Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas (movie) time is here

Hollywood's annual deluge of "prestige" fare continues to draw us to the big screen every December. The studios recognize full well that America's holiday traditions — family gatherings, lights on the house, decorations on the tree — include a visit or two (or three, or five) to the local multiplex. There's no doubt about it: We love watching movies during these festive days of early winter.

Yes, Virginia, tough guy Robert Mitchum starred in one of the sweetest little Christmas
 films ever made, 1949's Holiday Affair. That's Janet Leigh on the left, years before
Alfred Hitchcock would ignite her career in an entirely different way.
Nor is this behavior confined to the big screen; indeed, it's an even bigger deal at home, with friends and families popping corn, nogging eggs and settling onto the couch, often on Christmas Eve and/or New Year's Eve, in order to watch some beloved classics. And, since it is the season, one's thoughts often turn to holiday-themed movies.

We don't get many of those, these days. Christmas movies used to be a Hollywood staple, decades ago; now they're an endangered species. Which is just as well, because most recent efforts have been lamentable, to say the least. I mean, Fred Claus? Seriously?

Tinseltown seems to have lost the ability to deliver a genuinely heartfelt holiday film, confining all such activity to overblown comedies that inevitably land with the disheartening thud of last year's fruitcake. Sentiment is an ugly word in the States these days — except with made-for-TV movies, particularly on the Hallmark Channel, which confuse sentiment with maudlin, slushy treacle — and yet we crave precisely that during the holiday season. What to do?

I addressed this problem back in 2005, finally responding to a request that all film critics get in December: What's the best holiday film? Give us something different to watch this year. I also was bothered by the tendency — then, as now — for Christmas movie lists to exhibit a singular lack of imagination (and cinema history) by citing the same stuff, time after time. And, so, I compiled a list of the all-time best, worst and most eclectic holiday offerings.

The funny thing is — and it proves my contention above — that list hasn't changed much, in nearly a decade. In fact, it changed only once, in 2011, when (finally!) a new film entered the Top 10. No surprise: It came not from Hollywood, but from our British cousins.

Here, then, is where you'll find my current list of go-to holiday movie suggestions. And if you're curious to learn what changed, you'll find the original article here. If you've seen It's a Wonderful Life or Home Alone a few times too many — although I'd argue that isn't possible — these alternatives should be welcome.

Happy viewing!

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