I feel better for having gotten the Christmas decorating done — just a small tree with red lights and balls, plus a door wreath — so I’m relaxing with some favorite holiday movies. My choices from our library were:
The Muppet Christmas Carol: Bittersweet, since it was the first big Muppet project after the death of Jim Henson. They put a new spin on the classic, with Gonzo as Charles Dickens narrating, but stick pretty closely to the basics, which is nice. I’m not sure Michael Caine was the best choice to play Scrooge, but Kermit makes a nice Bob Cratchit, and I love Beaker and Dr. Honeydew as charity collectors. (Beaker’s always a favorite.)
There are other recognizable Muppets in key roles — like Statler and Waldorf as the Marley ghost, turned from one character into brothers — but I appreciate the way that the three main ghosts aren’t. The Ghost of Christmas Past resembles one of the characters from The Dark Crystal, while the other two are more traditional human-size Muppet suits, although very different in mood, as they should be.
Speaking of Christmas horror stories (because that’s what Carol is, the cautionary tale of a man scared by ghosts into doing the right thing), how about Gremlins? I don’t like scary, but the adorable Gizmo and the movie’s sense of humor makes it all ok for me. It seems like there was a lot more of this kind of good-hearted entertainment in the 80s than there is now. I don’t mean to sound like a fogey, but I can’t think of a successful recent adventure or romantic comedy I’ve enjoyed the same way I did something like Back to the Future. (I loved Kate & Leopold, but it seems few others did.)
Let’s go back to the Muppets. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas isn’t as well-known as it should be, but I’ve loved it for years. Using non-familiar characters allows more flexibility in story, and the otters are so fuzzy cute. LOVE the song about “a mess of Mama’s barbecue”, one of several memorable Paul Williams songs.
It’s a wonderful way to introduce kids to the concept behind O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi”, with Mama and Son giving up things important to them in order to compete in the talent contest in order to win enough money for the gift they really want. It’s made all the more poignant by their clearly precarious economic status; they’re not just risking their desires but their livelihoods. That adds an important seasonal reminder to keep in mind how lucky we are if we don’t have to worry about meals or heat or where we live or buying gifts for others. I find it a welcome tonic for the ever-increasing commercialism that surrounds us at this time of year and a comforting reminder of family love.
Also in that category is Little Women. It’s got an amazing cast, anchored by Susan Sarandon and including Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst. Even if I disagree with Louisa May Alcott’s romantic choices for Jo, it’s wonderful to see such strong young women.
Let’s see… there’s also Toys, which falls apart but has marvelous visuals, and it contains my all-time favorite Christmas song, “The Closing of the Year”. And The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I don’t care that much for but I’m glad exists so goths and nihilists have holiday entertainment. (I’m surprised to see, considering how much merchandise is still made and sold for this movie, that the DVD is apparently out of print.)
But my two favorites are older movies that feature strong women in roles very non-traditional for their times.
Desk Set is the first color Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film, from 1957. She’s a researcher (and trivia goddess) for a network; he’s the efficiency expert brought in to install the latest in mechanization: a room-size computer. It’s a blast from the past, whether it’s the attitude that only single women can or should work, or the assumption that of course she’s just waiting around until the guy who’s strung her along for years finally proposes, or the way that the company Christmas party features drinking all day and winds from floor to floor. One year, I’m going to do a full metallic tree in honor of this film, which has one so draped in tinsel icicles that you can’t see green underneath.
There’s more relevant in the movie’s events than I expected, like the nature of working for a corporation and the fear of layoffs, and I like the way the two leads are clearly mature adults.
Christmas in Connecticut is still my favorite. From 1945, Barbara Stanwyck plays that generation’s Martha Stewart, a famous magazine writer who’s always describing her farmhouse, her delicious gourmet meals, and her loving husband and baby.
Problem is, she has none of those things. She’s a working woman who can’t cook but buys herself a mink because she’s always wanted one. When a war hero writes her publisher saying all he wants is to spend Christmas with her, she has to arrange to make all her perfect things come true. Thankfully, a great cook owes her a favor, her boring boyfriend has a farm, and she manages to borrow a baby.
Of course, she and the hero are instantly attracted to each other, even though he thinks she’s married and she thinks he’s engaged. It’s a refreshing take on a non-stereotypical woman’s role with plenty of comedy, romance, and heart-warming holiday cheer.
So what’s your favorite holiday film?