Now that December is upon us, Christmas movies are flitting across our TV screens in rapid succession. Considering the first night of Hanukkah was yesterday, however, I’m inclined to shout at the television to rein in its reindeer, but this is only half an inclination…After I get all the shouting out of my system, I guiltily proceed to let the holiday-themed marathons play in the background for hours. What can I say? I’m a sucker for Christmas carols and nostalgia. And, few things conjure up vivid childhood memories quite like the sounds of holiday classics. It’s these sounds I crave, though – not the elves, talking snowmen and religious platitudes – so if I were to program a holiday marathon of my own it would look a lot different from the typical classics. Because I like this idea of playing movie emcee so much, I’ve decided to compile a list of flicks that will fill you with holiday nostalgia while entertaining you with compelling stories (sans claymation, miracles and any characters named Santa). Up, up and away we go…
- “The Long Kiss Goodnight” (1996) – With an opening action sequence that features Gina Davis killing a deer bare-handed, this gun-slinging gem makes it clear it’s not your typical Christmas movie. It boasts a young mother with amnesia, Samuel L. Jackson, assassins galore, and did I mention Samuel L. Jackson? Throw in Christmas carols and a chase scene on ice skates, and you have yourself an instant classic. What’s more, you get to see a strong, female protagonist kick serious villain derriere.
- “Home Alone” (1990) – This is the movie that made us fall in love with Macaulay Culkin and get a toothache from him pretty much the same year. In spite of audiences’ fickleness toward Culkin, this flick holds up surprisingly well over time and is infinitely watchable thanks to its physical comedy combined with the simple premise of a child who must defend his house from robbers. After all, who doesn’t want to root for an underdog and see Joe Pesci mauled by paint cans to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock?”
- “Die Hard” (1988) – Bruce Willis, machine guns and Christmas lights – I’m sure you’ve seen this and every other movie from the franchise a few times, but why not give it one more go for old time’s sake? I promise that as you watch your favorite embittered cop, John McClane, defend a skyscraper from terrorists you’ll still get a rush of adrenaline followed by a warm, fuzzy feeling that has nothing to do with the candy-cane pajamas you may or may not be wearing.
- “Love Actually” (2003) – There are no guns or crazy booby traps in this romantic comedy, but there’s a whole lotta charm and a buffet of British accents. This alternatively structured film follows multiple storylines that range from the bitter to the saccharin-sweet, but they all balance each other out brilliantly. Even if you’re watching this for the 50th time, you’re sure to walk away laughing, humming “All I Want For Christmas,” and kissing your loved ones or pets.
- “Meet Me In St. Louis” (1944) – So I lied, this is totally a movie your grandma would have watched on Christmas days of yore. But, part of what I like about this musical is its historic setting and the fact that it’s centered around a young couple’s romance on the eve of the 1904 World’s Fair. It’s also a film that’s about so much more than just elves and gift wrap; for example, it’s about the pressures of leaving one’s hometown, the crazy/funny things love makes us do, and Judy Garland’s singing voice. It’s also where the song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” originated, so I recommend making yourself a cup of hot cocoa and singing along.
Psst: There are so many other non-Christmassy holiday movies that came close to making my list, and I’m sure there are a few that I downright love but have simply forgotten…Can you refresh my memory? Would a different set of unconventional Christmas movies make your top-five list?