BBC Oxford film critic James Luxford looks forward to seeing six great movies from Hollywood director Billy Wilder at this year's Oxford Mail Film Festival

Six reasons why this year’s Oxford Mail Film Festival is the most exciting yet!

Now in its ninth year, the Oxford Mail Film Festival brings the city six of the best movies from a particular director, star, or film series.

This year’s festival concentrates on the work of one of Hollywood’s true directing greats – Billy Wilder. From May 3-8, both Jericho’s Phoenix Picturehouse and Cowley’s Ultimate Picture Palace will play host to six movies that stamped themselves into movie history and immortalised stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Barbara Stanwyck.

The UPP’s Becky Hallsmith is delighted with the line-up, commenting: “Hats off to the Oxford Mail for bringing Billy Wilder to The UPP and The Phoenix, the two cinemas in Oxford which people love for their alternative, diverse film programming.”

The Phoenix’s Martin Langley said: “Whether you’re a fan the noir elements of Double Indemnity (like me) or enjoy the timeless laugh out loud comedy of Some Like It Hot (also like me) there is something for every film fan.”

As well as bringing classic movies to Oxford, the festival also brings value – customers buying that day’s Mail can get 2-for-1 on any of the film in the festival.

SOME LIKE IT HOT- Saturday 3rd May, 6.15pm, Phoenix Picturehouse. 1959, 121 Mins. Starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe

The appeal of some films can fade over time, however this wonderful comedy remains as funny today as it was over 50 years ago. Curtis and Lemmon make the ultimate comedy duo, as two jazz musicians on the run from the mafia who dress as women and join an all-female band led by the enchanting Sugar (Marilyn Monroe). Rightly considered one of the greatest comedies ever, Wilder creates a riotous farce that is just a joy to watch thanks to a memorable script, perfectly timed performances and the best Cary Grant impression you’re ever likely to see!

THE APARTMENT- Sunday, May 4, 3pm, The Ultimate Picture Palace. 1960, 125 Mins. Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine.

Ten Oscar nominations and five wins (including Best Picture) should tell you everything you need to know about this classic from the early 60’s. Jack Lemmon stars as a frustrated office worker who attempts to curry favour with his employers by letting them use his apartment for their extramarital rendezvous.

Often overlooked when talking about the greats of American acting, Jack Lemmon’s performance as the downtrodden everyman inspired a generation of actors, most notably Kevin Spacey, while Shirley MacLaine is feisty and energetic at a time when actresses were rarely allowed to be either. Like a bittersweet fairy tale, by the time the now famous final line of the movie is uttered, I dare you not to let out a contented sigh.

SUNSET BOULEVARD – Monday, May 5, 12pm, Phoenix Picturehouse. 1950, 110 mins. Starring Gloria Swanson, William Holden.

“There’s nothing else – just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark…”

This line from yet another famous final speech typifies the tone of this tale of obsession and regret. William Holden plays a hard up screenwriter who becomes embroiled in the mad world of a former silent movie starlet (a deliciously demented Gloria Swanson), desperate for her big comeback. Intelligent, biting and at times unnerving, a film critic at the time described the film as “Hollywood at its worst, told by Hollywood at its best”. Even now, in a modern society obsessed with fame and celebrity, this story rings truer than ever. We’re ready for our close up…!

DOUBLE INDEMNITY - Tuesday, May 6, 6.45pm, The Ultimate Picture Palace. 1944, 107 Mins. Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson.

Open any book about Film Noir and it’s likely you won’t be turning too many pages before this film is mentioned. Few films have typified the genre as much as Wilder’s 1944 classic (inexplicably ignored at the Oscars), where Fred MacMurray’s insurance salesman is lured into a murder plot by Barbara Stanwyck’s seductive housewife, one of the most perfect movie ‘Femme Fatales’ who influenced many who came after her. Film Noir revels in the seedier side of life, and that’s exactly what you get here, as you find yourself rooting for the bad guys as they literally try to get away with murder. Filmmaking at its most mesmerising.

Becky Hallsmith: “(Wilder) didn’t make a bad film, but if I had to choose I’d say my favourites are ‘The Apartment’, simply because I love anything with Jack Lemmon in it, and Double Indemnity.”

THE FORTUNE COOKIE – Wednesday, May 7, 6.15pm, Phoenix Picturehouse. 1966, 125mins. Starring Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon.

How far a person is willing to go for money is the subject of this light comedy starring a pre-Odd Couple Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Telling the story of a TV cameraman (Lemmon) who is coaxed into faking an injury by his corrupt lawyer brother-in-law (Matthau) so that they can sue for reparations.

A morality tale elegantly played out by Wilder, there is a soft, moral heart at the centre that will win you over as much as the on-screen chemistry between Lemmon and Matthau, the first film in what would become one of Hollywood’s great double acts.

Stalag 17 – Thursday, May 8, 6.30pm, The Ultimate Picture Palace. 1952, 120mins. Starring William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger.

Considered alongside The Great Escape as one of the greatest prisoner-of-war films ever made, Sunset Boulevard’s William Holden plays a very different type of role in a movie typical of Wilder’s immense diversity. Taking place in a German POW camp, where the prisoners are informed of a German spy among their numbers and attempt to find out the mole before their next escape plan. Dark enough for you to become emotionally involved, but funny enough for you to be thoroughly entertained, Stalag 17 is littered with smart dialogue and a plot that will keep you guessing until the very end.