'It's a Wonderful Life' updated: Bill Murray and co-star.
Not many Christmas movie lists would contain The Usual Suspects. But the usual suspects are what we usually get. It's A Wonderful Life, Scrooge, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf, The Pet/Primate/Crustacean Who Saved Christmas, etc. Some great movies in there. Still, we can always use fresh options. Other holiday-appropriate movies that might add a little variety into that straight eggnog-and-candy-cane diet:
There are parallels between Billy Wilder's 1960 classic, starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, and It's A Wonderful Life. Both are funny, sweet, and heartwarming yet dark enough to feature Christmas suicide attempts. Neither film is explicitly about Christmas or the holidays but both finish up on a holiday note, with the climactic scene in The Apartment happening on New Year's Eve. Both are a pleasure to watch again and again. Shut up and deal.
The Great Escape
This one is for the Brits. Apparently The Great Escape is such a Christmas TV tradition in Old Blighty that the theme song is sometimes played in stores as holiday music. Sixties epics like The Great Escape or CTV Christmas perennial The Sound of Music seem to lend themselves to holiday family viewing. So how about:
A long, sweeping tale of war and romance set in a snowbound landscape, with a horse-drawn sleigh and an ice castle to boot. What more could you want on a movie-watching holiday?
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
This unique and unforgettable 1964 French musical would be perfectly charming seasonal viewing even if it didn't wrap up on Christmas Eve.
Life of Brian
It's Christmas. What better time to recall the inspiring life and sing-along death of Monty Python's almost-Messiah? He was a Capricorn, you know.
Bear with me. The theme is Christ figures -- very holiday-appropriate. (You could watch these movies at Easter too but that's not so much a film-fest kind of holiday.) Plenty of cinematic resurrections to choose from -- ET would perhaps be a more obvious selection. Or you could watch Spock make the ultimate (temporary) sacrifice in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, then rejoice as he is reborn in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
But I pick director Paul Verhoeven's Robocop just because it's one of my favourites. He dies yet rises again to bring justice and peace. And like President Obama, he does not give up on Detroit.
Sacrifice, joy, gifts of love, and food, food, food. Since Babette's menu did not include any Rudolph venison it makes for excellent Christmas viewing.
Eyes Wide Shut
The whole repressed-lust-is-everywhere-and-sometimes-breaks-out-into-trysts-and-even-bizarre-orgiastic-rituals theme may not seem festive. But Stanley Kubrick's final movie is set in the holiday season and includes lots of pretty Christmas lights. The final scene even features Christmas shopping. And a common vulgarity referring to intercourse. Maybe save this one 'til the little ones are fast asleep dreaming of sugar plums, if kids still do that.
It all happens at a Christmas party. You may remember that scene with a Santa in the elevator, bedecked with a festive sign reading "Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho."
If you're looking for one of the great holiday movies why restrict yourself to a particular holiday? Besides, there are It's A Wonderful Life references sprinkled throughout.
After the title of David O. Russell's 1999 dark comedy fools you into thinking it's a Christmas flick, you discover the action is set in the Middle East and involves gold. Close enough. (You could probably also include the 2000 thriller Reindeer Games here but I'm told it sucked rather badly.)
The Silent Partner
This 1978 Canadian-made favourite with Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer opens with a bank-robbing Santa Claus. It's in.
The Red Balloon
Ultimately the best holiday movies are the most personal -- the movies that, for whatever reason, have attached themselves to your holiday tradition. On my mother's final Christmas she lacked the stamina and focus to sit through a full-length feature film. So I brought home a DVD of this half-hour 1956 classic about a boy and his pet balloon, a near-wordless, pre-CGI miracle of cinematic storytelling. Mom loved it. Now it's one of my Christmas favourites. I'm sure you have your own.
Happy holiday viewing. And try to save some popcorn for the tree.