I love the classics, but if you’ve seen them all and want to try something new, take a look at these holiday gems:
Desk Set Before smart phones and Google, there were people like the character played by Katherine Hepburn in this romantic comedy, her first color film with her favorite on- and off-screen co-star, Spencer Tracy. She is old school as a researcher for a television network who relies on her reference books and prodigious memory to answer all questions. He’s the tech guy who is installing a computer (the size of a small house). Sparks of all kinds result. (Ages 10-Adult)
Die Hard One of the greatest action films of all time has Bruce Willis as a cop visiting his estranged wife at her office on Christmas eve, just as a group of super-genius bad guys (led by the magnificently malevolent Alan Rickman) take over the building. (Very strong language and explicit and graphic violence — Ages 15-Adult)
It Happened on 5th Avenue A homeless man moves into a mansion while the owner is away for the holidays and soon finds himself hosting some WWII vets and their families. The owner’s daughter comes home and finds herself pretending to be another squatter. (Ages 8-Adult)
An Affair To Remember Get out your handkerchiefs. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr play a couple who meet on a ship as they are returning home to get married to wealthy, upper-class types who can support them in the manner to which they would like to be accustomed. When they fall deeply in love, they realize they must earn their right to be together. And when tragedy strikes, it will take all the magic of Christmas to bring them a happy ending. (10-Adult) Note: the original version, “Love Affair,” with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, is also a wonderful film, but skip the third version with Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.
The Shop Around the Corner Before You’ve Got Mail and the musical version In the Good Old Summertime was this charming black-and-white romance with Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart as warring co-workers in a department store who do not realize that they are in love with each other via a secret pen pal letter exchange. There is also a stage musical version called In the Good Old Summertime. (10-Adult)
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas The Jim Carrey live action version is all right, but this animated film from Chuck Jones is the real Grinch movie, with the deliciously sinister voice of Boris Karloff. (All ages)
“Period of Adjustment” The only way to see this one is in its annual broadcast on Turner Classic Movies as it is not available on DVD. So set your TIVO for this story of newlyweds (Jane Fonda and Jim Hutton) who have something to learn about communication. He brings her to visit his old war buddy who is having some marital problems of his own. This is the only comedy from legendary playwright Tennessee Williams and it is a heart-warming gem.
The Gathering Ed Asner plays a tough, type-A businessman who neglected his family to pursue his career. He asks his estranged wife (the superb Maureen Stapleton) to bring together his grown children and their families for Christmas, and we and they later discover why it is so important to him to make peace with them at last.
Joyeux Noel On Christmas eve 1914, as officers prepared their troops for battle, the soldiers on opposing sides reached out to each other for a spontaneous celebration of Christmas, exchanging chocolates and playing soccer. The famous “Christmas truce” becomes an affecting and inspiring movie. For a similar story, see A Midnight Clear, based on the autobiographical novel by William Wharton.
Little Women “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” begins one of the most beloved of American novels, the autobiographical story of four sisters from Louisa May Alcott. All three filmed versions are fine, but I especially love this one, with Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Susan Sarandon, Christian Bale, and Gabriel Byrne.
This Christmas A superb cast including Delroy Lindo, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, Columbus Short, and Regina King, and Chris Brown nicely captures the rhythm and volatility of adult sibling interactions, a mash-up of in-jokes, old and new and often-shifting alliances, the need for acceptance and approval, and affectionate teasing that sometimes flares up to reveal or aggravate old wounds. Director Preston A. Whitmore has a sure hand in balancing half a dozen different storylines and multiple switches of tone from light-hearted romance to lacerating confrontations and gritty drama. The plots may be predicable but the individual cast members are all superb and completely believable as family, the whole greater than the sum of the parts. And Chris Brown sings “Try a Little Tenderness” and the title song.