By now, most everyone knows of both a traditional approach and perhaps a more cynical view of the holidays. Here are a few alternatives to the usual classics that may still brighten your days and lift your spirits, if you are so inclined.
The Capra classic It’s a Wonderful Life emphasizes the power of redemption and celebration in troubled times. Jacques Demy’s through-composed musical from the 60s, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg veers away from a traditional musical in a number of ways, yet still retains beautiful colors, composition, plaintive melodies and plenty of romance. Why is this a holiday pick? The snow falls at the end…and if there’s a dry eye by the last note, you’re truly a Grinch.
The Muppets Christmas Carol boasts some star power, a few clever songs, and a faithful adaptation of the Dickens novel (of sorts). Gremlins, the famously PG-13 hit from the 80s, has none of this. But it’s a present you won’t ever forget. And Gremlins 2 is even further afield from your usual fuzzy-creatured caper.
A Christmas Story is the coming-of-age holiday treat that can’t be beat, and you can watch it non-stop for 24 hours on some networks. I doubt if you’ll see A Christmas Tale by Arnaud Desplachin on anyone’s wish list, but it’s a beautiful story of a family torn apart by deep-seated resentment and an inability to emotionally connect. This is a long, tough watch, but the acting and the script are first-rate and will leave you with a thoughtful and emotional response to the family drama that is played out.
What’s not to love about the travel antics of the two comic geniuses in Planes, Trains and Automobiles? And the ending is a surprisingly touching emotional element that you could only see coming if you knew this was a John Hughes production. Jacques Tati, the king of French physical comedy, has his own trek and travails in his final classic, Trafic. Though there is no specific holiday tie-in in this film, you should watch it as a double feature with M. Hulot’s Holiday and you’ll see he has some of the same opinions of people and society, minus the profanity.
Musicals are often holiday favorites, whether it’s as overt as Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, or those with only a nod to the sentiment with a single number, as in Meet Me in St. Louis. How does a French murder mystery musical sound? The deliciously devious 8 Women with Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert is a wintry mix of precisely that. Combining the age-old whodunit elements with beautiful costumes, cheeky musical numbers and the Grand Dame of French Cinema, this murderous fest lacks for nothing… not even the fruitcake.
Perhaps the most obvious addition to the Holiday catalog is a fairly recent entry from Finland, called Rare Exports. The big give-away in this tale is that Santa Claus is Coming to Town, in a major way. This strange little film captures the mystery and the magic of the folk-tale and gives it a new perspective. And while you are at it, keep an eye out for the roaring Yule Log. Maybe you will get a streaming video treat just in time to warm up your abode, wherever you may be.
Enjoy! And look out for Spoilers to come.
~ posted by The Spoiler*