A Wonderful Life? Not In Every Holiday Classic Not thrilled about the annual viewing of Frank Capra's family favorite? Here are eight alternatives — not "holiday movies" per se, but films with timeless scenes set at the holidays. That, and some classic family dysfunction, too.
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A Wonderful Life? Not In Every Holiday Classic

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A Wonderful Life? Not In Every Holiday Classic

A Wonderful Life? Not In Every Holiday Classic

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The holidays - sparking lights, crackling fireplaces, cheerful happy families. OK, maybe not all those family scenes are so cheery, especially when they come from Hollywood. Sure Jimmy Stewart, he had a wonderful life. But think about Bruce Willis stomping through holiday airports in "Die Hard." Or God forbid, Macaulay Culkin, abandoned in "Home Alone." Our movie critic, Bob Mondello, has seen them all, and he's put together a Christmas list of his own, the best dysfunctional family Christmas scenes ever. You can find the full list at our Web site, npr.org. I have Bob here. Bob, now that's a cheery way to get into the holidays.

BOB MONDELLO: Well, I got to say I go to see these movies every year. Every year, there's at least one Christmas picture, right? Like "Elf" or something like that. And every year, you dutifully go to them. This year, I went to three and they were all dysfunctional families. And I thought, ohh that's interesting. There was "Four Christmases" which actually goes to four separate dysfunctional families, "Nothing for the Holidays," which is a sort of a Latin-American version of that, and "A Christmas Tale" which is the most dysfunctional family you've ever heard of in France headed by Catherine Deneuve.

And I just thought, oh my goodness, what is with this? And I started thinking about other movies, and frequently, movies that are not about Christmas but that have Christmas scenes, use those scenes to sort of undermine the family. And it's - I thought that was really a kind of an interesting thing.

SEABROOK: These are a lot of dysfunctional families here.

MONDELLO: Well, that's true.

SEABROOK: OK. I looked down the list. I have seen a few of them. Several of them, I have not seen. The one that jumps out to me is "Gremlins."

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONDELLO: Well, remember it takes place at Christmas time. And there is actually - I mean, because of that there's a whole lot of Christmas stuff around that the Gremlins can hide in.


MONDELLO: And at one point, there a kind of amazing scene where they go caroling.

SEABROOK: Let's listen.

(Soundbite of movie "Gremlins")

Unidentified Woman: Christmas carolers. I hate Christmas carolers. Screechy-voiced little glue-sniffers. I warned you brats.

(Soundbite of Gremlins singing)

MONDELLO: You remembered it, kind of wonderful. This takes the saccharine out of Christmas really quickly.

(Soundbite of woman screaming)

SEABROOK: Its sure does. Putting your Gremlin in the blender sure does. OK, the next one on the list, "Love Actually." This is it. I love this movie. I really do.

MONDELLO: Well, it's very sweet. The scene I picked was actually something that was cut from it, but that is on the DVD extras. And it's a scene - Emma Thompson, you remember, finds out that her husband is fooling around on the side, or at least making eyes at someone on the side. And so, things are kind of rough at home. They're also rough in her son's school. He has written an essay about what he would wish for for Christmas. Everybody else was wishing for world peace, for, you know, somebody to get better who is sick. And he made a rather strange wish.

(Soundbite of movie "Love Actually")

Mr. WILLIAM WADHAM (Actor): (As Bernie) I thought extremely hard about what I'd wish for at Christmas, but after long consideration.

Ms. EMMA THOMPSON (Actress): (As Karen) You misspelled consideration.

Mr. WADHAM: (As Bernie) Sorry.

Ms. THOMPSON: (As Karen) All right.

Mr. WADHAM: (As Bernie) After long consideration, I have decided this is my Christmas wish - that just for one day, you could see people's farts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Well, it's just so real, isn't it?

MONDELLO: It is real. I mean it's a real little kid moment. I just think it's really cute. And the way that scene resolves. I mean, you know, a lot of things go on during the scene, and she is of course appalled for the benefit of the teachers and things. But the way it resolves is so heartwarming and it's just so wonderful. And it is what Christmas is about, you know. It just is.

SEABROOK: Now you have, Bob, put on this list a true classic, the movie "Meet me in St. Louis" which has in it a Christmas moment of all times.

MONDELLO: Well, it totally does. The song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which you think of as this lovely saccharin song that you sing at Christmastime, what a lot of people forget is the context of it in the movie. Remember the family, the Smith family, is going to have to leave St. Louis and they're going to have to move to New York. And the family - all the girls are just miserable.

And so Judy Garland sings this song to cheer up Tootie, played by Margaret O'Brien. And little Tootie sits in - this whole thing with tears streaming down. It's the sadness moment. It's just - it's gorgeous. But it's a loving family that is having this dysfunctional moment.

(Soundbite of movie "Meet Me In St. Louis")

Ms. JUDY GARLAND: (As Esther Smith) (Singing) Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

SEABROOK: NPR's movie man, Bob Mondello. Have yourself a merry little Christmas.

MONDELLO: Well, thank you. While we're at it, let's invite all the people to - if you go to the Web site, you can actually vote for your own favorite terrible moments. And there's another movie poll there to vote for the best pictures of the year.

SEABROOK: All of this at npr.org/movies.

(Soundbite of movie "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas")

Ms. GARLAND: (Singing) Once again as in olden days, happy golden days.

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