I love Christmas movies. Every winter as the season approaches I feel a battle begin to rage within me, two sides fighting over when it is too early to start watching Christmas movies (the same battle is fought over Christmas music but that’s another post). Some years November wins, others I survive until December. There is also a battle over which movies to view each year. I don’t want to tire of them but there a few, some mentioned on this list that I find it infinitely difficult to avoid every year they give me so much joy. I know many of you are saying, “Man, Dave, you need to get a life.”, to which I reply, “Any life lived is a life, even if it’s not what you would do with yours.” But I digress. I don’t want to talk about what many call ‘the classics’ (although there are many here I would not call that), Christmas Vacation, Miracle On 34th Street, Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life (which I do love watching…often), you get the idea. Although there are many ‘alternative’ Christmas movie lists in this crazy internet tube, I have laid out one ground rule for my list: the piece being watched has to have the December/January holidays as its theme or take place during this period for more than half of its running time. That way, unlike Warner Brothers, who released a Christmas collection a few years ago with Boys Town included even though only the first few minutes take place at Christmas, mine are TRULY holiday movies. Of course this will in effect remove some of my favourites from the list, Holiday Inn and Christmas In July to name two (okay, Christmas In July takes place in JULY but anytime I can give props to a Preston Sturges movie, I will). Well, let’s see what this fool watches (almost) every year.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – “Really? A Bond movie?”, you may ask. Well, as a Bond fanatic and more the books than the movies (Roger Moore almost singlehandedly destroyed the series), On Her Majesty’s Service is my favourite book and was my favourite Bond movie until the new Casino Royale. The book shows Bond at his most vulnerable, in love and at his most angry when that love is threatened and the movie manages to stick closely to the book. James Bond becomes Sir Hilary Bray, genealogist and spends his Christmas holidays at a ski resort/clinic in beautiful Switzerland trying to finally bring down the elusive Blofeld, played smarmily by Telly Savalas. Even though, I’m not fond of John Glen’s erratic fight scene editing and George Lazenby in his only Bond appearance isn’t Sean Connery (but he’s miles better than the stiff Moore), this one has lots of holiday cheer, skiing, figure skating and Diana Rigg.
The Thin Man – Now I’m really stretching you may say, but the fact is that the first Thin Man movie takes place almost entirely over Christmas eve and Christmas day and has much holiday cheer in the form of copious amounts of alcohol consumed by William Powell and Myrna Loy as the mystery-solving Nick and Nora Charles, a rich couple who have some unseemly connections (his, actually). As in the novel by Dashiell Hammett the mystery is simply a cover for a romantic screwball comedy with Powell and Loy throwing around wisecracks like a drunk spilling their drink. In many ways it’s the anti-Christmas movie because there’s not a lot of goodwill to men, just murders to solve and this is never more clear than when Nora says after a few too many Merry Christmases are bandied about, “The next person who says Merry Christmas to me, I’ll kill ’em.” By the way, there were 5 sequels, all with the Thin Man moniker even though the titular Thin Man was a victim in the first movie only.
3 Godfathers – This might be the least known movie on the list. A John Ford/John Wayne western, 3 Godfathers is a Christmas parable about three outlaws on the run through the desert. They come upon a pregnant woman who, with the help of the three men gives birth before dying and her last wish is that the men take care of the baby so they head to the town of New Jerusalem where they find her family but also reparation for their crimes. This is a terrific movie with strong Nativity themes running throughout and takes place entirely during the Christmas week. If you haven’t seen this lesser-known gem, search it out.
Remember the Night – Okay, I managed to squeeze a Preston Sturges movie on to the list. Sturges wrote the screenplay but Mitchell Leisen directed (even though Sturges was very blunt about his less-than-exemplary opinion of Leisen’s skills). Barbara Stanwyck plays a thief in New York, court-ordered to spend Christmas week with lawyer Fred Macmurray whose plans to visit his family now have some excess baggage. The requisite crazy Sturges dialogue and oddball characters keep the laughs coming but the standout is the heart-tugging scene when Stanwyck makes a stop at her childhood home to find she’s neither welcome nor wanted.
Elf – Every year the studios try to catch lightning in a bottle by releasing a couple of Christmas movies, hoping they catch the public’s fickle attentions. Usually we get a Deck the Halls or Surviving Christmas (if you haven’t heard of these, be happy) but every once in a while we get an Elf. Although this one has been catching some speed the last couple of years, Elf is still a bit of an outsider and the most enjoyable Christmas movie in years. Will Ferrell is a human adopted as a baby by Santa and raised as an elf but realizes he’s not like the other elves so he travels to New York to find his father, curmudgeonly book publisher James Caan. This one successfully mixes some edge with some sweet scenes (especially with sort-of romantic interest, Zooey Deschanel, who shines here) to create very big laughs. My only complaint is that the movie is almost derailed by a silly (even within the context of this movie) finale in Central Park.
Die Hard – This is my favourite Christmas movie. It is actually my favourite movie, period so by virtue of that it has to be my favourite Christmas movie. You may think that this movie is about New York cop John McClane fighting terrorists in a Los Angeles highrise, an action-packed thrill ride filled with violence and inappropriate language and you would be right but it is also chock-a-block with Christmas music, decorations, holiday cheer, faith in your fellow-man, family togetherness and a negative predilection towards greed and consumerism . Think about it.
Honourable Mention: Saturday Night Live, December 8, 1990 – I know. This is an episode of a television comedy sketch show and so, it really doesn’t belong on this list…that’s why it’s an honourable mention. Saturday Night Live has had a spotty success rate and I’m not patient enough to slog through the crap to find that golden kernel of comedy however the night this aired I was otherwise engaged and I heard Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians were the musical guests as and I was very into them at the time, I taped it. Thank you to myself for that prescience. This was one of the only SNL episodes that worked (for me) from start to finish. Tom Hanks hosted and once again brought back my favourite SNL character, Mr. Short Term Memory in a skit that after dozens of viewings still makes me roll on the floor (“Hey! You’re Tony Randall!”). ‘The Five Timers Club’, ‘Carl Sagan’s Global Warming Christmas Special’, ‘Sabra Shopping Network”, all absolutely hilarious. And oh yeah, Edie Brickell was good, too.
To all my friends, family and readers, may the joy of the season be made manifest in your lives.