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The TCM Film Festival turns 10 with a 30th anniversary salute to ‘When Harry Met Sally...’

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Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal starred in the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally...,” which will have a special anniversary screening to open the 10th edition of the Turner Classic Movies film festival.
(Bonnie Schiffman / Castle Rock Entertainment)

Turner Classic Movies, the gold standard of curated film channels, will celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of its launch during the 10th edition of its annual film festival in Hollywood this month.

“The film festival and the network have a lot in common,” notes festival director Genevieve McGillicuddy. “We haven’t steered away from our original mission: showing movies uncut, no commercial interruptions, as they were intended to be seen. The film festival is an extension of that — a real-world manifestation of the fans, the audience.”

This year’s version boasts more than 80 films and more than 100 events and attractions, including a salute to channel founder Ted Turner. The April 11-14 festival is headlined by a relatively recent classic — one of the best-known romantic comedies of the last 40 years, Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally …,” which originally opened July 21, 1989.

Stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan will join Reiner for the opening night screening. Crystal will also be featured in a hand-and-footprint ceremony. The film’s ballyhooed screenwriter, the late Nora Ephron, will get her own tribute and panel discussion.

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“I’m a big fan of her work,” says McGillicuddy, lamenting that “comedy gets underrated,” so she hopes paying tribute to the writer, whose credits also include “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail,” will help remedy that.

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz says, “We frequently chart our lives through the movies we love. For people of my generation, the fact that ‘When Harry Met Sally’ is 30 years old is both thrilling and incredibly uncomfortable.

“I’m a host,” Mankiewicz notes about the Crystal tribute. “I have a real interest in other people who are great hosts. And for the Oscars — it’s incredibly hard. It may very well be that he’s [the best] of my generation. He’s so great at so many things a host has to do; not just stand there and read a monologue. Billy Crystal is literally the Master of Ceremonies.”

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Among the festival’s honored guests this year will be two casting directors behind some of Hollywood’s most beloved films, one of whom also became an Oscar-winning producer.

Casting great Juliet Taylor’s more-than 100 credits include “Taxi Driver,” “The Birdcage,” “Schindler’s List” and more than 40 Woody Allen films, starting with “Love and Death.” It was Taylor who pushed for John Gielgud as the butler in “Arthur” in the face of studio intransigence. She told The Times, “The studio said, ‘Who is he? He’s nobody.’” Gielgud’s Oscar-winning turn became one of the iconic performances of the ’80s.

She wrestled with legendary director Fred Zinnemann over Vanessa Redgrave in “Julia.” Zinnemann told her, “‘I’ve already got Jane Fonda on my hands — Hanoi Jane — I can’t take Vanessa Redgrave. She wants to run for Parliament; I won’t do it.’” Redgrave and Jason Robards won supporting Oscars for “Julia,” which also saw Taylor casting Meryl Streep in her first theatrical feature.

When finding an actor to play the protagonist in Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” — a young, New York writer just starting out — proved problematic, Taylor suggested Owen Wilson. “For Owen Wilson, [Allen] made the character come from L.A., older, looking back on what he would have liked to have done and what he admired as a writer. I think it works better.” Allen won an Oscar for that rewritten version.

Another of Taylor’s collaborations with Allen, “Broadway Danny Rose,” will screen at the festival, as will Mike Nichols’ Oscar-nominated “Working Girl.”

Fred Roos, meanwhile, established quite a name as a casting director before he was able to become a full-time producer. He helped assemble the actors for “Five Easy Pieces,” “American Graffiti,” “The Godfather” and television shows including “I Spy” and “That Girl.”

He also provided uncredited help on at least one other popular movie: “On ‘Star Wars,’ I wasn’t officially the casting director” because he was already a full-time producer, he says. “But I was an unofficial adviser to George [Lucas] on it. I very strongly steered him towards Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford and James Earl Jones’ voice. I’d known Carrie since she was 19, socially. I believed in her, believed in her talent. Harrison, I’d known from way back, I got him into ‘American Graffiti.’ He did a lot of carpentry work for me as well.”

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Casting “Godfather” led to a long association with director Francis Ford Coppola, including producing “The Conversation” and “The Godfather: Part II,” both of which were nominated for the best picture Oscar in 1975 (“Part II” won, and screens at the festival).

The festival’s arching theme is the rather broad umbrella of different kinds of cinematic love, including “Bromance” (“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), “Magnificent Obsession” (“Wuthering Heights”) and “Wartime Romance” (“From Here to Eternity,” with Mary Owen, daughter of star Donna Reed, in attendance). Attractions include “Hollywood Home Movies: Treasures From the Academy Archive” and a panel discussion on “The Complicated Legacy of ‘Gone with the Wind.’”

McGillicuddy also expressed excitement over the addition of the New Legion Theater as a festival venue: It’s a 90-year-old auditorium inside American Legion Post 43 on Highland Avenue that has undergone a $4-million renovation.

“Because of the Hollywood location, Post 43 has always had a movie theater in it,” she says, noting that most of the post’s founders were World War I vets who had worked in the film industry.

Mankiewicz says: “We’re enormously proud of what we’ve accomplished in 25 years [on television] and 10 years of the festival. The only reason we’re here is the people who love the channel; they’re the only reason we matter in the marketplace.

“We take a lot of pride in presenting these works of art and providing context. That little idea of putting somebody incredibly knowledgeable — Robert Osborne — in front of and behind the movies made them feel more relevant. It’s something much more than a nostalgia channel. It’s a big deal to us.”

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The TCM Classic Film Festival

When: April 11-14

Where: The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, TCL Chines 6 Theatres Multiplex, Egyptian Theatre, Legion Theatre at Post 43, and ArcLight Cinemas’ Cinerama Dome

Info: filmfestival.tcm.com/


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