FILM: THE TOP 60 CHRISTMAS FILMS

Critical Guide

SAT 21 DEC

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

(7.05pm C4)

Terry Gilliam's inventive, effects-heavy fantasy recounting the picaresque tall tales of the eponymous 18th-century wanderer. John Neville takes the lead, voyaging to a city on the moon and Vulcan's foundry inside Mount Etna, by way of the stomach of a monster fish. Oliver Reed, Uma Thurman, Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Sting and an uncredited Robin Williams co-star (1988).

On the Town

(10.25pm BBC2)

Kicking off a season of classic musicals produced by Alan Freed, this is the one where sailors Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin take 24 hours shore-leave in a brightly photographed New York - "New York, New York, it's a wonderful town", and all that. The songs, if one were to pick holes, are more hearty than inspired (1949).

SUN 22 DEC

High Society

(11.40am BBC1)

Lightweight remake of The Philadelphia Story (translated to a Newport jazz fest) boasts nine Cole Porter songs, including "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?". This was Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra's only movie outing together, as Sinatra gets to call Grace Kelly (in her last Hollywood role) "fair Miss Frigidaire". And so say all of us (1956).

Raiders of the Lost Ark (8pm BBC1)

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas any more without at least one Indiana Jones adventure. This one is the original - with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg recapturing the Saturday-morning, serial adventures of their youth. Effectively one long, non-stop chase sequence in which Harrison Ford tries to keep the Ark of the Covenant out of Nazi hands (1981).

In Bed with Madonna

(11.30pm BBC2)

The material girl's candid and highly entertaining backstage diary-cum- concert film (shot during her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour) is better appreciated on the big screen and with Dolby stereo, alas. Madonna is in steely control at all times, of course, and Warren Beatty and Kevin Costner are among those who come off second best (1991).

MON 23 DEC

Now, Voyager

(1.05pm BBC2)

This camp classic and absolute must-see has repressed Bostonian spinster, Bette Davis, melting during a shipboard romance with Paul Henreid and turning into an unlikely Cinderella. The novel was by Olive Higgins Prouty ("Don't ask for the moon - we have the stars": Davis), who gave us that other kitsch wonder, Stella Dallas (1942).

Love Story

(10pm BBC2)

Students from different sides of the tracks, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal, fall in love and then she gets leukaemia. It's that simple - on every level. Arthur Hiller's direction is so bland that you wonder what everyone saw in it back in 1970. It was probably a reaction to all that sex, drugs and cynicism of the time (1970).

My Left Foot

(10.05pm C4)

An astonishing performance from Daniel Day-Lewis pulls you inside the rage of Dubliner Christy Brown, a victim of cerebral palsy who became a writer and painter. Slightly dodgy on the biographical front, apparently, but true in spirit. With Brenda Fricker and Ray McAnally (in his last film role) as Christy's parents (1989).

A Man and a Woman

(11.40pm BBC2)

All together now: "Daba-daba-da... daba-daba-da...". Claude Lelouch's international hit was shameless schmaltz, whose corny chic and attractive stars (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Anouk Aimee) struck some sort of collective Sixties chord. He is a widowed racing driver, she a widowed script-assistant, and their should-they/shouldn't- they romance takes place against a Deauville backdrop. "Daba-daba-da..." (1966).

CHRISTMAS EVE

Doctor Dolittle (3pm C4)

"He talks to the animals..." - and, in fact, that song won an Oscar, as Rex Harrison takes a fair stab at impersonating Hugh Lofting's children's character. No really great songs, though, and the support cast (Richard Attenborough apart) is a bit lightweight (1967).

Cliffhanger (9pm BBC1)

A tough one. You've got Sylvester Stallone grabbing on to a rock outcrop by one hand and all your natural instincts are willing him to let go, but you know it ain't going to happen. Anyhow, it's a mountain rescue yarn and the breathtaking camerawork is the main reason to watch - or not, depending on your susceptibility to vertigo. The other reason to watch is that ITV are scheduling Top Gun against it (1993).

Manhattan Murder Mystery

(11.30pm BBC2)

Just like old times for Woody Allen, as Diane Keaton and her Annie Hall persona steps into the gap left by Mia Farrow (this was about the time of that court case) in an enjoyable return to Allen's earlier and "funnier" style of film-making. The plot has married couple Allen and Keaton suspecting that their seemingly mild- mannered neighbour has committed a murder. Alan Alda lends support (1993).

The Birds

(12.50am BBC1)

Around spring and autumn, someone in the land will look up at a telephone wire and, seeing five or so starlings gathered together, will say, "Gosh, it's just like that scene in The Birds". In fact, the feathered friends - or, in this case, enemies - are the most memorable aspect of Hitchcock's nature-versus-man shocker (based on the Daphne Du Maurier story). The humans - led by Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor - are rather anonymous (1963).

The Producers

(1.15am BBC2)

"Springtime for Hit-ler and Ger-many..." and all that, as Mel Brooks's much-loved bad-taste Broadway satire-cum-heist comedy gets a seasonal showing. Gene Hackman and a wonderfully manic Zero Mostel are the producers plotting to rob investors of their money by selling 25,000 per cent of a "sure-fire" flop musical. Enjoy (1968).

CHRISTMAS DAY

The Wizard of Oz

(11.20am BBC1)

Seventeen-year-old Judy Garland had her chest bound to play Dorothy in MGM's legendary fantasy. A syrupy, inventive, message-heavy Technicolor adventure story about a little girl and her dog transported by a twister to a strange land inhabited by woodmen, scarecrows, lions and wicked witches. Whether or not you embark happily down the yellow brick road depends on your reaction to La Garland (1939).

Casablanca

(3.10pm BBC2)

You must remember this, as the old joke goes. A chance to lip-synch your way through one of the screen's greatest and best-loved schlock classics. Humphrey Bogart is the disenchanted saloon-bar owner who gets to commit himself to the war effort, turn down Ingrid Bergman - and get one over on officialdom and the Nazis. The support cast is impeccable, of course, from Sydney Greensteet and Claude Rains to Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson (1942).

Jurassic Park

(6.30pm BBC1)

How they ever got to show this terrifying dinosaurathon to kids is anybody's guess - but, anyway, the most hyped movie of the last few years is going to be inevitably diminished on the small screen. The dinosaurs are brilliantly realised - more so than the stalk-and-gnash storyline which has pioneer tourists Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern being chased all over genetic entrepreneur Richard Attenborough's theme park (1993).

Dial M for Murder

(9pm C4)

Made in 3-D, which is ironic since this is one of Alfred Hitchcock's flattest efforts - taken on to fulfil his Warner Brothers contract. Basically, it's a stagey, drawing-room whodunnit with one or two stand-out moments (the scene with Grace Kelly's hand reaching back for the scissors, for example). The story tells of suave husband Ray Milland hiring another man to murder his wife (Kelly) and going out on the town at the appointed time with Kelly's lover, Robert Cummings (1954).

The Remains of the Day

(10pm ITV)

An unexpected choice for the ITV Christmas Day film, this excellent Merchant-Ivory adaptation (by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala) of Kazuo Ishiguro's novel tells of a dedicated, emotionally repressed 1930s butler (Anthony Hopkins at his most coiled in) and his clashes - work-wise and romantic - with lively housekeeper Emma Thompson. The back story involves lord of the manor James Fox's flirtation with Nazi sympathisers. Strangely erotic (1993).

Glengarry Glen Ross

(11pm BBC2)

David Mamet's terrific play about the wheelings and dealings of real-estate salesmen, brought to the screen as well as it is ever likely to be by director James Foley. A top-notch cast includes Oscar- nominated Al Pacino as the hot shot of the bunch, Jack Lemmon as the dinosaur facing the axe and Alec Baldwin as the head-office shark likely to be wielding that axe (1992).

Play It Again, Sam

(12.40am BBC2)

Woody Allen's time-worn but still enjoyable homage to Humphrey Bogart (anonymously directed by Herbert Ross) with insecure film critic Allen calling on the spirit of Bogie to help him handle women. Needless to say, the particular woman he is having trouble with is Diane Keaton. And it all ends in Casablanca (1972).

BOXING DAY

Little Dorrit

(10.15am BBC2)

Christine Edzard's mammoth, six-hour labour of love (from the novel by Charles Dickens) is showing - as in the cinema - in two parts (the second three hours is tomorrow at 9.45am), with some of the action of the first half more or less repeated in the second, so that we can see it from a different perspective. The subject is money - largely the lack of it - and the superb cast includes Derek Jacobi, Alec Guinness, Cyril Cusack, Joan Greenwood, Max Wall, Miriam Margolyes - and even Alan Bennett as a bishop. Set the video (1987).

Vanya on 42nd Street

(3.10pm C4)

Superbly complex meditation on the nature of theatre and Louis Malle's final film. A group of actors come to a crumbling Manhattan theatre in their street clothes to rehearse Chekhov's Uncle Vanya - only for the rehearsal to become the play - and for the play to intertwine with their real lives. Wallace Shawn is excellent in the title role (1994).

1492: Conquest of Paradise (9pm C4)

Of the two major films made to mark the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of the Americas, Ridley Scott's was by far the darker and more ambitious - putting the journey within the context of Old World colonialism rather than straight- forward schoolboy heroics. Covering the 20 years prior to his world-shattering journey, Gerard Depardieu proves a shrewd choice as Columbus, while Sigourney Weaver plays his patroness, Queen Isabel of Spain (1992)

Sommersby

(10.15pm BBC1)

On the subject of Gerard Depardieu, this better-than-expected Hollywood remake of the Depardieu movie The Return of Martin Guerre updates the French movie to the American Civil War. Richard Gere is cast as the Confederate soldier who returns after six years to his Southern home and whose wife (Jodie Foster), can't quite accept that this is the same man who went away to war. Good performances (especially from Foster), good-looking and generally well-crafted by the British director Jon "Singing Detective" Amiel (1993).

The Graduate

(12.05am BBC1)

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas, it seems, without a screening of Mike Nichols's still shimmering coming-of-age sex comedy, with college boy Dustin Hoffman being seduced by his parents' neighbour, Anne Bancroft. The subtext is pure counter-culture in the making - with the grown-ups being either crassly materialistic or, as in Bancroft's case, cynical and predatory. Katharine Ross plays Bancroft's daughter - youth calling to youth - and the beautifully meshed Simon and Garfunkel score provides the final hook for the movie's target audience, young, white college-age kids feeling alienated by the "generation gap" (1967).

FRI 27 DEC

Singin' in the Rain (5.20pm BBC2

The season of Arthur Freed's films continues with probably the most enjoyable American musical of all time - an exuberant, affectionate parody of the movie business at the time of the transition from silents to talkies. Gene Kelly and Jean Hagen are the romantic leads of the old era finding it hard to adapt to the new - especially the squeakie-voiced Hagen. Debbie Reynolds is the love interest and Cyd Charisse and Rita Moreno co-star (1952).

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

(5.20pm C4)

Before Beavis and Butt-head, there was the amiable Bill and Ted (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves),Valley-speaking "dudes" so preoccupied with making a rock video that they are in danger of flunking their history exam. To that end, they find themselves on a most bodacious time-travel jaunt (via Napoleon, Sigmund Freud, Socrates, Genghis Khan, Abe Lincoln and Mozart). Excellent (1988).

The Firm

(9.30pm BBC1)

Tom Cruise takes up where he left off in A Few Good Men, playing a hotshot lawyer up against corporate corruption (in this case the partners of his own law firm), in Sydney Pollack's slick, professional - and very long - screen adaptation of John Grisham's bestseller. Gene Hackman, Hal Holbrook and Holly Hunter support (1993).

High Heels

(11.10pm BBC2)

There is a neat symmetry to the fact that Pedro Almodovar made his first, experimental super-8 film in the year of General Franco's death, because the 45-year-old director symbolises more than anyone else the new Spain of the 1980s - with its explosion of colour, gaiety and experimental sexuality. High Heels is sadder than Almodovar's previous films - and is perhaps his least successful juggling of cartoon-like comedy and intense melodrama. Victoria Abril plays the newscaster obsessed with the pop singer mother who abandoned her as a child. Abril marries her mother's old boyfriend - and when he is murdered, suspicion falls on them both (1991).

SAT 28 DEC

The Phantom of the Opera (12.50pm C4)

Carl Davis provides the rousing score, performed by the Live Cinema Orchestra, for this latest "Channel 4 Silent". A spanking new, restored print of Rupert Julian's peerless 1925 version of the Gothic horror classic, starring Lon Chaney in the title role (1925).

Ben-Hur (1.30pm BBC2)

The studio had tried to lure both Marlon Brando and Rock Hudson into Ben-Hur's chariot. Charlton Heston was grateful they failed; he went on to win the Best Actor Oscar - one of a record 11 the picture scooped. Rightly celebrated for its epic scale, William Wyler's monumental tale centres on a Jewish prince battling against Roman tyranny (1959).

White Hunter, Black Heart (8.30pm C4)

Canny Channel 4 realise that you can't really go wrong with a "Clint Night" during the festive season. For a man once noted for his wordlessness, he has an extraordinarily strong hold on cinema audiences. Based on the novel by Peter Viertel about the experience of working alongside John Huston on the movie The African Queen, Eastwood's intelligent work centres on a flamboyant director who signs up to make a film in Africa so he can fulfil a desire to shoot an elephant. Shot on location in Zimbabwe, it looks a treat, and features such surprising supporting actors as Edward Tudor Pole (from The Crystal Maze), Clive Mantle (Casualty) and Mel Martin (Poldark) (1990).

The War of the Roses (9.05pm ITV)

There is more than a touch of blackness surrounding Danny DeVito's comedy about a dream marriage that goes horribly wrong. Michael Douglas is marvellously convincing as the smug husband who begins to repel his increasingly manic wife, Kathleen Turner. DeVito directs and acts (as Douglas's lawyer) with his customary verve (1989).

SUN 29 DEC

Sleeping Beauty (5.55pm ITV)

In view of recent Disney mega-hits, it is interesting to learn that this 1959 animated feature did not set the box-office alight. Eric Larson, Clyde Geronimi, Wolfgang Reitherman and Les Clark's film boasts the usual impeccable draughtmanship and music adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet of the same name (1959).

The Living Daylights (8pm ITV)

Like Morecambe and Wise, James Bond has become a fixture in the Christmas schedules. In John Glen's middling 007 outing, the really rather wooden Timothy Dalton gets embroiled with some KGB capers and with Maryam d'Abo as an unlikely concert cellist (1987).

Heaven and Earth (10.10pm BBC2)

The third film in Oliver Stone's Vietnam trilogy - after Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July - this is a touching, and critically underrated, account of a cross-racial love affair between a Vietnamese woman and an American soldier. It is powered by the strength of the two leads - newcomer Hiep Thi Le and Tommy Lee Jones (has that man ever given a bad performance?) (1993).

The Ballad of Little Jo (10.15pm C4)

This post-Unforgiven western re-evaluates the usual conventions of the genre. Directed by the always unorthodox Maggie Greenwald (The Kill-Off), this intriguing film focuses on a woman (Suzy Amis) who is spurned by her well-to-do family after giving birth to an illegitimate child. Following an attempted rape, she starts a new life posing as a cowboy (1993).

Luck, Trust and Ketchup (12.25am BBC2)

Occasionally a "making of" documentary can be as interesting as the film itself - think of Hearts of Darkness, Eleanor Coppola's riveting behind-the-scenes account of Apocalypse Now. This fly- on-the-set view of Short Cuts (to be shown on New Year's Day) is not in that class, but it nevertheless provides some worthwhile insights into Robert Altman at work (1993).

MON 30 DEC

Brief Encounter (4.50pm BBC2)

On Great Railway Journeys recently, Victoria Wood visited Carnforth station where the famous scenes between Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson were shot. It is a testament to the enduring appeal of David Lean's classic story of illicit romance that the location should still be a magnet for pilgrims (1945).

The Witches (6.15pm BBC2)

Anjelica Huston gives a bravura baddie performance as the Grand High Witch in Nic Roeg's characteristically eye-catching reading of the creepy children's story by Roald Dahl. With all-too-convincing effects from Jim Henson's Creature Feature workshop, the only problem is that it may spook younger viewers. It certainly spooked me (1990).

Death Becomes Her (9.30pm BBC1)

Robert Zemeckis is just about the best in the business when it comes to handling special effects; witness the spectacular job he made of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? His technical wizardry is again very much in evidence in this contrived story about two women (the shrieking Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn)

Make My Holiday

With his narrowed eyes, softly spoken threats and cheroot-chewing elegance, Clint Eastwood symbolises taciturn, unreconstructed masculinity. Whether playing the "Man with no Name" in the old west (see left) or patrolling mean city streets as Dirty Harry, he's the gunslinging king of machismo. But his appeal has less to do with weaponry than industrial-strength screen charisma. After TV stardom in Rawhide, he made his cinematic name in a string of violent "spaghetti" westerns with Sergio Leone, who joked that "Clint had only two expressions - with or without hat". But if Clint's acting is sometimes minimalist, he's never been afraid to stretch beyond his hard-man image; his most recent success is The Bridges of Madison County, a sort of old-fashioned, new-age love story, which he also directed. This and his other successful mainstream directing efforts (Unforgiven, Bird, In the Line of Fire, A Perfect World) have raised his artistic stock. At 66, Clint Eastwood, a star of the old school, is now more bankable than ever.

Clint's films this Christmas: `Bronco Billy' (Mon 23); `City Heat' (Thur 2). On C4's `Clint Night' (Sat 28) there's `Hang 'Em High' and `White Hunter, Black Heart'

Best Sellers

The late Peter Sellers was a huge star in the 1950s and 60s, but also a man whose brilliance was eventually compromised by his neurotic egotism. After radio fame with the Goons, the boy from Southsea quickly worked his way up to leading roles in a string of British comedies, such as I'm All Right Jack. He hit gold in 1962 with his eerie portrayal of Quilty in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita, and the following year saw the release of two of his most important films: The Pink Panther (see right) and Dr Strangelove. In the latter, Sellers - playing three characters - gave one of the most memorable comic performances of the decade. It seemed Sellers could do no wrong, but hubris and bad health were to plague himuntil his one last striking performance, as the blank cipher Chance in Being There (1979). At this late stage, though, it was perhaps more a triumph of typecasting than acting.

Sellers on the box: `Battle of the Sexes', `Revenge of the Pink Panther' (Christmas Day); `Two Way Stretch', `A Shot in the Dark', `The Optimists of Nine Elms' (New Year's Eve); 'Being There', `Hoffman', `I'm All Right Jack' (New Year's Day); `Dr Strangelove' (Thur 2)

desperate to remain young and capture plastic surgeon Bruce Willis (1992).

El Mariachi

(10.35pm BBC2)

Director Robert Rodriguez has become one of the hottest properties around, almost rivalling his sometime collaborator Quentin Tarantino in the hip stakes. It all started for him with this no-budget tale of confusion between a mariachi musician and an assassin in a Mexican border town. It proves that you don't need stacks of money to make a movie - just zest (1992).

NEW YEAR'S EVE

Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country (3.20pm BBC1)

Almost unrecognisable from the smoothie in The Sound of Music, Christopher Plummer dons an eye-patch and a ton of prosthetics to play General Chang in Nicholas Meyer's highly enjoyable contribution to the sci-fi cycle. As Kirk (William Shatner) prepares to hang up his corset, the Klingons say they want peace (1991).

An American in Paris (4.35pm BBC2)

A score by George and Ira Gershwin, engaging performances by Gene Kelly - whose dancing and choreography is also a standout - Georges Guetary and Leslie Caron, and wonderfully fluent direction from Vincente Minnelli; what more could you ask for to ring out the old? (1951).

Two Way Stretch (6.55pm C4)

Peter Sellers leads a British cast to die for - Wilfrid Hyde White, Bernard Cribbins, David Lodge, Lionel Jefferies, Irene Handl - in Robert Day's likeable heist comedy. Three incarcerated crooks (Sellers, Cribbins, Lodge) plot a diamond robbery for which they have the watertight alibi of being in jail (1960).

Shadowlands (8pm BBC1)

Anthony Hopkins is at his very best playing repressed characters - consider his heart-rending butler in The Remains of the Day. He is equally affecting in this moving interpretation of William Nicholson's play about the tragic love between English academic C S Lewis (Hopkins) and American poet, Joy Gresham (Debra Winger). Richard Attenborough is often criticised as a director for being over-the-top - a reputation not helped by Spitting Image's portrayal of him constantly in floods of tears. This time out, however, he is admirably restrained, treating the characters' burgeoning love and Joy Gresham's subsequent illness with commendable good taste. The result is a film for which only the most hard-hearted will not require a full box of Kleenex by their side (1993).

A Shot in the Dark (9.15pm C4)

Channel 4's short Peter Sellers season continues with what is generally reckoned to be the best Pink Panther sequel. Sellers plays Inspector Clouseau with his usual bumbling charm. In this one, he falls head over heels in love with the chief suspect (Elke Sommer) in a murder inquiry (1964).

NEW YEAR'S DAY

I'm All Right Jack (5.05pm C4)

This was the first time Peter Sellers had taken on an unlikeable character - but it did his career no harm. The Boulting brothers' sharp comedy about industrial action in which he plays a jobsworth shop steward was a huge commercial hit (1959).

ET the Extra-Terrestrial (6.10pm BBC1)

Over the 14 years since it was made, cynics have scoffed at the simplistic and sentimental philosophy behind Steven Spielberg's fantasy about the relationship between an alien a long way from home and a human boy (Henry Thomas). They have not managed to make a dent, however, in the still-powerful hold the film exerts on young people's imaginations (1982).

Die Hard (9pm ITV)

For all Bruce Willis's macho posturing in a grimy vest and walking over broken glass in bare feet, this is Alan Rickman's film. Sneering almost like a pantomime villain as international terrorist, Hans Gruber, in John McTiernan's rip-roaring actioner, Rickman set the current Hollywood trend for classically trained British baddies (1988).

Short Cuts (10.05pm BBC2)

Recalling his work on Nashville, Robert Altman once again proves his mastery of multiple storylines in this acclaimed film tracing interconnected lives among the amorphous mass of Los Angeles. Adapted from a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver and showing on its network television premiere, the sprawling three-hours-plus movie features, inter alia, Tim Robbins (who already starred in Altman's The Player), Andie MacDowell, Jack Lemmon and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Lauded or loathed, Altman has the priceless gift of attracting attention (1993).

Brubaker (11.25pm C4)

Robert Redford is on solid liberal territory as a warden who masquerades as a prisoner in order to get a feel for the harshness of the regime. Stuart Rosenberg's tough film boasts strong support from Yaphet Kotto and Jane Alexander (1980).

THUR 2 JAN

City Heat (9pm ITV)

You would not expect Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds to play anyone other than themselves in Richard Benjamin's period romp. It may be a predictable tale of a cop (Eastwood) and a private eye (Reynolds) reluctantly teaming up to investigate a murder, but it is enjoyable enough (1984).

Death and the Maiden (10.30pm C4)

Receiving its network premiere, Roman Polanski's version of the hard-hitting stage play by Ariel Dorfman shows its roots in the theatre in its claustrophobic intensity. It does, however, boast stand-out performances from the two leads. Sigourney Weaver plays Paulina, a woman who puts on trial in her front- room a man (Ben Kingsley) she believes tortured her when she was a political prisoner 15 years earlier. Stuart Wilson provides notable support as the husband caught in the middle of this storm. After many duds of late, this marks a return to form by Polanski, one of Europe's most gifted, but wayward, film-makers (1994).

Halloween (11.35pm BBC1)

This is the classic "jump-out-of-your-skin" horror film. A young Jamie Lee Curtis screams her way through the movie as a woman pursued by an escaped madman. Director John Carpenter, the king of the B movies, has rarely done better (1978).

Dr Strangelove (12.25am C4)

Peter Sellers revels in three different roles - a group captain, the US President and the deranged scientist of the title - in Stanley Kubrick's sublime satire about the arms race - subtitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". Top-notch Kubrick (1964).

FRI 3 JAN

Thelma and Louise (10.20pm BBC1)

The series of pastiche car ads bears witness to the iconic status of Ridley Scott's stunningly photographed road movie. It may have been criticised as just as macho as any male buddy-buddy bonding flick, but there is no denying its triumphant "Grrrl Power" potency. Susan Sarandon (below) and Geena Davis excel as the two women who don't want to take abuse from men anymore, hit back and hit the road. Brad Pitt offers light relief as passing love interest (1991).

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (12midn't BBC2)

The splendid title is just one of many good things about Pedro Almodovar's anarchic and characteristically stylish comedy. Carmen Maura, his regular leading lady, plays a woman whose life unravels when her good-for-nothing lover (Fernando Guillen) walks out on her (1988).

California Suite (12.25am BBC1)

Neil Simon adapts his stage play into a sophisticated film about four sets of visitors in a posh Beverly Hills hotel. Maggie Smith, who netted an Oscar for her troubles, and Michael Caine shine in Herbert Ross's ensemble comedy. It boasts a five-star supporting cast of Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, Walter Matthau, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby (1978).

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