Top holiday flicks
ThirdCoast contributor Mark Metcalf selects the five movies he’s most likely to huddle in front of this season.
DIE HARD (1988)
It may not sound like a holiday movie, but “Ho, Ho f*%&’in’ Ho!!,” it takes place during a Christmas party! The action in Die Hard culminates at a high rise in Los Angeles when some terrorists (before they had political agendas and were just greedy) take over the building to steal codes and other things that fade in memory next to Bruce Willis’ iconic superhero status. There’s a Christmas tree and Santa’s red hat and holiday cheer, and Willis is here and everything ends happily. Willis made a franchise out of this character, the guy who just wants to do his job, keep his head down, isn’t asking for trouble, but somehow it always finds him. It’s as old as the story of Job. Luckily, Willis can take a beating. The movie shows its age, but it’s worth watching the ancient special effects to see where much of what we get today in the way of action heroes got started.
LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)
This is another one that isn’t exactly a Christmas movie in that it doesn’t celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus. What it does celebrate is the birth, the rebirth and even the very possibility for any birth and love. It also takes place during the Christmas season in London. Hugh Grant plays the Prime Minister, and Bill Nighy is amazing as an aging rock-and-roller who puts out a hit Christmas song and is reborn into celebrity. The movie also marked the rebirth of Nighy’s career; he’s been working ever since. Many stars from Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and Colin Firth to Keira Knightley and the always-wonderful Chiwetel Ejiofor give the movie lots of charm. It is really a delightful movie, and even though I think I panned it when it first came out because I usually don’t have much truck with the Hollywood’s notion of romantic love, Love Actually makes you want to believe; and I guess that’s all any of them really want you to do.
(That’s two for two for Alan Rickman since he’s the main terrorist in Die Hard, not exactly the kind of actor one associates with the holidays.)
HOLIDAY INN (1942)
The original was with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. It’s a bit of a buddy movie where all’s fair in love, war and show business. It was the first time that Crosby crooned “White Christmas” in a film. Astaire dances with such elegance and style that it feels as if he is off the ground. He isn’t partnered with any of his great partners so it isn’t astounding, but just watching him walk down a flight of stairs kind of takes my breath away. It’s called Holiday Inn because Crosby’s character leaves show business for the country life. He invests all of his money in an inn that will only be open on holidays. Right before he leaves, his partner (Astaire) steals his girl. He opens the inn anyway with a hatcheck girl who turns out to be a pretty good dancer. The first girl dumps Astaire for a Texas oilman and Astaire comes back to find his old partner and friend because he needs an act. Astaire falls for the new girl and the same thing happens again until …. You’ll have to see it. It covers all of the big holidays, 15 in all, but it starts and ends on Christmas.
MARCH OF THE WOODEN SOLDIERS (1934)
A.K.A. Babes In Toyland. The babes are Ollie Dee and Stannie Dum, Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel, respectively. And the movie is a complete fantasy that involves Mother Goose, Little Bo Peep and a whole bunch of Bogeymen; it’s classic, and some of Laurel and Hardy’s best work. I remember, when I was about six or seven years old, watching this movie on our first television, back when the only televisions were black and white. I’d be hiding by the door with my brother Roy, watching as the wooden soldier and the bogeymen came marching in true martial style to the sound of that music. It scared the daylights out of me, but not enough to leave it entirely. I would peek around the door to watch them coming, fearing terribly for Stannie and Ollie, then crawl back to safety out of sight of the magical monsters that the toys were becoming. It’s a great Christmas movie and should not be missed by anyone, even if you’re still young enough to be scared by toys coming to life.
What’s your favorite holiday film? Share it in the comments section below.