It’s the holiday season and that means it’s time to cuddle up by the fire, grab a mug of mulled wine or your significant other, or both, and watch your favourite Holiday flicks. And with the temperatures dipping to -26 Celsius here in Calgary a warm holiday drink is a welcome respite from the cold. And maybe that’s why we like holiday films. Mulled wine can warm our physical body but a good holiday film can warm our soul. And that’s probably because most of the time holiday films are life affirming. They’re feel good movies and God knows we could certainly use some feel good movies this holiday season. So here are five holiday recommendations.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
- Steve Martin – Neil Page
- John Candy – Del Griffith
- Directed & Written by John Hughes
- Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score 92%, Audience Score 87%
Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a film I find myself watching every year. It’s grown on me as I’ve gotten older and it’s one of the few films that I’ve seen before, and can watch again, and still find myself laughing out loud. It works because it’s a film that has heart and while I like the script it’s John Candy’s kindhearted performance that really makes this movie one of my holiday favourites.
All Steve Martin’s character Neil Page wants to do is catch a flight out of New York; make it home to Chicago; and have Thanksgiving dinner with his family. But when Neil’s flight gets diverted to Wichita Kansas, Neil ends up with Del Griffith, played by John Candy, as his travelling companion, and the two hit the road in a three day cross country adventure in an attempt to get Neil home for the holiday.
Neil is an uptight New York Ad agency executive and Del is an easy going but irritating shower curtain salesman. They come from different worlds and needless to say the journey does not go well, but by the end of the film, Neil has learned a lesson or two about the importance of kindness and compassion, and Del has made a friend.
What did Ebert say?
“One night a few years after “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” was released, I came upon John Candy (1950-1994) sitting all by himself in a hotel bar in New York, smoking and drinking, and we talked for a while. We were going to be on the same TV show the next day. He was depressed. People loved him, but he didn’t seem to know that, or it wasn’t enough. He was a sweet guy and nobody had a word to say against him, but he was down on himself. All he wanted to do was make people laugh, but sometimes he tried too hard, and he hated himself for doing that in some of his movies. I thought of Del. There is so much truth in the role that it transforms the whole movie. Hughes knew it, and captured it again in “Only the Lonely” (1991). And Steve Martin knew it, and played straight to it.” Roger Ebert, November 12, 2000
Del Griffith: “You wanna hurt me? Go right ahead if it makes you feel any better. I’m an easy target. Yeah, you’re right, I talk too much. I also listen too much. I could be a cold-hearted cynic like you… but I don’t like to hurt people’s feelings. Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like… I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ‘Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.”
It’s a Wonderful Life
- James Stewart as George Bailey
- Donna Reed as Mary Hatch
- Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter
- Henry Travers as Clarence
- Directed by Frank Capra
- Written by Francis Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra & Jo Swerling
- Rotten Tomatoes: Critics Score 94%, Audience Score 95%
It’s a Wonderful Life asks the question – does your life matter? Can you make a difference in the world? Sometimes we feel overwhelmed by the events going on in far away places and even in our own home town. Sometimes when we see all the negativity and horrible things going on we have to wonder if anything we do makes a difference. Well It’s a Wonderful Life affirms that every person can make the world a better place through small actions and large.
It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey and the town of Bedford Falls. George is a good guy who has spent his life doing the right thing, but when his life gets turned upside down and he faces bankruptcy, scandal and prison he finds himself standing on a bridge thinking about jumping into the icy waters below and ending it all.
Luckily for George, he has a guardian angel. An angel named Clarence. And Clarence shows George what the town of Bedford Falls would be like had George never been born. Let’s just say that George made a big difference in the lives of a lot of people.
I first encountered It’s a Wonderful Life on late night television back in the eighties and knew nothing about it, but I remember being enchanted by the story and Jimmy Stewart’s performance. This is a timeless classic that I return to time and time again because it’s story is one that gives me hope and makes me feel, in-spite of evidence to the contrary, that one man’s actions can make a positive difference in the world.
I recently had a chance to see a terrific production of It’s a Wonderful Life at Lunchbox Theatre here in Calgary. Presented as a radio play from the 1940s this production is a fun, energetic and inventive retelling of the classic story. The Lunchbox production features an outstanding cast, brilliant direction, a beautiful set and an amazing mix of sound – both recorded and created live – to bring the story of George Bailey and the town of Bedford Falls to life. You can read more by following this link and if you get a chance you should go see it before it closes: It’s a Wonderful Life at Lunchbox Theatre.
What did Ebert say?
What is remarkable about “It’s a Wonderful Life” is how well it holds up over the years; it’s one of those ageless movies, like “Casablanca” or “The Third Man,” that improves with age. Some movies, even good ones, should only be seen once. When we know how they turn out, they’ve surrendered their mystery and appeal. Other movies can be viewed an indefinite number of times. Like great music, they improve with familiarity. “It’s a Wonderful Life” falls in the second category. Roger Ebert, January 1, 1999
Clarence: “Remember George, no man is a failure who has friends.”
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
- Onni Tommila as Pietari Kontio
- Jorma Tommila as Rauno Kontio
- Directed & Written by Jalmari Helander
- Rotten Tomatoes: Critic Score 89%, Audience Score 71%
Okay if you’re looking for something a little different – something that fits with how 2016 feels – if you want something a little unsettling then Rare Exports is the holiday film for you.
The original Santa wasn’t such a nice guy.
In fact, the original Santa was the very definition of evil and he was captured, frozen in ice and buried in order to safe guard the world. But of course, just like nuclear waste in a salt mine, one day somebody will go and dig up what lies beneath and when they do – oh boy – you think you know Santa – you don’t know Santa.
A twisted tale with plenty of dark humour that can be enjoyed not just by those who love Christmas, but also by those who don’t like Christmas. You know who I mean – the cynics and curmudgeons of the family. Who doesn’t have a few of those?
What did Roger Ebert say?
“Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” is a rather brilliant lump of coal for your stocking hung by the fireside with care. How else to explain an R-rated Santa Claus origin story crossed with “The Thing” (1982)? Apart from the inescapable that the movie has Santa and reindeer in it, this is a superior horror film, a spot-on parody of movies about dead beings brought back to life. Oh, and all the reindeer are dead. Roger Ebert December 22, 2010
Pietari Kontio: “The real Santa was totally different. The Coca-Cola Santa is just a hoax.”
Miracle on 34th Street
- Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle
- John Payne as Fred Gailey
- Maureen O’Hara as Doris Walker
- Natalie Wood as Susan Walker
- Directed & Written by George Seaton
- Rotten Tomatoes: Critics Score 96%, Audience Score 87%
You know this year is the first year I’ve actually watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. For some reason I wanted to watch the parade this year because there’s something comforting about a ninety year old tradition and the knowledge that millions of people have shared in that same experience before me.
So I watched the parade and saw Tony Bennett, who is also ninety, and Miss Piggy, who I believe is forever twenty nine, sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And that’s what Miracle on 34th Street is about: Santa Claus – and whether or not he actually does he exist. Of course he doesn’t exist but the purpose of the film isn’t to convince us that Santa is real but rather to have us believe that sometimes miracles do happen.
Edmund Gwenn gives a wonderful performance as Kris Kringle an elderly gentleman who claims to be St. Nicolas. Maureen O’Hara plays Doris Walker, who works for Macy’s Department store, and hires Kris to be the store Santa. Doris, who doesn’t believe in telling lies to children, has always told her daughter Susan that there is no real Santa. But when Susan meets Kris Kringle she begins to think that maybe Santa is real after all.
Miracle on 34th Street is a charming, funny and feel good movie that you can watch with the whole family.
What did Ebert Say?
I couldn’t find a review from Roger Ebert about the original 1947 movie, but he did review the remake and he does pay homage to the original in that review while also giving a thumbs up to the 1994 version.
“There will never really be a movie to replace the 1947 “Miracle on 34th Street,” nor a performance to replace Edmund Gwenn’s, but this modern update is a sweet, gentle, good-hearted film that stays true to the spirit of the original and doesn’t try to make everything slick and exploitative. You know it’s a good movie when you walk out humming the songs, and this time, it was “Joy to the World.” Roger Ebert, November 18, 1994
Kris Kringle: “You see, Mrs. Walker, this is quite an opportunity for me. For the past 50 years or so I’ve been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we’re all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle.”
A Christmas Carol
- Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge
- Mervyn Johns as Bob Cratchit
- Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley
- Glyn Dearman as Tiny Tim
- Directed by Brian Desmond-Hurst
- Written by Noel Langley
- Rotten Tomatoes: Critics Score 84%, Audience Score 89%
A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is my favourite film version of the classic Christmas story. When I think Scrooge – I think Alastair Sim. Many have come before and many have come after but for me Alistair Sim will always be the quintessential Scrooge.
Of the five films I’ve listed four of them work in a large part due to the performance of one of the stars. I don’t mean to diminish the contribution of the other cast members but if you remove John Candy from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Jimmy Stewart from It’s a Wonderful Life, Edmund Gwen from Miracle on 34th Street or Alastair Sim from A Christmas Carol I just don’t think any of these films would be as good. When you get the casting right the rest falls into place.
Besides Alastair Sim’s performance what I like most about this film version is the excellent job it does of showing how Ebenezer wasn’t always the cold-hearted man he is today. No, at one time Scrooge had a chance for love but he threw away his chance because of his fear of poverty and being alone and destitute. That’s why he became so focused on profit and gain. But in so doing he became a man who lost touch with his humanity – with the very thing that gives life meaning.
I always wanted to write my own adaptation of A Christmas Carol but I never got around to it until recently. It took me thirty years to make the time and do the work but it’s done and not only is it done but I’ve also written another play called, What the Dickens! which is the old play within a play concept which tells the story of the Pine Tree Players disaster prone production of A Christmas Carol. You can download both plays for free. Just follow the links:
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Adapted for the stage by James Hutchison
- What the Dickens! a comedy in two acts by James Hutchison
What did Roger Ebert say?
I actually have no idea. I couldn’t find anything on-line, but I’m guessing he probably liked the film. I’m not sure why he wouldn’t, so I’ll say he loved it!
Memorable Quotes from the original A Christmas Carol novel:
Scrooge: “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”