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Films for the Holidays

  Note: This page originally appeared as a post on December 25, 2008. I added it as a page because the holidays are here again (November 25, 2009) and I’m sticking to my list. Left: actor James Stewart in a still from “The Naked Spur” which is an Anthony Mann western and NOT a holiday […]

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Films for the Holidays

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Left: actor James Stewart in a still from “The Naked Spur” which is an Anthony Mann western and NOT a holiday film. But Stewart is in one of the most beloved holiday films ever made: “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I can’t bring myself to put that movie on my list. I alternate between thinking it is overly sentimental to deciding that Capra rode right down the line between emotion and message. I’ve seen the movie so many times that I don’t need to watch it again to recall the pain I feel when George Bailey gets wrung through the wringer again and again. My cynical self prefers Mann’s take on the human drama and what it means to be busted and lose everything you ever wanted, and how it will warp you if you don’t watch out. It's a feel good movie. Jimmy Stewart does something amazing in Mann’s film too, something big Hollywood stars wouldn’t dream of doing these days: he’s totally vulnerable. Heck, watch both movies this holiday season—bookends on a career and bookends on families which is really what holiday films are all about.

In the U.S. the predominant end of year holiday vibe is Christmas and the celebration of giving, self-sacrifice, and family. This is all pretty much a hard sell to someone like me who looks around and sees consumerism run amok. To make my holiday list a movie has to speak to a transformation in the main character from someone self-centered or otherwise damaged, into someone with hope (or someone who sacrifices so others can have hope; that’s pretty much the tradition as written). Also an important component of holiday movies for me is the dysfunctional family. Here transformation manifests as acceptance, in whatever flowered form it might take. And I prefer sentiment glazed with humor.

A Thanksgiving Movie and the Need to Draw

Today is Thanksgiving in the U.S. Throughout the country people are traveling home or gathering with friends to celebrate a holiday that means so many things to different people. Historically it celebrates a fall feast among Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621. For some people the holiday means enduring more of the dysfunction with which they grew up. Kodak and other companies in their advertising would like us to believe we are all making warm and happy memories. Some people in this current economy will find their circumstances tighter than usual.

Whatever your situation past or present, humor can help you to a better future. When I think of humor and Thanksgiving I think of "Home for the Holidays," a 1995 film directed by Jodie Foster. The stellar ensemble cast includes Holly Hunter, Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Robert Downey Jr., and Dylan McDermott.

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