Film

A Classic Christmas

Tried and true

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Normally, when writing about seasonal cinema, I try and suggest movies outside the realm of the standards. I operate under the assumption that we’ve all seen the classics umpteen times and what we’re really after are the outliers.

However, 2020 has not been a normal year.

During a normal year, I start watching Christmas films right around, well, Christmas. This year, bored, a bit sad and looking for cheer, I fired up the yuletide movies before Thanksgiving was upon us. As previously mentioned, I’ve been swimming deep in the waters of Hallmark, Lifetime, and now Netflix Christmas movies. Spoiler: They’re all terrible, none are believable and I don’t care about either of those things one bit.

Now that the holiday itself draws nigh, I find myself craving the true-blue Christmas classics. Perhaps it’s my longing for pre-COVID days at play or maybe it’s a simple desire to immerse myself in worlds where everything turns out just right by Christmas morning, but during a year when I won’t be opening presents with my folks while my Pops wears his light-up holiday sweater, and I’m not sitting down to a feast of Christmas lasagna with my friend and coworker Amy Kepferle, traditional movies feel like a warm blanket of Christmas comfort. Pour yourself a mug of hot chocolate (feel free to doctor it with the spirits of the season) and press play on the classics to which we’ve returned time and again.

Every year since I was born (give or take those years before my memory kicked in), my mom has forced me to watch It’s a Wonderful Life with her. I used to find the 1946 Frank Capra film starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed to be boring and more than a little cheesy (sorry, mom). However, as time has gone by, I’ve come around to the story of George Bailey’s reckoning with what life in small-town Bedford Falls would’ve been like without him, and have developed an appreciation for the film’s inspirational messaging that our lives are important, regardless of how we feel about them. Mostly I succumb to endless rewatches because Stewart’s performance is multilayered, masterful and rife with surprisingly sly humor—but I still think they’re too mean to Uncle Billy.

I’m not sure when exactly A Christmas Story entered my life, but I do remember who introduced it to me: my grandma Pat, who had an affection for the movie that seemed to come straight from her own life experience. In Ralphie Parker and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, she saw her youngest son Dennis, and in Ralphie’s mother’s “You’ll put your eye out” admonition, she saw herself. But the real-life reminders didn’t end there. Every year, when we’d watch together, she’d talk about how my Uncle Dennis’ best friend Cornwall was just like Flick, the kid who stuck his tongue to the frozen pole, and the Bumpus’ dogs were all the cats she’d ever had who’d snuck away with part of a holiday dinner. I have to admit, there was a bit of resemblance between the rough-around-the-edges, working-class Parker family and my own clan, but even if you could never imagine anyone in your family calling a leg lamp a “major award,” A Christmas Story remains an enduring classic for so many reasons.

I was an insufferable teenager when Home Alone was released and my interest in Kevin McAllister’s hijinks was bordering on nonexistent. As a teen, I had no minutes or patience for the plot holes so wide you could drive an ocean liner through them and Macaulay Culkin’s charms were completely lost on me. However, via repeated viewings as an adult, I’ve come around. Kevin is an excellent mix of diabolical precociousness and scared kid (Culkin is a miracle of perfect casting—one of those times when Hollywood got something exactly right), and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern make for appropriately ridiculous villains. Plus, I’m a total sucker for a John Hughes script and a John Williams soundtrack. And, at the end of the day, who wouldn’t want to booby trap their own house in the name of self-defense and outwitting some bad guys?

In the arena of films that are less Christmas classics and more guilty pleasures falls a movie that I have watched on TV, complete with commercial breaks, as many times or more than I’ve watched He’s Just Not That Into You (don’t watch it. It’s not good. Especially with commercial breaks): The Holiday. I can take or leave Kate Winslet’s character and I’ve never really bought into the vague charms of Jack Black. It’s the British side of this Hollywood-England house-swap rom-com that compels me. There’s just something about Cameron Diaz’s Amanda as a tightly wound Hollywood type who is actually a mess under her perfectly coiffed exterior—a wholly relatable, wine-swilling, cheesy-dancing, bad-decision-making mess—that I find to be endearing. And I love the interludes when she imagines her life as a movie trailer. Add those Nancy Meyers eye-candy houses to the mix and it’s a sneaky piece of holiday entertainment.

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