Focus: Saving Private Ryan

As we get closer to the Oscar ceremonies (on Feb. 28) let’s savor some past winners and nominees on broadcast and cable.

Check out what’s available this weekend.

Feature of the Week: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Some films seem destined, from the moment they open, to win Academy Awards. As soon as this gripping film from Steve Spielberg premiered, it looked as if the director would again find himself in Oscar’s winner circle for a different World War II film than his acclaimed Schindler’s List.

While many movies about war focus on traditional heroism, Saving Private Ryan explores the average working soldier who simply does a job to enable heroes to declare victory. The film looks inside the minds of these “citizen soldiers” who find themselves caught in the frenzy following the Allied invasion of France on D-Day in June 1944. They are not extraordinary men; they are simply soldiers doing their jobs, longing for home, searching for answers. Through their eyes, the horror and heroism of D-Day comes to life in a graphic yet accessible recreation of a landmark event of and the days that immediately follow.

When the film opened, Spielberg was lauded for the daring opening sequence that recreates the landings on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He treats this event as if making a dynamic short film about the subject. Never had a film so brutally captured a moment of military conflict as the bullets fly and the blood flows. And, as strong as these 20 minutes may be, what matters about the film is what we learn later about the soldiers fighting that day. They simply want to finish up and go home. To resume their lives becomes a reason to fight for their lives.

Ultimately, Spielberg did win his second Oscar as Best Director, but the film lost the big prize to Shakespeare in Love. As we learn in Saving Private Ryan many heroic moments are never noted, many brave people never remembered. But they are the foundation for military success. And, as we experience in this film, they make the difference.

Saturday, February 20, 9 a.m., Spike

Bye Bye Birdie (1963)

While not a serious Oscar contender in its day (with nominations for Sound and Music), this delightful adaptation of the Broadway hit retains the fun of the stage original. Ann-Margret steals the show as a spirited young woman who wants to make the most of her teenage years.

Saturday, February 20, 11:45 a.m., Turner Classic Movies

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

With an Oscar nomination for Best Music, this animated classic was not a significant factor in the race for Academy attention. But its visual magic and touching narrative continue to make this a fan favorite no matter how many movies try to retell the story.

Saturday, February 20, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, February 21, 11:30 a.m.; ABC Family

The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962)

Back when films made in three-camera Cinerama were events, audiences loved this extravagant visualization of three classic fairy tales. While the Academy limited its enthusiasm to an Oscar for costumes and nominations for art direction and cinematography, the film was a hit.

Saturday, February 20, 1:45 p.m., Turner Classic Movies

Father of the Bride (1950)

The great Spencer Tracy won a rare Oscar nomination for comedy for this magical tribute to parental anxiety. As the father to blushing bride Elizabeth Taylor, Tracy brings to life every parent’s hope and fears about a child’s wedding.

Saturday, February 20, 4:15 p.m., Turner Classic Movies

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

For his last film, Spencer Tracy won another Oscar nomination as a liberal-thinking man who can’t help but see challenges when his daughter announces she will mary an African-American. This landmark comedy rings as true today as when first released.

Saturday, February 20, 6 p.m., Turner Classic Movies

Funny Girl (1968)

The race for Best Actress was especially close this year when Barbra Streisand and Katherine Hepburn (for The Lion in Winter) tied for the award. Yes, Streisand was the talk of the town, for the tie as well as the see-through dress she wore on Oscar night.

Sunday, February 21, 11:45 a.m., Turner Classic Movies

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

In a classic contest for Best Picture, this romantic adaptation of the Boris Pasternak novel won five Oscars for its visuals and writing but lost the top award to The Sound of Music. Years later, yes, the Academy made the right choice, even though Zhivago is magic on film.

Sunday, February 21, 11:45 a.m., Turner Classic Movies

As the countdown to Oscar continues, look for more suggestions for family viewing next week! Until then, see you at the movies.