As the breadth of the mid-November breaks and the festival of plenty is speedily approaching, the mass of debates over whether it is fundamentally sane to transition come forth. From the wonderful throat sensation of a piping cup of hot apple cider, pumpkins galore, and the beautiful sadness of seeing decaying leaves of reds, oranges, and browns to sipping at the ‘nog, warming up by a toasty fire, shivering and gallivanting amongst the frosty grounds, and burrowing into a mass of presents. In any case, though, other than the traditions and events the festive seasons entail, they can also be commemorated by their quintessential companions of movies!
There are multitudes of iconic, classic Christmas films: It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Home Alone, White Christmas, Elf, A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street; the list can truly go on and on! However, this is not to confuse with the growing popularity of these gaudy, substanceless Netflix Original Christmas Specials… So, as an extensive movie buff—or cinephile—if you will, I thought this could be a fun way to initiate the holiday season.
Below, one will find a list alongside some small write-ups on these underrated flicks:
Mixed Nuts (1994)
“Just remember that in every pothole there is hope. Well, you see, pothole is spelled P-O-T-H-O-L-E. So if you take the P, and add it to the H, the O, and the E, and rearrange the letters…or contrariwise, you remove the O, T, and the L, you get ‘hope.’ So, just remember, in every pothole, there is hope!”
Who doesn’t love a good Steve Martin film? Plus, the marvelous Madeline Kahn as a supporting actress—a god-send. Amidst the late nineties background of Venice, California, Mixed Nuts is a Christmas comedy, full of an assortment of offbeat characters and slightly dark nuances. It portrays a hilarity of events surrounding the holiday season at a suicide hotline dedicated to aiding those who are depressed and troubled. Despite being the forerunner of ‘Lifesavers,’ Philip was feeling a bit dejected around the holiday season himself. Lifesavers, too, was going down under, facing an upcoming eviction notice. On top of all of that, Philip’s staff isn’t the most helpful crew, with the meek Catherine, who obsesses over her unspoken, hopeless love for Philip and his office manager, and Mrs. Munchnik, a bitter yet somewhat insulting divorcée. As the film progresses, various nutcases of all shapes and sizes—ranging from a frustrated, pregnant clothing store owner, a serial killer that goes by the ‘Seaside Strangler’, songs about grape jelly, a disenchanted Santa Claus, to a surprise appearance made by a Lifesavers’ caller, the office space is catalyzed into even more of a pandemonium than it already was.
Home for the Holidays (1995)
“Nobody means what they say on Thanksgiving, Mom. You know that. That’s what the day’s supposed to be all about, right? Torture.”
(Of course, there’s going to be some Thanksgiving films in the mix of this list! There are no limits with the holiday label). But anyway, Home for the Holidays may hit home a bit for some more than others. When Claudia Larson returns to Baltimore to visit her family’s home during Thanksgiving, things aren’t as graceful as the celebration usually entails. While more of a chronicled sequence of events (rather than being story-based), the film captures an ineffable essence about how going back home to squabble with relatives and eat lots of food can add a nostalgic glow to the chill of late November. By portraying the dysfunction, pettiness, and tensions that may appear at the Thanksgiving table, it surely illustrates the imperfect, familiar dynamics that many may encounter.
The Ref (1994)
“Maybe Santa won’t come back next year. Maybe he and the Easter Bunny will take a cruise to Jamaica, and you can eat your own lousy cookies!”
Among this list of lighthearted films, The Ref, although a holiday movie, is strongly within the dark comedy genre. (So, keep in mind that this particular pick is rated-R and is a dark comedy—which typically consists of certain raw, crude material.) Nonetheless, this does not make it any less enjoyable. Ever heard of hostile hostages? Watching this, you’ll surely find out. Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur, a married couple with a turbulent relationship, are held captive by a cat burglar, Gus. Meanwhile, Gus is forced to become a sort of marriage counselor or ref, due to the couple’s nightmare/lack of communication. Not only that, Gus soon realizes he took more than what he bargained for when the couple’s blackmailing son and despicable in-laws suddenly appear. Soon, their petty bickering and family problems begin to anger him quite a bit; Gus, then, has no other choice than to act as a referee and resolve their differences before the police capture him in the process.
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (1987)
“I’ve been thinking, when we put our heads together…we really…got nowhere.”
Yes, it is once again another Steve Martin movie, and, alongside that, this is also an additional Thanksgiving movie added to this list! One of John Hughes’ final, great movies, Planes, Trains & Automobiles, truly encapsulates the feeling of anticipation one may find when leading up to the blessed Turkey Day. Albeit, the buildup of this holiday (a long weekend, all the football, a full stomach of food, leftovers, and crazy shopping sales) may be fun, but the drama that later occurs (driving through holiday traffic, irritating relatives)…not so much. Such as so, after spending a few days in New York City on a business trip, Neal Page has to come back home in Chicago for Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, his wife, two children, parents, and in-laws eagerly await—but a snowstorm causes an obstruction within the airport, and thus, many flights are canceled. Reluctantly, Neal decides to fly to Wichita, but before getting home safely, he has to traverse through uncertain flights, broken trains, cars that go on fire, robberies, and sleepless nights in motels. More so, Neal meets Del Griffith, a sales representative, who too was traveling to Chicago; however, Del is considerably nosy, a gadfly—but nonetheless a big, kindhearted guy. So, together, Neal and Del must overcome this insane journey of holiday travel in order to achieve their destination goal.
Opus n’ Bill in: A Wish for Wings that Work (1991)
“As your records will show, Father Christmas, I am a bird. Specifically, a penguin. An embarrassing accident at birth, for which I do not blame my mother. I prefer to blame Congress.”
To truly encapsulate and finish this wild list of rare, festive flicks, this small 1991 short will most definitely do the job. This movie is probably the most underrated of all on this list, and it really shouldn’t be; additionally, if one is a fan of the Bloom County comic book strip, Opus n’ Bill in: A Wish for Wings that Work is also an ever-special watch. This Christmas short is one of very wholesome, comical themes and even some slight satire/commentary in the mix. While only about twenty-two minutes in length, the small stretch of time it consists of does not amount up to the substance of this little film. It is anything but lackluster: from a support group titled ‘Earthbound Birds Anonymous’, a trio of mocking ducks, a pig/rhinoceros identity crisis, a cat with a brain replaced with tater tots, to general chaos within the denizens, there is a seemingly ceaseless amount of creativity and hilarity put to work in it. Story-wise, A Wish For Wings tells of Opus the Penguin, who was feeling incomplete in his life due to being ‘aerodynamically impaired.’ Together, with his hairball-spewing, gasoline-drinking best friend, Bill the Cat, he attempts to overcome that ‘impairment,’ all without success. On Christmas Eve, however, it is then that Opus learns of the worth within his pure self and capabilities. With all of its qualities, comedy, and bout of entertaining aspects, it is a genuine surprise that this special is not among the list of holiday classics.