Christmas Classics


Nova Clark

“White Christmas” (above) is an upbeat alternative to “It’s a
Wonderful Life” with the same old fashioned charm.
(Photo courtesy of Classic Film via Flickr)

Christmas movies are a genre of their own. If you’re looking forward to sitting down for holiday-themed films, the following list could aid your efforts in selecting this year’s lineup, with choices ranging from classic to lesser-known movies — as well as their perfect pairings for any double feature desires you may have.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

With its dark subject matter and powerful messages, this film was ahead of its time in more ways than one. Set in the fictional town of Bedford Falls on Christmas, down-and-out family man George Bailey (James Stewart) contemplates leaping off of a bridge but instead rescues a man who turns out to be his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers).

Clarence takes George on a guided tour of what the world would have been like without him, serving as a timeless lesson of appreciating what you have in life.

Best paired with “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947), another poignant yuletide tale released the following year.

“The Ref” (1994)

This underrated 1994 film is the ultimate unconventional Christmas comedy. Lloyd and Caroline Chausser (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) are an unhappy married couple who can’t stop bickering on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, small-time burglar Gus (Denis Leary) is on the run from the police, and their lives intersect when Gus attempts to take Caroline hostage at a grocery mart.

After he accompanies the couple back to their home, however, hilarity ensues as Gus must pretend to be the couple’s marriage counselor in the face of their dinner guests while he waits for his right-hand man (Richard Bright) to arrange transportation out of town.

Best paired with “Metropolitan” (1990); led by an ensemble of actors set largely in one household, this early ‘90s holiday film is filled with sarcastic humor.

“Home for the Holidays” (1995)

Although its featured holiday is Thanksgiving, “Home for the Holidays” carries plenty of festive themes. Claudia Larson (Helen Hunt) has made the journey back home to Baltimore to join her family for dinner, where a variety of colorful characters collide.

The story’s dysfunctional family aspect is reminiscent of the previous year’s “The Ref” as Claudia reunites with her witty brother (Robert Downey Jr.), cynical sister (Cynthia Stevenson) and parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning) who haven’t seemed to change during the family’s years apart.

Directed by Jodie Foster, comedy complements the film as personalities clash and arguments ensue.

Best paired with “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987), a different kind of travel-centric Thanksgiving romp.

“White Christmas” (1954)

If you enjoy the old fashioned charm of “It’s a Wonderful Life” but prefer something more upbeat, “White Christmas” is an all-star musical featuring energetic dance numbers and plenty of holiday cheer.

The plot follows a pair of sister performers (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) who team up with a duo of song-and-dance men (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) en route to perform a show on the East Coast. Along the way, their travels are laced with humor, catchy songs and an obligatory dose of romance.

Best paired with “Holiday Inn” (1942); more dancing commences as Bing Crosby returns to the screen for another festive musical.

“A Christmas Story” (1983)

Possibly one of the most popular Christmas films of all time, “A Christmas Story” presents the tale of Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his family’s humorous shenanigans surrounding the events that transpired leading up to a memorable Christmas day in the 1940s.

Starring Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as Ralphie’s parents (and carried along by a narration from his present-day self who recalls the anecdotes), “A Christmas Story” is the perfect ode to the nostalgia of early holiday memories.

Best paired with “Elf” (2003), another hilarious modern classic.

“Stalag 17” (1953)

Although this dark wartime comedy centers heavily around World War II, its timeline passes through December 25 as a group of prisoners-of-war in 1940s Germany begin to suspect a fellow soldier of being a spy.

The inmates take a break from their suspicions once Christmas rolls around, however, as depicted in a series of camaraderie-filled scenes that serve as a prime example of making the most of one’s situation.

If you’re interested in a more in-depth breakdown of “Stalag 17,” check out the “Double Exposure” column on it here.

Best paired with “Die Hard” (1988), an action-packed drama that only briefly alludes to its Christmastime setting.

“Bell, Book and Candle” (1958)

This romantic comedy is fit for either Halloween or Christmas. Set in snowy Greenwich Village, Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) is a present-day witch who falls for mortal Shepherd Henderson (James Stewart). The only problem: falling in love comes with the risk of losing her powers.

Taking each day as it comes, Gillian contemplates her decision while living with her brother (Jack Lemmon) and aunt (Elsa Lanchester) in the midst of the holiday season.

Best paired with “The Apartment” (1960), where Jack Lemmon makes another appearance in a Christmas-centric romance.