Most everyone has favorite holiday films that they like to watch every season. Some are more the traditional Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life type. Or modern wry comedies like A Christmas Story. And who doesn’t have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny [expletive] Kaye when they watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?
If you’re looking for inspiration, there’s a list on Wikipedia of films centered around the holiday season and a subsequent list of films that mention or take place around the holiday season at some point in the film.
Every year I have a personal tradition of which the holiday isn’t complete for me unless I’ve watched all these films at some point during the week of Christmas, if not that day. If you haven’t seen them, I highly recommend them (they’re not all specifically family-appropriate, so maybe watch them after the kids have passed out). In no particular order are:
The Ref, starring Dennis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey. “Connecticut is the fifth ring of Hell.” Leary plays Gus, a gravelly and acerbic burglar who bungles a job on a wealthy homeowner’s abandoned house that locks down a quiet Connecticut town. With no way to escape the road blocks, he kidnaps a random couple to keep him hidden until he can figure out a plan. The couple is the forever fighting Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur played respectively by Spacey and Davis. With no choice, Gus must play referee as well as kidnapper to them and their in-laws, who are reluctantly on their way to join them for Christmas Eve dinner.
I enjoy this film for the many one-liners in it. It was a favorite among the theater crowd when I was in school. Spacey is, of course, brilliant as the unhappy but loyal head of the Chasseur household. Glynis Johns (remember the sweet mother from Mary Poppins?) is wonderful as the miserly matriarch and makes you love to hate her. This is one of my favorite of her roles.
Mixed Nuts, with an ensemble cast featuring Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Juliette Lewis, Adam Sandler, Liev Schreiber, Rita Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, and many others, is a hilarious dark comedy about an office manager for a suicide prevention hotline and his employees and the last Christmas Eve they’ll be spending in their office as they are being evicted by their sociopathically indifferent landlord, played to the hilt by Gary Shandling. Originally a French film titled “Le PÃ¨re NoÃ«l est une ordure” before Nora Ephron reworked her magic into this American version, this film didn’t receive a lot of commercial success which is a shame because I find it smartly written and hilarious. I didn’t discover this 1994 film until the late 90’s when I saw the VHS in a bin for sale and picked it up because I liked the cast. I’m glad I took a chance on it.
Martin’s Phillip discovers on Christmas Eve that his business is being evicted for lack of rent payment. In the spirit of the season he tries to hide this from his coworkers but eventually the truth is uncovered, a gun is brandished and somebody dies, leaving the crew to collect themselves and dispose of the body. Gems in this film are the incomparable Madeline Kahn as the cantankerous widow and “Lifesavers” employee Mrs. Munchnik, and Liev Schreiber as a depressed but well-dressed transvestite. However, everyone in this film is delightful and it’s fun to watch even out of season.
Not so much a holiday film as an action thriller that happens to take place around Christmas, The Long, Kiss Goodnight stars Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson respectively as amnesiac Samantha Caine, who, after a car accident with a deer, starts to recover her past life, and detective Mitch Henessey whom she hired to investigate it. Flashes of her past life start to come back to her; for instance, she’s scarily dexterous with a chef’s knife, and her lightning quick fighting skills come out of nowhere. After a lucky break in the case provides further clues about who she used to be, she and Hennessy set off to put them all together.
Admittedly it’s a little contrived: “a lethal CIA operative gets amnesia and becomes a sweet housewife and school teacher.” Jackson’s acting I used to think was under par but in reconsidering it’s actually brilliant how he turns out his ne’er-do-well detective Hennessy’s performance. He’s kind of a dork, but he’s okay with himself.
The script isn’t strong but the action keeps a good pace, making up for it, throughout the film and I’ve seen it multiple times and never not enjoyed seeing a strong female lead do some serious butt-kicking.
In conclusion, I don’t know about you, but I cannot get through the holiday season without watching Love, Actually. The all-star cast in this witty British comedy provides an excellent foundation for this brilliantly scripted romantic film. I have a total crush on Martine McCutcheon’s adorably sweet but sometimes foul-mouthed Natalie, catering manager to Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister.
A collection of love stories of interconnected characters, this film tugs at your heart and your tear ducts in all the right places. Billy Nighy steals each of his scenes as an aging rock star “searching for a comeback at any price” by recording a Christmas song, reworking The Trogg’s “Love is All Around” into a cheesy rendition entitled “Christmas is All Around” in an attempt to become the number one hit on Christmas Day, a yearly tradition in England. He lets loose one heck of a slue of expletives in the film, after bumbling a take during recording, that has become my favorite go-to swear phrase.
Colin Firth is charming as writer Jamie who, after being cheated on by his girlfriend, goes on a secluded writing holiday and falls in love with his Portuguese housekeeper. Neither of them speak the other’s language but they find a way to communicate which eventually culminates in an affection for one another that overshadows their language barrier.
Emma Thompson exquisitely plays wisecracking housewife to Alan Rickman and mother to their children. A pivotal scene when she discovers that her husband has been having an affair, soundtracked by a soulful Joni Mitchell cover of her own song “Both Sides Now,” always brings tears to my eyes because she expresses her hurt and pain so very well, it’s testament to her incredible acting skills.
There are other great stories throughout the film. Kris Marshall has all the best lines and deftly delivers them as Colin Frizzell. Disillusioned by being repetitively turned down by British women he travels to America for better luck with the ladies. “Stateside I am Prince William, without the weird family.”
So, these are the films that I will be having on rotation in my household this season. Comment and tell me what your favorite holiday films are. Whatever you choose to celebrate or not celebrate, I hope the coming days are filled with joy for you and yours.