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?