ALREADY SEEN WONDERFUL LIFE, WHITE CHRISTMAS, 34th STREET
AND WANT … MORE HOLIDAY MOVIES, PLEASE?
Top 10 (Other)
By Edward McNulty
‘Tis the season to be jolly—and curl up with a cup of eggnog to watch a good Christmas movie! The following ten films are for those of us who already have made our annual pilgrimage to a Wonderful Life, a White Christmas—and 34th Street, too. The first nine are suitable for famlies with ratings no stronger than PG-13; only the tenth is rated R.
CLICK ON ANY MOVIE TITLE to jump to Amazon, if you care to order a copy. Or, you may find these via the video-rental service of your choice. One more tip: Check your local TV listings! For example, the TCM movie channel plans to show Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife at 2:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve. Set your recorder!
The Bishop’s Wife (on DVD with other classics)
1947 David Niven, Cary Grant, Lorretta Young
A bishop trying to convince a widow to pay for a new cathedral prays—and an angel named Dudley shows up to help with unexpected results. The opening is exquisite, beginning with a night-time aerial scene. As the camera descends to street level, we see a crowd admiring a window display. Dudley helps one person after another, and his good deed is passed on—a wonderful way to suggest that he has come down from heaven to help humans help each other. Watch out, though! This Cary Grant version is a true Hollywood gem—not to be confused with a palid remake, The Preacher’s Wife.
A Christmas Carol (in a DVD-Blu-ray combo)
2009 Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman, Colin Firth
Everyone has a favorite version of the Dickens story—from Mr. Magoo, the Muppets and Mickey Mouse to Alistair Sim and George C. Scott. There are die-hard fans of every one of those versions and I wouldn’t argue with any of you. But, I am recommending the Disney version because I have found too many adults dismissing it as “just for kids.” Take a look! I was hooked by the breath-taking opening sequence in which we fly over Victorian London and then descend to street level as the camera weaves in and out, over and under crowds, doorways and such. Truly a spectacular and memorable version! (NOTE: Tell us about your favorite version at [email protected])
The Fourth Wise Man (on DVD)
1985 Martin Sheen, Alan Arkin, Eileen Brennan
A fine dramatization of Henry Van Dyke’s classic The Story of the Other Wise Man, this will leave you with a lump in your throat and expand your understanding of that over-used phrase “the true meaning of Christmas.” It harks back to that first Christmas when Artaban, the fourth Magi arrived too late to travel with his three colleagues. Accompanied by a servant, he spends his life looking for Christ the King, just missing him through the years, until—well, I won’t spoil Van Dyke’s ending. (NOTE: If you’re a Kindle reader, most of Van Dyke’s work is available at nominal cost.)
Joyeux Noel (on DVD)
2005 German-French-British co-production
This fictional version of the famous Christmas Eve Truce is set amid the trench warfare of WWI. This is a powerful witness to the larger vision of peace and goodwill that God intends—even though our typically narrow vision is voiced by a chaplain who claims God is “on our side.”
Little Women with Susan Sarandon (on DVD)
1994 Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst
Older fans may cherish the 1932 version with Katherine Hepburn as Jo, but this most recent remake is a good version of the Mary Louisa Alcott classic—and it is in color. Although not entirely a Christmas story, there’s a stirring sequence in which the girls receive their meager gifts and then decide to share them with a family even poorer than themselves. (NOTE: On the Kindle, Alcott’s work is available for a small fee.)
Midnight Clear (on DVD)
2006 Stephen Baldwin
This independent “Christian film” was produced for less than $1 million, yet it is one of the better films in this genre. Set on Christmas Eve, the plot involves two characters so saddened by events that one intends to commit suicide and another has obtained a gun, and it is not for self defense. The threads of the characters lives are woven together at the only gas station and garage open that night.
A Midnight Clear (on DVD)
1992 Gary Sinese, Ethan Hawke, Kevin Dillon
Set in 1944 France during Christmas, an American intelligence squad locates a German platoon wishing to surrender rather than die in Germany’s final offensive. However, as so often happens in warfare, unexpected complications arise.
The Nativity Story (on DVD)
2006 U.S. production with international cast, including Keisha Castle-Hughes of Whale Rider
Based on the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, this is the story of Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus and their flight from King Herod’s soldiers. It actually begins with the most exciting and violent part of Matthew’s version of the story, the massacre of the innocents, and then goes back to all the events of Luke’s Gospel. Interwoven is the story of the journey of the three Magi.
Noel (on DVD)
2004 Susan Sarandon, Penelope Cruz, Alan Arkin
If you’re a fan of Sarandon or Arkin, here’s a second Christmas treat for you—and their first pairing in a holiday movie. Sarandon plays a lonely Manhattanite spending Christmas Eve with her terminally ill mother in a hospital ward where a miracle takes place. The other interconnected stories also are populated by lonely people in need of some Christmas cheer. The great cast includes one uncredited major star who might be a modern version of one of those beings who heralded the first Christmas.
Smoke (on DVD)
1995 Harvey Keitel, William Hurt
Here’s the only R-rated movie on the list. Directed by Wayne Wang, who gave us the movie version of Joy Luck Club, Smoke consists of a number of interconnected stories centering around a Brooklyn tobacco shop presided over by Harvey Keitel’s Izzy. Only the last vignette is a Christmas story, involving William Hurt’s Paul, a writer who needs to come up with a Christmas story for the New York Times. There are some fine spiritual insights, sure to warm your heart for the holidays. (NOTE: Smoke currently is listed on Amazon but is not available for sale; however, the film is listed on Netflix and other video-rental services.)
That’s my list of alternate Christmas films.
What’s on your list?
Email us at [email protected]
CARE FOR MORE FROM EDWARD MCNULTY?
Edward McNulty is a nationally known expert on faith and film. He has been writing about religious themes in films for many years. He has a national audience of readers who follow his work online, in magazines and in a series of books that are great for small-gropu discussion.
Read his earlier “Top 10 Jesus Films of All Time”
And, consider these books, collecting dozens of his reflections on movies that you can read for fun and inspiration—or use to spark spirited small-group discussion.
- Praying the Movies, available via Amazon, includes McNulty’s look at Star Wars, Schindler’s List, the Deer Hunter and Pulp Fiction.
- Praying the Movies II: More Daily Meditations from Classic Films, also at Amazon, includes McNulty’s reflections on Gandhi, It’s a Wonderful Life, Harry Potter and O Brother, Whereart Thou?
- Faith and Film: A Guidebook for Leaders, includes Amistad, Erin Brockovich, the Matrix and Shawshank Redemption.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.