Holiday Favorites

Our Holiday Favorites: The Family Stone


THe Family StoneThe best holiday film fare for me is always a mix of the worst of humanity along with the best. What would It's a Wonderful Life be without George and that old Building and Loan having to suffer through the travails of greed and incompetence? And How the Grinch Stole Christmas would not be anywhere near as heartening if the Grinch wasn't so callous to his dog, or so feisty about making the Whos in Whoville miserable. And that's part of why The Family Stone is one of my guilty pleasure holiday traditions.

I didn't mean to make it one, but I admit I was intrigued by the particularly expressive finger on the teaser poster. The trailers featured a snarky Rachel McAdams thwacking the back of one brother's head only to get thwacked herself by another. And with the premise of ferocious family dynamics over a fiancee? That's not only comedy gold but very relatable.

Eons ago when I still lived in Boston, a family dinner introducing a step-sibling's fiancée proved to be darkly entertaining. Despite the pretense of a well-mannered gathering, many claws were outstretched and flexing on the stoically thick-skinned woman. The same is true with the Stone family, who all clearly love each other yet have no disillusions about each other’s flaws. When the eldest son brings his girlfriend home, the fur starts to fly as her neuroses alienate everyone.

Their Holiday Favorites: Brian Satterwhite and the Music of 'Edward Scissorhands'


Edward Scissorhands

Their Holiday Favorites is a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. Today's selection is from film composer Brian Satterwhite (Artois the Goat) whose work on the local project "Cell: The Web Series" was nominated for Best Original Score in this year's IAWTV Awards (honoring web programming). Satterwhite's "Cell" compositions really set the tone and engaged me emotionally. Don't miss the brilliant and compelling score he created for Man on a Mission, which is scheduled to be released in theaters and VOD on January 13, 2012. Here are his thoughts on a certain Tim Burton movie:

One of my favorite holiday movies is Edward Scissorhands (1990). Aside from being the film (and the score) that made me want to become a film composer, this modern-day fairy tale evokes many of the emotions, sounds and images I crave at Christmastime.

What is especially appealing to me is how successful the music is at painting such an overt wintery landscape even though the actual setting of the film takes place in a rather tepid climate. There is really no visual evidence to support the chilly crisp air the music is constantly evoking. This creates a miraculous component to the narrative when it's revealed that one of Edward's hidden talents is ice sculpture. This notion reaches its climax when Kim (Winona Ryder) dances underneath Edward's ice shavings as he passionately toils above her on a new sculpture which is revealed to be a portrait of Kim.

Their Holiday Favorites: Josh Frank Prefers Bond. The Lazenby Bond.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Their Holiday Favorites is a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. Today, Blue Starlite Drive-in owner Josh Frank recalls a film that might not seem like an obvious choice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service:

Every holiday season since I can remember, one of the basic cable channels has at some point shown a James Bond Holiday Marathon. So James Bond has become synonymous for me with snow, cozy warm days off and in, with holiday spirit, presents and 24 to 48 hours of James Bond ... save 4 hours of infomercials in the wee hours between 3 and 7 am when even Bond must catch some shut-eye.

There never seemed to be a rhyme or reason to the order. A Connery flick would be stuck between two Roger Moore's then a Pierce Brosnan and then back again. Every so often, they would show (at least once in the cycle) my favorite most underrated James Bond movie. All of Sean Connery's were great, and most of Moore's have a place in my heart if for no other reason then as an 8-year-old I didn't know better, so I watched them so many times that they became lore.
But On Her Majesty's Secret Service is that little-known Bond movie that most people don't pay attention to, mainly because its star is a one-time Bond who was not an actor but a famous British model, but they really should. Not just because it's the perfect Holiday Bond, taking place in a winter wonderland with snow, and even jingle bells echoing through the night on horse-drawn carriages in the little ski town where most of it takes place.

Their Holiday Favorites: Daniel Metz Champions 'Eyes Wide Shut'


Eyes Wide Shut

Their Holiday Favorites is a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. Today, Austin film programmer and producer Daniel Metz (Slacker 2011) explains why you should consider Stanley Kubrick when picking movies to watch this holiday season:

It's not hard to see why Christmas movies are so often placed in the ghetto of film genres; for the most part schmaltzy, child-oriented and low humored, these pictures prey on the weakness of seasonal sentimentality to the detriment of meaningful storytelling. Christmas movies don't ask questions, they don't get at truths about human nature, and they don't take risks.

With one exception. Only one truly great filmmaker has ever made a Christmas film: that director is Stanley Kubrick, and the film is Eyes Wide Shut. Every frame of this striking, dangerous last film from the master that gave us Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining is littered with Douglas firs, incandescent bulbs, and various other Yuletide tchotchkes. Tom Cruise, who manages to deliver one of his rare stellar performances, plods through the NYC streets in leather gloves and a cashmere overcoat, his short breaths creating little clouds as he's haunted by Christmas fever around him. It's a celebration of Christmas tradition and symbols, and the trouble we can get in when we have the freedom of a holiday night.

Their Holiday Favorites: Emily Hagins's 'Nightmare' Research


The Nightmare Before Christmas

Welcome to our latest entry in Their Holiday Favorites, a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. This one is from 19-year-old Austin-based movie director Emily Hagins, whose horror-comedy My Sucky Teen Romance premiered at last year's SXSW. Here's her account of a holiday movie she not only likes but respects as a filmmaker.

I've been doing research for a script that takes place around Halloween, so a lot of the films I've been watching lately have not been so timely for the holiday season. Except! I think one of the most unique and most difficult to achieve characteristics about The Nightmare Before Christmas is that it is just as fun to watch at Halloween as it is to watch on Christmas -- the two most opposite days of the year. By exploring the darker side of even the most joyous of holidays, this film is able to delve deeper than a lot of conventional films.

I think there's something special about films that deal with smart subject matter but are still appropriate for a younger audience. I remember watching films like The Nightmare Before Christmas when I was little and being thankful that it wasn't condescending, like some of the other kid's movies. The holidays are especially prone to "family films" with trivial stories that are made for the sake of marketing without much other thought. On the other side of that, everything from the stunningly detailed production design to the storytelling (I'm not a huge fan of musicals, but I love how the songs are incorporated into this film) of The Nightmare Before Christmas shows nothing but the highest admiration of the material by the filmmakers.

Our Holiday Favorites: The Santa Clause


The Santa Clause

I was four years old when The Santa Clause first opened in theaters. I can't recall if I first saw the 1994 comedy in theaters or on VHS (remember those?) months later. My older (and favorite) cousin Andi and I would watch The Santa Clause on her annual holiday visit from Dallas to Seguin. 

The Santa Clause stars Tim Allen as Scott Calvin, a thirtysomething divorced father and toy company advertising executive. There's a hilarious scene where Scott is visiting his son Charlie's (Eric Lloyd) elementary school to discuss his job, when he is repeatedly forced to try to explain to another student his job description.

The plot rolls forward. 'Twas the night before Christmas ... and Santa Claus falls off Scott's roof. The end. Or, is it? Scott and Charlie realize the man who appears to be Santa Claus has mysteriously vanished, leaving behind his suit, in which they find a business card stating that if something should happen to him, someone should put on the suit and consult the eight moody reindeer waiting on the roof.

To please Charlie, Scott puts on the suit. They hop in the sleigh and deliver toys from house to house. Their final destination is the North Pole, where Scott mistakenly hits on a more than one-thousand-year-old elf.

Their Holiday Favorites: David Hartstein's Annual 'Christmas Vacation'


National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Welcome to Their Holiday Favorites, a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. Austin filmmaker/producer David Hartstein (Along Came Kinky, Where Soldiers Come From) has been traveling out of the country recently to work on his Untitled Israeli Football Documentary, but was able to take a minute to tell us about a certain Christmas movie he can't miss.

I'm Jewish and there are no Hanukkah movies worth your time. So until Mel Gibson's Judah Maccabee project sees the light of day and despite marrying a Lutheran last year, I still feel like a Christmas movie interloper. But sure, like anyone else I do have a go-to list of Christmas movies that put me in the holiday spirit: It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, Die Hard, Eyes Wide Shut and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (technically TV).

The one standout for me, however, is and always will be National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I first saw Christmas Vacation at the (now boarded up) Rockville Center Twin on Long Island. I owned the Vacation trilogy on VHS (pre the very underrated Vegas Vacation) but it was stolen from me in college. Sort of like a parent, I love all of the Vacation movies fiercely and equally (perhaps I'll be asked back by Jette for that guest column in the future?) and I can't pick a favorite, but when I found out my wife had never seen Christmas Vacation I went out that very day and bought the Blu-ray, which immediately won her over to its charms.

Their Holiday Favorites: Jesse Trussell and the Magic of 'Fanny and Alexander'


still from Fanny and Alexander

Welcome to Their Holiday Favorites, a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. This one is from Jesse Trussell, film programmer at Paramount Theatre.

My favorite holiday film has to be Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman. While not an obvious first choice, since only part of it is set at Christmastime, the film premiered on Swedish TV on Christmas Day 1982 and I can see why.

I don't think any film has better captured the magic (both joyful and terrifying) that childhood can contain, and for me that magic of childhood is exactly what the holidays are all about.

Our Holiday Favorites: The Man Who Came to Dinner


Bette Davis and Monty Woolley in The Man Who Came to Dinner

Bette Davis in a breezy, holiday comedy -- why, yes! In The Man Who Came to Dinner, she plays secretary Maggie Cutler to Monty Woolley's acerbic blowhard Sheridan Whiteside. The film is based on the 1938 play by Kaufman and Hart, and is so full of then-contemporary pop culture references, it's almost like I Love the '30s (and Early '40s). Jimmy Durante plays a character based on Harpo Marx, fictional Beverly Carlton (played by Reginald Gardiner) is shaped on Noel Coward, and Ann Sheridan's Lorraine Sheldon is formed on legendary actress Gertrude Lawrence.

The 1942 movie runs like a play at times; most of the action is based at the home of the wealthy Stanley clan, which you almost pity and dislike at the same time. Whiteside is the "Man" of the title, a radio host and public speaker unafraid to speak his mind to anyone that will listen. On a winter train stop tour, he slips on the Stanleys' front steps, and promptly takes over their house for the next few weeks.

I don't know of another film with quite such a combination of comedy (of the dry, biting kind), romance, pop culture references and Jimmy Durante singing ridiculous songs. To think The Man Who Came to Dinner was almost made without Monty Woolley, who originated the role on stage! It's difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, despite how much Bette Davis wanted John Barrymore instead.

Their Holiday Favorites: 'Swingin' Trio' Filmmakers Love 'Jesus Christ Superstar'


Jesus Christ Superstar

Welcome to our latest entry in Their Holiday Favorites, a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. This one is from Kelvin Phillips and Carla Jackson, who made their feature film debut this fall at AFF with A Swingin' Trio

Kelvin: Though technically more of an Easter film because of its story, we love going back to Jesus Christ Superstar -- the original 1973 film directed by Norman Jewison -- for repeated viewings, particularly around the holidays. Firstly, there is the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, plus there's the witty lyrics and controversial book (story) that presents Judas's argument in a sympathetic light.

But the thing we REALLY LOVE is the singing -- everyone is great, but special shoutouts have to go to Carl Anderson as Judas, Ted Neely as JC, and Bob Bingham as the bass-singing Caiaphas. The film itself is gorgeous to look at (would love for the Alamo to present it on the big screen!). It was shot in Israel, using widescreen photography of the desert vistas and ancient ruins that are spectacular.

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