Movies are my favorite form of escapism, and when I first posted this list a while ago, the only diversion I needed was one from the over-commercialism of the season. How quaint that seems now. Without going into the reasons why, let’s just take these little gems for what they’re worth, a short vacation out of a reality that’s become too grim of late. So get cozy, grab the popcorn and lose yourself in these trifles of holiday storytelling.
1. The Shop Around the Corner ( 1940) – Must be my Eastern European blood calling to me, but I just love this sparkling Ernst Lubitsch romance set in a prewar Budapest gift shop. Starring James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as two battling sales clerks who don’t know they’re falling in love via the post, as each other’s anonymous pen pal. Stellar secondary characters, including a priceless William Tracy as the cheeky delivery boy, Pepi. The Christmas Eve menu at the end had me salivating.
2. The Man Who Came to Dinner ( 1942) – After dining at a Ohio local’s home during a lecture tour, notoriously acerbic radio personality Sheridan Whiteside slips on his hosts’ icy steps, and takes over not only their house but their lives. Starring Monty Woolley as The Man and Bette Davis as his aide-de-camp, the snark and sarcasm are so sharp and quick you’ll come away nicked but you’ll be laughing too hard to care. Still fresh over seventy years later, The Man is based on Algonquin Roundtable-er, Alexander Woolcott, his cronies thin veneers of Noel Coward, Harpo Marx, Gertrude Lawrence and all who were definitely in-crowd.
3. Holiday Affair (1949) – No one did heavy-lidded better than The Mitch, and the very fact that he actually made a holiday film piqued my curiosity enough to watch it. Just by the look of this poster you could see the only thing that remotely indicated that it had anything to do with Christmas was war-widow’s Janet Leigh’s sheer wrapping definitely promised presents for someone. Oh, somewhere among the movie’s a plot involving a department store clerk and a retail spy, a sassy kid, a train set, a jilted–oh who cares! Mitch smolders and Janet’s a brush fire waiting to happen.
4. A Christmas Story ((1983) – All nine-year-old Ralphie wants for Christmas is a genuine Red Ryder BB gun, and he’ll do darn near anything to get it. Based on the recollections of storyteller Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust – All Others Pay Cash, Peter Billingsley had the part of a lifetime that until this day loops every Christmas on cable channel TBS. Darren McGavin ought to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award for one priceless part as Ralphie’s dad who spouts the immortal words, “It’s a major award!”
5. The Holiday (2006) – Don’t ask me why I like this story of American movie trailer maker Cameron Diaz, and English wedding column writer Kate Winslet who swap their respective Hollywood and Surrey homes for the Christmas holidays. Maybe it’s got something to do with Jude Law being tossed into the mix, I don’t know, but the whole thing sure sounds like a good idea to me.