Friday, December 12, 2008

Where are the Holiday Movies?

Ugh. I got a late start on the day with a bad case of book hangover, thanks to staying up way too late reading. I'd reached what my family refers to as The Last Eight Pages, which is the point in the book when you physically can't put it down to go to sleep or do something else. It could be because it literally is the last few pages, or it could be because it's a point where you don't want to put the book down until you know what happens. Last night, it was a combination. Thanks to small type and thin paper, I had a lot more left to read than I realized when I thought I only had a few pages to go and might as well finish the book before going to sleep, and by the time I realized how much more I still had to read, I'd reached the "must find out what happens" point.

Last year, I ranted at length a couple of times about made-for-TV holiday movies. Those seem to fall into a few main categories:
Adorable moppet finds a new family (often through single parent hooking up with a person with opposite feelings about Christmas)
Christmas-hater gets a new attitude, thanks to romantic interest and/or adorable moppet OR "A Christmas Carol" treatment
A Christmas wish comes true magically, teaching a valuable Life Lesson (usually that Christmas isn't just about material things -- and now a word from our sponsors: Go buy stuff!)

On the big screen, the primary categories seem to be:
Santa Claus IS real! -- this includes the "helping the non-believer learn to believe" stories as well as the culture-clash slapstick stuff and the "unsuspecting person has to become Santa or do Santa's job" stories
The holidays are really a hassle -- this encompasses family issues, travel complications, decorating wars, shopping nightmares, etc., and usually with a tacked-on "heartwarming" ending that seems to have been written by an entirely different writer than the one who wrote the rest of the mean-spirited, cynical script.

From what I can tell, the only holiday movies this year fit into the "the holidays are a hassle" category (and both are in the "families are annoying" subcategory), and I'm sorry, but I pretty much know to avoid any film that incorporates a baby spit-up scene in its promos. Because, as we all know, childless people dealing with the grosser aspects of infants is hi-larious.

The kind of holiday movie I really like is more subtle about the holiday stuff, more using it as the setting and acknowledging the emotionally charged aspects of the holiday season. The world champ in this category for me would be Love Actually, which explored a variety of different kinds of love, from paternal to friends to new love to old love to soured love to unrequited love, as set against the build-up to Christmas. It wasn't really about Christmas and could probably have taken place at any time, but the holiday setting amplified the emotions.

The more recent film like that was The Holiday, which mostly used the holidays as the reason the two characters could take their vacations in each other's homes and also played on the way the holiday season tends to affect single people.

I'd also include About a Boy in this, even though it takes place throughout the year, since the fact that the main adult character is living off the royalties of the novelty Christmas song his father wrote makes it a trying time for him, and the fact that the holiday season so perfectly illustrates the main child character's belief that you need "back up" in your life.

Even Bridget Jones's Diary somewhat fits (though I use it more as a New Year's movie), since it starts on New Year's Day and ends at Christmas.

The Americans can occasionally do this, as with While You Were Sleeping, where the pain of being utterly alone at Christmas is what motivates the main character to not correct the mistaken belief that she's engaged to the man who was in an accident when his family invites her to join their celebration.

That's the kind of movie I want to see at this time of year. Not so much the "life is dreary" Oscar-bait movies or the "my family is driving me nuts" holiday hassle movies. Just a nice romantic comedy, preferably without bodily function humor, set around the holiday season, so that there's Christmas music on the soundtrack and some pretty twinkly lights in the set design. This year, it looks like I'll be doing the DVD thing instead of going to the theater. On the up side, it means I can enjoy the movies with cocoa and Christmas cookies, which usually aren't available in theaters, and with my lights and decorations around me.

I also like books along these lines. I'm not so much a fan of the obvious Christmas Book of the variety that are so popular in the romance world -- the "Magic Under the Mistletoe" or "Her Own Secret Santa" type thing. I just like books set around Christmastime that incorporate something of the season or that include a pivotal event relating to Christmas. That makes it harder to find these books, since it's sometimes not obvious through the titles. There was Love Walked In from a couple of years ago and there were a few chick lit books that involved the holiday season. I may re-read The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, since it involves Christmas and the New Year at an old manor house, for a double win. I've got The Dark is Rising checked out of the library, since apparently it takes place around Christmas. But I'm still on the lookout for things I can read while Christmas music plays as I drink cocoa and eat Christmas cookies. I was about to say that maybe I should write something like that, and then I realized that I've written two books set against the season. I didn't really think about them as "holiday" books, but the first book was set starting in late September, and that's how the book world's calendar fell.

Tonight I think I'm going to make chili and watch Gremlins, another one of those stories set against the Christmas season, but with added monsters. Next weekend I have a good Christmas chick-flick marathon planned.


Angie said...

Let us know if you find any other holiday chick flicks! You seem to have hit all the best ones. :)

My favorite holiday movies are Holiday Inn (the movie that actually introduced the song "White Christmas") and The Muppets' Christmas Carol. The Bishop's Wife (love Cary Grant!) and White Christmas are other classic favorites.

tony said...

merry xmas :) i have this netbook review here but i am not able to read your blog with that? any suggestions ?