Holiday Favorites

Holiday Favorites 2012: Don't Feed Aaron Malzahn After Midnight

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Gremlins

By Aaron Malzahn

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.

They don't make movies like Gremlins anymore. It is one of those rare holiday films that manages to successfully combine the warm, fuzzy holiday feeling of family togetherness with the strange, bizarre and gruesome humor of cheesy horror flicks. It does this so well in fact that most people, just like Die Hard, forget that Gremlins is a Christmas film. But it is, and the first time I ever saw this loveable gem of a movie was wrapped up next to a roaring fire when I was a kid and sipping a big glass of egg nog witnessing a gremlin explode in the microwave. This movie, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have the PG-13 rating.

Produced by Steven Spielberg and his company Amblin entertainment back in 1984 hot off the heels of his blockbuster film ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Gremlins opened on the same day as Ghostbusters, and came in second in the box-office draws. Originally written as a spec script by Chris Columbus, Spielberg bought it when it came across his desk and hired Joe Dante (coming off of a hiatus after The Howling) to direct. It was a critical and commercial hit during its lifetime in the theatre and went on to spawn a sequel and a massive marketing campaign.

Holiday Favorites 2012: Elizabeth and 'Meet Me in St. Louis'

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Margaret O'Brien and Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis

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 wrote about a few of my favorite holiday classics last year, but neglected to include Meet Me in St. Louis! The 1944 film can be paired with 1949's In the Good Old Summertime for a Judy Garland turn-of-the-century Christmas double feature. These are two of my favorite Garland roles, but Meet Me in St. Louis has an edge because it contains her splendid performance of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (as well as "The Trolley Song," yay).

The year is 1903, and the multi-generational Smith family is upper-middle-class, living in their Victorian home and eager for the World's Fair in St. Louis. Esther (a 22-year-old Garland) is in her late teens, pining for her pipe-smoking young neighbor ("The Boy Next Door"). Oldest sister Rose (Lucile Bremer) is a senior in high school, long-distance dating a college man. Brother Lon is about to enter Princeton, and the two youngest daughters Agnes and Tootie (Margaret O'Brien) are in grade school.

Holiday Favorites 2012: Katy's One (Golden) Ring

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The Fellowship of the Ring

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.

Nerd alert: My family has a holiday tradition based around The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Beginning in 2002 with the release of the extended cut of The Fellowship of the Ring on DVD and The Two Towers in theaters, we started a tradition of watching the films back to back. Santa brought us the DVD and Peter Jackson brought us the new release. Perfect synergy.

In 2003, Santa brought us The Two Towers extended edition on DVD and Jackson, The Return of the King. You can see how this tradition progressed. Since 2002, we have managed to watch the trilogy in some form or fashion every Christmas season. Clearly other Americans have this same tradition, since TNT tends to run the films ad nauseam during December.

Holiday Favorites 2012: Chale and the Noir Side of 'Scrooge'

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Alistair Sim in A Christmas Carol

Christmas was the most wonderful holiday for my mother. Not for religious reasons, since she adamantly avoided organized religions, but for the opportunity to decorate the house. Her specialty was "the village," covering two long tables with a wintry scene of miniature buildings, people, animals, ponds and my small train set. Some of our most joyful moments were spent setting up this miniature idealized community.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was also part of that season's celebration, first with my mother reading it aloud over several nights and later by listening to a radio version (Lionel Barrymore's). Having spent six of her teenage years in a Texas State orphanage in the 1920s, my mother loved and understood Dickens in ways I could not yet fathom. When the British film production of A Christmas Carol arrived in Dallas in December 1951, my parents took my niece and me to see it. I honestly can't remember my initial reaction, but I have thoroughly enjoyed repeated viewings over the intervening 60 years. Putting nostalgia aside and ignoring the awkward special effects of the time, I still consider it a remarkable film.

One might have expected David Lean, the master of Dickens adaptations, to have brought A Christmas Carol to the screen. With Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948), Lean had revealed an eye for the grimmer aspects of Dickens' view of industrial Britain. Perhaps the Christmas story wasn't really big enough for Lean's imagination. Instead, a less sparkling director, Brian Desmond Hurst, received a contract with Renown Pictures Corporation to turn Noel Langley's screenplay of A Christmas Carol into Scrooge.

Holiday Favorites 2012: Tim League, 'The Silent Partner'

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Elliot Gould in The Silent Partner

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.

Tim League, the founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse, tells us today about his movie choice for holiday-time, the 1978 thriller The Silent Partner (for which Curtis Hanson wrote the screenplay!):

I'm actually quite fond of quite a few Christmas classics: Silent Night Deadly Night, Black Christmas, The Magic Christmas Tree, Santa Clause Vs. Satan, etc. My favorite, though, is a movie I was introduced to via Alamo programmer Lars Nilsen: the Canuxploitation classic The Silent Partner.

I went to a Weird Wednesday screening of this years ago with no knowledge of the film and no expectations. The film popped right away with tight storytelling, complicated twists and turns, well-fleshed-out characters, a really black humor and a demonic, intense performance by the normally normal Christopher Plummer. He portrays a sadistic, misogynistic unstoppable force, a villain dressed sometimes as Santa Claus, sometimes in very smart business-casual drag.

Holiday Favorites 2012: Stephen Jannise, 'Home Alone 2'

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Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2

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.

Our next holiday film pick comes from Stephen Jannise, the new film programmer for the Paramount and Stateside Theatres. His previous position was Film Program Director for Austin Film Festival. Stephen has chosen Chris Columbus' 1992 movie Home Alone 2: Lost in New York:

I recognize this pick probably isn't going to win me any respect points with anyone, yet I find myself compelled to offer a few thoughts in defense of this two-hour commercial for the Talkboy tape recorder. Sure, the narrative lazily regurgitates the story from the original Home Alone film almost verbatim, plot point for plot point, which means that two seemingly well-put-together parents somehow forget to bring their own child on vacation for a second time. Plus, by this point, Macaulay Culkin's smarmy kid act felt about as tired as watching your seven-year-old nephew perform "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" for the eighth time.

Holiday Favorites 2012: Debbie Digs 'Die Hard'

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John McClaneWelcome 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.

"Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except ... the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation."
-- Theo, Die Hard

There are plenty of classic and modern holiday-themed movies to enjoy, but the film that immediately comes to mind when I think of Christmas Eve is 1988's Die Hard. Why is the most definitive action film of the Eighties at the top of my holiday favorites list?

The story opens on Christmas Eve, as John McClane (Bruce Willis) makes his way to Nakatomi Plaza to meet his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at her office Christmas party. Debauchery prevails along with the festivities, including sex in a boardroom among coworkers and illicit drug use by blowhard Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner). Nakatomi Trading President Mr. Takagi (James Shigeta) pulls out all the stops for his employees and their guests.

Holiday Favorites 2012: Mark Potts, 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles'

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Our "Holiday Favorites" series in 2011 was so popular and fun that we're bringing it back again. Slackerwood contributors, Austin filmmakers and other local film community friends will all be sharing their favorite holiday movies from now until the end of the year.

Filmmaker Mark Potts doesn't live in Austin, but he shot his latest feature film, Cinema Six, in Austin and Lockhart with a lot of local cast and crew. Slackerwood and Austin Film Society are co-hosting the Austin premiere of Cinema Six on Friday, November 30 at 8 pm at Blue Starlite (tickets still available!).

Here's Mark's description of a movie that's perfect to watch this weekend:

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is the only film set around Thanksgiving* and while I'm almost certain that's true, I don't care enough to Google it.** But to me, it's a film that transcends the holiday and can be watched at any time of the year. As much as I love National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, you can't really watch it in March or August without feeling sort of weird about it.

All Our/Their 2011 Holiday Favorites

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Updated January 1, 2012.

We've really enjoyed writing Our Holiday Favorites and receiving Their Holiday Favorites content from Austin film folks. If you're looking for something different to watch during the holiday season (or any time), here are our (and their) suggestions.

Their Holiday Favorites: Graham Reynolds Loves 'Punch-Drunk Love'

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Punch Drunk Love still photo

We're wrapping up Their Holiday Favorites, in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. Today's selection is from local composer and Golden Arm Trio bandleader Graham Reynolds.

Reynolds creates, performs and records music for film, theater, dance, rock clubs and concert halls with collaborators ranging from Richard Linklater to DJ Spooky to the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Reynolds' music has been heard throughout the world on stage, film and television, from HBO to Showtime, Cannes Film Festival to the Kennedy Center, as well as radio including BBC and National Public Radio. His score to the 2006 Linklater movie A Scanner Darkly was named Best Soundtrack of the Decade by Cinema Retro magazine. His awards include the Lowe Music Theater Award, four Austin Critics' Table awards, an Amp Award, five Austin Chronicle Best Composer wins, as well as support from the National Endowment for the Arts for several projects.

Reynolds will be featured in the upcoming documentary Nemesis Rising, due to his involvement with the Intergalactic Nemesis Project. In 2011 he also had twin CD releases of "Three Portraits of Duke Ellington," a triptych of band, strings, and remixes in tribute to and inspired by the seminal composer-bandleader, and "The Difference Engine," a triple concerto for violin, cello, piano, and string orchestra. Here are his thoughts on a critically acclaimed film directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson and Philip Seymour Hoffman:

"I don't have a movie or set of movies that we watch over the holidays, but Punch-Drunk Love is one that we watched all together a few Christmases ago. Great sound design, great soundtrack, beautifully shot, and smart, quirky, and funny. Plus everyone's always shocked that Adam Sandler was in a good movie."

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