Families gathering, wine glasses filled, fireplaces roaring and TV screens flickering.
What? TV? Yep – that’s right. This is Holidays 2.0, the latest version of twenty-first century family time. Forget about toasting marshmallows and singing carols, we’re talking quality screen time for one and for all. Nothing rings in the holiday season better than a family viewing of White Christmas or Miracle on 34th Street.
Not so fast. While the old standbys have their place -- on Turner Classic Movies,VHS, DVD, DVR, BluRay… NetFlix, Hulu, OnDemand… iPod/iPad/iPhon/iVey… in the cloud and, probably, on a sphere of our gray matter that will be accessible sometime in the near future for a nominal monthly fee… a few of us have expanded the holiday movie repertoire to include movies beyond these two.
It’s not really a question of moving beyond White Christmas and Miracle on 34th Street. It’s about moving beyond the grainy, black and white films starring a cast of brilliant and beloved dead actors. It’s about moving beyond the Technicolor, tap dancing, let’s-put-on-a-show films that also feature a cast of brilliant and beloved actors who are no doubt gathering around Danny Kaye in that giant sound studio in the sky.
Annual viewing is not a new idea. There was a time when Thanksgiving was synonymous with a televised, only occasionally interrupted for advertising showing of The Wizard of Oz. We looked forward to that once-a-year-only peek at the Ruby Slippers.
Consider the idea of a shared, cultural experience as part of the appeal. So maybe it’s a little far fetched to compare the annual rite of watching a movie to the great oral traditions of, say, reciting The Odyssey. But based on more recent days of antiquity, such as our childhoods, when there were yearly broadcasts of A Charlie Brown Christmas, there’s a hint of relevance to the comparison. In our house, that was a pretty big event, followed closely by any holiday story expressed with the animated wizardry of claymation.
The point is, watching together absolutely promotes bonding. If Jane Goodall were observing us on the other side of the window, she’d no doubt confirm that the collective gathering of supine primates staring at a screen while mindlessly feeding is conducive, perhaps even necessary, for cementing familial ties. Or, as Mike Ditka might say, “It’s da best.”
Now, how to choose the right movie presents a few challenges. Is there a movie out there that passes the Pixar test? That is to say, a movie that appeals to all levels of taste, from the groundlings right up to the royals?
Let’s break down holiday films into five categories:
The main theme of the nostalgic movies is that by the end, no one is ever alone, sick, poor, unmarried, ungrateful or unhappy. Examples include:
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
A Christmas Carol (1951)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
White Christmas (1954)
Holiday Inn (1942)
Babes in Toyland (1934)
Screwball Holiday Humor
Stupid holiday humor mandates there be a dysfunctional family, adolescent man-children, holiday décor on steroids, a more than healthy dose of vulgar bodily noises everyone blames on the dog and a fair amount of slapstick. Examples include:
National Lampoons’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
A Christmas Story (1983)
Home Alone (1990)
The Santa Claus (1994)
Generic Humor with a Nod to the Holidays
We debated whether or not to include these in the holiday movie category, but by a vote of two to zero with two dissenting, we were overruled. Granted, these are quality films with just a touch of jingle, turkey or Auld Lang Syne, but they deserve consideration. Examples include:
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Little Women (1994)
Die Hard (1988)
Animated Holiday Classics
No one can turn these off, and even the crustiest among us has a heart that thaws when we catch a glimpse. You don’t have to own them, but you could. Examples include:
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
The Polar Express (2004)
A Rugrats Chanukah (1997)
Stuff We Never Want to See
These films are usually artsy, freaky, scary and offbeat. Or, it is by Charles Shultz. Enough said. Examples include:
Bad Santa (2003)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Home Alone 2 (1992)
Which leads us to the ultimate question: What to watch with the whole family over the holidays?
Just kidding. Football and a movie.