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Holly Jolly Viewing

It’s that time of year when the television stations trot out the tired old favorites—every movie with the word “Christmas” in the title or implied by the title.

To paraphrase Bette Davis in All About Eve, “fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy month”—a month full of White Christmas, Christmas in Connecticut, A Christmas Story, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Muppet Christmas Carol, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and The Nightmare Before Christmas. And that’s not even taking into consideration the plethora of Christmas-themed movies: The Santa Clause, Bad Santa, The Polar Express, Miracle on 34th Street, Elf and dozens others.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Christmas movies. I couldn’t get through the holidays without my ritual viewing of Love, Actually—though I cry through the whole thing, and much prefer to watch it alone, clutching my Kleenex.

But there’s a genre of Christmas movie that has just gotten too painful. (And I’m not talking about my sister’s favorite, Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas.) I’m talking about the feel good/feel bad kind. Like It’s a Wonderful Life. Like The Family Stone. Like A Christmas Carol. These are movies that, the older you get, make you feel your age all the more.

Maybe you have come to identify a little too much with George Bailey , whose life, wonderful as it may be, has also not been a cakewalk. Or maybe it just makes you plain fearful when you discover what Sibyl Stone’s secret is. And Scrooge? Poor Scrooge. He doesn’t learn to be happy until he’s practically boiled in his own pudding.

So I’m proposing a list of alternative movies for your holiday viewing pleasure, movies that pair with your mood the way a good wine pairs with a good meal. Whether you are feeling sad, sardonic or sentimental, there is a movie listed below designed to complement it.

Say you’re in the mood for a romantic movie, but all you can find on TV is The Bishop’s Wife and The Holiday, then check out Hitchcock’s Notorious, which has the best on-screen kiss, ever, and some memorable quotes. (“We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity,” for example).

If Notorious has the best on-screen kiss, in Amelie you get to see an honest-to-goodness Paris-wide orgasm.

And in Doctor Zhivago, Omar Sharif and Julie Christie will equally make you swoon. Plus, David Lean’s “Russia” is dazzling.

But maybe you’re not in the mood for romance. Maybe you want a bracing alternative to all the seasonal sugary-ness. You could go for something scary. And it doesn’t get any scarier than three vintage offerings:

In The Haunting, (the original—the remake stinks) repressed spinster Julie Harris, sardonic lesbian Claire Bloom, and skeptic inherit-ee Russ Tamblyn hole up in a mansion so evil it makes Amityville look tame.

Night of the Hunter features Robert Mitchum in his creepiest role ever as the brimstone-hurling preacher—with “l-o-v-e” and “h-a-t-e” tattoos—on a mission to capture his stepchildren. Rosemary’s Baby is about a lot more than the spawn of Satan. It’s got Mia Farrow, 1960s fashion and a coven of warlocks and witches that will make your skin crawl.

Or maybe, between the zombies and the vampires, you’ve had enough weird. You want to laugh, but you don’t want to watch Elf yet again. So watch Blades of Glory. It’s got Will Ferrell. On skates.

Or watch The Usual Suspects, which is actually good to watch again and again to try to figure out just exactly how Kevin Spacey does it.

Of course, when I want to laugh, I just think of the Dude. The Big Lebowski will inspire you to sit around in your pajama bottoms drinking White Russians. Just like the Dude.

But what if you just want to be transported—teleported, even.

Keeping Mum will land you in Little Wallop, somewhere in the English Midlands where Rowan Atkinson is the local vicar, Kristin Scott Thomas is his horny wife and Maggie Smith the new housekeeper with a past a good deal darker than Mary Poppins.

The Third Man is required viewing for any number of reasons—Orson Welles as Harry Lime and Joseph Cotton as Holly Martins are only two. But you’ll also feel as though you’re trapped in the unsafe shadows of post-war Vienna. And you won’t want to miss the sewer scenes.

Of course, if you really want to be transported, go to The Village. Not “the village” in the lame remake of The Prisoner, but the real Village in the original TV series, which is out on DVD. Patrick McGoohan is Number 6 in this sustained Orwellian saga of entrapment and disinformation.

So there you have it. A little movie guide to help diversify your holiday viewing options and keep you from feeling sugar-coated and Scroogey.

Still, having said all that, don’t pass up the chance to see Elf again. And Emmett Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. And Holiday Inn. And An All-Dogs Christmas Carol. . . .”

—Jo Page

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