The Family Stone
Lots of heavy stuff going on in my life with LM right now…but it’s Christmas Eve, so let’s do a fun post of holiday movies. I haven’t gotten around to seeing all of these this year before Christmas, so I deem it perfectly OK to celebrate Christmas past December 25, right through the end of the year. Isn’t Christmas supposed to be 12 days, anyway?
As a Christmas movie aficionado I feel myself qualified to name the movies you should watch, and ones you should skip. It will be tempting to share these all with your kids while they are home for winter break and driving you nuts, so I’ll include some parental advisories.
Do you agree with my list? In no particular order:
Love Actually: This is definitely one to watch after the kiddos have gone to bed. Lots of cursing and (possibly unnecessary) nudity. And some latent sexism. But despite all that, it’s hard not to love the spirit of this movie. How can you not feel a rush as the kids put on “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” or choke up as Colin Firth declares his love in broken Portuguese? Despite it’s flaws, for pure Christmas spirit, this one makes the list.
Elf: Will Ferrell goes all in, in his hilarious portrayal as a human adopted by elves who comes to New York to find his birth father. It may bring up some questions about adoption for kids, but everything is presented positively. The clash of Buddy’s pure innocence and his father’s New York cynicism is a great combo. So many great lines, it’s hard to pick a favorite, although “Santa, I know him!” comes close.
Holiday Inn: I’m not a huge fan of White Christmas — I prefer a younger Bing Crosby and the original version of the song, performed in Holiday Inn. Yes, there is a very unfortunate blackface scene (which is usually shortened for television). One could argue that’s just a reflection of the times, although that doesn’t completely excuse the bad taste it leaves in your mouth. But if you can move past that, this wonderful movie starring Fred Astaire shows off dancing and songs from the golden era of Hollywood.
Christmas with the Kranks: OK, you might think I’m a little crazy for including this comedy with Jamie Lee Curtis, Tim Allen and Dan Aykroyd. But after discovering it on cable a few years ago, I can’t stop watching. Why? I think I’m intrigued by their neighborhood, which, although for most of the movie is extremely nosy and all up in the Kranks’ business, at the end comes together to save Christmas. I wish I felt that way about my neighbors. As JLC says at the end, they have shown her “the true meaning of community.” Love that. Oh, and “Free Frosty!” Hilarious.
Meet Me in St. Louis: This year-in-the-life movie takes place in turn-of-the-century (you guessed it) St. Louis. I want to live in their house, a grand old Victorian. I want to wear those gorgeous dresses. Full of nostalgia for a time that probably didn’t even really exist, this movie features my favorite Christmas song, Judy Garland’s original “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And the family dynamic, four sisters and one brother, makes me want to be part of a brood of five kids.
The Family Stone: This is another recent movie that might surprise you to see on the list. The characterizations are multi-layered, and I notice something new every time I see it. This year, I realized that each of the five grown kids in the family (yes, another big family) has a sweet, cathartic moment with their mother, played by the great Diane Keaton. It’s a very bittersweet, even sad, film, but it’s beautiful. Bonus points for paying homage to Meet Me in St. Louis. Some adult themes, so probably want to save this one until the kids are older.
It’s a Wonderful Life: OK, how can you beat this one? I would go far as to say this may be the best movie of all time. So relatable — the frustration at life not turning out the way you want it to. But then the realization that he did make a difference, that everyone makes a difference. Jimmy Stewart’s elation when he realizes he wants to live is so palpable, it’s impossible not to share his joy. And as he reunites with his kids and his wife, wow, such a beautiful scene. I would say, though, there is a lot of dark stuff in this movie. Not for small kids.
A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart: This version of the many that are out there was actually made for TV. I wrote about it when I was an editor for DirecTV’s television guide, and attended an event at the Plaza in New York. So I may be a little biased. But I love Patrick Stewart’s interpretation of this character. Watching it last weekend, I realized how timeless this story is, nearly two hundred years after it was written. How perfectly it illustrates why we should have generosity of spirit, as well as with our money. The ghost of Christmas future is kind of scary, though, and there is much reference to death and dying. I’m a big fan of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the animated Disney half-hour version, which is more appropriate for kids, but still a bit scary at the end.
Home Alone: The ridiculousness of this movie doesn’t stop me from loving it. Beyond the pretty stupid (not to mention violent) antics of the burglars, it’s a heartwarming story about the importance of family, even as they drive you crazy. Watching it as a parent, I have a new appreciation for the mom’s desperation at trying to return home to her son, as well as her expression of pure love when she actually does.
A Christmas Story: I used to think this movie was kind of depressing when I was younger — not sure why, maybe the dark and somewhat dreary 1940s-era home, or the seeming-meaness of the dad. It wasn’t until I was older that I fully appreciated the irony that the one person Ralphie didn’t think to ask for his most wished-for present — his father — ultimately is the one to give it to him. He’s actually not mean at all! So sweet. The atmosphere of this movie, which is supposed to take place in Indiana, reminds me of Syracuse, where my parents are from and where I spent most of my childhood Christmases. Somehow I picture my dad as a little boy experiencing Christmas in Syracuse the way Ralphie does in this movie.
Miracle on 34th Street with Natalie Wood: I actually think the remake of this movie is pretty good, except that they change the ending explanation for “proving” that Santa Claus is real — why was that necessary? The original is a classic, though, even for someone who never believed in Kris Kringle. Although, I have a bit of a problem with the notion that just because a kid doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, or fairy tales, that means they have no imagination or magic in their lives. I think kids are perfectly capable of having a rich inner life of pretending and imagining, without actually believing such things are “real.” This movie, though, may bring up the question of why people wouldn’t believe in Santa Claus, so that might be something to consider if your kid does.
EDIT: Number 12!
The Family Man: I totally forgot about this great reverse-It’s a Wonderful Life, in which successful bachelor businessman Nicolas Cage gets to see what would have happened if he had married his college sweetheart. At first he thinks family life is dull, and inferior to his previous existence as a man about town, but he comes to see how it’s richer with people you love. What I love about the ending is that it sticks to the rules of the premise — this was just a glimpse, not permanent — but it is still thoroughly satisfying. It’s not totally a Christmas movie, but it is obviously inspired by Wonderful Life, and imbues much of the spirit of the season.
Close, but didn’t make the list: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (a bit too ridiculous without enough heartfelt sentiment at its core, like, say, Home Alone), The Holiday (a sweet romantic comedy but not really about Christmas), The Polar Express (never saw the whole thing, can’t get past the creepy animation), The Santa Clause (too silly).
Do you agree with my list? Did I forget any? Have yourself a merry little Christmas if you celebrate! I will be taking a bit of a holiday break but will see you in the New Year!