Must See Holiday Movies
Tis the season to watch movies with your family! We ask our PHS columnists for their favorite #mustsee Holiday Movie recommendations. Did your fav make the list?
Quite apart from all my obvious #mustsee Christmas movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, Polar Express, etc… I have two favourites that tend to slip under the radar at this time of year, but I can highly recommend if you are looking for something 1) heartwarming or 2) hilarious to watch at this time of year.
So 1) the Heartwarming option is a lesser known B-movie from the 1940s featuring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh called A Holiday Affair. She’s a widow with a very cute little boy, who works as a comparison shopper and who buys a train set from Robert Mitchum’s toy department employee a few days before Christmas. The thing about Comparison Shoppers is that they then take the item back the next day after it’s been examined by the rival store. The only problem is her little boy desperately wants that train for Christmas and being cute and sweet he peaks under her bed finds the train and thinks she’s gotten it for him for Christmas. But of course she hasn’t. Then, when she takes it back the next day, Mitch knows she’s a comparison shopper and is going to tell on her which will lose her her job, but she tells him about her little boy, and so – being a soft-hearted guy beneath his cool, sexy outer shell, he gives her the refund and loses his job instead! Anyway one thing leads to another in this delicious little Christmas romance full of feel-good vibes, romance and also a lot of humour and they do eventually end up together (and her son gets his trainset). But really, the very best thing about this movie is that everyone, every single person in it, is so good-hearted, even the boyfriend Janet has to jilt for Mitch! If it’s on a cable channel near you watch it, you will not regret it, because those sweet feel-good vibes will last the whole year.
And 2) the Hilarious option is a film we were all forced into seeing a couple of years ago by our youngest son and ended up all thoroughly enjoying.
The Christmas horror comedy Krampus, featuring Adam Scott and Toni Collette as a rather smug middle class couple who are forced into sharing the holidays with their lower-class relatives David Koechner and Allison Tolman – whom they consider rather trashy. It starts off with all the usual Christmas domestic dramas as the couples and their kids bitch and moan about each other while sitting down for Christmas dinner, but then – as if things aren’t already uncomfortable enough - a massive snow storm engulfs the house and a power outage leaves them all stranded and stuck with each other for the duration…. Krampus – if you don’t know already – is a half-demon-half-goat monster from Austrian folklore and it’s not long before the demonic presence is knocking off the family members one by one in a series of gruesome and thrillingly scary vignettes as they venture out to find help. Including one sequence, which had me literally howling with laughter, when the surviving family members have to battle a series of demonic toys come to life in their loftspace, this is an absolute hoot of a movie, especially if you like your humour dark, like I do. But best of all, what I really loved about it, was that as well as being funny and scary, it does actually exude Christmas spirit too as the previously warring families are forced to band together to survive. Whether they do or not though… Well, you’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.
You're not going to get your typical Christmas #mustseemovies from me. I like missions more than mistletoe and gunplay above snow angels. My stories are full of heart-pounding adventure and heart-racing romance. In fact, when my editor first approached me to write a Christmas novella, I wasn't at all sure that I could conjure the heart-warming feeling necessary for a holiday romance. So I started that novella, Fallen Angel, by the heroine helping her son search for the perfect Christmas tree before the hero accidentally shoots her. That helped get the action part out of my system and that story went on to final for a Rita award. It is available in my new Christmas collection, Western Christmas Weddings.
I appreciate a great action-adventure movie anytime of the year but am always impressed when the screenwriter manages to include this important family holiday in the movie. This creates the perfect date movie, action and that warm fuzzy feeling. So, on with my three top picks.
In my first choice for holiday viewing, Die Hard, the screenwriter has used the holiday decor and setting to make the estrangement and attempted reconciliation between our hero, John McClane, and his wife, Holly (yup, that's her name!), even more heart-breaking. The corporate setting with its glitzy decorations and upscale holiday party all highlight to John what this NYPD cop can never give his ambitious wife. He can't give her meaningful work and he can't continue to ignore her potential value as an executive on the rise. All this becomes less important when the building is overrun by terrorist who take his wife hostage. I love the holiday music playing in the background, the limo driver having his own private holiday party in the garage, and the quiet (silent night) for the patrolman on rounds contrasted to the chaos unfolding inside the sleek glass and steel corporate headquarters.
Yet another relationship heading for the rocks at holiday time is found in Ironman 3. The holiday
season adds a wonderful crucible of emotional pressure to relationships. Tony Stark, not known for his emotional IQ, buys a large stuffed bunny for Christmas for Pepper Potts but instead of being present to greet her, he sends a remote controlled prototype Ironman suit in his place. Her upset, and another prototype that arrives in their bedroom during Tony's nightmare, forces Tony to admit that he is struggling with PTSD. Mental illness and depression are subjects that are also inextricably linked to the holidays, yet we don't often see it in a traditional holiday movie (except It's a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey attempts suicide by jumping off a bridge in a frozen river).
If you want to see how hard the holidays can really be on someone suffering a loss, try Lethal Weapon. This movie combined action, humor and the heart-wrenching subplot of a detective struggling with his grief after losing his beloved wife to an auto accident. Contrast that subplot with the rich, boisterous and loving family of his partner and you really have something. The filmmaker continues to highlight the contrasts with Martin Rigg's dark, depressing trailer set against Roger Murtaugh's chaotic home improvement project ongoing as holiday preparations ensue. The setting and the season are instrumental in the character growth of Martin Riggs and his eventual the inclusion into the Murtaugh's Christmas is wonderful.
I don't know about you, but I can only visit Bedford Falls about every five years, or so and, unless it is the George C. Scott version, I am done with A Christmas Carol for the foreseeable future. If you want to keep the holiday theme without running over the same old ground, try Lethal Weapon, Ironman 3 and Die Hard. They might not be your typical #mustseemovies for the holidays but then that is exactly the point.
WHITE CHRISTMAS (1954) Well of course I’m going to choose a romantic comedy, right?
But this one is a little bit more than a rom com. It’s saturated with gorgeous colour, features some of the greatest stars of the fifties at the absolute peak of their popularity, has some top notch singing and dancing, with music by Irving Berlin, includes not one but two romances, and snow is a key plot point. Seriously what more could a gal ask of a movie? The fact that it’s set at Christmas time is the icing on a scrumptious cake.
The story goes like this…
In post-World War II America, ex-soldiers Bob (Bing Crosby) and Phil (Danny Kaye – superb in everything, including my second favourite holiday movie, The Court Jester), have hit the big time as musical producers. When a former army colleague asks them to check out his sisters’ song-and-dance act, the scene is set for romance.
Phil and one of the sisters (Judy, played by Vera-Lynn) get along like the proverbial house on fire. They can tell there’s a spark between Bob and the other sister, Betty (Rosemary Clooney – I like her better than George) and do their best to fan those embers into a nice, bright flame, but alas, Bob and Betty end up at loggerheads and romance is wiped off the table.
In true rom com fashion, however, all four of them end up at a Vermont lodge – talk about second chances! Bob and Phil’s former army commander, General Waverly, is the lodge owner, where Betty and Judy are booked to perform a Christmas show. And sacré bleu, the General is in trouble – he’s invested all his savings in the lodge, and unless some snow falls, there’ll be no guests!
Cue various shenanigans on the part of our awesome foursome to get the inn some business, in the service of which Bob and Betty's romantic relationship blooms, then derails again. There are misunderstandings, and backfiring plans, and phony engagements, and a “let’s put on a show” culmination (who doesn’t love those?) on Christmas Eve with gorgeous costumes (on which I may once, in an insane moment, have based a bridesmaid’s dress, right down to the white muff), declarations of love, and the singing of White Christmas (the biggest selling single record of all time).
Only one thing could improve the ending and…wait for it…yay! There is it! Snow falling and saving everyone’s bacon, triggering multiple happily-ever-afters.
It’s hokey as all get out and completely adorable and I urge anyone who hasn’t seen it, or hasn’t seen it for a while, to dig it out in 2017 because this year, we could use all the fun and vivacity we could use at the end of this year.
One little footnote…
White Christmas has what’s widely regarded as a cinematic precursor in Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn (1942). Holiday Inn also starred Bing Crosby and was the first movie to feature him singing White Christmas. It has the added charm of the marvellous Fred Astaire battling Crosby to win the affections of the lovely Marjorie Reynolds (trivia – Astaire was approached to be in White Christmas, too, but turned it down). But for my money, White Christmas is the winner by a hair.
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