Monday, December 22, 2014

Merry Christmas at the Movies

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's the holiday season, as the song goes, and for many of us, that means it's time to pull out the old videos/dvds or to start streaming favorite holiday movies. 

Christmas flicks - and let's face it, they are almost all about
Christmas - tend to fall into three categories. The first are the movies that you must watch or it will not be Christmas this year. Prominently featured on this list will be old Rankin-Bass stop-motion animation and George Bailey exclaiming, "Zuzu's petals!"

The second are the movies you enjoy because they put you in the mood - flicks to watch while wrapping presents or signing cards. There are a lot of Hallmark Holiday specials on this list, as well as movies that are must-sees for your kids, but that came around too late for you to really cleave to. ELF, I'm talking about you.

The third are the pictures that subvert the holidays, with murder, double-crossing and Bruce Willis blowing stuff up while canned Christmas music plays in the background. Look for Santa with a sawed-off shotgun or the hero saying with curled lip, "Now it's a silent night."

Sometime these movies cross over to different lists. For my husband and son, THE GODFATHER is absolutely required pre-Christmas viewing. For my daughters and me, HOLIDAY IN HANDCUFFS, a delightfully silly romance with Melissa Joan Hart, is our must-see-or-baby-Jesus-will-cry movie. Also on my have-to-have-it list: CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT, which no one else in my family wants to watch. I always wind up wrapping presents while swooning over Barbara Stanwick and Dennis Morgan. (I saw the 1992 remake once. It was...not good.)

For my Christmas subversive movie, nothing tops REINDEER GAMES,  a twisty caper movie/mystery starring Ben Affleck as The Sap and Charlize Theron as The Dame.

  As for present-wrapping/napkin ironing/silver polishing fare - well, that's what Netflix is for. I willingly stream movies I wouldn't take a second glance at if they weren't set at Christmas time. If it features a romance, an adoptable dog, and a kid who needs a family, I'm in egg nog-sodden heaven.

How about you, Reds? What are your holiday must-sees?

RHYS BOWEN: My must sees have now been seen so the season has officially kicked off. One is IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and the other is WHITE CHRISTMAS. Both oldies but goodies. I still get weepy at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I really liked SCROOGE but haven't seen it recently.  I have to confess to being awfully fond of LOVE ACTUALLY (especially the lobster in the nativity play). 

It's funny but I used to enjoy all those old cartoon movies with my kids--you know Rudolph, Frosty etc, but the magic has gone. 

LUCY BURDETTE:  My favorite would be SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, which I cannot get anyone to watch with me again. Hmmm, that makes me really want to try though...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: LOVE ACTUALLY tops my list as the absolutely-must-see-or-it's-not-Christmas. Yes, I can repeat the dialogue. Yes, I know the soundtrack by heart. And yes, Rhys, I love the lobster in the nativity play. Then A CHRISTMAS STORY, followed by IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. (My daughter told me yesterday that she's never seen it. How can that be??? Where did I go wrong?? I'm going to fix that!) This year I succumbed to a Hallmark Christmas special, THE CHRISTMAS SHEPHERD, because--guess--it had a German shepherd in it. It was actually pretty good, and the dog was fabulous. I'd watch it again just for him.

And then sometime in the week between Christmas and New Year's, I must watch THE HOLIDAY, with Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, and Jack Black. I adore this movie, and not just because I fancy Jude Law. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, with a score by Hans Zimmer, it has great performances and great dialogue. And it will have you rockin' around the Christmas tree by the end.

JULIA: Debs, I've got to see this now!

HALLIE EPHRON: Adding CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT and THE HOLIDAY to my list... how did I miss them? I've already watched LOVE ACTUALLY, my personal favorite. And queuing up A CHRISTMAS STORY if only to revisit the Red Ryder BB gun and the leg lamp and to listen to that wonderful narrator's voice -- a movie by a radio guy. So why doesn't someone create a leg lamp lawn ornament? I bet it would be a HUGE seller. 

JULIA: Here you go, Hallie:

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, of course, LOVE ACTUALLY. The best. (Just in cases.)  And YOU'VE GOT MAIL.  And I'll watch SEATTLE with you, Lucy!  I never understood THE BISHOPS WIFE, because, I mean, what would you do? 

And contrarian here, A CHRISTMAS STORY leaves me a little cold. Maybe I'll try again. Yeah, the voice is good, but...  And even IT'S A WONDERFUL.., it's great, sure, and the angel thing, but it's just not what someone would DO. Zuzu's petals is worth it, though.  And of course,  love WHITE CHRISTMAS! Can't go wrong with Bing!   And oh, DIE HARD.  :-) 

DEBS: Hank, we watched DIE HARD last year. Such fun!!! Definitely an addition to the Christmas movie list.

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What will you be sitting down to with a bowl of popcorn and a mug of hot cocoa this season?


  1. We've already seen "A Christmas Carol" twice this year. Others on our must-see list: "It's A Wonderful Life," "Miracle on 34th Street" [both versions of this film are acceptable; we love the original, but Mara Wilson in the remake is pretty darn cute]. Also, "White Christmas" and "Holiday Inn."
    "Sleepless in Seattle" was my mom's favorite movie; I sniffle through it every year . . . .

  2. Christmas cannot pass without Steve and me watching IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE together. We started this ritual since we were engaged—no… since we met at his brother's house during my LA City College Winter Solstice vacation one year! That is a long time ago! Shhhh… I wasn't even legal then.

  3. Wow, Julia! This is SO GREAT! But whoa, the Christmas in Connecticut trailer is downright creepy.

    AM I wrong about You've Got Mail? Isn't it at Christmas?

  4. Brian, when I'm at writing conferences I meet a ton of talented young writers who are SO NOT lazy. The're working on 600-page fantasy novels and churning out the words. Now are they doing their English essays on time? That's another question. Because there's the stuff you wannna write, and the stuff you hafta write.

    No one mentioned Jody Foster's HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS. For those who like their Christmas chocolates bittersweet.

  5. I love Holiday Inn. Most of the others have been mentioned already.

  6. I don't think you guys have missed one single Christmas movie! and now I want to watch every one of them - - - again. and maybe even again!

  7. White Christmas - absolutely. This one is one my "I have to see it or it's just not Christmas" list. I always watch "Year Without a Santa Claus" only because I adore the Heat Miser/Snow Miser songs. "Love Actually" is so sweet, but I forgot about the story line with the, uh, adult movie stand-ins and accidentally watched it with the kiddos several years ago. Oops. I like "You've Got Mail" better than "Sleepless in Seattle." Hank, I'm sure at least part of "Mail" takes place around Christmas.

    Seen "A Christmas Story Once." No desire to see it again. And I just recently decided that I don't really like "It's a Wonderful Life." Sorry if that makes me un-American. But I'm with Hank. It just doesn't work for me.

  8. We watch Love, Actually as we put up the tree. It was as great this year as ever.

    I love Hugh Grant boogying around 10 Downing Street to "Jump." I love the school Christmas pageant. I love the scene where the ever-persnicky Rowan Atkinson wraps the illicit necklace. And I love the whole village marching through the streets to the restaurant where Colin Firth proposes in awful but heartfelt Portuguese to Aurelia . . .

  9. It's official--We've watched Love Actually Let the season begin!

  10. I think I'm the only person in the universe without ritual holiday movie viewing! Have never seen Love Actually, either. Sigh. But glad others have so many favorites.

  11. I haven't sat down to purposely watch anything this Christmas (though I've been sucked into a couple Hallmark channel ones), but my favorite of the 60s specials is Santa Claus is Coming to Town with Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney as the red-haired Santa. I also have a soft spot for "He's Mr. Heat Miser" the song. And I can pretty much recite line for line Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. "I want to be ... a DENTIST!" And there is no Grinch except the animated one. Period.

    There used to be a movie from 1977 that came on called The Gathering with Ed Asner as a formerly cantankerous patriarch who was now dying and wanted a last Christmas with his estranged wife (Maureen Stapleton) and grown up kids. It wasn't a great movie but somehow I always wound up watching for it every year. There are sooo many Christmas movies now that they don't show it anymore.

  12. One of my friends writes/produces the Christmas Shoes movies (now on the Hallmark channel, originally on one of the major channels). If I catch one, I'll watch it.

    I keep saying I'm never going to watch IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE again, and then I do. And somehow, I have never seen A CHRISTMAS STORY all the way through, but one of my neighbors actually had one of those lamps and put it in his window over the holidays. I think I've seen every variation on A CHRISTMAS CAROL that exists, including some on stage. One gets sucked in... every time.

    But as long as I have my Chinese food I'm fine, whatever's on the tube. (I'd like to be invited to another Feast of the Seven Fishes/post midnight mass party, but I hate going out in the snow/cold if I don't have to. The Chinese places deliver.)

  13. I'm actually making a point of watching Christmas movies and specials this year, something I haven't done in a few years. I'm loving it.

    I'm not a fan of A Christmas Story as well. And this year I tried Christmas Vacation for the first time. Same thing, just don't get it. I also watched Home Alone for the first time, which I enjoyed. Then again, I'm not the hugest fan of It's a Wonderful Life. What can I say?

    I always watch some version of A Christmas Carol. Usually, it's George C. Scott's version, but this year, I rewatched Muppet Christmas Carol, which is an outstanding version of the story. And I've watched Rudolph, Frosty, and Frosty's Winter Wonderland.

    Still to come tonight and tomorrow? The Santa Clause, Charlie Brown Christmas, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas - the real one not the Jim Carrey knock off. Got to love that animated version, right?

  14. I just like having something special to do with Steve—something that has meaning outside of the holiday ritual–something we have shared since we met. It could be about anything really.

  15. It's funny about A Christmas Story. I didn't see it until the mid-nineties, although it was released in 1983, and I have loved it ever since. The narrator is the writer Jean Sheppard, by the way, on whose semi-autobiographical short stories the movie is based. It's set in the 40s, in Indiana, so it's not MY childhood. Maybe Sheppard's story telling reminds me of my uncle's. Or maybe it just captures a time and the characters so perfectly. Whatever the reason, it's just magic for me.

    Julia, thanks for the trailers!!! And if you haven't seen The Holiday, add it to your list, but it's best seen at New Year's rather than Christmas.

  16. Remember, there are TWO lobsters in the Nativity play. (I can hear Emma Thompson's comment now.) "Love Actually" is probably my favorite. Gotta love a Christmas movie with Joni Mitchell music. And "Christmas Story" playing all day on Christmas is great. I usually grab pieces of it over the course of the 24th and 25th and it's still great. And, even as an older child (cough cough) I still HAVE to see "The Grinch" and "Muppet Christmas Carol."

    I don't post often but I still read your blog. Happy Holidays to you all.

  17. I love watching The Apartment between Christmas & New Year, since all the important action takes place between the two. Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine are such a great pairing!

    RE: A Christmas Story - it's probably more appealing if you grew up in Cleveland where most of the filming was done. I live in VA now, and it's so nice to see snow and "real" houses [like my grandma's], and most importantly, Higbee's dept store where I spent many happy hours with my mom. [and now I'm welling up like a sappy sentimental idiot]

    I'd like to suggest the beautiful, animated [the scenes look like pastel drawings] British Christmas specials, The Snowman and The Snowman & The Snowdog. The music in the first is ethereal, but both are lovely. They're available on hulu+ if you can't find them elsewhere.

    You can find a clip of the former at

  18. As movies go, I must watch The Christmas Card, A Christmas Miracle, and A Christmas Snow.

    I also watch the holiday decorating of the White House and Christmas in Washington (Love the music and love the building where the event is held. Brings back fond memories of visits.)

    I love Christmas in Handcuffs, Sleepless in Seattle, and While You Were Sleeping. Christmas Affair, both Robert Mitchum and David James Elliot versions. I loved The Christmas Shepard and will add that to my list of must watch. There are probably more movies that I’ve forgotten.

    Must admit, I have tried to watch Love Actually three times and can’t get past the first 20 minutes. Is there something wrong with me? Maybe I’ll try watching it again.

  19. Am I a Grinch because I don't watch the old classics anymore? I'm just not interested. Instead, I watch the new classics --- LOVE ACTUALLY and THE HOLIDAY top that list.

    For Christmas card writing, I spend an afternoon in front of the Colin Firth PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (and we all know that one, right?). It's not Christmas without P&P.

    My subversive holiday favorite is GOSFORD PARK. I ADORE that movie. Can't get enough of it. Give me cocoa with a peppermint stick and that movie, and I'm a happy camper.

    When I was younger I vowed I would never watch the sappy Hallmark or Lifetime channel Christmas movies ... eh hem ... they do in a pinch for present wrapping, I must say. :-)

    I'm curious about CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT though -- I loves me some young Barbara Stanwyck (and did someone mention the word "creepy"?)

  20. Okay, thanks for asking. Here we go...

    Holiday Inn, while decorating the tree (no, NOT White Christmas, an annoying semi-remake)And yes, sorry, I do have to fast-forward over some of those cringeworthy numbers.

    Miracle on 34th Street. There's only 1 version worth even mentioning. You all know the one I mean.

    It's a Wonderful Life, colourized or B&W. I have both.

    A Christmas Carol (aka Scrooge). Alister Sim only, though I think George C. Scott's a good one in a pinch.

    While You Were Sleeping. She just wants to spend Christmas with a family....

    Love, Actually. Though why on earth did they edit out the only same sex romance in the movie? Watch the extras on the DVD and shed a few tears.

    Not....A Christmas Story. Like others, it's not my thing, but it IS my daughter's favourite. I guess, like Wendy Darling, I was just too grown up.

    Hmm, Sleepless in Seattle. Of course it's a Christmas movie. Never thought of it like that before. Of course, it's also a Valentine's Day movie.

    But wait, what about An Affair to Remember? Doesn't it end at Christmas time, when he goes to see her, and he doesn't even notice that she doesn't get up to say hello. And she's just lying there, you know, on the couch... with this blanket over her shriveled little legs...
    Sorry, I got carried away there.

    And for New Year's, Holiday, with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, where he almost marries the wrong sister with a bad taste in hats.

    Okay, enough of this blog commenting. Back to the Christmas baking.

  21. Love Actually never seems to lose its charm, and The Holiday is another, a favorite around here. (Watched last night - recorded from Sat) Maybe I need to see White Chrismas again. It's been awhile and I do remember seeing it with my sister when it was brand new. And I have a really soft spot in my heart for Sesame Street Christmas from the days when Sesame Street was a big part of my childrens' lives. Lovely songs and gentle sweetness.

  22. I tried to find a clip of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT but they're surprisingly hard to come by. The trailer shows mostly the last three minutes of the film, after Dennis Morgan has found out Barbara Stanwick ISN'T married, CAN'T cook, and DOESN'T have a baby girl (later boy!)

    It doesn't show how funny (and for its time, slyly feminist) the story is. And Barbara Stanwick's performance is just great.

    As to LOVE ACTUALLY: it seems to be a real love it or hate it picture. I've never met anyone who was lukewarm about it. Either you weep with joy over the Christmas pageant:

    "I'm FIRST lobster!"

    "You mean there was more than one lobster at the birth of Our Lord?"


    Or you start ticking off every way the various relationships are incredibly problematic. There is no middle ground. I love it, my Smithie hates it almost as much as she dislikes "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

  23. Love Actually, It's a Wonderful Life, the 1951 Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, Christmas in Connecticut, The Bishop's Wife even though Cary Grant is an unlikely angel. The supporting cast is excellent It Happened on Fifth Avenue was a late arrival to my Christmas list and it's a bit creaky and Capra wannabe, but I watch it almost every year anyway. I try to love A Christmas Story but it wasn't my generation's movie. That would be A Charlie Brown Christmas, I guess.

  24. I don't have any must see movies for the holidays. I will watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation if I can catch it. It has some laugh out loud scenses. I also like the Grinch cartoon narrated by Boris Karloff. Love, Actually is lovely too.

  25. Okay, Julia, I will watch Christmas In Connecticut. I'm intrigued. Because the trailer is..weird.

    ANd yeah, Love Actually. When Aurelia says she learned english "Just in cases." And...when he hold us the signs. And I've never looked an an airport the same way since.

    I went to the dentist today, and he had holiday movies in the opertory! So he was looking at my teeth while Christmas Vacation was playing. It was annoying not to be able to watch, since I've never seen it. ANd in the x-ray room, they were playing The Santa Clause. The hygienist says sometimes she has trouble getting patients to leave.

  26. I'm coming to the blog late today because it was my stop in shops I've been meaning to stop in before Christmas and lunch with husband day. Of course, there was the grocery store stop, too, which I dreaded, but it's over now.

    So, I continue to find reasons to love you Reds, and, now, the big Kahuna reason, "Love Actually!" I have been pushing this movie for years, and I adore everything about it. I became a steadfast fan of Bill Nighy because of this movie. There are so many great actors/actresses in this movie, and so much to enjoy. I must watch this one tonight.

    Another must for me is the Muppet's Christmas Carol with Michael Caine as Scrooge. Others include A Christmas Story, at least one of the Santa Clause movies (2nd one is favorite), Scrooged (Glad to see someone else likes this Bill Murrary movie, Keenan), The Family Man with Nicolas Cage in a It's a Wonderful Life takeoff, The Holiday because all four of the stars are so good at their parts and there's a wonderful English cottage, and About a Boy with Hugh Grant (didn't realize this one was categorized as a Christmas movie until recently),

    Some that I enjoy if I catch them are Trading Places with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, and Elf,

    And for those of you who enjoy the Die Hard movie, you should equally enjoy The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. Oh, and I had forgotten that Reindeer Games was a Christmas movie. I quite like that one, too.

    Joyeaux Noel is one I have and would like to watch this year, as I think my husband with his military background would enjoy it. It's about the Christmas impromptu truce between the opposing forces in WWI in 1914.

  27. Love Actually is our sine qua non. Plus I read Gene Wolfe's short story La Befana (The Christmas Witch) each year. We've gotten some new ideas here, so thanks!

    Jim in Durham

  28. At the top of my list is "The Bishop's Wife." I love watching David Niven struggle with the angel, and Cary Grant is always marvelous. Another favorite is the first version of "A Christmas Carol" I ever saw, namely, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." The Albert Finney version of "A Christmas Carol" is marvelous, as is the original "Miracle on 34th Street" (black and white, of course!).

  29. Favorite Holiday movies:

    It's A Wonderful Life with James Stewart

    Miracle on 34th Street (both versions)

    The Holiday with Kate Winslet and Jack Black

    Northpole (hallmark christmas movie)

    There are several wonderful Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel.

    Happy Holidays!

  30. Oh! I just saw this. What a fun post. My son is desperate to watch ELF, but I just can't bear it. Maybe with enough wine...(for me, not him!)
    Every year I feel a desperate need to reconnect with the Thin Man films. I adore William Powell and Myrna Loy. It might as well always be Christmas with them. Always celebrating, always glamorous!

  31. Well, I know it's January, but I have to add my two cents. I love "Christmas in Connecticut" and we found "It Happened on 5th Avenue" to be equally funny and with a nice message at this time of year! And if you like your romantic comedies of a more modern variety I'd suggest "Last Holiday" with Queen Latifah. Best wishes for the new year! Love the blog!