Pop Culture

The Best Christmas-y Movies that Aren’t Primarily About Christmas

At this time of year, we all have our traditions. From how you decorate the tree, to just how much Bailey’s to put in your hot chocolate when your family goes out to gawk at Christmas lights, there are the little rituals that let you know it’s really Christmastime. Christmas movies are a big part of this, which TBS learned to cash in on long ago when they started playing A Christmas Story back to back for 24 hours straight.

But while some movies try to build a story around Christmas just for the sake of doing it, there are others that capture something more interesting about the essence of the holiday. These movies use Christmas to illustrate or symbolize something bigger. They all capture something about Christmas, for good or for bad, that is interesting or sometimes just painfully true.

The Chronicles of Narnia: I’m leading with this one because it’s the biggest stretch, and because some of you may not be nerdy enough to appreciate this one. First off, when the Pevensie children make it to Narnia, they’re horrified to discover that it’s always winter, but never Christmas, due to the evil powers of the White Witch. Later, thanks to their good work, the Witch’s power starts to fail, and who shows up on a sleigh but Santa himself (or Father Christmas, if you’re British)? He is there to give the kids encouragement and presents, and promptly takes off to give the citizens of Narnia their long-overdue gifts. Here, Christmas is used as a symbol of hope.  This movie actually came out around Christmas several years ago, and between the wintry scenery and the Christmas boost, it begs to be watched at this time of year.

Go: Does anyone even remember this movie? It’s such a late ’90s movie it’s slightly painful to re-watch, both for the look of it and for the fact that it’s a bit of a who’s who of 90s actors who never quite made it to the A-List. This is one of those gimmicky movies that show you a string of events from several different people’s point of view, and it follows a bunch of twenty-somethings on a wild night around Christmas. When I saw this movie late in high school, it was the first time I’d considered Christmas to be anything other than cozy, wholesome family time. Here, Christmas is present for exactly that reason: to contrast is wholesomeness with the objectionable things the characters here are doing.

Just Friends:  This incredibly under-rated movie shines thanks to Ryan Reynolds’s charms and Anna Farris’s scene-stealing. RyRen plays Chris Brander, the fat kid in high school who was in love with his female best friend. After a painful flashback opener, we jump to Chris in his late 20s, where he’s a record executive womanizer who hasn’t been to hishometown in 10 years. He hasn’t abandoned his family; he just pays for them to fly out to L.A. for holidays. When a plane incident and a snowstorm ground him in New Jersey, he reluctantly goes home a few days before Christmas, with Anna Farris’s celebutante character in tow. Everything about Christmas in Chris’s hometown is picture-perfect: his mother’s Christmas lights/cookies, the kids’ ice skating on a frozen pond, the Christmas Eve party at the neighbor’s house. Christmas serves to show Chris all the things he’s given up in order to run away from his painfully awkward past.

Home Alone: This should get bonus points, because the creatively titled sequel Home Alone 2 takes place on Christmas as well. There’s no need to summarize the plot, so I’ll get right to it: this movie is about family. Kevin takes his family for granted, and once he mistakenly believes he’s wished his family away, he appreciates how much he loves and misses them. It’s obvious why the movie takes place during Christmas: it gave a good reason for the whole family to go out of town, and the family-centric time of year served to illustrate to Kevin just how alone he was without his parents and relatives. Kevin makes a no-nonsense visit to a mall Santa and delivers one of the cutest lines ever (paraphrased: “I’m old enough to know you’re not the real Santa Claus. But I do know that you work for him.”) and wishes that, instead of presents, this year he just gets his family back.

Love Actually: Was there any doubt that this would be number 1? Of all the movies on my little list, Love Actually is the most overtly about Christmas. True, it’s a movie about love, but Christmas plays a strong supporting role: people buying their mistresses Christmas gifts, the Prime Minister showing up at his niece’s Christmas recital, folks declaring their love via cue cards on Christmas Eve; almost all of the romantic sub-plots involve Christmas in some way. I am biased, because I think this is pretty much the perfect movie, let along Christmas-y movie. But it captures the heightened emotions that people can feel during that time of year. Christmas is used as a catalyst for almost all of the characters admitting, or choosing to deny, their feelings of love. Love Actually makes you think about love, but it makes you think about Christmas, too. In the words of Mark: “Just because it’s Christmas (and at Christmas you tell the truth): to me, you are perfect.”

Images: imdb, zap2it

13 replies on “The Best Christmas-y Movies that Aren’t Primarily About Christmas”

Hi it’s me again with a couple of classic recommendations:

“Bell, Book, and Candle” (1958 dir. Richard Quine)
Gillian Hellroyd (Kim Novak), her aunt Queenie (Elsa Lanchester), and her brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon) are witches (and warlock) who meet Shepherd Henderson (Jimmy Stewart) on Christmas Eve. On a lark Gillian casts a spell and makes Shep fall in love with her. Novak’s wardrobe by Jean Louis is to die for. And Pyewacket the cat, Gillian’s familiar, steals his scenes.

“The Thin Man” (1934 dir. W.S. Van Dyke)
The original of the six movie series, with martini swilling private dick Nick Chalres (William Powell) and his society wife, Nora (Myrna Loy). The movie takes place right before Christmas and the holiday is incidental, but I’d argue for this film based on this technicality. And besides watching Powell sleuth and teach hotel bar waiters how to properly mix drinks he decorates his Christmas tree with balloons for target practice. Last, but not least there is Skippy starring as Asta the Wonder dog. Here is my favorite exchange between Nick and Nora:

Nick Charles: I’m a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.
Nora Charles: I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids.
Nick Charles: It’s not true. He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.

Cool list, Hattie. I have only (bothered to) watch two of these films in their entirety because I am such an old cranky film snob, “HA” and “BJ”.

Now the dark side of me wants to go out on limb and recommend………*drum roll*………Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”. Uh huh. It takes place before Xmas, really New Year’s Eve. It’s not a film for the faint of heart, but I recommend it because it’s a very dark trip down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass. Bill Hartman (Tom Cruise) is the Alice character. He’s in a lucid dream. Be careful what you wish for, people.

The film’s structure is built around a sonata. In fact the film is a jazz sonata. During a hypomanic stage I actually sketched out the structure of the film to prove how it fit into the dimensions of a sonata. It’s brilliant work by Kubrick and not just because it was his coda.

It is a very dark film, no doubt. But you need to pay attention to what’s going on. No, don’t focus on what is going on, but what it really means. For example the blond girls Bill encounters are all versions of his wife, Alice. Listen closely to the stoned fight Alice and Bill have and then you’ll realize his adventures in part I (the night of his adventures before he reaches the secret sex club ) of the film play out his fantasies and fears about Alice–the cheating wife, the whores, the sex slave on display. It’s beautiful in its ugliness.

And if you’re a film freak like I am you’ll catch motifs such as the use of color, namely red and blue. Red = danger and passion. Blue = truth. Play very close attention who wears blue. They are the truth tellers.

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