With the holidays around the corner, I thought I’d look at some of my favourite holiday films. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, and I may add to it in the months and years to come, so don’t get upset if you don’t see your favourite holiday film here. It’s my list of films that I never get tired of watching.
In no particular order…
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
If your cable company offered Fox TV back in 1987, you would have already been familiar with Johnny Depp from his TV show, “21 Jump Street”. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is the film that made him a bona fide movie star.
As the title suggests, Edward has a pair (a few pair, really) of scissors for hands. He is left “unfinished” when his creator (played to perfection by the wonderful Vincent Price) dies before he can fit Edward with a pair of human hands. Many years later, Edward is found by a local townswoman (played by Dianne Wiest), who looks past his “disability” and only sees his abilities and good heart. The rest of the town takes Edward in and his life starts to have purpose and meaning. His fortunes change, however, when he falls in love with Kim (Winona Ryder) who is already dating a very jealous guy. Through a series of mishaps and misunderstandings, Edward becomes a pariah, running away, never to be seen again. But Kim, who is now an old woman, has never forgotten him.
Produced, co-written and directed by Tim Burton, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is guaranteed to put a lump in your throat when you watch Kim become enraptured by the ice crystals floating down around her.
Home Alone (1990)
Here is another film that launched a movie career. This time it’s the then 10-year-old Macaulay Culkin who stars as the cute and highly resourceful, Kevin McCallister. After being accidentally left at home when his family takes off for a Christmas vacation overseas, Kevin relishes his new-found, unfettered freedom. But he gets more than he bargains for when a pair of half-wit thieves (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) try to break into the house… or perhaps they get more than they bargain for.
Critics may not have liked HOME ALONE as much as audiences did but there’s no disputing that Kevin’s face slap has become one of Hollywood’s most memorable and imitated images.
Trading Places (1983)
Here is yet another film that launched its star to new heights. Fans of the TV show, “Saturday Night Live”, already knew and loved Eddie Murphy, a comedian and actor who electrified every skit he was a part of. Murphy was still basking in the rave reviews for his debut film, 48 HOURS, with Nick Nolte when TRADING PLACES hit our movie screens.
In this film, he and fellow SNL alumnus Dan Aykroyd play two guys who are unwittingly caught up in a “nature-vs.nurture” experiment perpetrated by a pair of wealthy but immoral commodity brokers, played by veteran actors Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy. The two codgers make a $1 bet with each other to see if they can take a scammer off the street and turn him into a successful broker while at the same time turn one of their employees into a bum. Their plan succeeds until the younger men figure out their game, at which time they turn the tables on the old men.
It’s madcap zaniness with fine performances throughout.
Die Hard (1988)
Many actors and actresses have tried to make the leap from TV to the big screen and many have failed, but DIE HARD is yet another film that launched the movie career of not one but two of its stars. Bruce Willis was already a household name in North America from his then 4-year stint co-starring with Cybill Shepherd on TV’s “Moonlighting”, but his movie career was going nowhere fast until the character of New York City cop John McClane came along.
In this film, McClane decides to surprise his estranged wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia), at her company’s Christmas party in Los Angeles when German terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in his feature film debut) takes everyone hostage. McClane manages to slip away unseen and proceeds to take on Gruber’s group singlehandedly. While the weather outside might be frightful, it isn’t much better inside.
McClane’s “yippee-kai-yay” has also entered into mainstream culture and was used in each of the four sequels that were spawned from this film.
The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
Who says that the holidays are just for Christians? THE HEBREW HAMMER reminds us that the Jews have their holidays at this time of year too.
In this low-budget entry, Adam Goldberg (who is not Jewish) plays Mordechai Jefferson Carver, a Jewish private detective in the mould of John Shaft. Carver goes on a mission to save Chanukah from Santa’s evil son, Damien (Andy Dick), who is trying to eradicate the Jewish holiday.
THE HEBREW HAMMER is rather raunchy and a bit uneven in its pacing, but it’s delightfully un-PC. I’m proud to say that I brought both the film and its director, Jonathan Kesselman, to Hong Kong in November 2003.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Yes, I know ACBX is not a feature film but how can you get through the holidays without watching this classic TV special?
All of Charlie Brown’s friends are excited about the upcoming holiday but all they see are the commercial aspects of it. Even Snoopy has sold out. He’s decked out his dog house with flashing lights in hopes of winning the prize for the best Christmas decorations. When Charlie Brown complains that the true spirit of the holiday has been forgotten, Lucy puts him in charge of organising their Christmas play. But that proves to be a daunting task, especially when Charlie Brown brings in a feeble-looking tree for the group’s centrepiece. Fortunately, Linus saves the day with his impassioned speech that unites the team and reminds them what the holiday is really all about.
Even after all these years, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS still makes me laugh and cry. It should be mandatory viewing for everyone in Hong Kong.
Holiday Inn (1942)
We Jews have a lot to be proud of. We gave the world Jesus, Christmas, and the world’s most beloved Christmas song, “White Christmas”.
Based on an idea by Irving Berlin, HOLIDAY INN stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire who play both friends and rivals for the romantic affections of two women, played by Virginia Dale and Marjorie Reynolds. Between Crosby’s crooning, Astaire’s fancy footwork and Berlin’s immortal tunes, it’s impossible not to love this movie. It’s so good that even a global hotel chain took its name from the film.
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
Remade twice (once as a made-for-TV movie in 1973 and again as a theatrical release in 1994), the original MIRACLE is still the best.
When New York department store Macy’s is forced to find a last-minute Santa for its famous Thanksgiving Day Parade, they didn’t expect they’d be hiring the real Saint Nick. But neither company supervisor Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) nor her daughter Susan (an 8-year-old Natalie Wood) is convinced he is who he says he is. They think he’s crazy.
Veteran actor Edmund Gwenn (LASSIE COME HOME) won an Oscar for his portrayal of the jolly old man from the North Pole. Watch this film and you may just start believing in miracles!
(Keep your eyes out for William Frawley, who is better known as Fred Mertz, from the classic 1950s TV show, “I Love Lucy”.)
Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
Although six-year-old Margaret O’Brien (“Tootie”) steals every scene she’s in, Judy Garland is the obvious star in this love letter to the city that is the home of the Gateway Arch, and was the host to both the 1904 World’s Fair and the 1904 Summer Olympics (though the latter is not mentioned in the film, probably because the fair completely overshadowed the games in real life). The story is based on the real-life experiences of novelist Sally Benson, whose book was serialized in the New Yorker Magazine in 1942. Like the fictional Smith family, Benson’s family moved from St. Louis to New York City. The Bensons, though, left before the World’s Fair started and didn’t return.
MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS features some now-classic tunes including “The Trolley Song” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, both sung by Garland in her inimitable style. It was directed by Vincente Minnelli, who met Garland on this film and married her right after.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
James Stewart said that of all the films he made, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE was his favourite. It’s one of my favourites too.
Stewart plays George Bailey of the fictional town of Bedford Falls, set somewhere in upstate New York. George is the richest man in the town though he barely has two nickels to rub together. Instead of having money, he has the undying devotion of his family, his friends and his town — the lines separating the three being very blurry. The only person who is working against him is the town’s wealthiest man, the miserly Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), who is jealous of George. When a clerical error puts George’s business on the verge of bankruptcy, he decides that his life isn’t worth living. That’s when Clarence shows up. Clarence is an angel who must save George’s life in order to earn his wings. Clarence decides to turn back time to show George how life would be in Bedford Falls if he had never existed. With Clarence’s help, George sees that he truly has a wonderful life.
You would have to be a heartless person not to break into tears at the film’s final scene. I get misty just thinking about it… and I’ve seen the film dozens of times. If there is one film that shows the true meaning of the holiday season, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE is it.
Which are your favourite holiday films? Let me know!
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 33:00.)
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