Not Your Average Christmas Movies

If it’s Christmas you celebrate, you probably have your favorite books, movies, or CDs that you pull out every December.  At the old Quibbling homestead there’s a record of the Chipmunk’s “Christmas Don’t Be Late” just waiting to hit the turnstile… if anyone could find it.  While we all have our favorites, though, one can start to feel overexposed to the Christmas media standards.  If you’d like to sit down by the roaring fire with your cup of wassail and put on a flick that isn’t It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol (though Relatively Entertaining loves both) then this is the post for you.

These are movies which, though not exactly in the Christmas canon (and that’s canon with a small ‘c’, thus not the Trans Siberian Orchestra song), but have a touch of that spirit.  While they’re good all year long, now’s the time when we especially feel like renting them or pulling them off the shelves. And we think you might too.

So in case instead of last minute shopping, you’re looking for some last minute viewing, here you go…

While You Were Sleeping (1995) – A Quibbling Family Favorite, this gem of a romantic comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman has some of the most believable, memorable family scenes ever put on film – including an unforgettable Christmas dinner conversation.  Taking place over the week from Christmas to New Year’s, this one is guaranteed to warm the heart.  From “leaning” to love, from Joe Junior to Caesar Romero, this is one for the ages.

Die Hard (1988) – What, you don’t think Die Hard when you think Christmas movies?  It has everything Christmas is all about…  terrorists, explosions, annoying reporters, mayhem, and a Christmas miracle, courtesy of the F…B…I.  Seriously, though, set at the Christmas party at his estranged wife’s company, Bruce Willis holds the terrorists at bay, bares his soul to Urkel’s would-be father-in-law, reconnects with his wife, saves the day from Professor Snape and company, and drives away with the Mrs. to ‘Let It Snow’.  Can’t be beat!

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942): A famous writer (Monty Wooly) gives a Christmas lecture to a small-town literary society, has a fall, and is forced to convalesce in the home of a society matron.  On paper Wooly’s  a charmer, but over the long haul he’s a meddling tyrant, and he turns this middle class Midwestern family upside down – all while receiving bizarre Christmas presents from friends around the globe.  Bonus points for Bette Davis as his long-suffering assistant (C had this role in a high school production!) and Jimmy Durante as, essentially, himself.

Beauty & the Beast (1991) – One of the loveliest things about this absolutely perfect movie (don’t bother to argue, it is) is the way the seasons are incorporated into the story.  We see fall arrive as Belle sings in the fields; autumn brings her father to the Beast’s castle, and their relationship warms in winter and blossoms into spring.  We don’t get Christmas specifically, but there’s winter gift giving and snowball fights and a developing tenderness that turns winter’s chill into joy, and what could be more Christmassy than that emotional thawing?

Shop Around the Corner (1940) – This film and its two remakes (see below) all have lovely Christmas scenes in them, and more than that, exude a warmth of spirit which is just right in a chilly time of year.  And it may be more resonant than ever in these difficult financial times.  While Jimmy Stewart’s love life is central to the plot, the tale of store owner Frank Morgan’s private tragedy and how his workers band together to salvage Christmas for him makes this extra-good seasonal fare.

In The Good Old Summertime (1949) – A remake of The Shop Around the Corner set in a Chicago music shop instead of a Budapest leather goods store, this film starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson shakes off the old movie’s dark undertones and replaces them with a whole lot of song and dance.  A cute confection.  And despite the title, you do get Garland singing “Merry Christmas.”

You’ve Got Mail (1998) – A more thoughtful remake, this film puts the love story front and center and develops a meaningful and charming online romance between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks’s characters, years before eHarmony and Match.com helped internet dating lose its stigma (supposedly).  It begins in fall and ends in spring, but has some sweet Christmas moments in the middle.  There’s something inherently lovable about people who sing Christmas carols around a piano, whatever their voices sound like.

Love Actually (2003) – This one is really a Christmas movie, open and unashamed, but it’s not always acknowledged as such. Some of the intermingled plot lines are funny, some romantic, some outrageous, and some bittersweet. I don’t like all of them, but the great ones are, well, great, and Emma Thompson’s acting will knock your socks off.  (Hugh Grant’s dancing might knock you out of your chair laughing!)  This, together with White Christmas, provides the backdrop to E’s yearly Christmas Eve present wrap-a-thon, and never fails with its joy and exuberance.

Anastasia (1997) – Like Beauty & the Beast, this animated film isn’t so much Christmassy as wintery.  It is, after all, Russia!  Featuring the voice talents of John Cusack, Meg Ryan, Kelsey Grammar, and Hank Azaria, this spectacular and history-defying tale of the lost Grand Duchess has a good story, a great sense of humor, top-notch music and a lot of snow.

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) – It’s not just a rollicking musical about the World’s Fair filled with glorious frocks and adorable moments.  Judy Garland (devastated by the thought that this will be her last Christmas in her beloved St. Louis) sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” with tears in her eyes; the song has a melancholy undercurrent that suits the scene beautifully.  Watch it, and listen seriously to the words.   You’ll be glad you did.

Babe (1995) – This endearing and uplifting film is well worth watching on its own, and was worth writer George Miller bartering with Kevin Costner (who ripped off Miller’s Mad Max when he made 1995’s Waterworld) to secure the financing.  However, it needed three words, and three words only (shouted by a duck, no less) to sum up the connection between this adorable pig’s tale and the festal season: “CHRISTMAS MEANS CARNAGE!”

Little Women (1994) – E adores this story, and the Christmas scenes are at the heart of it.  The plays the sisters put on, the way they scrimp and save to treat each other and then give away their accumulated bounty to sick neighbors, the camaraderie…  Why didn’t we ever put on a pantomime for Christmas, guys?  I’ve always wished we would.

The Holiday (2006) – Two heartsick women agree to a house swap for the holidays, and are able to find new life in luxe accommodations.  We’re not as fond of the Cameron Diaz-Jude Law plot line (although the movie trailer voice-overs are outstanding) (C: and the cow!) but Kate Winslet and Jack Black are beyond charming.  You have to watch it for the scene at his keyboard alone.  And the one in the video store!  The movie takes us from Hanukkah to Christmas to New Year, so you’ve got all bases covered.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993) –  On Christmas Eve, a newly-engaged reporter hears a lonely widower tricked into having a heart-to-heart with a facile radio psychologist, and she falls in love with him, or the idea that someone out there could really be that perfectly in tune with her.  They barely meet, but it’s so romantic — chock that up to the powerful chemistry of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and to the amazing supporting cast (Rob Reiner, Rita Wilson, Victor Garber, Bill Pullman, David Hyde Pierce…) and soundtrack. “You don’t want to be in love, you want to be in love in a movie,” Rosie O’Donnell observes. Don’t we all?

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3 comments on “Not Your Average Christmas Movies

  1. thepresidentrix says:

    1. THE HORN. THE HORN. IT SOUNDS SO FORLOOORN.

    2. I think it happened when my baby sister referred to mom as ‘Marmee’ in one of her Christmas shopping emails, but I went home this year with my brain all tickled by Little Women Christmas fantasies. ‘I just want us all to wear smocks and eat popovers and go skating and make up our own plays where we call each other Rodrigo and have to wear fake mustachios,’ I tried to explain. (Is that so much to ask?) The idea didn’t so much catch on, but it was too late to stop me from packing all my most psuedo-Victorian clothes for the trip, and my sister and I did have one very brief and amusing conversation in the Portland airport, during which we tried to figure out which character from Little Women corresponds to each one of us and had to agree very rapidly that none of them do, at all. (‘I could be Beth,’ I said, ‘if I weren’t SO vulgar.’)

    3. My sister found occasion to shout ‘Christmas means carnage!’ so many times this year. Particularly because my aunt aquired an honest-to-goodness turducken for her Christmas Eve buffet.

    4. We watched Anastasia my first night at home! I dunno why, but I had been dying to see it, and my mom still keeps our old VHS. Later, my sisters and I accidentally discovered the fun of singing the three or four part group numbers from Anastasia, but all doing Kelsey Grammar’s accent. All Vlad, all the time! (Not altogether unlike our inside joke for Phantom of the Opera, ‘Flat Raoul,’ where we do the five part harmonies, but sing all of Raoul’s lines off-key…) I wish I had pushed to see Beauty and the Beast, too, while I was there. It IS so perfect, one of my very favorite movies, ever, but I don’t own a copy, because I don’t know how you’re supposed to acquire the classic version anymore…

    5. My sisters wanted to watch Sleepless in Seattle the night we made our Christmas pies – because I was peeling the apples in long strips. I’ll admit that Sleepless in Seattle has never been a favorite of mine for romance, but I do love the ‘harses, harses, harses’ and the scene where Tom Hanks and Victor Garber weep their way through a recap of The Dirty Dozen.

    6. We get in trouble for reciting the family dinner scenes from While You Were Sleeping under our breath at actual family dinners. (‘These mashed potatoes are so creamy…’)

    Clearly my family and yours spend Christmas in very similar headspaces. (And of course I thought of you guys on annual Muppet Christmas Carol night!)

    • C says:

      YAY, you’re back! Much were you missed.

      I don’t really relate to any of the Little Women either. Jo is the closest, of course, with the whole would-be-writer thing… but somehow… meh. And as lovely as their family adventures are, I was always the selfish little brute who hated that they gave their Christmas meal away, and wouldn’t let Amy keep one orange. Really? Giving’s only giving if you give away EVERYTHING, and leave yourself nothing to enjoy but the sensation of your own merit?

      (Sorry. I have a pretty high tolerance for virtue, but the Little Women surpass it.)

      Turducken??!? Really? I didn’t know people really ate them.

      I love the idea of the all-Vlad singalong. My family, however, is much more likely to break into the Bartok accent – or as my bro-in-law has dubbed it, “Bartalking.” I do so love that movie! Still listen to the score sometimes.

      Sleepless in Seattle is an old fave of mine, but the Dirty Dozen scene is definitely the best!

      And it is clearly a matter of FAMILY TWINNAGE that you all quote While You Were Sleeping around the dinner table because we totally do too! Anytime we start chattering at cross-purposes someone is bound to toss in “Caesar Romero was tall.” (I found out that my roommate’s family quotes that scene to each other too, and it was an Instant Bond.)

      Yay Muppet Christmas Carol!

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