a movie that just totally defies description.

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There are plenty of other amazing highlights airing over the weekend. I Love Trouble (1947) is a rare Franchot Tone crime movie airing on TCM for the first time at 8 a.m. Saturday. Later that same day at 8 p.m. ET, TCM will air a world premiere of the restoration for the film noir They Won't Believe Me (1947). If you've never seen I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), airing at 4:15 a.m. ET Sunday, you're in for a treat. The Sunday line-up also features Oscar-winning performances from Sally Field in Places in the Heart (1984) and Richard Dreyfus in The Goodbye Girl (1977).

The virtual festival is not only a chance for everyone to escape reality, but it can also remind us of the power of movies after a year in which many of us couldn't go to theaters. One thing that TCM does well is introducing the classics without talking down to viewers, or trying to shame them for not having seen something. The festival is set up to help those just starting to explore cinema, and to excite those who know every line to the songs in West Side Story.