Classic Christmas movies are like the gingerbread cookies of Yuletide cinema: comforting, dependable and a safe bet to please. But you know what else is comforting, dependable and a safe bet to please? An open bar holiday party at your office. And nobody thinks that’s a good idea three hours deep into the festivities when the IT guy whose name may or may not not be Arnold is passed out on the copy machine, regurgitated tequila decorating his mouth and ever so slowly dribbling down a bright-red Christmas sweater that reads, “Feliz Navi-DOS.” Yeah … no.
Switch it up this year, Newport Beach. Ditch “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” You can do it! (Although do see “It’s A Wonderful Life” at Lido Theater Dec. 14-17 because the showing includes Santa and cookies.)
But really, be bold. Step out of “A Christmas Story” box and smell the irreverent, mistle-toe-covered roses. Because these five holiday movies may not get much airtime during traditional Christmas celebrations … but they should.
Year Released: 2005
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Anna Faris, Amy Smart and Chris Klein.
Synopsis: Chris Brander is a onetime overweight nerd turned successful, ridiculously good-looking music mogul who, by way of a freak microwave accident on a private jet, is forced to return to his small hometown at Christmas. It’s here where he runs into his high school best friend, Jamie Paladino, the gorgeous girl-next-door ingénue who despite the passing of years, still makes his heart skip a Boyz II Men power ballad beat. Will his newly groomed exterior, celebrity name-dropping career and rock-hard abs win her over once and for all?
Underrated Factor: Every single character in this movie is hilarious. Ryan Reynolds is pitch perfect as geek-to-chic (then back to retainer-wearing geek) playboy and Anna Farris slays as a lovably moronic pop star, imbuing surprisingly deep vapidness to hit songs like, “Forgiveness Is More Than Saying Sorry.” Also, this:
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
Year Released: 1998
Starring: Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Jessica Biel, Adam LaVorgna, Gary Cole and Eve Gordon.
Synopsis: As the opening credits roll, it’s quickly apparent that Jake Wilkinson kind of wins at everything. He’s popular, has a beautiful girlfriend (Jessica Biel) and plans to soak up the rays in Cabo San Lucas for the Christmas holidays. Except plot twist! His father, whom he hasn’t seen since his mother died, invites him home to New York for the holidays … and throws in a free vintage 1957 Porsche if he can make it back by 6 p.m. sharp on Christmas Eve. Trouble and adventure ensues as Jake travels across the country, his stunning girl in tow, all for the sake of a sweeeet ride.
Underrated Factor: The romance between a young Biel and poster-child of the 90s, JTT, is expressly adorable and genuine. Plus, this film was made when Jonathan Taylor Thomas was synonymous with THE ultimate teenage heartthrob and his do-no-wrong confidence carries what would otherwise be a B-rated movie. Instead, the storyline is riveting even when it narratively fumbles, transforming the movie into more of an alluring, heart-warming holiday tale than expected. I may have cried at the end. Wait, what? No. (Yeah.) OK, next movie …
Christmas in Connecticut
Year Released: 1945
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall and Reginald Gardiner.
Synopsis: War hero Jefferson Jones gets hooked on “Diary of a Housewife,” a column by faux-food enthusiast, Elizabeth Lane, while in the hospital recovering from his injuries. When Jeff’s nurse finagles her patient into spending the holidays at Elizabeth’s charming Connecticut abode, the columnist must quickly figure out how to fake domestic and culinary know-how for the sake of good publicity … and maybe something more.
Underrated Factor: Christmas movie traditionalists will tell you there’s nothing quite like a black-and-white picture during the holidays and this one has all the makings of a would-be favorite: intrigue, suspense, humor, nostalgia and romance. Barbara Stanwyck shines (as per usual) in bringing out the nuances of her counterfeit columnist role and the entire shin-dig from Christmas lights ‘astringing to sparks ‘aflying is an undoubtable New England holiday delight.
Someone Like You
Year Released: 2001
Starring: Ashley Judd, Hugh Jackman, Greg Kinnear, Marisa Tomei and Ellen Barkin.
Synopsis: Jane Goodale’s life is pretty sweet—successful producer on a popular daytime talk show, adorable boyfriend, great Manhattan apartment—until it’s not. Her boyfriend ghosts her before ghosting is even a thing and she’s forced to shack up with her co-worker/perpetual bachelor, who confirms some wild theories she’s formulating that compare the animalistic behaviors of cows to the inexplicable actions of men. Using a pseudonym to protect her identity, Jane pens a tell-all about her romantic philosophies that quickly ignites the collective female imagination … and the interest of her boss, who wants to book this mysterious cow-theory author for her show. Uh, yikes. How will Jane untangle this mess? And will she ever meet a man who can discredit her cynicism toward the bovine-like male species?
Underrated Factor: I’ll admit this movie is far from a full-on jolly, holly Christmas fest but it has strong elements of holiday cheer, so it stays on the list. One of the grittier, more realistic portrayals of love to come out of the compendium of early 2000s rom coms, Someone Like You possesses that rare combination of witty dialogue, talented cast and (mostly) unsentimental plot that still leaves you satisfied by the time the final scene fades to black.
Trains, Planes and Automobiles
Year Released: 1987
Starring: John Candy, Steve Martin, Laila Robins, Edie McClurg and Dylan Baker.
Synopsis: It’s mere days before Thanksgiving and marketing consultant Neal Page is ready to return home for the holiday. Only when he gets to the airport, his flight is delayed, which starts a series of unfortunate (and hilarious) circumstances. On the plane, Neal winds up sitting next to Del Griffith, a totally annoying salesman who becomes his travel buddy as a freak winter storm finds the two of them in the vast nothingness of Wichita, KS. Together, they’ll brave the foul weather and a whole lot of shower-curtain rings.
Underrated Factor: Yeah, yeah, this one’s Thanksgiving-themed and not completely about Christmas but come on! If John Candy and Steven Martin paired up and getting into all kinds of crazy shenanigans across rural Kansas doesn’t say “the joy of Christmas,” nothing does.