Today in Movie History: December 16

It’s another big day for movies and we’ll start with one of the very biggest: Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean’s breathtaking epic about the Englishman who rallied a nation to his side during World War I, then tried to give them their independence in exchange. You could call it the greatest movie ever made and not be immediately disputed. It opened today in 1962.

Lawrence won the Oscar for Best Picture, as did the second film on today’s list, Rain Man. It doesn’t quite climb to the rarefied air of Lean, but it’s a fine film in and of itself, not only thanks to Barry Levinson’s keen direction and Dustin Hoffman’s iconic turn as the lead, but from Tom Cruise, whose callow, superficial weasel actually represents the film’s strongest dramatic arc. The movie opened today in 1988.

Then there’s Saturday Night Fever, which most people poo-poo as just another dancing movie. It’s dated, of course, but it has more to say than that, displaying the tough circumstances of the working class, and how hard it can be to break out of the cycle of poverty. And even if it was just another dancing movie… have you seen John Travolta dance? The movie opened today in 1977.

Broadcast News has dated rather badly too, but like Saturday Night Fever, it holds plenty of good things to make up for it. The gentle romantic dramedy earned a considerable amount of Oscar buzz (though no wins) as well as making a few points about the dissolution of the news media into fuzzy irrelevance that perhaps we should have listened to a little more keenly. This film opened today in 1987.

Even after all that, we still have some notables. Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons gave us the costume drama to end all costume dramas, as well as the best performance in Glenn Close’s storied career. (She lost to Jodie Foster at the Oscars, which was a tough call but possibly the right one.) It opened today in 1988.

If costume dramas are your thing, Gary Oldman also turned in an amazing performance this day in 1994, starring in the Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved. There’s also Ken Hughes’ madcap children’s film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang opened in 1968: featuring a Roald Dahl screenplay from an Ian Fleming novel that features Dick Van Dyke dressed as a wind-up toy. (Nothing weird here!) Finally, Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman plotted an escape from Devil’s Island in Papillon, which opened in 1973. Good day for Hoffman…