Total Recall: Overlooked Christmas Gems

Film critic Alonso Duralde shares some holiday favorites that are worth a look.

(Editor's note: With Christmas nearly upon us, we decided to try something a little different with Total Recall this week. Alonso Duralde is not only an esteemed film critic and an RT compatriot, he literally wrote the book on Christmas movies (check out Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas here), so we asked him to share some of his favorite underrated holiday pictures.)


Brad Pitt

I grew up in a household that owned four Christmas albums -- Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, Dean Martin, and the Boston Pops. And that was it. So part of what I enjoy about Christmas as an adult is the discovery of the vast thicket of vintage holiday music out there, from Pearl Bailey and Lena Horne to the Ray Conniff Singers and the Three Sons.

Same deal with movies; I came of age in the 1970s, the golden era of It's a Wonderful Life being in the public domain and airing all day, every day, throughout the month of December. As I got older (and wrote the book Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas), I was delighted to find that I had as many new buried treasures among Christmas films as I've had with music.

If you're looking to diversify your holiday viewing past A Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street (which are both great, don't get me wrong), you should pick up the book. In the meantime, here's a taste of some great Christmas movies that may have gone under your radar but which might become part of your December viewing routine.


91%

Arthur Christmas

Lost in the holiday shuffle last year opposite The Muppets, Hugo, Tintin and Happy Feet 2 was this thoroughly charming kids' movie from Aardman Animation. My chapter on the worst Christmas movies is loaded with films about Santa Claus, so for this 3-D cartoon to get jolly old St. Nick just right feels like a holiday miracle. In this film, the job of Santa Claus is actually passed down from generation to generation, so while the current Father Christmas (voiced by Jim Broadbent) is getting ready to retire, his hyper-efficient next-in-line son Steve (Hugh Laurie) has souped up the sleigh and computerized the whole gift-giving process. But when one little girl doesn't get her present, it's up to Steve's younger brother Arthur (James McAvoy), gift-wrapping elf Briony (Ashley Jensen of Extras and Ugly Betty) and grouchy old "Grandsanta" (Bill Nighy) to save the day. (I remember feeling self-conscious about tearing up at the press screening, until I looked over and saw Rotten Tomatoes' Grae Drake doing likewise.)

Mode: HLS Link


46%

The Ice Harvest

While Die Hard successfully combined gunplay and holiday cheer, other violent and darkly funny Christmas movies haven't fared so well at the box office, from the hilarious Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to this twisted caper about lowlifes trying to get out of town on December 24 with stolen mob money. Said lowlifes are John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, trying not to draw suspicion to themselves on a frozen, slushy night in Wichita, Kansas, where they will dodge strippers (particularly Connie Nielsen), crime lords (Randy Quaid), and enforcers (Mike Starr), while Cusack drives around his ex-wife's new husband (Oliver Platt), who has a tendency to get unwell while drunk and riding in a car. If you're looking for some bleak humor to cut through the seasonal sweetness and light, this black-hearted cult fave should do the trick.

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100%

Remember the Night

Despite boasting a script from the legendary Preston Sturges and starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck (playing characters much, much nicer than they did in Double Indemnity), this holiday treat languished in the vaults until recently being rediscovered by TCM. New York D.A. MacMurray takes pity on shoplifter Stanwyck and takes her home to Indiana with him so she won't have to spend Christmas behind bars. After a chilling visit with her unloving mother, Stanwyck blossoms in the loving care of MacMurray's mom (Beulah Bondi, who also played Ma Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life). Sweet, smart and funny, Remember the Night offers a quick course in rom-coms done right that today's practitioners would benefit from studying.


50%

Some Girls

Here's a movie that, despite rave reviews out of Sundance, got little attention upon its original release. Part of the problem was that MGM was teetering on the verge of one of its bankruptcies, but few studios would know how to sell a movie this eccentric and unusual: a sophisticated American sex comedy. Patrick Dempsey (post-Can't Buy Me Love, pre-Grey's Anatomy) comes to Quebec City to visit college girlfriend Jennifer Connelly (post-Labyrinth, pre-A Beautiful Mind) for Christmas, only to have her inform him upon his arrival that she no longer loves him. Throw in two beautiful sisters, an academic father (played by Andre Gregory) who can only write in the nude, and a grandmother (Lila Kedrova) who thinks Dempsey is her late husband reincarnated, and you have a witty, naughty romance set against a gorgeous wintry backdrop.

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Click here to order Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. Check out Alonso's reviews at TheWrap.com and follow him on Twitter.

Comments

I fight for the users

Ian Fastert

The have your self a movie little christmas link goes to the Arthur Christmas page.

Dec 19 - 04:35 PM

RT-Ryan

RT-Ryan .

Thanks. It's been fixed.

Dec 19 - 04:48 PM

Kurtiss Keefner

Kurtiss Keefner

Link still goes to the Arthur Christmas page.

Dec 20 - 07:28 AM

www.movieswithmitch.com

Mitch Hansch

Sorry about that. O.k. it should be finally fixed. Thanks

Dec 20 - 09:32 AM

Matthew R.

Matthew Reimer

Yeah, still goes on to Arthur Christmas page.

Dec 20 - 02:55 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

The link keeps coming back from the dead. It's a Christmas miracle :)

Dec 20 - 07:06 PM

Josiah Coulter

Josiah Coulter

Oh my gosh -- I just flagged your comment as spam Big Brother!! I didn't mean to. I wanted to reply on how hilarious that was. :p

Dec 22 - 04:48 PM

Janson Jinnistan

Janson Jinnistan

The Ref
Gremlins
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Dec 19 - 04:46 PM

zinc alloy

zinc alloy

Rare exports was really interesting.........

Dec 20 - 04:53 PM

Deborah J.

Deborah Jean

what Rose replied I am amazed that some people able to make $4500 in 1 month on the internet. did you look
at this web page wow42.com

Dec 30 - 01:22 PM

Kenneth Tompkins

Kenneth Tompkins

I just watched Rare Exports and really enjoyed it. It is for sure a new addition to my holiday movie list

Dec 21 - 12:46 AM

RT-Ryan

RT-Ryan .

Thanks. It's been fixed.

Dec 19 - 04:48 PM

Kurtiss Keefner

Kurtiss Keefner

Link still goes to the Arthur Christmas page.

Dec 20 - 07:28 AM

www.movieswithmitch.com

Mitch Hansch

Sorry about that. O.k. it should be finally fixed. Thanks

Dec 20 - 09:32 AM

Matthew R.

Matthew Reimer

Yeah, still goes on to Arthur Christmas page.

Dec 20 - 02:55 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

The link keeps coming back from the dead. It's a Christmas miracle :)

Dec 20 - 07:06 PM

Josiah Coulter

Josiah Coulter

Oh my gosh -- I just flagged your comment as spam Big Brother!! I didn't mean to. I wanted to reply on how hilarious that was. :p

Dec 22 - 04:48 PM

Matthew R.

Matthew Reimer

I liked Arthur Christmas. It was fine for a animated holiday movie.

Dec 19 - 05:08 PM

Ott Lindstrom

Ott Lindstrom

Die Hard. Best Christmas movie ever.

Dec 19 - 05:09 PM

Ben Sheppard

Ben Sheppard

Lethal Weapon.

Dec 21 - 03:40 AM

Dave J

Dave J

But not overlooked though!

Dec 21 - 11:56 AM

Jack Schrute

Jack Schrute

I just watched "Arthur Christmas" today and didn't like it. Very boring.

Dec 19 - 05:48 PM

Matthew R.

Matthew Reimer

You must not like animation do you?

Dec 20 - 02:53 PM

Derek Diercksmeier

Derek Diercksmeier

"Eyes Wide Shut" and "Prometheus" are both great Christmas movies, even though they aren't the type of films that come to mind when talking about classic holiday movies.

Dec 19 - 07:23 PM

Justin Slick

Justin Slick

I'd call Prometheus a Christmas movie waaay before I'd call it "great".

Dec 20 - 04:51 PM

Derek Diercksmeier

Derek Diercksmeier

Thanks, Alonso!!! Great article.

Dec 19 - 07:24 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Young Jennifer Connelly's boobs always put me in the Christmas spirit!!!

Dec 19 - 07:59 PM

Lisa P.

Lisa Partridge

Agreed on Arthur Christmas and The Ice Harvest (haven't seen the rest)

I wish John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton would do more movies together, I'm only aware of this one and Pushing Tin. They have a great chemistry.

Dec 19 - 08:13 PM

Andrew Brinkerhoff

Andrew Brinkerhoff

Out of those, I've only seen "Arthur Christmas", which was decent. (SPOILER) I thought the UFO subplot, while it provided a poignant parting moment between Grandsanta and "Evie", was too silly. (END SPOILER)

Dec 19 - 08:43 PM

Movie Monster

Bentley Lyles

I saw Arthur Christmas recently and I enjoyed it very much. It'll probably become a film I watch every Christmas.

Dec 19 - 10:18 PM

Ben Lukas

Ben Lukas

Rare Exports has to have a place on this list!

Dec 19 - 11:05 PM

Hugo Emanuel Melo

Hugo Emanuel Melo

Considering the ratings that most of these movies got they were probably overlooked for good reason. Rare Exports should totally be on this list, BTW.

Dec 20 - 03:54 AM

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