I usually avoid putting together favourite films lists, simply because there truly are too many that I love and couldn’t possibly choose from. And just because it’s Christmas time, this doesn’t mean we have to see only movies on this subject in December. Some of us prefer the LOTR trilogy, for example, or any other film that gives us pleasure re-watching any given time. However, every year I see so many questionable tops of Christmas movies (no, I’m not a fan of Love Actually), that I’ve decided to make my own, especially that, in this case, my preferences are very well defined. Without further ado, here they are, in random order.
The Bishop’s Wife (1947). A heartwarming tale about an angel, Cary Grant, who helps a bishop, David Niven, who has become distant from his wife, Loretta Young, while trying to raise funds for building a cathedral, find his path and appreciate what he has. Cary is perfect for the part, not overplaying it, using just the right amount of his remarkable charm, resulting in one of his most beguiling roles. Given the subject, the picture might be wrongly typecast as sentimental whimsey, but it subtly refrains from being too morally poignant, taking instead a more human and humorous approach.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Probably one of the most beloved films (not only Christmas films, as, in fact, there was never Frank Capra’s intention for it to be pigeonholed a “Christmas picture”) of all time and a genuine American classic. James Stewart delivers one of his many great performances as a small-town dreamer, who loses and finds his way again. The film is so special because it’s a celebration of the lives and dreams of ordinary citizens, a moving examination of the worth of a single man’s life.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947). The power of faith and belief is stronger than anything else. Susan, superbly played by an eight year old Natalie Wood, knows “the truth” about Santa from her mother. But she learns to believe in miracles, with the help of Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwen), who insists he is Santa Claus. Gwen truly lives his role in a performance that makes you want to believe in Santa again. Or maybe you do?
The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) and Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) both work in a gift shop and they can’t stand each other, without realising they have been corresponding by mail. But more than the love story itself, I liked the story of the shop, with the daily atmosphere and with every employee leaving his or her print on their work place. Ernst Lubitsch’s humour is brilliant and the director makes great use of the Christmas setting for a subtle commentary on consumerism and salesmanship.
The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942). Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is a noted author and full-time egomaniac, who, on a lecture tour in Ohio, is invited at the Stanleys and has the misfortune to slip on their front steps on ice and, so, he’s confined to a wheelchair and forced to spend the holidays in their home. Bette Davis is a revelation in her smaller and quiet role, and the entire supporting cast, among which a glamorous and hilarious Ann Sheridan, is amazing. Woolley is however the star here, his character’s rascality and sarcasm are so refreshing for the holidays mise–en–scène. Sharp and witty, this is an uproariously funny movie that celebrates Christmas.
The Thin Man (1934). It’s not a Christmas movie per say, but the action takes place around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, so we do have a festive atmosphere. Plus, it combines comedy and mystery, and these are always winning ingredients for me. But its real secret is its style. I really can not resist a little Old Hollywood glamour this time of year. William Powell and Myrna Loy, as Nick and Nora Charles, are irresistible and so good together, and they are both so elegant (I wrote about Myrna’s costumes here). I love the playfulness of their relationship and their carefree lifestyle offers the kind of escapism we sometimes look for in films.
We’re No Angels (1955). The tale of three convicts trying to escape the Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve. Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray and Peter Ustinov, all priceless in their roles, intend to rob a store, but they end up giving a hand to the shop keeper and his family during a struggling time. What I love the most about this film is that it falls off the category of feel-good movies for the holidays. Sentimentality is the last thing I look for in any kind of movie. I love the dark humour in We’re No Angels and this is what makes it an even more human and humane comedy.
Joyeux Noël (2005). It’s the only recent film I’ve included, and it’s because I loved it that much. The film is based on a true fact, the Christmas truce that broke out on the World War I Western Front in 1914, when the German, French and British troops laid down their arms and fraternized with each other on Christmas Eve. The background makes it a nice change from the usual family Christmas movie, and the anti-war sentiment and the demonstration of the human capacity for friendship and love, which I am sure was even more stunning in reality, send out one of the most wonderful messages. My favourite parts were Guillaume Canet’s and Daniel Brühl’s, as the French and German lieutenants, respectively.
I’d love to know, which are your favourite Christmas movies? Happy Saint Nicholas Day and have a wonderful weekend!
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collage made by me: stills from the films, clockwise from top left: The Bishop’s Wife (Metro Goldwyn Mayer) / It’s A Wonderful Life Liberty Films) / The Shop Around the Corner (Metro Goldwyn Mayer) / The Thin Man (MGM) / Joyeux Noël (co-production) / We’re No Angels (Paramount Pictures) / The Man Who Came to Dinner (Warner Borthers) / Miracle on 34th Street (Twentieth Century Fox)