By Megan Bianco
With the pandemic forcing movie theaters to close for the remainder of the year and holiday season, movie fans have succumbed to revisiting old favorites, old movies they haven’t watched yet, or the new movies available to stream.
Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), George Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and Jon Favreau’s Elf (2003) are timeless holiday classics, of course, but for a little variety, here are some less-well-known holiday films to fill the rest of December.
I started Thanksgiving weekend with Leo McCarey’s The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945), the equally well-received sequel to McCarey’s Going My Way (1944). Bing Crosby returns as Father O’Malley and Ingrid Bergman joins as Sister Mary to save their schoolhouse from losing funding. I always think it’s funny this is considered a holiday movie just because of one scene set during Christmas, but for something new, St. Mary’s is fine viewing.
Another old Hollywood-era classic set during the holidays you can never go wrong with is W.S. van Dyke’s The Thin Man (1934), with the legendary screen pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy at their best as iconic film couple Nick and Nora Charles.
A more recent, period-set holiday romance is Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as two 1950s-era New York women who embark on a low-key lesbian affair. This was a big hit with critics and on the awards circuit the year it came out. On a revisit five years later, I think it still holds up, especially Mara’s performance.
While Richard Curtis’ Love Actually (2003) is now the go-to modern holiday romcom for movie fans, one family appropriate, seasonal picture is Woody Allen’s romance-musical Everyone Says I Love You (1996). Featuring Ed Norton, Drew Barrymore, Tim Roth and Julia Roberts among the ensemble cast, this film is somewhat like a late-1990s remake of Vincente Minnelli’s classic Meet Me in St. Louis (1944).
Keeping the cute theme going, I watched for the first time Rob Reiner’s teen romcom The Sure Thing (1985) with John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga as two college freshmen stuck together while traveling to Los Angeles for winter break. Somewhat overlooked these days compared to Cusack’s other teen movies, The Sure Thing is enjoyable along the same lines of Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934) and John Hughes’ Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987).
Eric Rohmer’s romantic drama My Night at Maud’s (1969) set on Christmas Eve and staring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Marie-Christine Barrault might be appreciated by arthouse and foreign-film fans. But this French-language drama probably isn’t the first thing your mom or your daughter might want to watch during the holidays.
And finally, for the first time in years, I watched Penny Marshall’s modern remake The Preacher’s Wife (1996). While Henry Koster’s original hit, The Bishop’s Wife (1947) with Cary Grant and Loretta Young seems to be the standard nowadays, Preacher’s was the version on TV when I was growing up. I find Marshall’s effort for the most part still works and not just because Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston make a good-looking pair.
So if anyone’s in need of ideas for some last-minute holiday movie viewing, these are seven decent ones that you likely haven’t seen before.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.