I still love those old specials and I’ll watch them when they pop up on TV, if I have the time. But here are some movies and programs for which I actively make time each Christmas. It’s rare for at least some of these not to get a showing in our house during the holidays!
1. A Christmas Carol: Everyone has a favorite version of this classic, but mine happens to be the 1984 version starring George C. Scott as Scrooge, David Warner as Bob Cratchit, and Roger Rees as Fred Holywell (and the offscreen narrator). Has a whip-smart script by Roger O. Hirson that uses some of the sharper, less cuddly dialogue from Dickens’ story. I get chills whenever Scrooge is confronted with the horrors hidden beneath the robes of Christmas Present (Edward Woodward). Gee, that sounds dirty, but it really isn’t--trust me!
2. A Child’s Christmas in Wales: Dylan Thomas’s wonderfully lyrical story gets a lovely past-and-present screen treatment as Geraint (Denholm Elliot) shares his memories of the Edwardian Christmases of his boyhood with his young grandson, Thomas (Mathonwy Reeves). It’s hard to say which of them is more adorable, grandfather or grandson. The Christmas sequences are boundless, colorful fun, with occasional bittersweet moments. Breathtaking Welsh scenery, and some utterly gorgeous seasonal music performed by the Toronto Boys’ Choir.
3. The Shop Around the Corner: What I like to call the other Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie, starring Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as bickering employees in a Hungarian parfumerie in 1930s Budapest, who don’t realize they’re secret pen pals. Stewart is diffident and quietly charming, Sullavan lively and vivacious--her character is a touch full of herself at first, but she softens up quite nicely. The movie begins in summer and ends on Christmas Eve, and while it has its darker moments, ultimately, the characters who most deserve it get at least some kind of happy or optimistic ending.
4. Love Actually: This is a more recent favorite, and I was a little surprised by how quickly it grew into my affections. I guess I can’t resist multi-stranded ensemble stories--not every strand is equally compelling, but the stronger stories outnumber the weaker ones, in my opinion. The characters feel (mostly) real, recognizable, and relatable. And there’s a wonderful variety of moods from the hilarious to the melancholy to the celebratory. More things end well than badly, and even the sadder moments are leavened by a bit of hope or comfort at the end.
5. Peter, Paul, & Mary: The Holiday Concert: Wait long enough, and every singer or group in existence will put on a Christmas show. But this one really is special to me, possibly because this folk trio is so comfortable performing together, so appreciative of each other’s abilities, and so enthusiastic about their refreshingly eclectic material, which ranges from the secular to the religious, from the medieval to the modern, and includes Hanukkah songs as well as Christmas carols and some of the group’s more popular folk hits. And their performance is backed by the New York Choral Society and Orchestra, never a bad thing!
So what movies or programs make your holiday season bright? (Funny thing is, I don’t believe I’ve seen either Miracle on 34th Street or It’s a Wonderful Life in their entirety more than once!)