Independence Day Will Smith, Bill Pullman, and Jeff Goldblum star in one of the all-time great popcorn pleasures. Aliens attack the earth and it takes a quirky engineer, a plucky President, and a heroic military pilot to save the day. What does that have to do with the 4th of July? Listen to the President’s stirring pep talk.
The Patriot There are many films about the Civil War, but not many about the Revolutionary War. Mel Gibson stars in this uneven but stirring film about a farmer pulled into the rebellion.
1776 I love this film, based on the Broadway musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with almost all of the stars from the acclaimed stage production, including William Daniels as the “obnoxious and disliked” John Adams, Ken Howard as a dashing Thomas Jefferson, and Howard Da Silva as Benjamin Franklin.
The movies have given us warm, loving, mothers, evil, abusive mothers, even alien mothers. Some of my favorites are featured in my book, 50 Must-See Movies: Mothers, including these. The book will be free on Amazon all weekend.
Claudia Before they went on to co-star in the luminous romance, “The Enchanted Cottage,” Dorothy McGuire and Robert Young played a young married couple in this sweet neglected gem based on the books by Rose Franken. Claudia and David love each other very much and he finds her innocence very appealing. But her immaturity leads to many problems. A neighbor thinks Claudia is flirting with him and without consulting David she impulsively decides to sell their farm. And she is very dependent on the loving mother she adores but takes for granted. Claudia’s is about to face two of life’s most demanding challenges – her mother is dying and Claudia and David are going to become parents themselves. So Claudia’s mother has to find a way to help Claudia grow up. Watch for: a rare film appearance by the exquisite Broadway star Ina Claire as Claudia’s mother
Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner There are two great mothers in this talky, dated, but still endearing “issue movie” about inter-racial marriage from 1967. Katharine Hepburn’s real-life niece Katharine Houghton plays her daughter and what Houghton lacks in screen presence and acting experience is less important than the genuine connection and palpable affection between the two of them. The question may seem quaint now, but as filming was underway, inter-racial marriage was still illegal in 17 states. The Supreme Court ruled those laws unconstitutional that same year. Hepburn is electrifying in what she knew would be her final film with her most frequent co-star and real-life great love, Spencer Tracy. And the distinguished actress Beah Richards is brilliant as the mother of a son who says his father thinks of himself as a “colored man,” while he just thinks of himself as a man. Watch for: Hepburn’s expression as her daughter describes falling in love
Claudine Diahann Carroll was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as a single mother in this ground-breaking 1974 film, one of the first to portray a domestic employee as a real person with her own home and family, and one of the first to provide an honest look at the perverse incentives of the “Great Society” welfare programs. Claudine is the mother of six who has to keep her work as a housekeeper and her relationship with a genial garbage worker (James Earl Jones) a secret from the social worker because they put at risk the payments she needs for her children. Watch for: the very romantic bathtub scene
Dear Frankie Emily Mortimer plays Lizzie, the divorced mother of a young deaf son in this heartwarming story set in Scotland. She is devoted and very protective. She does not want him to know the truth about his abusive father (the source of his deafness), so she tells him that his father is a merchant seaman. The letters he receives from all the ports of call full of details about all the places he has been are really written by Lizzie. When the ship comes to their town, she has to find someone to pretend to be his father. Watch for: Lizzie’s explanation of the reason she writes to Frankie — “because it’s the only way I can hear his voice”
Imitation of Life This melodrama about two single mothers, one white and one black, who join forces has been filmed twice and both are worth seeing. The best remembered is the glossy, glamorous 1959 version with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore. Lora (Turner) and Annie (Moore) are brought together by their daughters, who meet at Coney Island. Lora, a struggling actress, needs someone to help look after her daughter and Annie needs a job and a place to live. Annie moves in to be the housekeeper/nanny. She and Lora have a strong, supportive friendship, though Lora and both girls take Annie for granted. As the girls grow up, Lora’s daughter is resentful of the time her mother spends on her career and Annie’s daughter resents the racism she confronts even though her skin is so light she can pass for white. Watch for: the most elaborate funeral scene ever put on film, with a sobbing apology from Annie’s daughter (Susan Kohner)
National Velvet Anne Revere played three of the all-time great movie mothers, in “Gentleman’s Agreement,” “Body and Soul,” and my all-time favorite movie mom, “National Velvet.” Her scene with Elizabeth Taylor, when she gives her daughter the money to enter her horse in the big race, is the essence of the love and support we get from great moms. Watch for: the end, when the parents call each other by their first names for the first time in the film.
Please Don’t Eat the Daisies Doris Day stars in this film loosely based on Jean Kerr’s hilarious essays about life as Kate, the wife of a theater critic (David Niven) and mother of four rambunctious boys. While most of the film’s focus is on the marital strains caused by her husband’s new job and the family’s new home, the scenes of Kate’s interactions with her children are among the highlights. It is clear that while she tries to be understated about her affection and sometimes frustration, she adores them. Watch for: Kate’s affectionate interactions with her own mother, played by Spring Byington
8 Disney Hanukkah Specials to Stream This Holiday Season
The holiday season is here… and while there is no shortage of holly, jolly films and shows to stream on Disney+, we thought we’d highlight some of the Hanukkah specials that are also available right now! Whether you’re getting ready for a winter-break streaming marathon or just looking for something to watch to learn more about the holiday itself, we’ve listed eight things to watch—one for each night of Hanukkah.
1. The Ghost and Molly McGee – “Festival of Lights” (Season 1, Episode 10)
In this adventure, the entire McGee family and Scratch the ghost visit Libby Stein-Torres and her family for the final night of Hanukkah. When a sudden blackout occurs across the town of Brighton, Libby’s mom boots up their bookstore’s generator, but she only has enough gas for one hour. Inexplicably, the generator keeps running for eight hour—during which Libby and her family teach the McGee’s, and later the entire town (who come gather at the bookstore for warmth)—about their Hanukkah traditions!
2. “Puppy for Hanukkah”
In 2020, Hamilton star Daveed Diggs partnered with Disney to create a new Hanukkah anthem — “Puppy for Hanukkah.” Written by Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes, “Puppy for Hanukkah” tells the story of a little Jewish boy wishing for a puppy each night of Hanukkah before finally receiving one on the last night of the holiday. The song also explains some of his Hanukkah traditions, with Diggs reciting a Hanukkah blessing in Hebrew mid-rap. You can enjoy this Hanukkah bop by streaming the adorable music video for “Puppy for Hanukkah” on Disney+!
One of Disney Channel’s newest holiday specials is this episode of Firebuds, where Bo wonders why his mother doesn’t put up Hanukkah decorations like his father does for Christmas. To share how special Hanukkah is with his community, Bo goes overboard with decorations for Hanukkah, including a gigantic dreidel balloon that flies off in the wind and causes mild destruction across town. In the end, Bo learns that Hanukkah is special for reasons other than flashing lights and balloons—and that people choose different ways to celebrate the holidays.
4. Even Stevens – “Heck of a Hanukkah” (Season 1, Episode 15)
In this episode of the Disney Channel classic Even Stevens, troublemaker Louis Stevens can’t wait to open presents and searches for the Hanukkah gifts his parents have hidden somewhere in the house. When he ultimately finds them and ruins the family gift exchange for everyone, he ends up grounded for the entirety of Hanukkah. In an homage to 1946’s It’s a Wonderful Life, the ghost of Louis’ great-great-great-great-grandmother, Bubbe Rose, appears to show him what his family would be like if he had never been born.
5. Full Court Miracle
Based on the true story of the University of Virginia Cavaliers basketball star Lamont Carr, this 2003 Disney Channel Original Movie follows a Jewish basketball team in Philadelphia who need a new coach. Set during Hanukkah, this group of high school athletes find college student Lamont Carr and convince him to be their basketball coach. When the power goes out during the team’s final championship game, they make an agreement with their opponents that whoever has the most points when the generator runs out will win. In a true Hanukkah twist, the generator goes out and our heroes are losing, but the power miraculously comes back on and allows them to score the winning basket.
In this episode of Disney Junior’s Puppy Dog Pals, Bingo and Rolly go on a mission to help their owner, Bob, make latkes for their neighbor Chloe’s Hanukkah party! While on the hunt for eggs and potatoes, the pups sing a song about the “festival of lights” and how delicious latkes are. Bob makes enough latkes for everyone at Chloe’s party and Bingo and Rolly even get to attend, participating in the lighting of the Chanukiah when they spot the first star in the night sky.
Pepper Ann is another Disney character who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, and in this holiday episode she mistakenly believes that her parents want her to choose only one holiday to celebrate. She begins to make a list of what she loves most about each holiday to help her decide. In the end, she tells her parents that she loves Hanukkah and Christmas, and that choosing between them would be like choosing between her parents themselves! Of course, it was all a misunderstanding, and her parents were never asking her to choose between the two holidays. Together with her family, Pepper Ann has a great holiday season celebrating both Hanukkah and Christmas.
8. Elena of Avalor – “Festival of Lights” (Season 3, Episode 18)
When Princess Rebecca of Galonia and her grandmother shipwreck on the shores of Avalor, it is up to Elena and her family to give them the best Hanukkah celebration possible! Rebecca and her family teach Elena all about Hanukkah, as well as some and Yiddish words like “nosh” (to have a snack) and “mitzvah” (a good deed). When Rebecca gets caught up in making their Hanukkah party absolutely perfect, it’s her bubbe (grandmother) who reminds her that Hanukkah is about carrying on even through the toughest challenges and making the most of what you have.
By all means, watch the classics! One of the sweetest family traditions is sharing favorites like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “White Christmas,” “A Christmas Story,” “Elf,” “Home Alone,” and my favorite, “A Christmas Carol” (I watch the MCM, Alistair Sim, and Mr. Magoo versions every year, usually the Muppets version, too.) And then there are the TV classics like “A Charlie Brown’s Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”
“Colorful” is not a colorful enough word to describe a fantasy movie musical so maximalist that even the title is overstuffed. The many pleasures of this overflowing Christmas stocking of a film are sure to make it a family favorite, and most likely a family tradition. Originally conceived as a musical play, it retains the liveliness of an in-person production. The exceptionally talented and appealing and nearly all-Black cast, including Phylicia Rashad, Forest Whitaker, and Keegan-Michael Key give the film a fresh perspective. The snowball scene is one of my favorites.
This is a Santa Claus origin story, based on the books by Grant Morrison. A spoiled, selfish young man is sent to a remote village to act as postman, not to return until he has delivered 6000 letters. Striking animation, top voice talent, and a charming interpretation of the way many of our favorite traditions began make this a gem.
“Dear Santa” (streaming now on Peacock and other services)
I love this documentary about the wonderful volunteers and USPS “elves” who answer kids’ letters to Santa. Schoolchildren and adults, including former beneficiaries of the program work around the clock. You won’t find a better example of giving being better than receiving than this charming and heartwarming film.
Romany Malco plays Rush, a popular DJ and a single dad of four. When he loses his job just before Christmas, his family has to leave their comfortable home and move back in to his old neighborhood with his aunt, played by the magnificent Darlene Love. This is a warm-hearted story about love and families and what really matters.
Fans of this site know that “A Christmas Carol” is my favorite holiday story. This is the story of how that book came to be written, with Dan Stevens just perfect as the brilliant but harried Charles Dickens. The book, one of the most popular of all time, really did change the way people saw Christmas, with more focus on helping others, and this story of love, reconciliation, and the power of storytelling is a treasure.
And, okay, yes, they aren’t classics and they don’t make much sense or vary much from the formula, but I like Hallmark Christmas movies, and the ones on other services, too. Some of my favorites are:
“Write Before Christmas”
A recently dumped young woman sends five Hallmark greeting cards to people who have been important to her and they change the lives of the recipients and hers, too).
“The Christmas House”
The Hallmark Channel’s first movie with a gay couple — the brother of the main character and his husband — is more layered and sympathetic than the more high-profile “Happiest Season.” In this story of parents famous for their Christmas decorations insisting both of their sons come home to help.
“The Mistletoe Promise” A woman who owns a travel company with her ex-husband meets a man who is as reluctant to celebrate Christmas as she is. They join forces to support each other through the gauntlet of office-based holiday events.
“The Princess Switch”
A Chicago baker and a European princess who happen to look identical, both charmingly played by Vanessa Hudgens, pull a switch and each finds love. The sequel adds a third look-alike!
“The Mistletoe Promise”
A travel agent and a lawyer have different reasons for dreading Christmas, so make a pact to be each other’s plus one through the holidays.
Oh, and coal in the stocking of everyone connected with “Holidate!”
Often Overlooked Christmas Movies for Families to Enjoy
Posted on December 14, 2022 at 8:07 am
I love the Christmas classic movies and watch as many as I can every year. But there are many great Christmas films that don’t get mentioned as often and I like to remind families that these are worth making time for as well.
1. The Nativity Story This sincere and respectful story is a good way to remember that Christmas is about more than presents and parties. “Whale Rider’s” Keisha Castle-Hughes has a shy but dignified and resolute air and she glows believably as the very young woman who is selected as the mother of Jesus. And “Drive’s” Oliver Isaac effectively conveys tenderness, doubt, courage, and transcendence as Joseph.
2. A Christmas Memory Truman Capote’s bittersweet memory of his childhood Christmas making fruitcakes with his elderly cousin, the only relative who cared about him is beautifully filmed with the magnificent Geraldine Page and Capote himself reading the narration.
3. Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas The California Raisins guys put together this Christmas special, with the highlight the funniest-ever performance of “Carol of the Bells.”
4. Come to the Stable Loretta Young and Celeste Holm are French nuns trying to raise money to build a hospital. Their faith and goodness transforms those they meet.
5. Little Women “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents” is the first line of this classic novel based on the loving if sometimes tumultuous family of author Louisa May Alcott. The movie opens with an important Christmas lesson about the joy of giving.
6. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Based on the classic book, this stars Loretta Swit as the mother of six rambunctious kids who insist on playing roles in the church pageant.
7. This Christmas I love this movie about a family with five adult children who return home to celebrate Christmas with their mother and youngest brother. The outstanding cast includes Regina King, Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, and Chris Brown. Be sure to watch through the credits to see a great dance number.
8. Desk Set Before Google, companies had human beings to track down information. Katherine Hepburn plays the head of the all-female research department for a television network and Spencer Tracy is the engineer who is installing the company’s first computer, which takes up a whole wall and uses punch cards and vacuum tubes. Sparks fly — and not just in the equipment.
9. Die Hard Bruce Willis plays a cop visiting his estranged wife at her office Christmas party when the building is taken over by bad guys led by Alan Rickman in this action-movie classic, and yes, it is a Christmas movie.
10. The Polar Express Tom Hanks stars in this animated story based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg about a magical train ride to the North Pole.
11. Home Alone This comedy smash hit stars Macauley Culkin as a little boy who is accidentally left home when his family goes away for the holidays and has to take care of himself and guard the house from a couple of inept thieves. The slapstick is over the top but the message of Christmas is surprisingly touching.
12. Annie The story of the plucky orphan from the comic pages became one of the biggest Broadway musicals of all time and one of its highlights is Christmas with Daddy Warbucks.