This year’s MOTW roster has been dominated by films that present stories about every aspect of women’s struggles for equality and about other serious social issues that demand our attention. But late December is a good time for a bit of seasonal levity. And so we present for your enjoyment Team MOTW’s wonderfully varied list of recommended films for ho ho holiday viewing. The #MOTW roster features romance, comedy, thrills and lots of food. The films are upbeat, inspiring and spirited, although not all directly connected to traditional celebrations. Wonder what’s in store?
Team #MOTW’s Picks for Holiday Viewing:
A CHRISTMAS STORY — MaryAnn Johanson
Apart from Die Hard, which I know there is some lighthearted debate about the Christmassyness of, my favorite seasonal movie is, hands down, A Christmas Story, the 1983 comedy based on humorist Jean Shepherd ’s memoirs of his childhood in Indiana. I may be a girl, not a boy, and I may have been a kid in suburbia 25 years after Shepherd was, but nothing speaks to me about American childhood, particularly at Christmastime, like this movie. Utterly lacking in sentiment but full of big emotion, a comfortable hominess, and tons of comedy that still makes me laugh out loud after dozens of viewings, this is one movie I treasure every holiday season. Watch the trailer.
BABES IN TOYLAND — Dorothy Woodend
This is one of those films that used to make an annual appearance on TV, and it is still a somewhat dubious pleasure, full of oddities (monkeys in Zeppelins, giant pigs, bogey men). It is dementedly campy, from a time before camp came to know itself. The setting is Toyland, a place where Stan (Laurel) and Ollie (Hardy) work in the Toymaker’s workshop. But when they make 100 wooden soldiers that are six feet tall, instead of 600 soldiers that are one foot tall, they get canned for the holidays. Poverty is no joke, even in Toyland, where Old Barnaby, the evil landlord, owns the deed to the old lady who lived in a shoe’s shoe. The Old Lady, and all of her hundreds of kids, will be out on the street, unless Little Bo-Peep agrees to marry Barnaby. There is something oddly thrilling about this movie, although, I am hard pressed to say exactly what is it. Is it the Freudian wonder of wooden soldiers routing the evil hairy bogeymen? Is it Laurel and Hardy in drag? Is it the sucky singing of tunes? The spirit of the Fleischer Brothers lives. And when the soldiers begin to march, a mad joy runs through me. Revenge, Christmas, and big wooden men, does it get any better than that? Sometimes, it is best not to analyze too deeply, just enjoy the insanity. Watch the trailer.
BABETTE’S FEAST — Jennifer Merin
Athough it’s not specifically themed for the holiday season, I crave Babette’s Feast at this time of year. Gabriel Axel’s 1987 femme-centric cuisine classic is a marvelous celebration of the spirit of giving. The scenario is set in a small, isolated and repressively religious Danish village where Babette, a French emigree who is fleeing difficult circumstances, comes to work. The restrained yet discernible clash of cultures is resolved in a glorious and transformative act of material and spiritual generosity. Without being preachy, the story advocates for us to welcome ‘others’ to our table to partake of the bountiful pleasures of life. What a beautiful and meaningful message for the holiday season — or for any time of the year. Watch the trailer.
THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY — Esther Iverem
Oh what fun it is…to revisit this ultimate buppy classic and enjoy a reunion of one of the best ensemble casts of the “new wave” era of Black film. Ignore what feels contrived and just enjoy the laughs. Ho-ho-ho.
COMFORT AND JOY — Pam Grady
There are plenty of shows and movies not to be missed during the holiday season: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the 1966 animated classic with the sublime Boris Karloff–accept no substitutes), A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Story, Elf, and the dazzling 1954 Technicolor musical White Christmas are among them. But if I have to go with one (sigh…), it has to be this Yuletide miracle: Comfort and Joy, Local Hero writer/director Bill Forsythe’s 1984 tale of a midlife crisis playing out amidst the holidays. Morning drive-time DJ Dickie Bird’s (Bill Paterson) ennui is something that his brand-new red sports car just can’t fix. Not with him feeling constrained by the forced jocularity of his job and saddened by his much younger girlfriend leaving him to spend Christmas alone. But then he stumbles upon battling ice cream truck vendors in the streets of Glasgow and throws himself in the middle of the cone wars in this charming and absurd comedy. Watch the trailer.
DIE HARD — Sheila Roberts
Die Hard is my pick for an entertaining, action-packed thriller to put some ho ho ho into your holidays. NYPD’s John McClane (Bruce Willis) is flying to L.A. for Christmas, anxious to reconnect with his estranged family. He gets more than he bargained for at his wife’s holiday party when a heist at the Nakatomi Plaza turns into a dangerous hostage situation, and he finds himself up against 12 terrorists including a formidable Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). While the odds are against him, that’s just the way he likes it. It’s been 30 years since John McTiernan directed this classic, but heroes and villains don’t get any better than this! Watch the trailer.
THE HOLLY AND THE IVY — Anne Brodie
George More O’Ferrall’s domestic drama The Holly and the Ivy is set at Christmas time in the home of an English country parson (Ralph Richardson). He has two daughters, Jenny (Celia Johnson) bound to the rectory where she cares for him and endures his cranky, judgmental behaviours. She’s in love but she’s trapped caring for him and loses hope of starting her own life. Margaret (Margaret Leighton) the elder sister is coming up from London for Christmas; she’s glamorous and independent, or that’s how she presents herself. She stands up to their father but holds a dark secret, especially for a female character in 1952 England. Being together is a strain and holiday visitors only underscore the dysfunction in the rectory. The sisters never confide in their father because he’s a priest and they’re afraid he will think “less” of them. They can’t sit on all that for long and soon the tipping point is reached and recriminations and accusations fly. Confrontation and despair is the opposite of Christmas joy but the will to survive as a family grows in their place. An astounding transformation occurs that allows sacrifice, redemption and healing. The film takes us down dark roads but the payoff is as heart-warming as a blazing fireplace with a dog on the lap. It’s pure fifties studio work with painted sets of an idealised country home bathed in snow and starlight, kind of hokey, but unforgettable. Watch the trailer.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE — Cate Marquis
It seems like an obvious choice but my favorite Christmas movie is one of my favorite movies of any season: It’s a Wonderful Life. There are many reasons why this film is a perennial holiday favorite, starting with the fact that it is a great Frank Capra classic. Another reason is that it has one of the greatest movie heroes, played by Jimmy Stewart at his best. On top of that, the film has one of the best villains of all time, Mr. Potter, right up there with Scrooge. And then there is the script, with elements of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and resonance with the ideals that drove soldiers during WWII, like democracy and a chance for everyone to succeed, no matter how modest their beginnings. But in this version, it is not the Scrooge character but the hero who goes through a crisis, questioning his choices, choices that benefited his community, not just himself. No matter how many times I’ve seen it, it is still a delight, like other great films like Casablanca or Keaton’s The General. It is a celebration of the American tradition of the underdog, rooting for little guy, in this case someone doing the right thing for everyone, something that resonates even now in the era of growing income inequality. It is a modern A Christmas Carol for the last century and this one. Watch the trailer.
MEET ME IN ST LOUIS — Susan Wloszczyna
I always cherish when movies don’t sentimentalize a young girl’s feelings and recognize that they, too, suffer from bad moods. Natalie Wood’s stubborn Santa denier Susan in 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street reminds me of my opinionated grade-school self, first name and all. But the child performance that truly strikes a chord after the year we all endured as a nation is Margaret O’Brien’s Tootie in this enduring classic. It might not totally qualify as yuletide material – the nod to Halloween is equally memorable — but the musical reaches its emotional zenith when Tootie, anxiously awaiting Santa’s arrival and worried that Old St. Nick won’t know where they live once they move to New York City next year, is consoled by big sis Judy Garland in song. Despite its lilting melody, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is one of the most melancholy seasonal ditties ever. In fact, it inspires a weepy Tootie to race outside in her nightgown to bash the snow people she and her sisters built earlier when she realizes they can’t be make the trip to their new home. Her outburst never fails to make my heart melt. My pick is Meet Me in St. Louis, Watch the trailer.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS — Liz Whittemore
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is a film I watch from Halloween through the entire rest of the holiday season. The songs are iconic, as is most of the music from composer Danny Elfman. But in this particular film, Elfman voices the main character Jack Skellington. Combined with Burton’s stylistic stop-motion world, this fun and totally out of the box holiday film has a cult following that has even affected the way Disney operates their parks from Halloween to New Years. The Haunted Mansion attraction gets a thematic overhaul in black light, oversized gifts, and outfitted with all the characters from the film every year now. Every first snow, all I can hear in my head is, “What’s this? What’s this? There’s color everywhere. What’s this? There’s white things in the air! What’s this?” Watch the trailer.
PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT — Nell Minow
I watch at least two or three versions of A Christmas Carol every year, with the Alastair Sim and MGM versions my favorites. But the movie I want to recommend is the lesser-known gem, Period of Adjustment, Tennessee Williams’ only comedy, the story of two couples having some marital problems at Christmas time, one just married, one separating after five years. It is beautifully filmed in black and white by George Roy Hill with an outstanding cast that includes Jane Fonda, Jim Hutton, Tony Franciosa, Lois Nettleton, John McGiver, and the only joint appearance of two of the all-time great character actors who were brother and sister, Jack and Mabel Albertson. It is smart, heartwarming, fun, touching, and romantic, and one of the all-time great examples of dramatic structure. Watch the trailer.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING — Betsy Bozdech
While You Were Sleeping. Sure, it’s pretty corny and has an offbeat premise, but this ’90s romcom starring Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman is also sweet, funny, and charming, with a great ensemble cast (like the amazing Glynis Johns!). The scenes around the family dinner table — which are full of realistic, free-associated, non-sequitur cross-talk — have become a touchstone for my own clan, especially when we’re seated cheek to jowl during holiday meals. And anyone who’s ever felt lonely at this time of year will sympathize with Bullock’s yearning Lucy. The perfect holiday comfort movie.
Team #MOTW wishes you all the happiest of holidays!
AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Nikki Baughan, Anne Brodie, Betsy Bozdech, Cynthia Fuchs, Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Esther Iverem, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sheila Roberts, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna, Jeanne Wolf
Edited by Jennifer Merin