by Bill Wine
The holiday season brings out our desire to gather and watch favorite movies in the comfort of our homes and in multi-generational families.
But we can only watch dependable classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” so many times.
So here are 10 holiday-season themed movies that may not come immediately to mind when you’re searching for an appropriate title, but that should do the trick for viewers young and old.
Arthur Christmas (2011, PG)
Among other things, this clever and touching animated attraction answers the perplexing Yuletide question: Just how does Santa deliver all those presents in just one night? A clash between digital impersonality and old-fashioned goodwill, this computer-animated romp, cheery and cheeky in about equal measure, tells the tale of the legacy of Father Christmas and the domestic dynamics of the three-generation Claus family. It comes from England’s Aardmark Animation, creators of “Wallace & Gromit.” This witty cartoon delight, breathtakingly inventive and marvelously detailed, is a sparkling gift that does nothing less than rekindle the Christmas spirit.
Christmas Vacation (1989, PG-13)
Also known as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” this third installment in the National Lampoon comedy vacation series tweaks the formula only slightly by having the vacationers play host to visitors for the holidays. It stars Chevy Chase as ineffectual head-ofthe- family Clark Griswold and chronicles a disaster-filled holiday season. Scripted by John Hughes , it adroitly mixes slapstick with sentiment.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947, G)
This charming, heartwarming Christmas fantasy involves a suave angel played by the inimitable Cary Grant, who comes to Earth to help Bishop David Niven, his wife Loretta Young, and their parishioners raise money for a new cathedral. Director Henry Koster’s feel-good outing holds up in viewing after viewing. Another option: this flick was updated by director Penny Marshall as a PG-rated remake called “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996, PG), which fell just a tad short of the original.
Fred Claus (2007, PG)
You better watch out, you might have to cry, you go ‘head and pout, he’s bleedin’ you dry, Santa’s bro is coming to town. Well, permit me this indulgence, which scans but also lacks the Christmas spirit. Not so this ho-ho-holiday comedy about the sibling rivalry between Kris Kringle, played by Paul Giamatti, and his bitter, black-sheep older brother, the title character played by Vince Vaughn, a manipulative repo man from Chicago. When Fred lands in jail, his saint of a younger brother bails him out on the condition that he work for him during the hectic holiday season. So the Claus-trophobic hustler moves back to the North Pole. Aimed primarily but not exclu sively at youngsters, the film is naughty and nice at the same time.
The Holiday (2006, PG-13)
Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet play unlucky-in-love women nursing figurative wounds from recent romantic catastrophes. They meet on an Internet house-swap site and agree, the grass always seeming at least a little bit greener, to escape their respective current funks by switching domiciles for the holidays. Diaz meets and becomes romantically involved with Jude Law, while Winslet encounters Jack Black. Writer-director Nancy Meyers delivers two interwoven romantic comedy threads. Certain plot points strain credulity, but Meyers’ playful approach gives the film comfort-food ease.
Babes in Toyland (1934)
Yeah, it’s old. So what? This gem of a children’s fantasy stars the irresistible comedy team of Laurel and Hardy, who are in fine form and perfectly used in an idiosyncratic version of the Victor Herbert operetta. Stan and Ollie play Stanley Dum and Ollie Dee in this fetching family musical that is often listed with the title, “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” They live in Toyland along with all the nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters you’ve ever heard of in addition to Santa and his helpers. The storybook characters in Toyland should please small-fry viewers, and Laurel and Hardy’s first-rate casual wordplay and physical humor are heartily funny.
One Magic Christmas (1985, G)
Mary Steenburgen stars in this sad but ultimately uplifting melodrama as a wife and mother going through a rough patch and enduring hard times who has consequently lost the Christmas spirit. But Santa Claus and her guardian angel conspire with her daughter to help her get it back. Quirky character actor Harry Dean Stanton is cast against type as the miracle-performing, harmonica-playing Archangel Gideon. Steenburgen is characteristically fine as the tired, downtrodden, and disillusioned grinch who has lost the faith. Seemingly inspired by “It’s a Wonderful Life,” it also eventually finds and displays the promise of the title’s middle word, as the realistic drama segues into childlike fantasy.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993, PG)
This stop-motion animated musical about Halloween and Christmas – as much ghoul-tide as Yuletide – is a fractured fable that focuses on Jack Skellington, the beloved pumpkin king, a friendly skeleton from dangerously weird Halloweentown who wants to be Santa Claus. It emerges from the vivid imagination of unique visual stylist Tim Burton. Where Dr. Seuss gave us a grinch who stole Christmas, writer and producer Burton gives us a corpse who leases it with an option to die.
The Santa Clause (1993, PG)
Tim Allen stars in what turned out to be the first installment in a series of three that, after a promising start, got progressively worse. But this first entry was agreeable, popular, and commercially successful. Television star Allen’s movie debut found him playing a divorced dad with a slippery roof over his head. So when St. Nick stumbles over a shingle, this guy becomes the new Kris Kringle.The special effects are hokey, but it has what modest Christmasthemed movies must have: charm and heart. So, yes, Virginia, there is “The Santa Clause.”
The Ref (1994, R)
Okay, this one’s from left field. Or maybe not. A jewel thief holds a husband and wife at gunpoint on Christmas Eve and finds himself refereeing a family feud in this sharp comedy about marital combat. When a burglar played by Denis Leary freaks out in the face of a mean guard dog and a sophisticated alarm system, he panics and takes the married couple next door hostage. Big mistake. The bickering spouses, played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, snipe and argue constantly. Which drives the title character crazy. This dark screwball comedy falters in the late going, but generates a parade of hearty laughs early on. Here’s a caustic concoction that takes a different approach to the traditional holiday ordeal of on-display family dysfunction