Monday, December 23, 2013

LIGHTS . . . CAMERA . . . CHRISTMAS! by Pamela Sherwood

In “Miracle” by Connie Willis (one of my favorite holiday short stories), the hero and heroine bond over their preference for Miracle on 34th Street over It’s a Wonderful Life as their favorite Christmas movie. On first reading, I chortled happily through the tale, enjoying all of the author’s affectionate swipes at seasonal stress, Christmas shopping, office parties, and holiday television programming that will show certain films over and over until audiences run screaming in the opposite direction. (I do recall a year in which every station seemed to be broadcasting It’s a Wonderful Life.)

In spite of this overkill, there are movies and television specials without which the holidays just don’t seem complete. When I was a kid, I couldn’t imagine not watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” every year--and they remain favorites, not least because both programs are so much more than thinly disguised commercials. And I know other people who cherish fond memories of “Frosty the Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

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!)

Happy Holidays!


  1. A couple of my siblings have had some crazy experiences trying to get home for Christmas, so Die Hard 2 has a certain appeal for me."Why do these things keep happening to us?"

    The other movie that's a must see is "White Christmas". That opening sequence where Bing Crosby is singing to the troops at an impromptu show just makes me cry and say a prayer for all the men and women in harm's way while dreaming of being home with their loved ones.

  2. Thanks for the recs. I haven't seen some of these. I watch the kids movies with my daughter--Rudolph, Frosty, Santa Claus is Coming to Town...

  3. I love these, Pamela! Love Actually is one of my favorites :) Merry Christmas, All!

  4. Seen most of these, but must try to find A Child's Christmas in Wales!

  5. Virginia, there are definitely some films that appeal because they touch on the crazier or more trying aspects of the season. The Lion in Winter is one of those films for me, because it's like the ultimate dysfunctional family Christmas--however stressful your holidays, be grateful you're not cooped up in a snowbound French castle with any of these people! I've seen "Holiday Inn" but not "White Christmas," so I'll have to remedy that!

    Shana, having kids definitely prolongs the holiday viewing tradition--my nephew loves A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Grinch.

    Christy, glad you like the recs! Love Actually was a late favorite, but it's stayed the course. Merry Christmas.

    Cheryl, fortunately, thanks to the magic of technology, these are all available on DVD, even A Child's Christmas in Wales. (For years, I played my VHS of it.) Enjoy!

  6. We are spending our holidays on the beach and yes, it's raining but I really don't even care. If I can open the door and see the beach and hear the ocean and smell the salt air, I'm fine with whatever the weather does. Last night we watched the first two Home Alone movies and I loved them both all over again!

  7. I love White Christmas and the earlier movie Holiday Inn, which actually introduced Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas." Merry Christmas, all.

  8. Carolyn, as a California girl, I have to say Christmas by the sea sounds lovely! And I understand the Home Alone films are also popular holiday viewing choices, though I haven't seen them yet myself.

    LSUreader, I've grown quite fond of Holiday Inn, and it doesn't hurt that Fred Astaire is in it, along with Bing Crosby.

  9. We watch Christmas Vacation every year and this year my daughter got us all tickets to see it at a theater. I think it's become a cult. The theater was totally full and was great fun.

  10. catslady, I haven't seen any of the Vacation movies, but I can imagine them having a "cult appeal." Happy holidays!