BEST HOLIDAY MOVIES

Miss JT Crankypants started this, so okay, my turn.   I admit to some holiday blues here.   

Why?   

– Probably all the staggering amounts of food, for one thing – always makes me nervous and irritable.

– People like Pari with her latkes and  JT with her Christmas cards, making me feel guilty and inadequate.   😉  There’s no one I want to poison – yet – but 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.   

– Another anxiety creator – that feeling of the year suddenly ending with so many things undone (and yeah, okay, a couple of things done that shouldn’t have been done, and no way to undo without becoming a Catholic).

– Some vague unresolved tax issues, undoubtedly. 

– And surely there’s more, 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 Christmas 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, Christmas was 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 a Christmas myth 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 Christmas, besides champagne, is Christmas movies (and okay, what I really mean is HOLIDAY movies, but when I say Christmas I say it as a total pagan, so just back off). 

Here are mine:

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

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 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 moment: Marjorie Reynolds trying to look contented with Bing Crosby while Fred is dancing up a storm with Virginia Dale.

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 Christmas, or the equivalent, to YOU?

25 thoughts on “BEST HOLIDAY MOVIES

  1. B.G. Ritts

    “Miracle on 34th Street” – a wonderful story, and I’ve always loved the part where ‘Santa’ sends customers to other stores.

    This is ninth on Amer. Film Institute’s list of the most inspiring films of all time (“It’s A Wonderful Life” is first).

    Reply
  2. billie

    We ALWAYS watch It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve, right before bed. It’s become one of our most favorite traditions.

    We also watch, during the weeks before and just after Christmas:

    Miracle on 34th Street

    Little Women (for some reason it feels holiday’ish to us)

    White Christmas with Bing Crosby

    You’ve Got Mail

    Sleepless in Seattle

    Rudolph

    Charlie Brown Christmas

    Last year we added Elf to the line-up for some comic relief. 🙂

    I know what you mean about music and Christmas, and singing in a group. When my son was small we used to go to Duke Chapel on for their group singing of the Messiah. It was magical.

    For a few years we went to the ballet – Nutcracker – and got the music fix that way.

    This year I really wanted to take us all to hear Transsiberian Orchestra – but I futzed around and didn’t get tickets in time.

    I have a collection of maybe 10 Christmas music CDs that I put on every year after Thanksgiving – and that adds to the festivity but doesn’t in any way fulfill that large group singing experience.

    billie

    Reply
  3. Alex Sokoloff

    B.G., you’re right – I haven’t seen Miracle on 34th in a while, so it should be even more great to revisit.

    And Bille, I agree about Little Women, and the Nutcracker ALWAYS does it for me. Hmm, where has that Baryshnikov version gotten itself to…?

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    “A Christmas Carol” — the Patrick Stewart version, which does great things with landscape and the funeral carriage in particular. It falls apart a little with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who looks like one of those nasty little red-eyed things that lived in the desert in “Star Wars;” I always pictured that ghost a little like the Ringwraiths in “Lord of the Rings.” But what’s Christmas without a little Dickens?

    Reply
  5. JT Ellison

    Alex, what a great post!

    I’m a Rudolph, Charlie Brown, Grinch girl, with It’s A Wonderful Life thrown in. What depresses me is the networks slip the old classic comics in on December 1st, I invariably miss then because Christmas isn’t on my radar, and then I’m grumpy. (Yes, I need to buy them on DVD.)

    But your line: I didn’t have to THINK about Christmas – I just FELT it…

    That’s it exactly. I can’t say it better. The older I get, the less I feel it. It takes a bit to create the spirit when there’s no cold, and no snow.

    Reply
  6. Donna

    Alex – nice to see Holiday on your list – that’s a film that definitely deserves to be better known. I’ll add my favourite Christmas film – THE BISHOP’S WIFE with Cary Grant and David Niven, plus CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT. And 2 films which always make me think of Christmas because they often show them over here – MARY POPPINS and THE GREAT ESCAPE.Donna

    Reply
  7. Dave White

    Today I was telling my roommates how i was thinking about watching the second greatest Christmas movie of all time.

    Die Hard 2

    The greatest movie? Die Hard

    3 and 4? National Lampoon’s and A Christmas Story in that order.

    Reply
  8. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Lisa, I always resist A CHRISTMAS CAROL for some reason, but as soon as I start into it, I’m enthralled. Love the darkness of it.

    Hey Donna! You’re totally right -I was just thinking that I need to see CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT again. And MARY POPPINS is just one of my all-time faves. I love the books (much darker and harsher) even more than the movie, have read them about a million times – but the movie is so wonderfully subversive and 60’s, for all its Technicolor, Disney sweetness.

    I know, JT. I’ve missed all the classic cartoons YET AGAIN this year. But somehow it feels like cheating to own them. Same with IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. I’ll have to get over that.

    Reply
  9. pari noskin taichert

    Christmas is always a weird time of year for me. This holiday is so darn ubiquitous — radio, television, newspapers, stores — oof.

    But, living in this culture, I’ve come to love certain Christmasy things: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my all-time favorites; I love the message of it.

    The music? I was in chorus for years and years and loved all of the carols — they were so joyous.

    But, my all-time favorite was a perverted little ditty called “The twelve days after Christmas.”

    It began, “On the first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight. And so, I chopped the pear tree down and burned it just for spite. And with a single cartridge, I shot that blasted partridge, my true love, my true love gave to me . . . “

    go to the link below for the full lyrics. They just get better.

    http://www.traditionalmusic.co.uk/folk-song-lyrics/Twelve_Days_After_Christmas.htm

    Reply
  10. Elaine Flinn

    Miracle on 34th Street & It’s A Wonderful Life for our family…and we even play Crosby’s Christmas album. I mean, who can resist hearing him do ‘White Christmas’?

    Happy Holidays!

    Reply
  11. Louise Ure

    My favorite holiday movie has to be the one about the little kid who wanted an air rifle. A Christmas Story? Was that the name? Oh, my, such a glorious description of unrequited want.

    And Donna, I love the notion of The Great Escape as holiday fare. I know every scene, every line, every change of chord in the soundtrack.

    Reply
  12. Karen

    I also love HOLIDAY INN but think the best line in it is actually when the agent is buying orchids, “loose, looking like they don’t care.”

    CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (the one with Barbara Stanwyck and not the one with Dian Cannon and Kris Kristofferson, dreadful!) is a yearly favorite.

    A CHRISTMAS STORY has been a family tradition since it came out.

    Reply
  13. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Oh, well, Pari, if we’re going to get into SONGS…!

    I love singing carols but I DO NOT want to hear them continuously on the radio and mall soundtrack.

    During the holidays I end up listening to harder rock stations than my usual in an effort to avoid the ubiquitous Christmas soundtrack. Less is more, people. But there are exceptions that really make me happy. “Santa Baby” always does it for me. Any old standard jazzed up to swingability by Tony or Frank or Dean or Bing – especially when they’re obviously tipsy enough to be making up the lyrics as they go along. “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” I don’t seem to get tired of, and also “My Favorite Things”, which has somehow become a Christmas classic – I’ve heard it about every third song this season.

    And I’m with Elaine on this one – I simply never get tired of Bing doing “White Christmas”.

    Reply
  14. billie

    My mind works in strange ways, and somehow all of the above has led me down the labyrinth to wanting to watch/gorge on Brideshead Revisited episodes tonight. With a pomegranate martini. 🙂

    Since I don’t have the DVDs OR the martini makings, it’s not on the agenda, sadly.

    Charlie Brown with a shot of Glenmorangie it will have to be.

    billie

    Reply
  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Billie, I think you’re on to something – the holidays just cry out for BBC. I was thinking more along the lines of Prime Suspect, though…

    I agree with JLW that “Pomegranate Martini” is a contradiction in terms. That would not preclude me from drinking one with you, however – whatever you want to call it, it sounds divine!

    Reply
  16. Guyot

    DW is right sort of…

    A CHRISTMAS STORY is one of the single greatest holiday movies ever.

    DIE HARD, and DIE HARD 2 not so much.

    But then Dave does spend his days around children.

    And lastly, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS is required viewing in our household, if for no other reason than Linus’s great monologue explainig what Christmas (or Kwanza, or Chanukah) is really all about.

    Reply
  17. billie

    Okay, after my trip to the grocery store, I need a shot of SOMEthing.

    I know what you mean about the contradiction in terms – my favorite martini is the classic version, with lots of olives. And yet I’ve succumbed to the vodka fancy drink thing, at least in my fantasy cravings.

    The pomegranate one, made with freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, really good vodka, and I *think* Cointreau, should probably be named The Goddess or something. That’s all part of the story I’m wrapping around it, anyway!

    This might be the next book assuming form – the pomegranate martini is taking on layers of… not sure what yet. 🙂

    billie

    Reply
  18. Mike MacLean

    A Christmas Story is hands down my favorite.

    Little known fact, the director, Bob Clark, also directed the Porky’s films.

    When I was a kid, Linus’s monologue seemed to take forever.

    Reply
  19. Jeanne Ketterer

    Capote’s Christmas Memory. I play it while doing bits and pieces around the house. We have it in black and white — there’s a color version, but b/w is better. Every season I watch over and over the classics and every sappy, cryintomyicecream Hallmark gooey Christmas movie. And fall for every gosh golly country music singer’s tough life before hitting the big time — saved especially for Christmas. Sniff.

    And I cannot tell you how much Christmas music we have (current favorite: Armstrong’s ‘Zat You, Santa?), the videos, old albums, tapes … they all get played year round. New this year: lights strung around indoor windows. Seriously bright home. Nearly every surface with some Christmas something on it. David’s in charge of the decorating, etc. — he loves everything about Christmas (yes, he even does the shopping). I give occasional direction.

    I do get excited over the Christmas stockings and ‘side’ gifts — the gift(s) accompanying the main gift. Gets very creative.

    Don’t always make it to Mass — semi-lapsed Catholic. Still squirm too much to last the midnight mass and I absolutely hate the greet thy neighbor stuff. I think I’ll try Elaine’s approach for ’07. I listen nearly every Sunday to gospel on WNCU and other stations, so I figure I’m covered.

    Jeanne

    Reply

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