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Holiday spirit, on DVD

December 21, 2007|Jen Chaney | Washington Post

Last year, I made this list of unconventional Christmas movies. I checked it twice. And readers responded in ways both nice and, well, a little bit naughty. For example, "Only an idiot would not have included (fill in title of unforgivably omitted movie here)."

So, here is my 2007 holiday gift to you: A collection of 10 more flicks, all available on DVD, that provide an alternative to the typical "It's a Wonderful Life"-"A Christmas Story"-"Miracle on 34th Street" trifecta.

Every one of these choices fits in tonally with the holiday season and includes at least one crucial scene set at Christmastime. And yes, I know there are many, many others that I have not included. But a DVD reviewer has to save something for everyone's stockings next year, doesn't she?

"The Thin Man" (1934): The ever-droll Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) attempt to get to the bottom of a murder case and any glass that holds an alcoholic beverage in this still-witty classic, which may boast more martinis in its 93-minute running time than all of the James Bond films combined. Drinking obscene amounts of liquor -- that's what Christmas is really about, Charlie Brown.

"Bridget Jones's Diary" (2001): Seeking a British romantic comedy that's set during the holidays and happens to star Hugh Grant? Then skip "Love Actually" and report directly to this smarter, funnier flick, based on Helen Fielding's hugely popular novel. It's Christmassy from almost minute-one. Other yuletide delights: Bridget (Renee Zellweger) singing a truly atrocious Air Supply song at the office Christmas party and, naturally, a climactic kiss between Zellweger and Colin Firth underneath a sea of falling snowflakes.

"Better Off Dead" (1985): Savage Steve Holland's offbeat teen romp is best known for two things: The scene in which a Claymation hamburger plays the guitar solo from Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some" and the cash-obsessed paperboy who stalks a desperate John Cusack. ("Two dollars! I want two dollars!") But loyal admirers of this cult favorite will remember that a portion of the movie unfolds during Christmas. When the recently jilted Cusack realizes that his ex-girlfriend has received a gift from her new beau that seriously trumps his own purchase, he abruptly ends the phone call with perhaps my favorite cinematic holiday excuse: "I have to go. The Christmas tree is on fire."

"The Ref" (1994): More readers bemoaned the absence of this black comedy from last year's list than any other movie. So here it is for '07, the story of a thief (Denis Leary) who takes a viciously unhappy married couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) hostage on Christmas Eve and gets drawn directly into their family drama. If you've gone to the "Bad Santa" well one too many times, this film, directed by the late Ted Demme, makes a viably acerbic alternative, particularly the scene in which Spacey takes a fireplace poker and smashes it repeatedly into the Christmas tree. He must have misunderstood the term "deck the halls."

"Babe" (1995): An Academy Award nominee for best picture, this charmer certainly stands as one of the few live-action films in which the talking animal concept actually works. It also boasts a few scenes -- including our porcine hero "la-laing" his way through a splendid version of "Jingle Bells" -- that unfold on Christmas Day. Note to parents: Young, sensitive children will be happy that Babe doesn't turn into Christmas dinner, but may be upset to realize that the duck l'orange served by the Hoggett family was once named Roseanna. Be prepared to explain, or hit the skip button on your DVD remote.

"The House Without a Christmas Tree" (1972): Burned out on the 24-hour "Christmas Story" marathon? Then here's a yuletide tale that's also set in the 1940s, but centers on a girl named Addie (instead of a boy named Ralphie) and her one Christmas wish. No, it's not for a BB gun; she just wants her widowed father to finally let her have a Christmas tree. Last year, I bemoaned the absence of this rarely seen TV movie -- starring the dependably convincing Jason Robards as the dad -- from DVD. Two months ago, it finally arrived. Though the production is undeniably dated, the strength of the performances makes this a touching option to share with younger viewers.

"Edward Scissorhands" (1990): With "Sweeney Todd" arriving in theaters today, this is the perfect time to revisit the first collaboration between filmmaker Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. And yes, this visually captivating tale of a shy, sad teen cursed with cutting shears instead of hands does contain a Christmas scene, one that delivers the movie's most memorable image: An enchanted Winona Ryder, spinning in the twinkly shavings that fly through the air as Depp creates another of his signature ice sculptures.

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