Here are 5 must-see holiday movies to watch this season
Everyone loves a good holiday movie. But how many are there really good ones?
Well, at least enough to make a short list.
There are obvious choices, which the following list includes. But there are also some that seem less obvious as the film doesn’t just focus on holidays like Christmas, even though the holiday season remains an integral part of the story. So, in no particular order, here’s a list of five essential vacation movies.
When the movie “Elf” premiered in November 2003, few could have predicted that it would become the everlasting vacation favorite that it has.
Will Ferrell plays an elf named Buddy who is actually the size of a typical human. It turns out that he was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a child and ended up being raised by Santa’s elves. Sensing that something is wrong, Buddy travels to New York City to find his biological father and hilarity ensues.
Think Ferrell at his funniest in those classic “Saturday Night Live” skits. But âElfâ also has a lot of heart-warming moments.
“This movie could have ended up being really stupid if it weren’t for the performance of Will Ferrell,” Bob Newhart told me in an interview about a year after the film’s release. Newhart plays Papa Elf.
The incredible cast of the film also includes Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen and the late Ed Asner as Santa Claus, a role the self-proclaimed “Non-Practicing Jew” was born to play.
“A Christmas Carol”
There are so many âChristmas Carolâ movies that it’s hard to follow them all. So, which screen version of the Charles Dickens classic should you absolutely make time for?
For what it’s worth, I would highly recommend the UK version from 1951 with Scottish actor Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. His performance surpasses that of any other actor who has played Scrooge in movies, including George C. Scott.
In a very controlled performance, Sim primarily lets Scrooge’s emotions simmer below the surface. But there is a lot of power in his lyrics and as he goes from stage to stage you can practically feel the cold in his wake.
This film will make you cry as it reflects the heartbreaking moments of Scrooge’s youth.
And after Scrooge receives a visit from the Three Spirits, Sim rides the wave of his epiphany inviting the audience to laugh with him. It is this perfect embodiment of the character that allows the viewer to fully grasp Dickens’ message.
If you have a hard time finding it, Turner Classic Movies makes a point of showing it at least once a year.
“The Lady of the Lake”
How does a Philip Marlowe film noir get on this list? Well, while the holidays aren’t at the heart of the story, there is a Christmas theme throughout the film nonetheless.
This Murder Mystery is an adaptation of a 1943 Raymond Chandler novel and it’s stylistically unique – the entire movie is shot from the perspective of the central character played by Robert Montgomery who is also directing the film. In other words, when he gets a punch in the face, you get a punch in the face, so to speak.
The story has some humorous dialogue but it is very dark and spooky with the only music provided by a vocal chorus without words. Only the Christmas decor brightens up the film at times. For example, the opening credits are featured on a series of Christmas cards, which turn out to conceal a gun.
On Christmas Eve, Marlowe’s car rolls off the road. He finally crawls to a pay phone and calls an acquaintance played by Audrey Totter. She takes him to his apartment so he can recover from his injuries and they spend Christmas Day togetherâ¦ and (spoiler alert) fall in love.
“It’s a wonderful life”
Of course, these are fruits at hand. But the fruit is nonetheless sweet.
No matter how many times you’ve seen this movie, it still resonates – maybe even more so in times like this.
In âIt’s a Wonderful Life,â hard times brought George Bailey (James Stewart) to the brink – or as he says with tears in his eyes in one indelible scene – âGod, I’m at my wit’s end.â He asks for help as he plans to kill himself.
Stewart later admitted the tears were real.
He had moved away from the movies to serve as a fighter pilot in World War II and spent about five years away from Hollywood – not directing a feature film between 1942 and 1946.
âIt’s a Wonderful Lifeâ was Stewart’s first post-war film and as he was filming his scenes he later said he was honestly not sure whether he still had the ability to act at a professional level. Stewart’s actual insecurities caused him to identify with the character so strongly that he was really crying in this scene.
When director Frank Capra asked Stewart if he could do an identical take so Capra could improve the shot, Stewart replied that he couldn’t.
Because Stewart is from Indiana, Pennsylvania, some have mistakenly concluded that the movie was made there. The incorrect notion didn’t hurt tourism in Indiana, but the film was actually made in Hollywood. However, Seneca Falls, New York claims to be the inspiration for the fictional Wonderful Life setting of Bedford Falls.
“A Christmas story”
Even though the jokes – tongue on the piece of ice and “You’re gonna shoot your kid eye” – are nearly 40 years old, and the movie airs 24 hours a day on Turner Broadcasting stations on Christmas Eve and Christmas day people can’t get enough of this movie.
Why? Because it’s rooted in one of the best Christmas movie scripts ever written. Screenwriter Jean Shepherd draws inspiration from childhood memories – with a few embellishments – that perfectly capture a cultural slice of the Americana of the late 1930s and early 1940s.
There’s the central character Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), portraying Shepherd’s young self – and his infatuation with little orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin and the Red Ryder BB Gun. The latter is a gift from Santa despite Ralphie dropping an F-bomb in the hilarious tire change scene.
It is all told by Shepherd, as the older Ralphie, with several scenes stolen by Darren McGavin as the father. McGavin brings the movie’s biggest laughs as he battles the house’s unreliable furnace, the neighbor’s dogs who break loose and invade the kitchen, and the mother (Melinda Dillon) who isn’t too happy that we hands her a garish lamp with a female leg in a fishnet stocking forming the base.
It never really made sense that Dillon was so put off by this lamp considering her topless scene with Paul Newman in “Slap Shot”.
“A Christmas Story” is a movie the whole family can enjoy. After all, that can’t relate to obsessing over an extra special Christmas toy – and (spoiler alert, like someone in America doesn’t know the ending now) – actually getting it.
Paul Guggenheimer is an editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]