Ah, Christmas…comes but once a year. Good thing too, because one dementia-ridden holiday season is quite enough for these dementia-ridden times. But there are a lot of things that make Christmastime a true wonder. Decorating your abode like a crazed surrealist, for one. The rest of the year, you’re just a Dali wannabe nut-job; at Christmas, you’re keeping the spirit. And then there’s all those creepy nutcrackers. Keep a nutcracker in your bedroom or office outside December and you’ll spook your company (either that, or you simply can’t afford unshelled walnuts, which is sad). Keep a battalion of nutcrackers on point throughout the house in December, you’ve got style.
And so it goes. From chocolate-covered cherries, egg nog, candy canes, and snow globes to fussy Italian lights, pine and cinnamon scented candles, credit-spending like a 1%-er, and full-tilt religious tension, you just can’t beat Christmas. But no out-of-control holiday would be complete without its own litany of entertainment choices. First among these, as far as we cinegeeks here at DM are concerned, are films. So, in the event the office party punch isn’t working well enough to blot out the desultory conversation or the kiddie’s Paxil has simply worn off while you attempt to assemble that bicycle you should’ve never bought in the first place, here’s our Top 10 (+) Favorite Christmas Films, for your consideration and future viewing pleasure.
OK, this Woody Allen classic isn’t really a proper Christmas film (the possibilities of Woody actually doing one are delicious), but this delightful musical comedy draws to a close during a Christmas holiday taken in Paris. Goldie Hawn and Woody perform a whimsical pas de deux on the banks of the Seine, and the spirit of the Marx Brothers is alive and well in this warm, witty, and thoroughly accessible tale. Ever tried Bavarian pasta?
9 – A Christmas Carol (1984)
There are rather of few adaptations of this chestnut out there (Albert Finney’s figgy musical version of this could be one of the reasons the entire British film industry died in the early 1970’s), but we think this is the best in the lot. Made for television, George C. Scott holds his own among a superb British supporting cast and a sterling British production that captures the melancholic essence of Dickens while retaining its own distinctive cinematic flavour. True Patrick Stewart trumps Scott in the same role in (another!) version a few years later, but the supporting cast does not measure up to Scott’s.
8 – The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. Ernest Lubitsch. Ben Hecht. MGM. OK, what else do you need to know? An extremely uncommon sight – a movie depicting life in contemporary Central Europe from that most Anglophilic of studio bosses, Louis Mayer. An unusual but delightful mix of screwball comedy, romance, and, yes, Christmas, Shop is based on a play by native Hungarian Miklós László and was remade disappointingly as In the Good Old Summertime with Judy Garland and (a frankly awful) Van Johnson, as well underpinning Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail. But neither come close to the freshness, charm, and warmth of this Lubitsch classic.
If ever you need a break from the sickeningly sweet pabulum of your average Christmas special for the kiddies, this film is It. One wonders if the whole project began when someone, most likely Burton himself, mused, ‘What if Halloween took over Christmas?’ The answer to that question lies in this highly unique and devilishly clever animated film for kids of all ages (especially the older and more alienated ones). Oogie Boogie!
6 – Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Who knew Barbara Stanwyck had comedy chops? While her co-starring romantic lead Dennis Morgan doesn’t measure up to her (was Fred MacMurray unavailable?) the supporting cast, led by Sydney Greenstreet, is a veritable roll call of Warner Bros. players you’ll all recognize. Like most Christmas films, the plot is convoluted and maybe a smidge contrived and all the more delightful for it. This is a smart, sharp, silly, sweet adult comedy that will grace any holiday movie night. Just keep an eye on any nearby babies.
5 – Tales from the Crypt (1972)
Want to terrify the chilluns the hell out of the living room? This is the film to do it. We saw this at a nice little suburban single-screen (remember those?) called the Studio; there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, and the cheerful screams throughout were for real. This was Hammer Films’ arch-rival Amicus’ finest hour. The Joan Collins sequence, ‘And All Through the House’, will quite simply put you off of old men in Santa Claus suits for years to come, especially if you spend a lot of time home alone (or have plans to murder the husband for the holidays).
4 – A Christmas Story (1983)
We’re not old enough to fully identify with Jean Sheppard’s uproarious take on his childhood Christmas’, but laugh our booties off we still did, connecting with enough of Sheppard’s longing, humiliation, wracked nerves, demented parents, idiotic grammar school, bullying classmates, and sheer joy of finding wrapped presents under a decorated tree to last a lifetime. We’re told TBS is showing it 27 times this month. Maybe someone shot their eye out.
3 – Comfort and Joy (1984)
Even though the Scots accents and vibe might be a bit much for some readers to handle, this very quiet, very dry, and very black Bill Forsyth comedy will melt your heart like, ahem, ice cream. The ‘story’, such as it is, centers on a beloved Glasgow morning drive DJ named Dickie Bird -!- who gets caught up in a typical Italian squabble between two Italian families and their competing…ice cream truck businesses. Forsyth’s mordant takes on therapy, unrequited love, loneliness, the radio biz, car ownership, and shoplifting are simply precious. “Comfort and Joy is one of the happiest and most engaging movies you are likely to see this year, and it comes from a Glasgow director who has made a specialty out of characters who are as real as you and me, and nicer than me.” ~ Roger Ebert.
2 – Alice (1990)
A sadly overlooked yet quite witty adaptation of the Lewis Carroll tale, this Woody Allen gem came and went from theaters in about 3 days, but will linger with you for much longer. Mia Farrow stars as a pampered Manhattan socialite who spends most of her day at salons, spas, restaurants, and shops (especially shops) but begins to learn how unhappy and unfulfilled her marriage – and life – really are after partaking of the mysterious Dr. Yang’s rare Tibetan herbs. The Christmas party and spiked egg nog finale is a hoot. The customary jazz score is cleverly woven into the narrative fabric, and Carlo DiPalma’s lush photography, from individual frames to the composition of his master shots, could well be his best. Joe Mantegna, William Hurt, Alec Baldwin, New York City, and Keye Luke (in his last screen role) all sparkle in support.
1 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
The only James Bond film to actually take place during Christmas (with an actual Christmas song found on the movie soundtrack), released at Christmas 1969, and an ongoing Christmas present to 007 and action film fans alike, OHMSS looms as perhaps the most perfectly realized James Bond film of the series. Ian Fleming’s novel was never more faithfully executed, and the finished product is a triumph of modern British cinema before its sharp decline in the 1970’s. Scored brilliantly, cast perfectly (if ultimately unfortunately, in poor George Lazenby’s case), shot vividly, directed precisely, and kinetically edited 30 years ahead of its time, OHMSS remains a true touchstone in the James Bond series. Its lurid integration of Christmas into the plot and shattering climax will rock your holiday viewing pleasures like few others.
1+ – Millions (2004)
It’s really hard to believe this astonishingly wonderful film (Christmas and otherwise) came from Danny Boyle, director of nasty grotty ‘Trainspotting’ and ice-cold ’28 Days Later’. Having said that, this gem works on every cinematic and storytelling level, has a sense of wonder and visual humour utterly shorn from the commercialised drek of most American ‘kids’ films, and is just about the wisest film we’ve ever seen about the topsy-turvy world of Catholicism, especially from the point of view of a child. The juxtaposition between the grinding Third World poverty in the background and the spiritual poverty of Western holiday consumerism at the fore has a wisdom that is hard to discern in most recent studio product. The film is a marvel, the end. No hedge on that.