Wouldn’t it be ironic if I could make the excuse that Christmas preparations got in the way of my writing this very post, so long after the previous part. Well, alas, I cannot blame the festivities this time around. I blame awards season, and I also blame my own ambition to embark on the Oscar-Winner Acting Tournament – which I hardly resent. So let’s jingle all the way to the next 5 movies the wife and I deem suitable Christmas viewings.
Ah, there’s nothing quite like a good old cease-fire to unite the nations into Christmas merriment and carol singing. Well, it makes perfect sense in the discourse of war, that unison in song, and wishing each other a genuine “Joyeux Noël” – the tensions and fear of fighting goes on hold for Christmas Eve during World War I. Between the French, the British, and the German soldiers, a hopeful solace and alliance replaces a battlefield with a place for peace. Headed by the triangle of lieutenants, a German tenor, and his Danish fiance, also a singer. As you watch the narrative drift along, hoping no lines are crossed, that harmony prevails, you hold out as long as you can for humanity to sing loudest – bagpipes sounding in the trenches has never been so emotive.
Acclaimed Canadian film Mon oncle Antoine follows 15-year-old boy Benoît watching the small town social interactions around him at Christmas time. And as the title suggestions spending at least some time with his uncle Antoine – including a snow-laden trek with recently deceased in tow. Rural Quebec has rarely looked so bleak and calming at the same time, and the interactions between the children of varying ages, and the seemingly weary adults, kind of matches the set-up. It’s a movie that feels a little behind it’s potential, but what it delivers adds up to some fine story-telling, composed and at its own pace. By the end you don’t feel quite as cold as the weather it depicts, but there is a longing, a kind of disappointment that this somehow didn’t capture my attentions much more than it did.
Expertly grounded work from David Cronenberg should not come as a surprise, an achievement he manages while still finding enough room for crime, violence, heavy subject matter etc. Given the similar tone and style of A History of Violence, Eastern Promises was never going to gather a whiff of disappointment. Viggo Mortensen got the plaudits of course, audiences no longer see Aragorn, but a well-earned reputation as a versatile actor. His nude fight scene is not only an incredible piece of cinema, but also a no-holds-barred feat for the actor – likely earning his Oscar nod all by itself without providing a suitable nomination clip of course.
1945’s Christmas in Connecticut blends Christmas with romance and comedy, thus giving the wife and I a break (whether we want it or not) from the more disturbing festive ventures. This also adds to my own nostalgia, digging out the oldies. Food writer Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) has her work literally cut out for her when the fictional family life she writes about is forced to become some kind of reality when her publisher insists she host a festive dinner. In keeping with the charade, Lane marries her long-time friend John Sloan, “hires” a housekeeper, and acquires a baby. I know, sounds bonkers. Splendidly ludicrous, though, in keeping with such comedy capers of a genre we can perhaps say they don’t make them like this anymore.
The razor-sharp screenplay for The Man Who Came to Dinner by Julius and Philip G. Epstein, based on the play, is delivered tremendously by this formidable cast. Monty Woolley might well steal the show as the short-tempered, quick-witted, and unfiltered Sheridan Whiteside, the character of the title who bookends the film by twice slips on icy steps. His temporary stay at the house gets under the feet of the dwellers, but his influence is soon somehow witness to worthiness. For the most part, though, Sheridan insults all around him him, barking orders, and making observations, both intelligent and offensive – many of his lines are classic, instantly funny, and the sort of vocabulary you would love to have at your disposal on a day-to-day basis for life’s little stings.
Here are the first four parts if you have not read them – which of course you have!
Follow the marathon on Twitter: #50FilmsChristmas
See the full list on Letterboxd: 50 Films for Christmas