Brad Bird on TCM. Brad Bird on TCM.

Brad Bird has taken on his own mission impossible.

The animator and filmmaker, whose directorial credits include The Iron Giant, both Incredibles movies, Ratatouille, and Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, will co-host the latest season of The Essentials on Turner Classic Movies (TCM). The role will see him pick 20 classic features and present them on the program, describing their place in his heart and film history. He admitted that he’s struggled with the task: “My biggest challenge was figuring out which films to choose, because for each great film that I mentioned there were ten I left out!”

Bird’s choices range chronologically from Buster Keaton’s silent comic masterpiece The General (1926) to Stanley Kubrick’s introspective sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). He has picked six musicals — no surprise, given that his next project belongs to the genre.

The list contains no animation. It’s a striking omission, since Bird has devoted the best part of his career to the medium. He explained this to Variety: “My top five animated films are all Disney, Walt-era films,” for which the rights were unavailable.

TCM has access to the libraries of Warner Bros., which operates the network, as well as MGM. The emphasis of The Essentials tends to land on live-action Hollywood movies. But TCM has aired animation in the past, including a 2012 broadcast presented by Cartoon Brew co-founder Jerry Beck.

Bird will present the season alongside host Ben Mankiewicz, who has been with the program since its relaunch last year. “Brad’s particular artistic sense works his way into every conversation we had together,” said Mankiewicz. “He sees so many stories through the eyes of an animator, providing a rare perspective on movies we think we know well, like Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove, and The Searchers. And his childlike enthusiasm for movies, animated and live action, is unparalleled and infectious.”

The previous season was co-hosted by Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay. Past guests include Drew Barrymore, Alec Baldwin, and David Letterman.

Bird’s season premieres on May 2 at 8 p.m. ET, and will air every Saturday night. Here are all his choices:

Bird’s selection of films for this season of The Essentials are:

  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – Co-directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s musical comedy about Hollywood stars adjusting to the coming of sound
  • Ace in the Hole (1951) – Kirk Douglas stars as a small-town reporter milking a local disaster to make it back into the big time
  • The General (1926) – Buster Keaton writes, stars and co-directs this silent film where a Confederate engineer fights to save his train and his girlfriend from the Union army
  • Casablanca (1942) – this classic, in which an American saloon owner in North Africa is drawn into World War II when his lost love turns up, has the distinction of being the most played film on TCM
  • The Red Shoes (1948) – Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of a young ballerina torn between her art and her romance with a young composer
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – the sweeping, epic story of T.E. Lawrence who enlists the Arabs for desert warfare in World War I. Brad Bird gains the distinction of being the only guest on TCM to talk about this film who also directed Peter O’Toole in a film (2007’s Ratatouille)
  • Gunga Din (1939) – one of two Cary Grant films featured in the Essentials, three British soldiers seek treasure during an uprising in India
  • A Matter of Life and Death (1947) – Another film from Powell and Pressburger in which an injured aviator argues in celestial court for the chance to go on living
  • A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – a typical day in the life of The Beatles is turned into a musical comedy
  • The Music Man (1962) – Robert Preston plays a con artist hawking musical instruments and band uniforms to small-town America
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) –Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy, where Peter Sellers plays three roles, including a mad United States General who orders an air strike against Russia
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941) – the first of two Essential films noir, hard-boiled detective Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) gets caught up in the murderous search for a priceless statue
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – Kubrick’s classic sci-fi epic about a mysterious monolith that seems to play a key role in human evolution
  • Ball of Fire (1941) – Howard Hawks directs a group of professors (led by Gary Cooper) who takes in a nightclub singer (Barbara Stanwyck) hiding from the law to protect her gangster boyfriend
  • City Lights (1931) – Charlie Chaplin writes, directs and stars in this silent film in which the Little Tramp tries to help a blind flower seller to see again
  • An American in Paris (1951) – Vincente Minnelli directs Gene Kelly as an American artist who finds love with Leslie Caron in Paris but almost loses it to conflicting loyalties
  • The Searchers (1956) – a John Ford and John Wayne Western in which a Native American-hating Civil War veteran tracks down the tribe that slaughtered his family and kidnapped his niece
  • North by Northwest (1959) – Alfred Hitchcock’s final film with Cary Grant, who plays an advertising man mistaken for a spy, triggering a deadly cross-country chase
  • Guys and Dolls (1955) – Frank Sinatra bets Marlon Brando that he can’t seduce missionary Jean Simmons in this musical comedy
  • Out of the Past (1947) – one of Robert Mitchum’s many films noir, in which he portrays a private eye who becomes the dupe of a homicidal moll

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