Twelve Great Christmas Movies for Families that Aren’t A Christmas Carol, White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Elf, or A Christmas Story

Posted on December 7, 2021 at 7:41 pm

I love the classic Christmas 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 “Star Wars” heart-throb 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. All three feature film versions are great family films.

6. Klaus A Christmas traditions origin story begins with a spoiled son of a wealthy family sent away to learn responsibility by delivering letters in a bitterly divided town. It is a beautifully animated Netflix film with voice talent that includes Jason Schwartzman and Rashida Jones.

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 Man Who Invented Christmas Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens who has just a few weeks to write a book in the midst of family conflict and financial pressures. It is a lot of fun to see the way he draws inspiration — and insight — from the people and problems he encounters and the end result is the ultimate classic, A Christmas Carol.

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 a bit 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.

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Movies for the Homebound X: Love Stories You Probably Missed

Posted on May 26, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Magnolia 2008
We all love romance. And we’ve all seen the recent classics: “Notting Hill,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “The Notebook,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” and all-time classics like “The Philadelphia Story” and “My Favorite Wife.” (If you haven’t, hey, watch them!) But you probably missed these, and they are all delights and blissfully romantic.

“I Love You Again” The all-time record-holders for romantic movie couples are William Powell and Myrna Loy, who not only created the greatest married couple in the history of movies with the Thin Man series but made other great films as well. “Libeled Lady” is one of the best, but my favorite is this one, about a stiff, stingy man who is hit on the head and discovers he is in fact a con man who has had amnesia for years, during which he got married and worked at a pot factory in a small town. So he decides to set up a swindle until he starts to fall for the woman he married but cannot quite remember. It is clever, sweet, and very funny. And romantic.

“Next Stop Wonderland” This is one of two movies on the list where we fall in love with the lovers before they fall in love with each other. Hope Davis is radiant as a just-dumped (by Philip Seymour Hoffman) woman whose mother takes out a personal ad for her.

“And Now My Love” In this French film, everything that has happened in the lives of two people (and in pretty much everything that has ever happened) seems to be for the purpose of getting two people together. By the time they are about to meet at the very end, we have been on the journey will them and know happy ever after is what comes next.

“Happy Accidents” The writer/director of “Next Stop Wonderland,” Brad Anderson, also wrote and directed this sweet story with Marisa Tomei as a young woman with a history of bad relationships who meets a man who seems great except that he insists he is a time traveler from the future.

“Ira and Abby” Jennifer Westfelft wrote and stars in the story of a man who has just gotten out of a relationship because he could not commit (a terrific Chris Messina) and impulsively marries the slightly nutty but very charming and warm-hearted young woman he meets at a gym (Westfeldt).

“The Baxter” If you’ve seen a romantic comedy, you’ve seen a wedding that was interrupted at the last minute when the bride’s true love burst in to carry her off. Well, according to his film, the poor loser left at the alter is called “the Baxter.” And this movie is the story of the Baxter, played by Michael Showalter, with an outstanding cast that includes Michelle Williams, Elizabeth Banks, and Justin Theroux, with a sensational performance by Peter Dinklage as a wedding planner.

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TCM Today: Angels and Devils

Posted on April 28, 2020 at 8:19 am

Turner Classic Movies has a great line-up today of movies about angels — and a few devils, too. If you miss them on the broadcast, you can watch them on the TCM app. Highlights:

Heaven Only Knows: Robert Cummings is an angel sent to save the soul of a saloon owner played by Brian Donlevy by bringing him together with a minister’s daughter. But the devil has other ideas.

A Guy Named Joe: Spencer Tracy is a fighter pilot killed in action. His spirit returns to help the girl he loved find happiness. (Remade by Stephen Spielberg as “Always”)

The Horn Blows at Midnight: A trumpet player (Jack Benny) dreams he is the angel Gabriel, sent to blow his horn to bring on the end of the world. But he finds earthly pleasures a distraction.

Angels in the Outfield: This is the original version with Paul Douglas and Janet Leigh, about a little girl who lives in an orphanage and sees angels when she goes to a baseball game. I know the remake with Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a lot of fans but I prefer this one, which is sweet but not syrupy.

Angel on My Shoulder: The devil (Claude Rains) sends the soul of a murdered  gangster (Paul Muni) to to ruin the reputation of an honest judge.

The Devil and Daniel Webster: This is Stephen Vincent Benet’s classic story about a New Hampshire farmer who sells his soul to the devil (Walter Huston) and then is defended before a jury of villains by the legendary New England orator.

 

 

 

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Family Movies for the Homebound VII: Kids and Music

Posted on April 20, 2020 at 8:00 am

Copyright Alcon Entertainment 2012

Some of my favorite movies are about kids and teenagers making music. Maybe some of these will inspire you to make some of your own.

Bandslam: The focus is on the manager of the high school band here, named after a line from absurdist literary giant Samuel Beckett. An exceptionally smart script and some rocking songs plus a supporting cast that includes Lisa Kudrow and a surprise cameo from one of the biggest rock stars of all time make this one you’ll want to watch more than once.

A Joyful Noise:  Pure cinematic sunshine with comedy, romance, drama, and gorgeous music featuring Queen Latifah and Doily Parton as competing singers in a gospel choir. Most of the members are adults, but the sweet relationship — and sweet duet — from teens played by Keke Palmer and Broadway star Jeremy Jordan is a highlight.

The Sound of Music:  One of the most popular family films of all time is based on the story of the real-life von Trapp family, who escaped from Nazi-controlled Austria and performed as singers in the United States before they settled in Vermont.

Sing Street: This is the rare movie that not only recognizes and portrays the  experience of finding music that introduces you to yourself; it goes farther than that. It is as close to re-creating the experience as it is possible for a movie to be. Watching this movie is not like remembering what it is like to be 14 and have your soul restored through rock and roll. It is like being there, but having it all work out the way better than you could have wished.

Selena: Jennifer Lopez is as vibrant as the star she plays in a biopic about the popular singer who was killed by her former assistant.

Almost Angels: Disney’s 1962 film is based on the real-life Vienna Boys Choir. They may sing like angels, but they get into mischief like kids.

Coco: A young boy loves music, but his family does not want him to play. He goes on a journey to the afterlife and learns important lessons about music, family, and he man he thought was his hero.

High School Musical: Even Disney was surprised by how popular this movie became. It deserved every bit of it; I love this sweet story and it was so much fun to see the cast reunited and singing with the kids from the DisneyPlus series sort of-sequel on the terrific Disney Family Sing-Along special. This is my favorite song from the original.

School of Rock: Just try to watch this movie without wanting to form you own rock band. Jack Black plays a substitute teacher who tells the students of a posh private school that all they need to learn is music that sticks it to the man.

The Rocker: This neglected gem features an astonishing cast of soon-to-be movie stars including Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Josh Gad (plus future hit-maker Teddy Geiger) in the story of a former rock drummer (Rainn Wilson) who joins a high school band. The cast also features comedy all-stars Christina Applegate, Jeff Garlin, Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, Jane Lynch, and Jason Sudeikis.

Imba Means Sing: The Grammy nominated African Children’s Choir is the subject of a documentary.

Boychoir: Dustin Hoffman and Eddie Izzard star in a film about a young boy who joins a choir.

Girl Crazy/Strike Up the Band/Babes in Arms: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made a series of “let’s put on a show” musicals that are still a lot of fun, especially Girl Crazy, with irresistible Gershwin songs like Embraceable You, Bidin’ My Time, But Not For Me, and Fascinating Rhythm.

Lemonade Mouth/Camp Rock/Cheetah Girls: Disney Channel’s movies about kids forming music groups are not great cinema but they are tuneful treats.

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Family Movies for The Homebound

Posted on March 16, 2020 at 8:49 pm

Copyright 1999 Dreamworks
We all say we wish we had more quality family time. Well, here it is. Many parents will be looking for some good options for family viewing time, and here are some of our family’s favorites, all available on streaming services.

The Court Jester: This one has it all, action, comedy, romance, a brave heroine, and Danny Kaye singing. The “vessel with the pestle” scene is a comedy classic, but the semi-hypnotized sword fight (with Basil Rathbone!) is every bit as good.

The Dick van Dyke Show: When I was in 6th grade I was asked to write an essay about my favorite television show and I picked this one. Decades later, it’s still the top of my list. Inspired by Carl Reiner’s years as a writer on the popular variety series “Your Show of Shows,” it has one of the greatest ensembles in television history: Dick van Dyke as the head writer with Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as his colleagues and Mary Tyler Moore as his wife. Reiner made occasional appearances as the egotistical star of the television show within a show. Start with these episodes: Coast to Coast Big Mouth, Never Bathe on Saturday, That’s My Boy, The Curious thing
Big Max Calvada, My Blonde-Haired Brunette, Buddy Can You Spare a Job, and — to see the cast in their own variety show, The Alan Brady Show Goes to Jail. For more: see “My Favorite Year” and “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” also inspired by the legendary writer’s room for “Your Show of Shows,” which included Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Selma Diamond, and Larry Gelbart.

The Great Race: Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Natalie Wood star in this wildly entertaining story of an early 20th century car race from New York to Paris. Director Blake Edwards dedicated it to “Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy” and it has a delightfully old-school blend of adventure, romance, and slapstick, including the pie fight to end all pie fights and a Prisoner of Zenda-style dual role for Lemmon. The terrific supporting cast includes Peter Falk, Kennan Wynn, Vivian Vance, Ross Martin, and Dorothy Provine.

National Velvet: A young Elizabeth Taylor plays a girl who dreams of owning a horse she names Pie and entering him in England’s biggest race. Micky Rooney gives one of his best performances as the son of a family friend. My all-time favorite movie mother is Anne Revere, who tells her daughter that ” I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life.”

Ball of Fire: Inspired by “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” this sublimely witty romantic comedy has Barbara Stanwyck as a showgirl named Sugarpuss O’Shea hiding out with seven professors, played by six of the all-time great character actors plus Gary Cooper. The screenplay by the “Some Like it Hot” team is so clever you’ll have to watch it two or three times to get all the jokes and it has both a sensational drum solo by Gene Krupa and a swoon-worthy marriage proposal.

Galaxy Quest: Even if you are not a Star Trek fan, you will enjoy this hilarious love letter to television series about space explorers. An all-star cast including Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Sam Rockwell, Tim Allen, and Tony Shaloub play actors from an old but beloved television series who discover that aliens have made their show a reality. If you are a Star Trek fan, you will fall in love with this film, and you should follow it up with the behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of the film, “Never Surrender” and the great documentary about Star Trek fans, “Trekkies.”

Yellow Submarine: The Beatles have to save the world from Blue Meanies in this trippy, stunningly animated film featuring songs like “All Together Now,” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Eleanor Rigby,” and the title tune.

What We Do in the Shadows: It isn’t easy being a vampire. Your familiar nags you about a promotion. You need tech support so you can’t bite the IT guy. You have to avoid sunlight. Those werewolves are so annoying. And then there is The Beast, who is sure to show up at the annual Unholy Masquerade, a sort of vampire prom. Writers/directors/stars Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi somehow keep the tone understated and savagely funny. Follow it up with the television series.

Sky High: This neglected gem is a smart, exciting, funny story about a high school for superhero teenagers, where the students are divided up into heroes and sidekicks. There are a lot of surprises in the story and is a lot of fun to see universal adolescent anxieties and experiences filtered through the superhero universe.

This is Spinal Tap: This mockumentary about a fading rock band brought us the classic “It goes to 11” and “There’s such a fine line between clever and stupid.” A comedy classic.

What a Way to Go! Shirley MacLaine stars as a young woman who longs for the simple life but keeps marrying men who become fabulously wealthy. Those husbands are played by an astonishing all-star cast: Dick van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelly, and Dean Martin. Each marriage is portrayed as a different genre of movie, from silent to big-budget romance with over-the-top gowns and sets to fabulous musical (the dance number with Kelly is sensational).

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