Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday films that jingle my bells

It's the holiday season, which means it's time to snicker over phrases like "Santa's sack" and "stocking stuffer," and "low-hanging balls."

It's also time to trot out the holiday movies. Friends and family all have favorites, and we've built little rituals around the annual viewing.

My immediate family spends most of the year quoting lines from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, which means we don't actually need to watch the movie anymore.

But I'm fairly certain my father would disown us all if we weren't able to prove we'd watched It's a Wonderful Life at least once during each holiday season.

One of my best girlfriends and I love to watch White Christmas together each year. The details of the ritual are hazy, mostly because it involves large quantities of wine and a requisite drunken commentary throughout the film.

But my favorite holiday movie of all is Love, Actually.

It's one of those movies you can watch any time of year, but the holiday theme makes it perfect for the season. It's a 2003 British romantic comedy featuring ten separate love stories intertwined. In case you've never seen it (or if you need a refresher) here's the trailer:

And here's what I love about the movie, not just as a holiday staple, but as one of my favorite films of all times – it's not simple.

None of the stories are the straightforward "boy meets girl" variety. There's the shy couple conducting polite get-to-know-you conversations while serving as body doubles on the set of a porn film. There's the foul-mouthed, aging rock star who realizes his longtime manager is the platonic love of his life. There's the socially awkward young brit who heads to America and discovers a bevy of beautiful women find his accent irresistible.

There are happily-ever-afters, and not-so-happily-ever-afters. There are tears and laughter and awkward moments that make you want to cover your eyes and pretend you've never, ever been that girl who blurts out profanity at an inopportune moment.

For me, the core of the movie is summed up in the opening monologue delivered by Hugh Grant's character:

Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.

People ask me constantly why I choose to write romance out of all the genres in the world. It's tempting to tell them I do it because I'm a sexual deviant who gets her thrills writing sex scenes, but more tempting to want to hand them a card with that monologue printed on it.

What could be more universal than a love story? And what could be more fun than finding new and creative ways to capture that?

Well, besides acting out the love scenes you're creating. For research purposes, of course.

What holiday films are staples in your household? Got any favorites you've watched over and over again? Please share!

I need to go stop the dog from licking the cat's butt under the mistletoe. Love isn't always pretty, is it?


Rachel said...

My family has the ritual of watching Christmas vacation like your family and much the same as your family we now know it word for word, but we still watch it. We started this when our dad was alive, but we still continue the ritual even though he's been gone for 15 years. It's just something we do, followed by watching Can't Stop the Music (the Village People movie) New Years Day.

Sarah W said...

My favorite holiday movie is We're no Angels, with Bogart, Aldo Ray (Yum), and Peter Ustinov (double yum).

Three convicts (and a poisonous snake) escape the prison on Devil's Island, only to stay and help save the family they tried to rob.

It's a comedy and it's marvelous. And sweet. And there's romance in it. And Aldo Ray.

Unknown said...

I second the It's A Wonderful Life edict. It MUST be watched at least once during the holiday season. That and A Christmas Story must be played on constant loop all Christmas day. It's tradition :) Also, I should admit that in our family, it's A Christmas Story that's often quoted, especially the lamp scene. "Fra-gil-ee. It must be italian." & "It's a major award!" :)

Patty Blount said...

Home Alone 1 and 2.

Macaulay Culkin will be on social security and we'll still be watching these movies every year, quoting every line. My favorite?

"Nice night for a neck injury!"

Claire Dawn said...

Love Actually is also my fave. My Japanese Adult English Class jsut watched Home Alone and it was fun too. :) Another one I love is A Mom For Christmas, I think it's from one of the tv networks.

Yeah, love is universal. I'll be doing a love post on Thursday too.

Danica Avet said...

A Christmas Story is my absolute favorite and yes, I do leave it on for the 24-hours it plays on Christmas Eve. I can't help myself. Another is Scrooged with Bill Murray.

And, it makes me sound like a terrible romance writer, although I don't really watch romantic movies, I do adore Love, Actually as well. It's fabulous.

lora96 said...

Oh how I love that movie although I always want Emma Thomson to ditch her smarmy hubs and go after grieving Liam Neeson. Because really, when faced with Liam Neeson, who wouldn't?

I also dig The Sound Of Music which was always on network tv on xmas day when I was a kid.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Okay, usually your posts do NOT make me cry, but this one does...and I am NOT hitting the pink wine at 9:50 a.m. EST. Really.

Kendra Gale said...

My best friend lives 6 hours away from me, and every time I go for a visit, we watch Love, Actually. Twice at Christmastime. We spend a lot of time debating which is our favorite story - the little boy, the Prime Minister and (of course) Colin Firth are the front runners.

Now I want to watch Love, Actually.

Anonymous said...

I love 'Love Actually' as well. My favorite is the friend who is in love with his best friend's girl (wait - isn't that a song?). So poignant when he tells her his feelings with the cards. I also am a sucker for any time Colin Firth falls in love. Oh, and the cute little boy with the crush. Obviously, I need to watch it again. Thanks for the reminder of a great holiday flick.

Katie Richie said...

I own two Christmas movies that I watch every year. One is Love Actually that I just watched a few weeks ago with a friend who had never seen it. I'll watch it again before this holiday season is over. It's one of my favorite movies.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is also on my list of must-see movies during the holidays. It doesn't really feel like Christmas until I've seen it.

I also love Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.

Anonymous said...

A comment on the power of a romance novel. We are going through a very difficult time in our family right now, especially with our teenager. As a result, all I have read for a while are pretty serious books about some serious topics and how to survive them. The other night I decided that I needed to lighten up a bit. I dusted off my fiction shelves and grabbed a historical romance, which has always been one of my favorite genres. Honestly, I think reading that book improved my mood and spirits more than a lot of the other 'recommended' reading. Thanks goodness for romance and love!

Julie Glover said...

I have yet to see this film, and everyone keeps talking about it! Guess I know what I need to watch this holiday season. I don't feel like it's Christmas if I don't see at least one of the following: A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or The Year Without a Santa Claus (love the Snow & Heat Misers). I'm thinking this year I'll plug in Die Hard also - it takes place during Christmas, and there's a love story of sorts.

Nicole said...

Oh I love Christmas movies. Especially all the ones you mentioned. My family quotes a Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation all season long. We don't really sit down and watch a Christmas Story anymore. It just plays on a constant loop on Christmas Day and we catch our favorite scenes in between opening gifts.

I also love Love Actually. That opening monologue gets me every time. Since I actually get picked up from the airport by my family every year right before Christmas Eve I can identify with those hugging families. There's nothing like seeing your family waiting for you in baggage claim, smiling ear to ear.

LynnRush said...

Okay, Love Actually looks good. I haven't seen it yet. Really liked that trailer, though!!!!! :)

Unknown said...

Of those films, "Love, Actually" is the only one I know. I could quote the Swedish must-see films but I doubt it would be very interesting. If you can find it then "Tomten är far till alla barnen" (Santa is the father to all children) - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0201265/ - is a comedy about the odd, modern family ties.

Stephanie said...

We're "A Christmas Story" loving family over here. Yeah... the 24 hour marathon is usually on our TV most of the day.

Nan said...

I love Christmas in Connecticut, the original with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan--just pure good fun! Love Actually is a great holiday film too, but it has Liam Neeson, so how could it not be?

Skye said...

One of my favorite authors, Connie Willis, wrote the perfect Christmas story that took on The Great Christmas Movie Issue: which is better and why --- a) It's a Wonderful Life or b) Miracle on 34th Street (the original, of course). I've always chosen B. Read "Miracle" from Willis's Miracle and other Christmas Stories and you'll find out which is hers.

I'm in the sad position of having to make all new traditions. Everyone's gone. For instance, when I was a kid, we watched all the stuff on, but I needed to see Grinch and Charlie Brown. Much later, Mom's second husband loved A Christmas Story (which I don't like) and Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, which I got him on VHS and now find it's on Netflix, so I don't have to buy myself a DVD. I still love Grinch and Charlie Brown and need to get DVDs of them.

I had forgotten how charming Love Actually is. I think I'll add that to my new set of holiday movie traditions. I can put them all in a schedule and, for those years when I cannot travel to be with my non-blood-related family, I'll watch the shows on my own and enjoy them in my own new traditions. I think those traditions should come with alcohol.

Christine Rains said...

My hubby loves Christmas Vacation and A Christmas Story. We always watch the 24 hour marathon too. I like Home Alone and Scrooged.

Meghan Ward said...

Now that I have kids, our staples are A Year Without a Santa Claus (my favorite), Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. But as a kid, Miracle on 34th Street was a big one as well as A Christmas Story, Scrooge, and, like you mentioned, It's a Wonderful Life. I I've only seen Love Actually once. Maybe it's time I revisited it!


Rachel, have you watched Christmas Vacation with the deleted scenes & director commentary? I totally love that!

Sarah W, I haven’t seen that, but I’ll have to check it out!

Karla, I have a string of holiday lights with each light in the shape of the leg lamp.

Patty, I haven’t seen Home Alone for years. Will have to remedy that.

Claire Dawn, I’ve never heard of A Mom for Christmas. Going to google it right now.

Danica, I can barely remember scrooged, so I’ll have to add that one to the queue.

Lora96, my dad always watches Sound of Music while he does the taxes, for some reason.

Teri Anne, how interesting! There are posts I write that I expect might tweak a tear or two from readers, but this wasn’t one of them. What got you?

Kendra, the Colin Firth storyline is my favorite!

Anonymous, that scene with the cards makes me sob every time. There is no “happily ever after” in that scenario, but it’s the best possible outcome you could wish for under the circumstances.

Katie, oooh, Rudolf! I love Yukon Cornelius and the Bumble that bounces!

Anonymous, (((hugs))) to you. Years ago, I read a blog post that talked about why those of us who write “escapist fiction” keep doing it. Your situation is the textbook explanation of why.

Julie, you are dead to me until you watch Love, Actually. I’ll admit it though, the housemates just watched Die Hard (followed by Lethal Weapon) and I kinda enjoyed the Christmas theme.

Nicole, I love that moment of seeing someone I love at the arrival gate. One of my favorite feelings in the world!

LynnRush, the trailer doesn’t actually do the movie justice. Go rent it NOW!

Malin, that sounds interesting! Wonder if I could find it with English subtitles?

Stephanie, I’ve been known to keep the 24 hour Christmas Story marathon on all day long.

Nan, I’ve never heard of Christmas in Connecticut. Will have to check it out!

Skye, ((hugs)) on forging new traditions. And I adore the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

Christine, I’m sensing a movie marathon on my horizon!

Meghan, my gentleman friend has two children, and I’m actually looking forward to revisiting some of the Christmas movies from my childhood. It’s for their educational enrichment, right?

Thanks for reading, guys!

Wendy said...

Was just gearing up for a post on holiday films but will just send my 8 readers your way instead!
Love Actually, I bought when it first came out in France with a t-shirt in a box set. Maybe 2004? Can't count how many times I've watched it, but never at Christmas- duh... it's totally a Christmas movie.
And my list includes at least one or two from the other comments- Charlie Brown (plus soundtrack is THE BEST), Grinch, Christmas Story, and I'm going to put Christmas Vacation with outtakes on the list.

And seems like licking is better than eating what comes out.... so gross.

Michelle Miller said...

I love, love, love Love Actually.

Best parts, in addition to those already mentioned: The entire Colin Firth storyline. Emma Thompson struggling for self-control with Joni Mitchell playing the background. Anytime Bill Nighy is on the screen, but particularly the strip-tease. The Prime Minister going door to door looking for the girl he loves.

Also, I can't recommend The Shop Around the Corner starring Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart enough. It isn't well known, but it's fantastic!

Also have to second Skye's recommendation of Connie Willis's Miracle and Other Christmas Stories. Also, everything else she's written.

Anonymous said...

My friends and I always go to the White Christmas song-a-long here in Chicago. Nothing says Christmas like a theater full of people whistling at Bing Crosby's undies.