Holiday Favorites

Our Holiday Favorites: Bachelor Mother

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Ginger Rogers, Charles Coburn and David Niven in Bachelor Mother

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Bachelor Mother, a 1939 romantic comedy from writer/director Garson Kanin (My Favorite Wife, Born Yesterday), is a film my sister and I make a point to watch together around New Year's Eve. It's one of the only DVDs of which we both have a copy (Monsoon Wedding might be the other). Ginger Rogers stars as Polly Parrish, a department store employee who loses her temp job the day after Christmas and stumbles upon an orphaned baby. Forces beyond her control make her keep the child, although she once attempts to foist the baby off on David Niven's rich playboy character. 

The plot involves screwball antics, a stern and wealthy businessman (played nimbly by character actor Charles Coburn) who yearns for his son to settle down, dancing (of course!), a New Year's Eve sequence at Times Square, sweet romance and It's a Wonderful Life's Frank Albertson (we say, "Hee-haw!" when we see him onscreen) playing a sneaky toy department employee trying to break into management.

Holiday Favorites 2013: AFF's Erin Hallagan and 'The Man Who Came To Dinner'

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Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

I'm always one for off-the-wall, non-traditional holiday films.  And yet, I can't help but adore those old, classic Hollywood films that are also off the Christmas film radar. Austin Film Festival Conference Director Erin Hallagan shares one of these cinema greats with us.  

Although Erin spends her time immersed in creating a stellar conference and guest speaker lineup (both year-round and in October), she also has a great appreciation for the theater. And with her extensive background in theatre arts, it's easy to see why her pick is one for both stage and screen fans alike. Here's what she had to say:

Holiday Favorites 2013: Bears Fonte Is Ready to 'Go' This Christmas

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GO still

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Today's pick comes from Austin Film Festival's Director of Programming, Bears Fonte. Always one to root for a story that's off the beaten path, Bears sent us a movie that might not be the first to come to mind when you think of the holidays. Here's what he had to share with us:

Before she was on the cover of every tabloid, Katie Holmes lent her then budding Dawson's Creek star power to one of the greatest indie comedies of the nineties, Go. Go was Doug Liman's next picture after Swingers, so I was all in, but he once again sort of got upstaged by the screenwriter, John August, who crafted an amazing, fast-paced ensemble comedy that jumps around in time in a Pulp Fiction sort-of-way (but actually far more effectively).  

Holiday Favorites 2013: PJ Raval Enjoys a 'Smiley Face'

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Smiley Face

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Just as I thought we were entering an It's a Wonderful Life trend of holiday favorites this year, Austin cinematographer and filmmaker PJ Raval surprises me with a selection I couldn't have predicted. Raval's most recent film is the documentary Before You Know It (Don's review). He's worked as DP on Austin movies such as The Bounceback and Fourplay, and on the Academy Award-nominated documentary Trouble the Water, among many other films. And you might have seen one of the delightfully family-unfriendly music videos he's shot for local artist Christeene.

Raval's pick is a comedy I saw at SXSW 2007 and loved -- Smiley Face (my review) -- but never thought of as a holiday possibility. Until now. Here's what he has to say about the film:

One of my favorite winter holiday movies is Smiley Face by Gregg Araki. Now trust me, anyone who knows me personally will be shocked I'm listing a "stoner comedy" but I assure you, Smiley Face is an amazing piece of comedy filmmaking.

Holiday Favorites 2013: Heather Kafka Thinks 'It's a Wonderful Life'

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Karolyn Grimes and James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

It's a Wonderful Life is a popular pick this year! Austin actress Heather Kafka (Kid-Thing, Loves Her Gun) writes about what the 1946 film means to her.

"Is he sick?"
"No, worse, he's discouraged."

I remember walking into my parents' living room one day and an old movie was on. I don't remember how old I was but I do remember feeling like the TV was talking to me. I've tuned in every year since that day. It's a Wonderful Life never ever NEVER gets old. I feel and see something new in it every single time.

Sure, I could mention all the obvious things like the acting, the story, the comedy ... the swimming pool in the floor, the missing $8,000, ZuZu's petals ... Jimmy Stewart running through the town square shouting "Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!"

Holiday Favorites 2013: Holly Herrick Chooses 'The Silver Skates'

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hans brinker coverWelcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Today's inspired choice comes from Austin Film Society Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick. Her pick is a classic from 1962: Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color presents Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates: Part 1 and Part 2, directed by Norman Foster. "AKA, the only time I will ever prefer Disney to Sidney Lumet," Holly says. Here's why she loves this one so:

On Christmas Eve every year, after our traditional holiday dinner of hominy grits and homemade sausage served with King corn syrup, my brothers and sisters and I dig out an old re-recorded VHS tape from sometime in the early 80s of the 1962 Disney's Wonderful World of Color version of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates. The film is an adaptation of a popular 1865 novel depicting Netherlands life in the early 19th century, focusing on the children of a working class Dutch family who dream of winning a speed skating contest.

Sidney Lumet was the first to adapt this story for the American television audience in 1958 through the long-running anthology series presented on NBC by Hallmark, Hallmark's Hall of Fame. Lumet's Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates became the most viewed Hallmark Hall of Fame episode to date, and I can only imagine that the Disney produced version was in part a business reaction to the popularity of Lumet's musical, which starred Hollywood leading man Tab Hunter in the title role, opposite singer and starlet Peggy King.

While the Lumet musical is definitely worth watching (particularly for Lumet die-hards who will appreciate things like a John Fiegler cameo), I prefer the Wonderful World of Color version by early talkies-actor-turned-TV-director Norman Foster. Foster's Hans Brinker is not a musical, and it is shot on location in the Netherlands and in Sweden (rather than in a studio in Brooklyn like the Lumet version). It is a mostly Scandinavian production, featuring an all-Scandinavian cast reciting English dialogue.

Our Holiday Favorites: 'A Christmas Story'

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A Christmas Story Still PhotoWelcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise

I suspect that when most folks are asked what movie is most firmly ingrained in their lives, many would list The Princess Bride, The Godfather or even Scarface. For me it's my holiday favorite that I can watch the year round -- A Christmas Story. I never asked Santa for an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle like Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), but I did want a pink bunny suit -- even if it would mean that I would look like a "deranged Easter Bunny" in the words of Old Man Parker (Darren McGavin).

One of my little idiosyncrasies is throwing movie quotes into everyday conversation, and this film adaptation of the satirical recollection by late humorist and radio personality Jean Shepherd from his book of essays titled In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash is a cornucopia of memorable quotes. With recent temperatures across Texas dipping below the 40-degree mark, forcing Native Texans like me to bundle up, I've baffled many a companion by stating, "My brother Randy lay there like a slug -- it was his only defense." The word "fudge" has long replaced less appropriate profanity at times of duress.

Holiday Favorites: Jarod Neece Loves His 'Christmas Vacation'

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National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Today's favorite movie recollection comes from SXSW Film Festival and Conference Producer and Senior Programmer Jarod Neece. He is also the co-founder and editor of the popular Austin food blog Taco Journalism, and co-writer of the new book, Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day. His pick is also a favorite of mine:

The holidays are a special time for me and always have been. Living in the South my whole life it's the one time of year we get a little cold weather, I love the smells, the lights, the sounds, the traditions -- I'm a certifiable holidork! I love so many holiday films but the one movie I watch each and every Christmas season is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I am a fan of all the Griswolds' adventures (even Vegas Vacation!) and they each hold a special place in my heart.

Christmas Vacation has so many memorable scenes and so much funny and snarky commentary. From the nostalgic "trapped in the attic" scene to the hilarious and epic "Christmas lights aren't working" scene. From Cousin Eddie to Aunt Bethany to everyone in between -- I can't get through a holiday season without it!

Holiday Favorites: Alvaro Rodriguez, 'Ball of Fire'

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Ball of Fire

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

This installment comes from Alvaro Rodriguez, who's cowriting El Rey cable show From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series and who's been my favorite Austin Film Festival panelist. Here's his pick, which is also a favorite of Jette and Elizabeth:

Ball of Fire (1941), directed by Howard Hawks, with screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. Slough off the winter doldrums with a classic comedy, whydoncha? Surely one of the greats in so many genres, Barbara Stanwyck makes words sexy in Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire, a jazzy update of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and one of my favorite go-to holiday flicks. Here, Babs is Sugarpuss O'Shea (oh, hell, yes), a nightclub artiste who hides out from the mob in a house full of stuffy professorial types (including Gary Cooper) struggling to put together the definitive encyclopedia of slang.

Holiday Favorites 2013: Lars Nilsen Has a Few

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Lee Marvin and John Wayne in Donovan's Reef

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Lars Nilsen (@thelarsnilsen), programmer for the Austin Film Society, can't pick just one holiday film:

I have to admit I'm not a giant Christmas fan. I've never been religious, so that whole side of the holiday escaped me and I grew up poor and poor kids have a much different experience of Christmas than well-off kids. I've never much cared for Christmas movies, music or anything. HOWEVER -- there are a few Christmas movies I really like a lot.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is of course one of the most popular holiday movies but I have never been able to suppress a thought that most people are watching it wrong, and that some of the people who would enjoy it most avoid it because they think it's some kind of saccharine Hallmark card. It's a work of art, filled with darkness, made by WWII veterans who had just looked down the cold, dark well of death and were in search of a reason to go on.

James Stewart, just back from Europe, was a highly decorated Colonel in the Army Air Corps and had flown scores of bombing missions. He was sick of the killing and the inhumanity and when he came back to Hollywood he planned to quit making movies. He didn't consider it a proper profession in light of everything he'd seen. Frank Capra convinced him otherwise and this movie is an exorcism of that bile and sorrow. It's not a film full of sunshine and light. People will often mention Capra and this movie and particular as the very picture of sentimentalism. That's exactly what it isn't. It is a movie that is full of rich emotions, but it's all deserved. It has been paid for.

Donovan's Reef (1963) (pictured at right) is a thousand miles away from It's a Wonderful Life, but it is also the work of a master (in this case John Ford) and it's a terrific Christmas movie. Except for a brief interval in snowy Boston it takes place in the South Pacific. John Wayne plays Donovan, who passes his time in his bamboo bar-room with his old war buddies who also decided not to go back to the mainland after the war.

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