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Leap day a good time for classic film binge

Updated February 26, 2020 - 3:11 pm

It only comes around every four years. Like Americans’ interest in competitive swimming. Or the caucus system, a relic that was more appropriate centuries ago when it gave far-flung neighbors the chance to spend time together before they all died of consumption.

Saturday is leap day, a bonus 24 hours that you wouldn’t otherwise have. (That’s not really the way leap day works — Feb. 29 is technically just March 1 under a different name — but, for the purposes of this column, please play along.)

You could use that time for a little spring cleaning, but that requires effort. Why not spend those bonus hours clearing off some of those movies that have been gathering dust at the bottom of your streaming queue?

You know, the ones that might be a little heavy or a bit slow. The ones you figure you should see someday but just haven’t been able to motivate yourself to watch.

Some of these might feel a bit like being forced to eat vegetables as a kid, but they can be almost as good for you.

“Gone With the Wind” (1939)

One of the most popular movies of all time, it’s apparently a favorite of our “Parasite”-dissing president. But it’s also four hours long, which means there’s a very good chance you haven’t seen it in its entirety. The Civil War epic is wildly problematic when viewed through a modern lens, considering its views on race and the fact that there’s a pretty good chance Rhett raped Scarlett after that stairway scene. It’s still the sort of thing that should be seen once. Once.

"Gone With the Wind' (credit MGM)
"Gone With the Wind' (credit MGM)

“Citizen Kane” (1941)

It’s widely considered the greatest movie ever made, as well as one of the most influential. That feat is made even more astonishing by the fact that Orson Welles — its producer, director, co-writer and star — had just turned 25 when filming began. Relax: The fact that you already know Rosebud is a sled won’t affect things in the least.

Orson Welles co-wrote, directed and stars in "Citizen Kane" (1941), considered to be among the ...
Orson Welles co-wrote, directed and stars in "Citizen Kane" (1941), considered to be among the best movies ever made.

“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955)

James Dean was only 24 when he was killed in a car wreck, and he left behind just three movies. It was his performance here as troubled teenager Jim Stark that made him an icon.

James Dean (File photo)
James Dean (File photo)

“Some Like It Hot” (1959)

Speaking of screen legends, this one could serve as an introduction to three of them: Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and late longtime Las Vegan Tony Curtis. Sure, the idea of Lemmon and Curtis posing as women to hide from the mob as part of an all-female jazz band sounds lame. But the result is far deeper than that: It’s one of the best comedies of all time.

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon appear in "Some Like It Hot." (File photo)
Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon appear in "Some Like It Hot." (File photo)

“Chinatown” (1974)

Everybody needs a little film noir in their lives. Look past the fact that it was the last film Roman Polanski directed before he fled to Europe in disgrace and enjoy Jack Nicholson as private investigator J.J. Gittes, the role that cemented his status as a leading man. It’s a testament to the film, and its legendary script by Robert Towne, that something centered on California water rights could be this compelling.

Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown" (Paramount Pictures)
Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown" (Paramount Pictures)

“Lost in Translation” (2003)

Writer-director Sofia Coppola’s minimalist, existential love letter to Tokyo and loneliness may be the closest Bill Murray will come to winning an Oscar. He’s simply terrific as the aging actor stuck in a hotel while filming a whiskey commercial. “Lost in Translation” introduced the world to a 17-year-old Scarlett Johansson, as Murray’s co-star and fellow insomniac.

Scarlett Johansson, left, and Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation." (Yoshio Sato/Focus Features)
Scarlett Johansson, left, and Bill Murray in "Lost in Translation." (Yoshio Sato/Focus Features)

“Fruitvale Station” (2013)

Nobody will argue that this account of the real-life shooting death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a Bay Area transit cop is a good time — at least not anyone you’d want to know. But the powerful, heartbreaking film marked the feature debut of writer-director Ryan Coogler as well as the beginning of his collaboration with Michael B. Jordan that continued in “Creed” and “Black Panther.”

This film publicity image released by The Weinstein Company shows Michael B. Jordan in a scene ...
This film publicity image released by The Weinstein Company shows Michael B. Jordan in a scene from "Fruitvale Station." From "12 Years a Slave" to "The Butler" to "Fruitvale Station," 2013 has been a banner year for movies directed by black filmmakers. (AP Photo/The Weinstein Company, Ron Koeberer)

“The Cove” (2009) and “Blackfish” (2013)

You can’t have a list of movies that people put off watching without including at least a couple of documentaries. These marine-themed films will make sure you never look at animals in captivity the same way.

"Blackfish" (File photo)
"Blackfish" (File photo)

Pretty much any Alfred Hitchcock movie between “The 39 Steps” (1935) and “The Birds” (1963)

Don’t be afraid of old movies! There are some true masterpieces you definitely should know in here, including the biggies: “Psycho,” “Rear Window,” “Vertigo” and “North by Northwest.”

Director Alfred Hitchcock has a word with actress Kim Novak in this undated file photo on the s ...
Director Alfred Hitchcock has a word with actress Kim Novak in this undated file photo on the set of his 1958 film "Vertigo". (AP Photo/Paramount)

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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