Cinema Treasure Guilty Pleasure: Christmas Movies

Time for the third installment of my series Cinema Treasure/Guilty Pleasure!

This week’s theme: Christmas movies.

Christmas movies come in a lot of varieties, though I’d argue that there are three major archetypes.  You’ve got your heartwarming kid-believes-in-magic narratives (Miracle on 34th Street), your family-reunites-for-the-holiday dramas (The Family Stone), and your Christmas-is-full-of-hijinks movies (Home Alone).  There are some really fantastic movies out there, and naturally there are some really bad (mostly made-for-TV) Christmas movies.  (Has anybody else seen the movie Snowglobe?  It was made for ABC Family, and it starred Christina Milian.  The plot? A young woman discovers a Christmas-themed dreamworld inside a magical snowglobe.  A snowglobe, people.)

Christmas movies provide the perfect fodder for this series, since there are obvious film classics that air every year, as well as a dearth of horrible-but-so-gooey-sweet Christmas movies that we secretly love.  I think most of us can agree that Meet Me in St. Louis has one of the most iconic Christmas scenes (and songs) in cinema history.  Side note: the original lyrics to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” included the line “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, it may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past.”  Can you imagine singing that to little Margaret O’ Brien?  No? Neither could Judy Garland, and the lyric changed to the more cheery “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.”

For my film choices this month I’ve decided to eschew the obvious cinema classics that everybody discusses at this time of year (A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and so on) to discuss two more recent Christmas films that are dear to my heart.

Cinema Treasure: Love Actually (2003), directed by Richard Curtis.
Starring: Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and a thousand other awesome actors.

Okay, so maybe it’s a little sappy, but that’s not a bad thing in a Christmas movie.  Love Actually tells the story of 8 couples whose narratives are loosely interrelated.  What I really love about this film is the variety of loving relationships it examines.  Traditional romantic love is highlighted, but so is familial love and friendship.  The stories are incredibly varied in tonality, but the narrative structure allows the film to navigate from the sad (Liam Neeson as a widower and overwhelmed step-father) to the sexy and funny (Kris Marshall as Colin, a Brit moving to America in order to become a sex god).  Add in a surprisingly intense and powerful voice-over epilogue, and you’ve got a warm and complicated Christmas film that I watch every Christmas season.

Things I love: That insanely precocious little kid who says “Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love”; Colin Firth being generally adorable and trying to speak Portuguese; the killer soundtrack; the film’s honest portrayal of imperfect, complicated people and relationships.

Guilty Pleasure: The Holiday (2006), directed by Nancy Meyers.
Starring: Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, and Jack Black.

The Holiday will surprise you with its warmth, good humor, and meta references to classical Hollywood film structures (yes, really!).  The film tells the story of two women who trade houses for the Christmas holiday, seeking respite from their toxic and failed relationships.  Kate Winslet is Iris, a woman suffering from a bad case of unrequited love, while Cameron Diaz plays Amanda, an emotionally stifled woman who kicks out her cheating boyfriend at the beginning of the film.  Jack Black is the biggest surprise of the film, as his usual over-the-top expressions are replaced with a subtle and winning charm.  The film qualifies as a guilty pleasure for one really big reason: Cameron Diaz.  She really chews the scenery, and her solo scenes in the film are excruciating, though she fairs better in her sequences with Jude Law.  Still, the film makes up for her poor acting by including some nice references to classic films (two of the characters work in the industry, and there’s a fantastic and bittersweet storyline featuring none other than Eli Wallach as Winslet’s neighbor and a former screenwriter).

Things I love: the video store scene where Jack Black mimics famous movie soundtracks; the sweet scenes between Kate Winslet and Eli Wallach; the film’s cheeky embrace of the theatrical trailer as a narrative device.