It’s that time of year again – time for snow, hot chocolate, multi-colored lights, mittens, and snuggling on the couch watching holiday movies. Or, if you’re here on the east coast, it’s 65 degrees and balmy, and you’re going to need those holiday movies to get yourself feeling “in the spirit” at all.
My choices for holiday viewing are not necessarily standard. Now, I love the Home Alones and White Christmases as much as the rest of you, but I find that there are so many other seasonally appropriate films that get thrown by the way side – or perhaps you’ve forgotten just how many great little movies have a holiday setting.
So, for your benefit (and mostly mine, spreading the gospel of alternative seasonal selections), I’ve collected a list of my absolute favorite holiday movies. For the full list, visit me on Letterbox’d (I’m loving this site!), where I keep a full collection of my favorites (and I’ll keep adding as I think of them). But without further ado, here is:
OneCriticalBitch’s Alternative Holiday Movies for Seasonal Viewing
dir. Jodi Foster, 1995
This is actually a Thanksgiving movie, but it’s the perfect mood builder coming up toward Christmas, trust me. It is that delicate medium between intensely sentimental and can’t-catch-your-breath funny. The easiest part to like is Robert Downey, Jr. doing what Robert Downey, Jr. does (darling quirks and sarcasm included), but my favorite part is Anne Bancroft, donning “bad hair,” sneakers with holes cut in them to “relieve the pressure” on her bunions, and never, ever missing the chance to dramatically wave a hand in the air. Maybe she reminds me of my own grandmother (she had that hand wave down, too), and isn’t that what a film this time of year should do – Ask you to remember?
dir. Sergio Corbucci, 1968
The only thing about this spaghetti western that makes it holiday appropriate is the snow, but that is precisely what is special about it. I mean, how many Leone-style westerns take place in mounds and mounds of snow? Approximately NONE. If you’re into this type of gun-slinging international cinema, you’ll be happy to see it feature my favorite German actor of all (perhaps just my favorite actor), Klaus Kinski, in all his smarmy, evil glory. There’s even an interracial relationship between our cowboy and his chosen lady – surprisingly nuanced for a B-movie of its time (don’t worry – still plenty of confusing gender politics to go around). But most of all, it’s fun, exciting, and an incredibly good-looking western. Throw on this Corbucci brilliance when someone demands you watch Die Hard for the tenth time – it’s just as bad-ass with slightly more class.
Also: In Bruges, The Seventh Seal (if you want to get REAL existential this holiday season)
dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2007
Speaking of the Germans, this German-language masterpiece (a debut feature film – wrap your head around that after you watch) is just about one of the best movies I have ever seen, period. How convenient that its storyline treads right through Christmas and I can find an excuse to watch it every December. But even without the snow, holiday parties, and lights, this one does something all the best holiday films do – appeal to our greater sense of humanity. A straight up drama about artists trying to live in post-war East-Berlin, the Stasi, and surveillance, it is really about what we as human beings can do for others. More than any other film on this list, I think, it can put me in the giving spirit (and make me bawl like a crazy person – that’s your warning, cry babies). It is beautiful, poetic, and just a joy to watch on a wintery night when you want to be moved.
Also: Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
dir. Tim Burton, 1990
I’m not a Tim Burton freak (well, not anymore – sixteen year-old fan girls all spend a little time in that place, don’t they?), but there is something about Christmas and winter and Edward that just GO together, right? It could be the castle, the stately and magical Inventor, Vincent Price, the darling and haunting love story, or just Winona Ryder spinning endlessly in the super bright, glittery snow. But there is something about this movie (or maybe ANY Burton movie), that just belongs in December. For all the creepy-crawly weirdness, his films are truly full of tenderness and kindness, more than anything else. Except for Sweeney Todd – Victorian London is fucking cruel (yet, somehow, still seasonally appropriate).
Also: The Nightmare Before Christmas (duh.), Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow
dir. Vincente Minelli, 1944
I guess this is the classic for me, which is interesting because I didn’t grow up with it, my parents don’t care for it (something to do with “clang, clang, clang goes the trolley,” probably), and it’s a pretty mainstream studio film. But the holidays require at least one decent musical (the only time of year people ACTUALLY break out into song), and Judy Garland and Vincente Minelli deliver it exquisitely with a story about one family in their picture-perfect, Technicolor midwestern house that spans an entire year. Garland recorded the original version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” for this film, and if you do not well up with tears when she sings it, well, you do not have my scope of emotional problems (or a soul). But at the heart of St. Louis is family, and just like the rest of you normals out there, I, too, like my holiday schlock to make me remember what Christmas and the holiday season is all about:
Christmas is the time we should be thinking about what we can do for others. – Pee-Wee Herman
Also: Holiday Inn, White Christmas, Millions, How To Marry a Millionaire (Betty Grable goes skiing!!)
Which brings me to my final and GREATEST selection:
dir. Wayne Orr and Paul Reubens 1988
There is no television special that could ever rival this. It has Cher, Oprah, Grace Jones, Reba the Mail Lady, Cowboy Curtis (Lawrence Fishburne!), Magic Johnson, Annette Funicello, Charro, Little Richard – shall I go on? No? FIND THIS. WATCH THIS. Revel in the holiday spirit, and remember – for all his spoiled brat, creepy man-child antics – Pee-Wee’s advice is fucking spot on.
May your holidays be bright, and your film choices remind you of all we can do for others, this season and beyond.
Now, tell me – what are YOU watching this season? Your favorite, must-watch, never-miss holiday movies? Drop a line in the comments!
*This post contains affiliate links – I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. Of course, I stand by every film, dvd, or book I link you to, and hope you’re cool with this – if not, don’t click!*