Eat, Drink, Blog / Gypsy's Musings

The Yule Awakens: 15 Holiday Movie (or TV) Treats to Feast Upon

So, I was going to write about The Force Awakens this week (in case you haven’t noticed, I am – per my usual – getting an early start on the New Year’s resolutions; I didn’t want to jump the gun with this announcement, but my hope is to publish every Sunday or once per week on my oft-forgotten eponymous blog). I am fielding a lot of questions about the movie (as is everyone, I suspect), and I do plan to write more on this in a future post as I have many opinions about both the movie and the franchise.

For now, however, it’s that time of the year when family and friends or no one at all is hanging around, decking the halls or just drowning in their “Christmas cheer.” There are a plethora of films and television shows you can watch either to lift you from the doldrums stemming from the nonsense your relatives spew at dinner or to make you feel cheery and warm or possibly to get your tears flowing. A note on “Christmas”: The obvious messiah moniker aside, Christmas is a pagan-based holiday. Jesus was born in the spring (if you believe that kind of thing), so these movies are more secular than sacred (in fact, the most “Christian” of the bunch is a beloved holiday classic with a score that transcends the ages… are ya guessing yet?), and many of them “spoil” the Santa story altogether. As everyone loves (irony) a good listicle, these are the 15 films and television shows I recommend for your holiday viewing pleasure, along with potential places to find them airing this week (not comprehensive; if I find it once I’ll note this, but it may also be airing elsewhere, including Hulu, which I don’t have). With apologies and thanks to those whose art I’ve borrowed and credited below and not responsible if they’ve copied something illegally. I’ve listed them more or less from my least to most favorite, and I welcome your input or additions in the comments.

15. Holiday Inn

Did you know that the song “White Christmas” was actually written for this Bing Crosby film and not the cheesy and over-the-top eponymous film that came out 12 years later? Ranked 15th here only because it’s not technically-speaking a Christmas movie, Holiday Inn is the vastly superior film. Don’t believe me? It has a 100% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes (the film White Christmas scores an average 76% fresh). And if you must watch the latter film, then I insist a large tonic of melancholic irony to wash it down: A Very Murray Christmas currently running on Netflix offers a brilliant mocking send up of that cheesy Christmas sing-along. [Available Video On Demand (VOD) – $3]

14. Die Hard

Photo courtesy of http://www.bloke.ie.

Photo courtesy of http://www.bloke.ie.

Also not technically a Christmas movie (just an action flick that takes place at Christmas), Die Hard launched Bruce Willis’ movie career and was the best filmatic use of Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony ever! Not only did you kinda want to root for the bad guy (Alan Rickman brought delightful menace to the part, who as written in the book on which the movie is based was a pacifist intent on not killing anyone), this movie offered up the meme-worthy “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker.” [Currently running on Encore on Demand – free to subscribers]

13. The Santa Clause

SantaClause

If you want a new spin on the classic Santa fable, this movie serves it up after horrifically bumping off old St. Nick in a late night Christmas Eve accident. Tim Allen is not one of my favorite actors, but this is a fun family movie if you’re okay with the Santa-spoiler and, you know, murder. [Airs ABC Family 12/21 – check local listing time, evening]

12. A Christmas Story

christmas-story-leg-lamp

I don’t know why, but I have very mixed feelings about little Ralphie and his friends. Maybe it was the trauma of growing up in Indiana, but I have never appreciated the humor of this film the way others in my birth family have. That said, the lamp leg “major award” is one for the ages. Not to mention Ralphie’s FUUUDDDGGGE. [Airs 12/24 on TNT – check local listing time, evening]

11. Home Alone

Was there ever a kid actor cuter than Macaulay Culkin? In this John Hughes-Chris Columbus classic, the impish blond channels every kid’s worst nightmare when he’s “forgotten” at Christmas and has to fend for himself. Trivia: The iconic Edvard Munchian scream face was improvised by Culkin. The cameo by Robert Blossoms as the scary guy next door adds a gravitas to an otherwise slapstick film. And if you want to see just how weird Culkin finally became, well, at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humor (see video)! [Currently running on HBO on Demand – free to subscribers]

10. The Year Without a Santa Claus

Three words: The Miser Brothers. Oh, and it’s a precursor to Climate Change issues! And it will spoil the Santa mystery for your kids, assuming they still believe. But you can teach them the art that was claymation before digital animation came to make it all so seamless and easy. And THE. MISER. BROTHERS. [Airs 12/21 on The Disney Channel – check local listing time, evening]

9. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

How-the-Grinch-Stole-Christmas

Photo courtesy of http://www.retroland.com.

Boris Karloff’s voice over narration (not to mention that song!) makes this a true Christmas classic. And when every Who down in Whoville, the tall and the small, start singing without any presents at all, well I defy your heart not to grow two sizes and burst with joy. Plus, Max as a reindeer. [Available for purchase on Amazon Prime for $8, includes original Horton Hears a Who – it’s a Who double feature!]

8. A Christmas Carol (1951)

Speaking of grinches: No holiday viewing list would be complete without at least one version of Dickens’ holiday classic of soullessness, despair, ghosts and redemption. Reminding all of us that there’s still time to become better versions of ourselves, the 1951 film starring Alastair Sim is arguably the best. If your kids are new to the story, you could go for George C. Scott’s 1984 Scrooge or the modern Jim Carrey motion capture version that almost—ALMOST—makes up for his horrific version of the other Grinch. [Airs Christmas Eve on FX – check local listing time, evening, or watch the full film on YouTube above]

7. The Gathering

Chances are you’ve never seen this film. It was a post-Vietnam made-for-television movie starring Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton as an estranged couple brought back together (no spoiler, you find out in the first minute) by the husband’s imminent death. He wants to reconnect with the kids and family he left for no good reason he can remember. It’s all about how the holidays can bring together the dysfunctional brood (in both senses of that word). Maybe you don’t ever forget, but The Gathering reminds us of the power of forgiveness. It’s now available for the first time on Amazon. [DVD is about $5 or you can download from Prime for $8; do yourself a favor and fast-forward through the spoiler-riddled previews of the show to come (about one minute in)]

6. The Family Stone

About another dysfunctional family that gathers for the holidays, The Family Stone doesn’t land on a lot of people’s “best of” lists, but I think this movie more than any other shows just how hard it can be to transition into a “new” family that comes with pair-bonding. And in a rare twist, there’s some not-creepy admitting your issues and finding true love that feels authentic and real. I totally believe this family is a family, and Diane Keaton has never been better, finally using that grating personality she often exhibits in films to present a thoroughly flawed and loving matriarch. And speaking of never better, the always-annoying Sarah Jessica Parker plays the super-annoying Meredith who just cannot get along with her prospective in laws but who gets an arc that totally makes sense for those who have repressed their true nature for far too long. [Airs Christmas Eve on Ion Television – check local listing time, evening]

5. A Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

NatalieWood

Before Macaulay Culkin there was Natalie Wood as the most precious tyke ever to hold down a movie. While little Susan never had to take on hapless burglars, she did bring Kris Kringle down a peg or two, all while remaining on his “nice” list despite not believing in Santa Claus. This is also a very feminist movie for the time: The mother played by Maureen O’Hara is a divorcee who isn’t condemned and also a great single mother to her daughter. Her speech about faith even (arguably) passes the Bechdel Test. Plus this film tackles the whole commercialism of Christmas way ahead of its time. If you struggle emotionally at the holidays, by the end you’ll be echoing Natalie Wood’s memorable line (one of many): “I believe, I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” And the twist ending will convince your kids (or inner child) that, yes, there is a Santa Claus. [Available via Amazon Prime for $3 rental]

4. Elf

I’ll admit it: Not a huge Will Farrell fan. But this film takes the Scrooge tale, turns it on its head, and peppers with an amazing supporting cast that will make even the least of his fans squeal with joy. And, let’s face it: Before he was (even before he was The Station Agent), Peter Dinklage was an angry elf! That politically incorrect scene had me in stitches, and a very blonde Zooey Deschanel singing Christmas Carols at the end made me a fan of hers for life. There’s not a weak actor in the entire cast. [Airs tonight, 12/20, on ABC Family, but worth buying if you missed it – check local listing time]

3. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Courtesy of ABC.com.

Courtesy of ABC.com.

As noted above, I view Christmas as a mainly secular holiday, but A Charlie Brown Christmas is among the more religious of tales. When Linus quotes scripture, maybe non-Christians are offended, but as an agnostic, I’m not. Mainly because it’s a beautiful way of distilling what Christmas truly means. And if you are offended by the religiosity of this cartoon classic, you could just put on the CD of one of the best scores of all time written by the great Vince Guaraldi. [Available via Amazon Prime for $7 purchase]

2. It’s a Wonderful Life

Like many timeless classics, It’s a Wonderful Life wasn’t well received when it first came out. The James Stewart-Frank Capra weepie was considered “too sentimental.” Talk about your, “Bah! Humbug!” Despite knowing every frame, I literally cannot watch this movie without crying multiple times (first when George begs Mr. Gower to stop hurting his ear and last when he opens that damn book with the inscription from Clarence). A truly great film for those who think their lives aren’t worth a lot and for those who realize they are. [Airs this afternoon, 12/20, on USA, but well worth buying if you missed it – check local listing time]

1. Love Actually

YouArePerfect

Yeah, I know. This is a controversial choice for #1, but you know what??? Let’s just say I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes! If you have lost or longed for love, don’t think too hard and just go along for the ride. Because if you cannot relate to anything in this movie (and, yes, I’ve read a great number of essays on the sexism, etc.), then you are no friend of mine and you don’t get anything dipped in yogurt and covered in chocolate buttons from my table! Because if you don’t love the ensemble cast (Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor before they were famous American actors!) and you cannot see the fake heartbreak that would become all-too-real in Liam Neeson’s nuanced stepdad role (not to mention Emma Thompson’s courtesy of one Alan Rickman, whom you’d like to tie up in Christmas lights and toss from the top of Nakatomi Plaza), then your heart is gone and I just cannot help you. Nor can Bill Nighy make you realize that love is all around, even if Christmas is not. A hard-R is deserved; not one for the kiddies. That said, this is the one my family watches on Christmas Eve. [Perpetually runs on Netflix, because they know. They know!]

Bonus track: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Because sometimes Santa doesn’t bring us what we want for Christmas. Or, you know, we’ve been forgotten like so many Misfit Toys (tell me, does BingBong exist as a deity on that little island?). And because maybe you needed a substitute for one of the above films that doesn’t bring you Christmas cheer. The seasonal special already aired for the year and is impossible to find on digital (although you can watch on YouTube, above). You can buy the DVD (50th Anniversary special) on various outlets.

In closing, whatever you celebrate—from the recent Hanukkah to Tuesday’s solstice through this weekend and on to New Year’s Day—or even if you celebrate nothing at all, I wish you peace and something to enjoy during this holiday season, be it a program from my listicle or something that can only be found in a galaxy, far far away.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

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