So chances are good that sometime during this Holiday season you will be watching a Christmas movie. Or ten. You’ll be snuggled up around the fire with one of those giant popcorn tins at your feet, egg nog in hand, and you’ll watch the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and Miracle On 34th Street. These are the Christmas movies everybody knows. You have been watching them for years. And with good reason. But why not branch out a little bit? Why not taste some more unfamiliar fare? You know, maybe cook a goose instead of a turkey this Christmas?
To help with that, here are six Christmas movies worth digging into, two of them newer and four of them classics.
JOYEAUX NOEL (2005)
Directed by Christian Carion. Starring Diane Kruger, Benno Forman, and Guillaume Canet
This little known French film tells the inspiring true story of three groups of entrenched WWI soldiers (French, Germans and Scots) who, against the wishes of their superiors, put down their weapons on Christmas Eve, 1914 in order to peacefully celebrate the holiday. Together, they play soccer, enjoy beautiful music from a kind and generous opera singer, and partake in Christmas mass. Even in the midst of so bloody a conflict, the joyousness of the Christmas season and its spiritual implications permeate the European night. For a time, it is quiet, free of gunfire and explosions. Few Christmas films capture more poignantly compassion, camaraderie, and kindness, and the stirring power of art. [Please note, parents, that there is scene in Joyeaux Noel that you will perhaps not want your children to view. Please be discerning accordingly. It may be best to preview the movie first. That said, when teaching them discernment, this can be a very valuable film.]
Directed by Danny Boyle. Starring Alex Etel, James Nesbitt, Daisy Donovan
Millions, a family film that avoids the typical family film clichés, is about a young English boy named Damian who suddenly comes into possession of a great deal of money. As in, the money falls from the sky in a duffle bag. Damian is a kid of such kindness and generosity that he wants to give away most of the money to the poor—to the people who really need it. And since it’s Christmas time he knows there are many people who will spend the holiday lonely and hungry. However, his older brother, Anthony, is bitter about a 40 percent tax to be levied against the surprise fortune and thinks they ought to secretly spend the money on themselves (a desire certainly influenced by the fairly recent death of their mother and the sadness of their mourning father). The problem is that, hilariously, the British pound will soon be replaced by the Euro and their money will be useless. They must act quickly! While trying to decide what to do with the money, Damian is visited by a number of Christian Saints, such as St. Peter, St. Anne, St. Nicholas, and others, all of whom help him determine how to spend the money. And when the film ends with a Christmas pageant at Damian’s school we are reminded of the words of Christ: “unless you become like little children…”
SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940)
Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Starring Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, and Frank Morgan
The influence for the mega-popular 1998 hit You’ve Got Mail (minus the pop consumerism rampant in that film), Shop Around the Corner stars a young James Stewart (pre-George Bailey) as Alfred Kralik, a clerk in a Budapest leather goods store who is in love with a woman he has never met, except through snail mail. He doesn’t even know her name. But we do. She is Klara Novak and she has just been hired to work in the shop alongside Kralik, much to his ironic chagrin. In fact, he hates her in person and she doesn’t much like him either. Well, except that she does. Sort of. In their letters they love each other, but in person they hate each other. This is a story that is pure Hollywood in its conventions but, in the hands of Ernst Lubitsch, Shop becomes a poetic exploration of identity, appearance, and love— all wrapped up in a yuletide bow. Many critics claim Shop is better than Stewart’s other famous Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.
HOLIDAY INN (1941)
Directed by Mark Sandwich. Starring Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Marjorie Reynolds
Many families watch White Christmas each year, but why not watch the movie that first introduced Irving Berlin’s classic Christmas song “White Christmas?” Holiday Inn stars Fred Astaire (in one of his seminal performances) and the always charming Bing Crosby as Ted and Jim, long time vaudeville dance partners. However, when Ted decides to run off with Jim’s girl, Jim decides to settle down in an old Connecticut farmhouse. After a while, he decides to open his house to guests as a sort of bed and breakfast, but only on major holidays. For a while, the hotel business and Jim get along, until his old friend Ted shows up with eyes for another of the innkeeper’s lady friends. Like many Christmas movies, Holiday Inn is probably best known for its numerous song-and-dance numbers, especially Astaire’s legendary Fourth of July tap dance and Berlin’s many now-classic Christmas tunes.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)
Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. Starring Alastair Sim, Jack Warner, and Kathleen Harrison
After you have finished reading Charles Dicken’s classic novella starring Mr. Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and several ghosts, check out the 1951 adaptation starring Alastair Sim in what is perhaps his most beloved role. While it may not be the most glamorous of the many (almost yearly) adaptations of Dicken’s story about the miserly old Scrooge and his journey through past, present, and potential future, the ‘51 version is widely accepted as the best and most true to the spirit of the book. Indeed, unlike many recent renderings of the novella, this version is dark and brooding and, well, Dickension. This version is a ghost story and a first rate one at that. If you’re looking for something for younger children then this may not be your version, but if you are looking to experience the somber story as Dicken’s intended then this version ought to be your choice.
CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT (1945)
Directed by Peter Godfrey. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, and Sydney Greenstreet
Elizabeth Lane, played by Barbara Stanwyck, is a newspaper columnist who offers tips on all things domestic: recipes, child raising, housekeeping, etc. She is the Martha Stewart of 1945. Except that she doesn’t know a lick about any of those things. She can’t cook, doesn’t live on the farm in Connecticut she claims to live on, and isn’t married, let alone a mother. In fact, she lives in an apartment in New York City, writes for the cash, and receives her cooking tips from her uncle. But during this holiday season, as troops are arriving home from WW2, Lane’s editor, played by Sydney Greenstreet, decides to go visit her at her farm for Christmas as a publicity stunt. And he’s brining a veteran with him. In a panic, Lane and some pals cook up a plan to deceive the editor. Lane borrows a friend’s farm in CT, pretends they are married, enlists her uncle to cook meals on her behalf, and for a while all goes well. Until, that is, she falls for the dashing war veteran. What ensues is a hilarious and charming melee’ of Christmas mis-direction and romance.