Thanksgiving marks the start of four weeks of crowded malls, carols on the airwaves, baking binges, shopping sprees and the holiday movie season on television. In spite of DVDs, Netflix and other options the provide on-demand screening of family favorites, there is something truly nostalgic about gathering around and enjoying a traditional viewing. Whether it is a heartwarming nostalgic holiday movie or a slapstick Christmas comedy, it is beginning to feel a lot like holiday season on the television screen.
The season’s programming parade runs from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973) to New Year’s Eve (2011), with a lot of classics and newer TV movies in between. Young girls may try to convince us that Frozen belongs on the list of holiday entertainment given the snow, but some classics are perennials. Cable channels like Hallmark, ABC Family and Lifetime fill nearly every night with holiday movies and introduce some new options each December, but there are some films/specials that always make the season bright.
Here are perennial holiday movie favorites in various categories:
Vintage Pre-Color Classics: No holiday season is complete for many people without Frank Capra’s classic Jimmy Stewart film, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), about a despondent, suicidal man who is shown what life would have been like without him. Those who grew up on Shirley Temple movies may also be partial to Heidi (1937) and remember warmly her helping Clara walk for Christmas and her grandfather searching for Heidi.
Chick Flick: The Holiday (2006) features Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet swapping homes to escape their lives over the holidays and is actually an entertaining chick flick that holds up well. It is not to be confused with Last Holiday (2006), featuring Queen Latifah as a woman who believes she is dying, which is predictable but deserves kudos for being one of the rare Christmas flicks starring a black woman (Madea does not count!).
Romantic Comedy: Love Actually (2003) looks at eight interwoven couples during the holiday time and features a great message about the need for love in all lives. It has become a holiday season regular, in spite of how uncomfortable it may be to watch the stand-ins mock sex scenes with senior parents or teens. Besides the marquee names in the film (Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson and many more), it included then-unknowns Thomas Brodie Sangster, January Jones, Elisha Cuthbert, Shannon Elizabeth and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
Family Action Film: Girls tend to favor ones with young girl stars, such as Miracle on 34th Street (today’s young ladies tend to prefer the 1994 Mara Wilson version versus the 1947 Natalie Wood) with the girl defending Santa. Boys on the other hand like to watch males, such as Kevin in any Home Alone (1990) with the boy defending his home. For the whole family, Elf (2003), the Santa Clause (1994) and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) are also entertaining.
Animation: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) have aired annually for decades, but the simplicity of the animation does not seem dated. The first is probably the most successful holiday TV special made and the latter brings the song to life accompanied by a fleshed out soundtrack. The Rugrat’s Chanukah (1996) gets special marks for recognizing and embracing diversity.
Male-Skewed Action Movies: Holiday movies are not all filled with cheer and good will. Die Hard (1988) is a Christmas-time thriller and Jingle All the Way (1996) features then-action star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, as a father embroiled in a battle over a sold-out toy.
Check the local television movie listings, your old DVDs or a streaming service. It is beginning to feel a lot like the holiday movie season…on the airwaves and home video screen.
By Dyanne Weiss