non-traditional holiday movie list

Upon request, I’m re-posting this list because it’s timely. Because there’s almost snow. Because ’tis the season. I will also say that HOLIDAY AFFAIR has made the list this year after falling in love, deep-deep love, with it years ago. Oh, you’re going to want to bed me down for this suggestion. Get on it.

Non-traditional holiday movies - Holiday AffairHOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949) – Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh, and Wendell Corey: Tra la la la triangle, love triangle. Can you love more than one person at once? Is the practical choice always the wrong one? Do we root against the “safe bet?” in films, in our own lives? You watch this film and you think about your own loves and the choices you’ve made. Plus, you’ll sob with happy tears.

The RefBad Santa

I have finally seen BAD SANTA. I haven’t seen THE REF, though it’s now streaming on Netflix. I’m pretty sure when Bad Santa came out I was fighting with someone who went to see it without me. And THE REF? I always assumed it was a sports movie with Al Pacino.* This will be rectified this season, as I wear red and throw myself at holiday films. My son begs for these films come the summer months, looking forward, hoping I’ll cave in early. But I like to savor these, keep ’em cozy and special. We just can’t keep them hidden for too long, or else there’s not enough time to watch them all!

It's a Wonderful LifeMiracle on 34th StreetEmmet Otter's Jug Band ChristmasMarch of the Wooden Soldiers





I love the magic of the holiday season, the marketing, the packaging and colors, the music, and–of course–the movies. I don’t just adore the films that highlight the holiday season, you know, your traditional “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” types. Beyond my childhood of Mr. Magoo, Emmett Otter, and my father’s favorite March of The Wooden Soldiers, I also yearn for films whose themes aren’t anchored around the holidays, but where holiday scenes serve as the backdrop to the central story. Oddly, while not straight up holiday films, most of them include ice-skating rink scenes. Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of ice-skating, but nothing else about it, save for the promise of hot chocolate.

Also, I’m always on the hunt for suggestions, even the super cheesy films about some guy back from war, who only really came back because of some random note he found in a bottle… true holiday trash, featured on one of those channels where they dedicate the entire month of December to showcasing holiday films involving mail carriers and dogs in Santa hats.

Watch for it: when the waitress erases one from the board at the end of the scene. Love that detail. The last third of this film involves creating the ideal old-fashioned Christmas Carol town. I say no more.

Beautiful Girls Movie

BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (A reunion movie)
A piano player at a crossroads in his life returns home to his friends and their own problems with life and love. (Awesome cast, great lines, ice skating and Natalie Portman, and yeah, this movie is disturbing when you really think about it)

JUST FRIENDS (Now streaming on Netflix)
Ryan Reynolds just has great delivery all around. Also loved him in THE PROPOSAL.

“Oh, Joe, your one beauty!”

“Meanwhile, I’m putting up more twinkle lights.”

SERENDIPITY (Now streaming on Netflix)
“No, no, no, no, please, on the other side of the counter! You cannot come back here, this is for authorized personnel only, please stay on your side of the counter, thank you very much!”

“ONE DREIDEL song! You sang ONE dreidel song!”

This film more makes me think of winter than the holidays, but it’s still all about family and destiny, and there’s the whole makeover deep red lipstick scene, too. “Do you love him Loretta?”
“Good. When you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can.”

Then, from the more traditional camp, I always enjoy:

Elf Movie

“First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse cookie dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle.”

“I love the gays!”

While most remembered for “Those aren’t pillows!” My favorite moment is when Neal realizes Del’s true situation, then the montage of moments that piece together a puzzle. Also, this film is crammed with so many truly awesome lines.
“I’ve never seen a guy get picked up by his testicles before. Lucky for you that cop passed by when he did, or you’d be lifting your shnutz to tie your shoes.”

LOVE ACTUALLY (Streaming on Netflix)
“Okay, Dad. Let’s do it. Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”

(I sob, so random, but I do). Love so much about this, the gumption, the meet cute, and Jude Law (admittedly, a total cad, but I can’t help myself).

“Just as you are? Not thinner? Not cleverer? Not with slightly bigger breasts or slightly smaller nose?”
“Well, fcuk me.”

“You’re the worst kind. You’re high maintenance, but you think you’re low maintenance.”

I’m looking forward to branching out this season, viewing some older films:
The Bishop's Wife with Carey Grant

A bishop hoping for a new cathedral prays for help, and gets unexpected guidance in the form of Dudley, an angel (Cary Grant). Dudley sets out to prove that the bishop’s mission has redirected his focus from his family.

Barbara Stanwyck (I so love her) plays an unmarried journalist who lies about her home life. When her boss asks to come over for Christmas, she and Dennis Morgan play pretend for the holiday in the 1945 classic. Cute.

At an inn which is only open on holidays, a crooner and a hoofer vie for the affections of a beautiful up-and-coming performer. (Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire) Actually, this one is not for me. I tried to like it, but didn’t.

Three Devil’s Island escapees hide out in the home of a kindly merchant and repay his kindness by helping him and his family out of several crises. (Humphrey Bogart)

Other films of which I’d never even heard but intend to try:

IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE: Don DeFore and Ann Harding star in this screwball comedy about a hobo and friends who move into a mansion while the owners are out of town for their Christmas holiday. Didn’t love this one. I guess I’m not a screwball.

MEET JOHN DOE: An opportunistic reporter tries saving her career by inventing a story about an anonymous man who wants to commit suicide over the state of modern society. With reader fervor growing to know more about John Doe,” she’s forced to produce a real man. (Frank Capra directs)

REMEMBER THE NIGHT: Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) is a shoplifter on trial. When her trial is postponed until after New Year’s, sympathetic Assistant District Attorney bails her out. Together, they find themselves falling in love when he invites her to his family’s home for the holidays where she discovers the warmth and love she’s never had but always wanted.

THE LION IN WINTER: King Henry II’s three sons all want to inherit the throne, but he won’t commit to a choice. They and his wife variously plot to force him. (Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins)

TOKYO GODFATHERS: Three homeless people find a lost baby girl and start searching for her rightful parents on Christmas Day in Tokyo. Along the way, they must confront their own haunted pasts, and learn to face their futures. (Animated, English Subtitles)

MIDNIGHT CLEAR:  ‘Twas the night before Christmas in the Southwest, and for 5 strangers spread out across town, it’s the most depressing time of the year. As the night progresses, they randomly cross paths, and in unique and subtle ways, change each other’s lives forever.

For the kiddos, now also on Netflix:

Radio City Christmas Spectacular

Mandie and the Forgotten Christmas




  1. I love this idea and think I might make this My Mission this Holiday. I meant to last year, but failed miserably. Who knew that a million hour flight to the UK would leave me too restless to watch movies on my computer?? Thank you for the list with explanations or quotes of ones you’ve seen!

  2. The Family Man! The Christmas part is minor, but it’s a great holiday movie nonetheless.

  3. Did you intentionally leave of A Christmas Story? No Christmas is complete without Ralphie!

  4. The Lion in Winter is a great movie with an awesome cast. Just the sparring between Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn is worth the price of admission.

  5. Scent of a Woman. Just thought of it. Also, Dead Poets’ Society. And, Meet The Parents (I feel like that happens over Christmas time, but I might be wrong–still it’s got a lot of red and green in it)

  6. So glad you mentioned Emmet Otter (Jug Band-Christmas)!! What a long-ago memory of a show I loved!! Didn’t occur to me I might be able to google and find it. Just ordered it! (How crazy is it that I still remember hearing the sad news that we lost Jim Henson and all his magic.)

  7. OK, I confess: I’ve been on a TV holiday movie bender this year. No idea why, but I’m tuning into networks I normally careen past, getting giddy over TV film marathons. (Hello, Lifetime, I’m looking at you.)

    I won’t cop to sitting rapt to watch; there’s always something else I’m doing at the same time (lesson planning, card addressing, trip planning, etc. But truthfully, those are things I find myself doing more during the commercials and less, much less, during the movies.

    (I’m not normally a TV movie girl, but in the name of complete honesty, I must say that the two parter starring Meredith Baxter Birney as a homicidal, jilted ex-wife was so good that if even part of it is on, I tune in.)

  8. So, I’m not sure how you are with dark humor since I’m guessing you still haven’t seen “Bad Santa” — but Zach Clark’s “White Reindeer,” which just came out, is amazing. The protagonist unabashedly loves Christmas and fights to keep her holiday spirit — after her husband is murdered. Believe it or not, it’s funny and sweet (as well as bitter and mordant).

    1. Author

      Getting ready to watch it right now, tonight.

      Movies I plan to see soon: Labor Day with Kate Winslet, August: Osage County on Xmas, will The Wolf of Wall Street when I’m in Austin. Philomena, Her, Saving Mr. Banks, American Hustle, Captain Phillips. Lots of Golden Globe contenders to catch up on.

  9. Oh, how could I forget some of these? Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Serendipity…

    I’ve seen four of the older movies you listed, but will have to check
    out the rest.

    Have you seen the updated version of Christmas in Connecticut?
    It came out as a tv movie in 1992 and it stars Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson and Tony Curtis.

    It is so bad it’s good.. I watch it for Dyan Cannon!

  10. Oh one more movie I just remembered! Do any of you remember a made for tv movie starring Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick? It is called “The Gift of Love: A Christmas Story.” My mom had this movie on a VHS tape and she would play it every year… It isn’t the best movie, but it definitely brings back memories of my childhood.

  11. Glad to see It Happened on 5th Avenue is on your list to watch. I just watched it for the first time and it was fabulous!

  12. From the 80’s, “Comfort & joy” one of Bill Forsyth’s movies. Scottish ss well, so it’s got that going for it!

    1. Author

      I have a bunch of half-started posts, but none worthy of posting as my first of the year! I put way too much pressure on myself. That should be my resolution, to say Fcuk It, and publish half-finished shite to represent where I thought of going… I’ll feel better once I do that.

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