Best Holiday Movies

by Alexandra Sokoloff

Everyone’s shopping, right? 

Okay, I’m a little behind on the post.  There are reasons, but also, I admit to some holiday blues here.   

The fact is that I am JUST NOT a homebody, so any holiday that revolves around decorating, baking, shopping, and obligatory writing of greeting cards is bound to give me the hives.  My friends know I love them.  I hope.  They know I love them enough not to cook for them, anyway.  

I also hate the feeling of HAVING to participate in all this commercialism.   It’s become so forced and desperate.    I heard Donovan’s “I Don’t Like Christmas Anymore (cause they push it on the TV and they push it in the stores…)”  on the radio the other day (because of course, the Christmas music started the day after Halloween) and felt a savage pleasure in it.   

And surely there’s more unnamed angst, deeply buried, requiring years of expensive therapy to unearth.

Truthfully, I grew up with not much religion.  At all.   My parents, both of the scientific mind (despite some pretty typical religious training for their generation) are two of the most agnostic people you are ever likely to meet.   My siblings and I were not forced to any particular church as children; instead, our parents encouraged religious promiscuity – meaning, whatever friend’s house was the slumber party for the weekend, we’d end up at that friend’s house of worship in the morning, whatever that was.   Or – not.

Little did our parents know how broadly we would apply that theory…

Well, never mind that.

I was really a lot better about the holidays when I had singing to do.  When I was in middle school, through college and those undefined and fucked up but kinda great years after college, the holidays were all about choir rehearsals and holiday performances, the obligatory but ecstatic gang-bang Messiah, and all that endless caroling, including impromptu a cappella breakouts into song on San Francisco cable cars, magical!!! I didn’t have to THINK about Christmas – I just FELT it, in the music.

Nowadays, I don’t have any formal singing to do, I don’t have any children to create holiday myths for, and there’s just too damn much chocolate around, leering and beckoning.  (“Everyone’s wearing sweaters this time of year anyway… no one’s going to notice…”  Oh yeah, right.)

Luckily, the antidote is clear.  The best thing about the holidays besides champagne: HOLIDAY movies.  TCM is already pulling out the stops.  So let’s compare.  Here are mine:

HOLIDAY INN

The ultimate escapist fantasy.    Yes, let me make a living doing 12 live shows a year, simultaneously keeping two men at my beck and call, one who sings, one who dances.   Where do I sign?    Best line:   “But I do love you, Jim.  I love everybody.”   Best song:   “Be Careful, It’s My Heart”.   Best dance – Fred and the firecrackers.   Best cat-fight moment: Marjorie Reynolds trying to look contented with Bing Crosby while Fred is dancing up a storm with Virginia Dale.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

A non-escapist fantasy that puts you through the emotional wringer only to emerge the feel-good – that’s, feel GOOD – film of all time.

Used to show it to my gang kids in prison school – it remains one of the all-time highlights of my life to see those kids start out whining that I was showing them a black and white film and then watch them fall under this movie’s spell.   Oh man, did they GET it.

HOLIDAY

George Cukor directing a Donald Ogden Stewart & Sidney Buchman adaptation of a Philip Barry play starring Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.   Anything else you need to know?

PHILADELPHIA STORY

See above, plus Jimmy Stewart, and the brilliant and under-known Ruth Hussey  (“Oh, I just photograph well.”) and Virginia Weidler as the weirdest little sister on the planet (“I did it.  I did it ALL.”)   Not a holiday movie, per se, but if you’re looking for cheer…

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER

Best Christmas musical soundtrack there is – one great song after another – only the whole thing makes me cry so hard I generally end up avoiding it.

FAWLTY TOWERS

BBC series written by and starring John Cleese and Connie Booth, with Cleese as the most incompetent innkeeper in the history of innkeeping.  The entire series is genius, every single episode – not exactly holiday themed, either, but guaranteed healer of depression and all other ills.   Be prepared to laugh until you’re sick.

ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS

My brother turned the fam onto AB FAB and now it just wouldn’t be a holiday without Patsy and Eddy and Saffy.   Sin is in, sweetie.

GODSPELL and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR

Okay, so I’m not technically a Christian or anything, but I can see God in those two shows.

Hah!  I’m feeling better already!

So give.   What movies mean the holidays to YOU?

 – Alex

 

20 thoughts on “Best Holiday Movies

  1. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    You kind of nailed my favorites. I'm a big fan of Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar, especially. I used to sing all those low parts by that Roman priest in black. Great music.

  2. Pari Noskin

    Um, I don't know . . . you got several of my favs . . . but I'm thinking this year, especially given my life situation, that Eddie Izzard is going to become a tradition. Both GLORIOUS and DRESSED TO KILL have brought me hours of laughter.

  3. David Corbett

    I found myself charmed by PIECES OF APRIL far more than I expected to be. It's a Thanksgiving story, but ti can stretch out over the whole holiday season if need be. Oliver Platt and Patricia Clarkson are predictably wonderful, but Katie Holmes delivers touchingly, as does Derek Luke.

    And, not to beat a dead horse, but BELLMAN & TRUE takes place during Christmas, if you want a holiday-themed crime film. (A friend in the UK advised me today you can find a DVD copy over there "cheap as chips.")

  4. Gayle Carline

    They're not movies, but "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "A Charlie Brown Christmas" are tops on my list. After that comes the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol" – love the scene where he wakes up Christmas morning and acts looney as a toon. Also "The Shop Around the Corner" – cute story with a wonderful cast.

  5. Alexandra Sokoloff

    David, you're right – I don't know if I'd call it a classic, but Pieces of April is a really good film. Bellman & True is a possibility here, tonight, if we can find it. The mood is so dark we might end up with LA Confidential (also starts on Christmas, if you want to get technical…)

  6. Stacy McKitrick

    Christmas isn't complete unless I watch "While You Were Sleeping." While I'm a sap for the love story, it makes me want to have a family just like that one! I crack up every time I watch it, and I watch it every year.

    I also love "It's a Wonderful Life," but getting the family to watch it with me is tough. Maybe I should just force them. I mean, how can you NOT love that movie?

  7. KDJames

    Yeah, yeah, all the above. But if you have kids who've gone through the teenage years, no Christmas is complete (according to them) if you don't force your mom (that would be me) to watch the South Park episode of Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. I have deliberately lost track of how many times my kids have made me watch that stupid thing. And honestly? The hilarious irreverent commentary from the kids has become one of the best parts of the holiday.

    I get my revenge by making them watch A Christmas Story (and WHY is that not on your list, Alex?) — it lends authority to all the times I've told them they couldn't do something because, "You'll shoot your eye out."

  8. Fran

    I'm a "White Christmas" and "Love, Actually" kind of gal, and I have a serious warm spot for Albert Finney's musical version of "Christmas Carol". Hmm, I'm seeing a theme here — it's the music!

    And "Die Hard". Because. . .yeah.

    Love the idea of Eddie Izzard for the holidays, Pari! That may have to become a new tradition!

  9. Paula

    Not a christmas movie…..but a feel good movie, I know hard to believe "The Rose Tattoo"
    it has won awards and Anna won for best actress. Burt wonderful too

  10. Rebecca Bradley

    I am not a Christmas fan at all. The pressure that comes with it and the expectations of everyone involved just makes me irritable. It's only one day and people behave as though it's the only day we have in a year.

    I'm not sure what I'd say my favourite film is but I do like to sit down and quietly watch them with my little man.

  11. Sarah W

    *We're no Angels* with Bogie, Aldo Ray (oh, yum), and Peter Ustinov (double yum) is my all-time favorite Christmas movie, although Miracle on 34th Street is a close second.

    But the whole family loves the Grinch (or at least Max the cold-nosed reindog).

  12. Susan Shea

    Ab Fab – Jennifer Saunders, Joanne Lumley, Julia Sawalha and Jane Horricks – I mean, who says women can't do great comedy, or at least women whose first names begin with "J"?! Funny, sarcastic, nothing redeeming about the show – the best. Every once in a while, I see one or more of them in a film or British TV show and they never fail to have me LOL. Thanks for reminding me it's time to pull Ab Fab back into rotation.

  13. Zoë Sharp

    I'm with Dusty – 'Die Hard' is always a favourite. Plus other old leave-your-brain-behind favourites like 'Under Seige' and 'True Lies'. We usually watch an animated movie, too. Just seen 'How To Train Your Dragon' and know that's going to become a favourite.

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