Tag Archives: Christmas Movies

‘Die Hard,’ ‘Bridget Jones’ Among Christmas Guilty Pleasures

When it comes to choosing Christmas movies, there are a surprising number of options.

There are the beloved classics, films that have stood the test of time, like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Christmas Carol.” (Dickens’ classic is in a category unto itself with dozens of different versions for the picking.)

Then there are the childhood favorites, including “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” “Home Alone” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

And there are Christmas movies to be found in virtually every genre: comedy (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”), romantic comedy (“Love Actually”), action (“Die Hard”), period drama (“Joyeux Noel”), horror (“Gremlins”), animation (“The Polar Express”) and more.

If you want to get carried away with the yule-tide themed viewing, things can start to get weird. A list of the “50 Best Christmas Movies of All Time,” compiled by gamesradar, includes such unlikely selections as “Go,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Batman Returns,” “Eastern Promises,” “Life of Brian,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and “In Bruges.”

Christmas viewing is an extremely personal activity. Every family has its traditional favorites. Every person gets sentimental about different films. Some people live for cheesy holiday movies on Lifetime. Others love “The Santa Clause” just as much as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

So this season, I offer a list of my 10 favorite Christmas movies (in no particular order). I’m not going to pretend they’re the best holiday films ever made. You won’t find Jimmy Stewart’s perennial favorite here or many other traditionally cherished flicks.

This is my guilty pleasure list. These are the movies I return to year after year and never grow tired of watching.

When you’re done reading, I’d love to hear your list of Top 10 Christmas flicks.

1. “Mixed Nuts,” 1994: Nora Ephron’s quirky little Southern California Christmas comedy just may be my favorite seasonal pick of all time. Last year, I wrote this ode to the movie, which depicts the wacky Christmas Eve shenanigans of the staff of a Venice Beach suicide hotline.
“Mixed Nuts” features a hilarious cast, including Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber (in drag), a very young Adam Sandler and the sublime Madeline Kahn. This is the one film my family watches every Christmas without fail.

2. “Love Actually,” 2003: When I’m doing my holiday shopping and hear the high notes of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” coming out of the P.A. system, I get a hankering to watch the most addictive holiday rom-com ever. With its cheeky humor and stiff-upper-lip melodrama, writer-director Richard Curtis’ roller-coaster ride of yuletide emotions is especially appealing to anglophiles. The film turned 10 last year, sparking debate about its merits or lack thereof, but that doesn’t change the fact that it has become a legitimate classic in only a decade. It doesn’t hurt that the cast, which includes Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Rick Grimes from “The Walking Dead,” is both talented and wildly attractive.

3. “The Holiday,” 2006: I’ll admit there are a lot of “chick flicks” on this list, but that’s hardly surprising considering I am, gasp!, a chick. Second only to “Love Actually,” Nancy Meyers’ decadent and delicious rom-com is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, as comforting as a cup of cocoa. It stars Cameron Diaz and a too-adorable-for-words Kate Winslet as a couple of sad grinches who get an unexpected dose of seasonal spirit when they swap houses for the holidays. The film may be as over-stuffed as a Christmas goose, but it’s chock full of goodies, including an unbelievably blue-eyed Jude Law and the late Eli Wallach as a rascally Hollywood screenwriter who encourages Winslet to be the heroine of her own life.

4. “Die Hard,” 1988: Here’s one to counteract all those ooey-gooey romantic comedies. This ’80s action classic is fun to watch at Christmastime precisely because it doesn’t trade in holiday cliches. Instead of peace on Earth and good will toward men, it features clever, hostage-taking terrorists (or are they?), volleys of machine gun fire, a hefty helping of adult language and the wanton destruction of an L.A. high-rise. Plus, it stars a wise-cracking, tank-top wearing Bruce Willis and a smooth-as-eggnog Alan Rickman.

still-of-will-ferrell-in-elf

5. “Elf,” 2003: I don’t know a living soul who doesn’t appreciate Will Ferrell’s instant Christmas classic. The silly, sweet-natured story of a displaced North Pole helper manages to remain funny and heartwarming after countless viewings. With his green and yellow spandex, perpetual grin — smiling’s his favorite — and irrepressibly sugar-plummy disposition, Buddy the Elf is impossible not to love. The comedy is insanely quotable — “You sit on a throne of lies.” — and will, however improbably, stay atop the list of best loved holiday movies, right alongside “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

6. “Christmas in Connecticut,” 1945: When it comes to classic movies, screwball comedies are my favorite, and as far as I’m concerned the queen of screwball comedy — second only to Katharine Hepburn — is Barbara Stanwyck. As a New York City food writer forced to go to extremes to maintain the charade that she’s the perfect country homemaker, Stanwyck is gorgeous, amusing and oh-so-sly. “Casablanca” alums Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall provide merry support. The madcap antics are coated in a dusting of Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas Americana, and you’ll learn how to flip the perfect pancake just by watching.

7. “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” 2001: This adaptation of Helen Fielding’s laugh-out-loud read is perhaps not technically a Christmas movie, but it is bookended by two unforgettable yuletide scenes: one involving humiliating jumpers and questionable hors d’ouevres, the other a snowy kiss with everyone’s favorite Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth. Renee Zellweger is awkward and adorable as a London singleton trying to get her stuff together in time to find Mr. Right for the holidays. Firth is snobbish and gentlemanly in a way that makes Jane Austen fans swoon. As warm and cozy as a well-worn pair of Christmas pajamas, this one never gets old.

8. “White Christmas,” 1954: Because nothing gets you in the holiday spirit quite like Bing Crosby crooning Irving Berlin’s atmospheric yuletide classic. Because my grandmother loved this film and showed it to me and my siblings over and over again. Because it’s helmed by “Casablanca” director Michael Curtiz. Because few comedy duos are as smooth and quick-witted as old Bing and the incomparably funny Danny Kaye. Because never were there such devoted sisters as Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Just because.

9. “Edward Scissorhands,” 1990: When you grow tired of Christmas movie cliches, Tim Burton’s sublime suburban satire hits the spot. Johnny Depp first demonstrated his flair for eccentric characterizations in this macabre but poignant fairy tale about an innocent young man with blades for fingers and a talent for avant-garde hairdos and topiary sculptures. There are two scenes in this film that have me crying like a baby every time. The first features Vincent Price and the most wonderful cookie-making machine ever dreamed up. In the second, Edward carves a snow angel for his crush (a crush-worthy Winona Ryder) and transforms the mundane into holiday magic. That sound? It’s my heart breaking.

10. “A Christmas Story,” 1983: This one goes on the list in tribute to my dad, who never grew tired of taking writer Jean Shepherd’s trip down memory lane. Having grown up in the 1940s in the very region where “A Christmas Story” takes place, my father harbored a deep nostalgia for this hilarious warts-and-all depiction of a working-class family celebrating the season. Even if you can’t relate, the story of precocious Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun will send you flashing back to your own childhood misadventures. Ralphie may be the star and narrator, but it’s his pop, The Old Man (Darren McGavin), who steals the show with his unholy passion for a certain leg lamp. Fra-gee-lay!

Photos: http://www.tasteofcinema.com, the-gaggle.com

5 Reasons to Make ‘Mixed Nuts’ A Holiday Tradition

When my husband and I began dating, we bonded over many things -– action movies from the 1980s, “The Crocodile Hunter,” the early music of Coldplay. Then one fateful night, he dug out his family’s well-worn VHS copy of “Mixed Nuts,” an underrated gem of a Christmas comedy that has since become part of our holiday tradition.

In our house, the annual viewing of “Mixed Nuts” often trumps such perennial favorites as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Love Actually,” “A Christmas Story” and “Elf,” and we have treated many friends and family members to the eccentric delights of this little seen yuletide treat. (OK, so maybe forced it upon them is a more accurate way of putting it.)

Based on a French play, “Mixed Nuts” premiered in theaters in 1994 and was largely ignored, judging by the measly $6 million it has grossed over its lifetime. That’s a sad statistic, considering how entertaining, unusual and addictive the film is. Here are five reasons to make it part of your own holiday tradition.

1. It’s one of the few films you haven’t seen by late, great writer-director Nora Ephron.

“Mixed Nuts” is no “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” or “Julie and Julia,” but this early work — one of only eight movies Ephron directed — bears strong traces of the romantic comedy queen’s wit, relationship insights and sweet and zany sentimentality. The plot of the film revolves around a nonprofit suicide hotline, fertile ground for dark humor in a script Ephron co-wrote with her sister, Delia.

Makeshift telephone helpline Life Savers is haplessly run by Philip (Steve Martin), a misguided do-gooder who is having the worst Christmas Eve ever. His landlord (Gary Shandling) hands him an eviction notice, a development Philip tries to hide from his stressed-out staff. Then his loan officer girlfriend (Joely Fisher) dumps him for a psychiatrist. That’s just the beginning of the pre-Christmas chaos as prank callers, unauthorized visitors, a roaming serial killer, an elevator malfunction and a lovers’ quarrel conspire to ruin Philip’s holiday.

2. “Mixed Nuts” is the rare film that captures the essence of Christmas in Southern California.

Ah, Christmas in SoCal, where the only snowmen you’re likely to see are made of sand and the incessant sunshine provides an incongruous backdrop to yuletide greenery and songs extolling the joys of sleigh rides. “Mixed Nuts” is set in Venice Beach, that magical boardwalk of bodybuilders, bongs and panhandling bohemians. The opening credits, which pan over the sun-drenched surf and strange sights of Venice to the sounds of “White Christmas,” are thick with an irony only SoCal natives can fully appreciate.

3. The film boasts an amusing, neurotic, highly physical performance by Martin, but it’s Rita Wilson and Madeline Kahn who steal the show.

Martin may be the star of “Mixed Nuts,” but he plays angst-ridden straight man to an ensemble of hilariously over-the-top characters. His Philip has good intentions and no people skills, which can be a problem when your livelihood involves talking despairing strangers off ledges. As great as Martin is, he’s thoroughly upstaged by Wilson as Catherine, a co-worker with a crush on Philip and a perpetually optimistic outlook that is beginning to crumble. Then there is the sublimely funny Kahn as Mrs. Munchnik, a cranky widow always armed with a tart comeback. To watch these two in fine form is to lament that we didn’t get to enjoy more performances by the late Kahn and that Wilson is recognized for her real-life role as Tom Hanks’ wife rather than her acting ability.

4. Like a Christmas stocking, “Mixed Nuts” is stuffed with surprises.

Those surprises come mostly in the form of unexpected cameos by awesome comedians. Among the familiar faces are a young Adam Sandler as a ukulele-strumming writer of T-shirt slogans, Parker Posey and Jon Stewart as a pair of angry rollerbladers, Rob Reiner as a lovelorn veterinarian, Anthony LaPaglia as an ex-con who spends most of the film running around in a Santa Claus suit, Juliet Lewis as an unlikely Virgin Mary figure and the aforementioned Shandling as Philip’s Grinchy landlord. Keep a sharp eye out for “The Sixth Sense” star Haley Joel Osment in a brief, early movie appearance.

5. You’ve never seen Liev Schreiber quite like this.

You may know Schreiber from the hard-boiled Showtime series “Ray Donovan” or his “serious” work in films such as “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” “Defiance” or “The Manchurian Candidate,” but you haven’t seen him as he appears in “Mixed Nuts.” In his very first feature film outing, Schreiber squeezes his strapping frame into knee-high boots, a sleek black wig and an evening cape to play the transsexual Chris, a lonely soul seeking companionship at Life Savers headquarters, despite Philip’s protestations that it’s against company policy. Schreiber reveals himself to be a deft physical comedian, dueting with Martin in a hilarious ballroom dance routine that rivals the finales of “Dirty Dancing” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” The producers of “Ray Donovan” should really find an excuse to get him in drag once again.