Holiday Movies You Haven’t Seen
We know. Elf. A Christmas Story. It’s a Wonderful Life. Love Actually. Home Alone. Miracle on 34th Street. Christmas Vacation. We love you. We get it. Don’t worry, we’ll make time for you. But what else?
It’s a season where everything that can go wrong does. You’re reminded of the importance of family, of the gravity of a single life, in the power of belief. We love more. We express more. Oh, yes, and we decorate more. We shop more, certainly, but all fashion and culinary taste go out the window. We wear abhorrent Christmas aprons and allow ourselves to drink 4 egg yolks and a cup of cream for a thimble full of rum. Just because it’s December, we ingest things we otherwise wouldn’t dream of eating. But above all else, the Christmas season is emboldening. We risk more. We leap. And nothing is more magical than the power of a holiday movie.
These aren’t all necessarily “holiday movies,” but they touch on the same themes and bring about those same feelings: of people wanting to be their best selves, of people moved by the spirit, people living deeply and boldly.
HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949) — Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, and Wendell Corey: Tra la la la triangle, love triangle. Can you love more than one person at once? Is the practical choice always the wrong one? Do we root against the “safe bet?” in films, in our own lives? You watch this film and you think about your own loves and the choices you’ve made. Plus, you’ll sob with happy tears. This is my favorite holiday movie.
THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER
James Stewart is a Budapest store clerk who finds himself feuding with his co-worker, Margaret Sullavan, only to unknowingly fall in love with her. Also known as the original You’ve Got Mail, a film which tips its hat, making direct reference to “The Shop Around the Corner.” To watch Jimmy Stewart in any film makes me relish the holidays. This is such a charmer, and I love to see the decisions made to remake this film. In You’ve Got Mail, they chose to have the main characters both already involved in other relationships to raise the stakes, to create more conflict.
AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (Netflix)
I used to assume that everyone had seen this film, as it’s by far one of my favorite. But, my God, what if you haven’t seen it? I’d feel personally responsible. You need to stop whatever you’re doing and get on this. The idea that two involved people fall in love with each other and want to make themselves worthy of the other… well, yes. On so many levels, yes. Life is an adventure, and you may not have asked for the situation, but you won’t let it pass you by without taking hold of it with both hands. Life isn’t always neat, and love is messy, but this film makes me believe, deeply, in love.
NOMINATED FOR 4 OSCARS: BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY; BEST COSTUME DESIGN; BEST MUSIC, ORIGINAL SONG;
BEST MUSIC, SCORING
“I’ve fallen in love. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people.” So good. Similar to An Affair to Remember in that both parties are otherwise involved, in Brief Encounter, they’re both married to others when they meet and fall in love. She has children. They both have tremendously kind and lovely spouses, too. Making the decisions all the harder. Which should win? Promises made to people who don’t suit you in the same way, or the choice of this inexplicable connection, the ruling hand of love? Another deeply moving film.
NOMINATED FOR 3 OSCARS: BEST WRITING, SCREENPLAY; BEST DIRECTOR; BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
REMEMBER THE NIGHT
“One of these days one of you boys is going to start one of these scenes differently and one of us girls is going to drop dead from surprise.” A shoplifter and her prosecutor fall in love, creating tensions in their family lives.
THE BISHOP’S WIFE
A bishop hoping for a new cathedral prays for help, and gets unexpected guidance in the form of Dudley, an angel (Cary Grant). Dudley sets out to prove that the bishop’s mission has redirected his focus from his family.
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT
Barbara Stanwyck (I so love her) plays an unmarried journalist who lies about her home life. When her boss asks to come over for Christmas, she and Dennis Morgan play pretend for the holiday in the 1945 classic. Cute.
At an inn which is only open on holidays, a crooner and a hoofer vie for the affections of a beautiful up-and-coming performer. (Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire) Actually, this one is not for me. I tried to like it, but didn’t.
WE’RE NO ANGELS
Three Devil’s Island escapees hide out in the home of a kindly merchant and repay his kindness by helping him and his family out of several crises. (Humphrey Bogart)
IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE: Don DeFore and Ann Harding star in this screwball comedy about a hobo and friends who move into a mansion while the owners are out of town for their Christmas holiday. Didn’t love this one. I guess I’m not a screwball.
MEET JOHN DOE: An opportunistic reporter tries saving her career by inventing a story about an anonymous man who wants to commit suicide over the state of modern society. With reader fervor growing to know more about John Doe,” she’s forced to produce a real man. (Frank Capra directs)
THE LION IN WINTER: King Henry II’s three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won’t commit to a choice. They and his wife variously plot to force him. (Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins)
TOKYO GODFATHERS: Three homeless people find a lost baby girl and start searching for her rightful parents on Christmas Day in Tokyo. Along the way, they must confront their own haunted pasts, and learn to face their futures. (Animated, English Subtitles)
MIDNIGHT CLEAR: ’Twas the night before Christmas in the Southwest, and for 5 strangers spread out across town, it’s the most depressing time of the year. As the night progresses, they randomly cross paths, and in unique and subtle ways, change each other’s lives forever.
Watch for it: when the waitress erases one from the board at the end of the scene. Love that detail. The last third of this film involves creating the ideal old-fashioned Christmas Carol town. I say no more.
LOVE THE COOPERS. “That feeling like you’ve landed in the wrong life. Everybody feels that way.” The trailers make this movie look like a total bomb. It’s overly done stylistically, with weird tactics like a narrator dog and people exploding and shattering. And Diane Keaton’s story line is lacking. But the military love story is so dreamy.
NOEL (Streaming on Netflix): Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, Penélope Cruz, Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Daniel Sunjata. What I liked about this film is that I didn’t know where it was going. Wait, what’s happening? I was trying to figure out what would happen next. It wasn’t an expected formula, which is probably what worked, and what didn’t work with this film. Such beautiful people in this film. “You saved me Rose. I was wondering where God was and then the next thing you know, there you are at the bedside of a complete stranger telling him you love him with such meaning. And then I knew God was there in that room, with you.”
THE HOLIDAY. I watch this movie almost weekly because I have a major sickness. I really am sick. I can’t get enough of this movie! “Iris, in the movies we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason you are behaving like the best friend.”
THE BLIND SIDE. I never, ever, tire of The Blind Side. I LOVE this movie! “Who would’ve thought we’d have a black son before we met a Democrat?”
These movies streaming on Netflix also remind me of Christmas:
COMING TO AMERICA ” The royal penis is clean, your Highness. ”
SPIES LIKE US
“You mean you don’t feel a certain degree of urgent pressure on the inner wall of your bladder, now, right at this moment? ”
“There are people who are having trouble making their miracle happen; there are people who don’t have enough to eat, there are people who are cold, you can go out and say hello to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and go to them and say ‘Here!’, you can make them a sandwich and say ‘oh by the way, here!’ ”
“Do you know what this family needs? A mute.” A cat burglar is forced to take a bickering, dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.
Okay, a lot of people think this movie is bad. I’m not sure why. A couple reunite years after the night they first met, fell in love, and separated, convinced that one day they’d end up together. I’ll admit that John Corbett’s character is so awful that he’s hard to watch. But the idea of this, the sweetness, the grand sweep of destiny. The snowfall and magic of New York. The gift giving. The stakes. I really enjoy it. Plus it makes me love that crowded restaurant.
BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (A reunion movie)
A piano player at a crossroads in his life returns home to his friends and their own problems with life and love. (Awesome cast, great lines, ice skating and Natalie Portman, and yeah, this movie is disturbing when you really think about it)
JUST FRIENDS (Now streaming on Netflix)
Ryan Reynolds just has great delivery all around. Also loved him in THE PROPOSAL.
“Oh, Joe, your one beauty!”
YOU’VE GOT MAIL
“Meanwhile, I’m putting up more twinkle lights.”
SERENDIPITY (Now streaming on Netflix)
“No, no, no, no, please, on the other side of the counter! You cannot come back here, this is for authorized personnel only, please stay on your side of the counter, thank you very much!”
“ONE DREIDEL song! You sang ONE dreidel song!”
This film more makes me think of winter than the holidays, but it’s still all about family and destiny, and there’s the whole makeover deep red lipstick scene, too. “Do you love him Loretta?”
“Good. When you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can.”