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
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.
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
But what if you just want to be transported—teleported, even.
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.
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
So there you have it. A little movie guide to help diversify
your holiday viewing options and keep you from feeling sugar-coated
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.
. . .”