My first memory of Brian Levant’s Jingle All The Way is not related to Christmas at all. The title was one of the many old VCRs on offer during an audiovisual room period in school. The other options were Dunston Checks In (1996), Lawrence Of Arabia (1962), Free Willy (1993), Jurassic Park (1993) and The Poseidon Adventure (1972). Despite the dose of thrill and action these titles offered, there was something calm and soothing about watching a Christmas movie on a hot summer day in school.
Having grown up in the era of G.I. Joe action figures, my fascination with Jingle All The Way initially centred on the “Turbo Man” doll and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger—who portrays the lead role of a father scurrying around town in the Christmas Eve shopping rush to buy a toy for his son—play a character that didn’t involve heavy-duty weapons or killing. But the more I binged on this movie later in life, I understood its beautiful message about the relationship children have with their fathers.
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I have had a topsy-turvy equation with my dad but as Jingle All The Way shows you, a father’s love is unequivocal. They may not always show their love but they can go out of the way to fulfil the simplest of promises. Schwarzenegger ends up putting on a superhero costume and a jetpack towards the end of this movie. In real life too, fathers are superheroes. They just don’t wear capes.
If Jingle All the Way was all about the “power of the father”, Chris Columbus’ Home Alone shows us the “power of the family” and how mothers are the glue that holds families together. Macaulay Culkin became a global sensation after playing Kevin McCallister in this 1990 movie. While Culkin has since faded from the scene, Catherine O’Hara, who plays Kevin’s fearsome yet loving mother, is still fresh in memory thanks to her award-winning performances in the series Schitt’s Creek.
There’s so much more to like in Home Alone and its sequel, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Despite playing a negative role, Joe Pesci—as Harry, one half of the “Wet Bandits”—makes you chuckle every time. The rush of Christmas vacations, pestering cousins, elder siblings that love you more than they hate you, missed flights, the film within the film (remember Angels With Filthy Souls?), massive Christmas trees and tonnes of snow—all these make the first two movies in the Home Alone franchise stand out from the sequels. The golden takeaway? Mothers know you best.
The soundtracks and background scores in Home Alone and Home Alone: 2 are classic examples of how the music can make you fall in love with a film. Composer John Williams’ Somewhere In My Memory is the soul of these movies. It’s these movies that introduced me to Run Rudolph Run (recorded originally by Chuck Berry in 1958) and Darlene Love’s beautiful voice in the rock ‘n’ roll track All Alone On Christmas. Another notable Christmas rock song for your playlist this weekend could be Jingle Bell Rock, which was released by American country singer Bobby Helms in 1957 and features in Home Alone 2.
Speaking of families, how can any piece on Christmas movies be complete without a mention of Tim Allen? Allen played Santa Clause in The Santa Clause trilogy but my favourite Christmas movie of Allen is Christmas With The Kranks, the 2004 adaptation of John Grisham’s 2001 novel, Skipping Christmas. Featuring Jamie Lee Curtis as Allen’s wife, the movie follows a couple—known in the neighbourhood for their Christmas Eve gatherings—that decides to skip Christmas one year since their daughter is away. Instead, they decide to spend it? on a cruise. A comedy of errors follows when the daughter decides to return in time for Christmas, complete with shopping accidents and a last-minute party.
What comes through is the spirit of Christmas and the power of the community. We are living in times where putting your trust and faith in someone else can be difficult. But as Christmas With The Kranks shows, miracles do happen when the community comes together.
The most recent Christmas movie I binge-watched has a lot of “Christmas” in it—Paul Feig’s Last Christmas (2019), which is based on the eponymous hit song by Wham! and features tracks from the marvellous George Michael. I'll admit this: I actually watched this movie on Christmas night last year, all alone. It was probably one of the quietest evenings of 2020, a tumultuous year for all of us.
Henry Golding, Emilia Clarke, Emma Thompson, who also wrote the screenplay, and Michelle Yeoh are part of an ensemble cast in this romantic comedy musical, set in London during Christmas time, with a superb background featuring Michael. Clarke plays the role of Kate, a careless employee—dressed as an elf—at a store that sells Christmas-themed goods owned by Yeoh. Kate’s professional and personal life begin looking up when Tom, played by Golding, enters the picture.
Yes, the plot does become predictable as the movie progresses but there are some beautiful moments. There’s a particular scene where Tom (Golding) and Kate (Clarke) discuss her near death experience and failure to do something meaningful in life. He tells her: “There’s no such thing as normal. It’s a stupid word. Does a lot of damage.... I think the whole special, being special thing is overrated. I think just to be a human being is hard…. One thing someone said to me helped me. ‘Every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character.’ It just means that you’re built of everything you do. And that’s OK.” Sometimes, it is all right not to be too harsh on yourself.
So, go ahead, sit down with your loved ones and grab your favourite hot beverage. There’s no right time to watch a Christmas movie. But they definitely feel a bit sweeter on the day itself.
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