What Movie to See on Christmas?

Almost everyone I know—no matter what religion they are, no matter what holidays they celebrate—goes out to the movies on Christmas Day.

In my own family, it’s certainly become part of the tradition. We have a big Christmas Eve dinner. We get up early in the morning on Christmas to open presents. We have a huge breakfast. Then, we go to the movies and eat Chinese food, just like everyone else who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. It’s a blending of cultures, we like to say.

For us, the discussion starts early: What should we see? What movies are out? What’s getting the Oscar buzz? What are we in the mood for?

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If your family is similarly indecisive, I’ve volunteered my services to help. Consult my handy guide to holiday movies that cater (almost) to your every whim. Just make sure to get tickets online or show up to the box office really early—it gets crowded on Christmas!

I don’t want to think about it too much. Short answer: What will probably be the best movie to see on Christmas?
True Grit. (Now you can skip the rest of this post.)

Think about it. Even without the early good reviews, True Grit—which is another movie made from the Charles Portis novel, and not exactly a remake of the John Wayne film—has something for everybody. The older generation will like that it reminds them of the Duke, while the younger generation will dig that it’s directed by the Coen Brothers. It has a strong female character in the young Mattie Ross, but a Western sensibility keeps it from being a chick flick. It’s rated PG-13, so you can bring most of your family. And it stars Jeff Bridges—the Dude! Who doesn’t love the Dude? The Dude abides.

Not sold? Don’t worry. I’ve got some more suggestions for you. What are you looking for?

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C’mon—it’s Christmas. I’m looking for something a little cuddlier, that’ll put everyone in a holly, jolly mood.
See: How Do You Know or The King’s Speech

From James L. Brooks, the man that brought us the tug-at-the-heartstrings As Good As It Gets (and The Mary Tyler Moore Show), comes another emotional comedy made from the same mold. In it, Reese Witherspoon plays a professional athlete torn between her baseball-playing boyfriend (Owen Wilson) and a down-on-his-luck corporate love interest (Paul Rudd). Sure, the premise is as old as Reality Bites, but it looks far more charming—and it’s got good ol’ Jack Nicholson to sleaze things up a little. Or, there’s a film about everybody’s favorite subject: World War II. (Fine, it may not seem so cuddly on the outset—but give it a chance.) In The King’s Speech, Colin Firth plays King George VI, and Geoffrey Rush is the vocal coach tasked with getting rid of the King’s stammer so he can rally his country before the war. Nothing says the holidays like a satisfying rallying speech.

I just can’t hide my local pride. Can I see a movie this Christmas and support a local neighbor?
Sure you can. See: The Fighter

Ignore the rampant, flat, Bostonian accents. The Fighter comes to us from David O. Russell—director of the existential I Heart Huckabees—who, according to his IMDb page, went to Mamaroneck High School. Let’s hope that his growing up in the Sound Shore village gave him enough street cred to tell the story of comeback-boxer Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) and his crack-addicted brother (Christian Bale).

I’m planning on indulging during breakfast. What will give me a jolt of adrenaline that’ll keep me awake?
The Tourist

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It’s your standard mistaken-identity scenario: Man meets woman, man falls for woman, woman’s criminal ex-boyfriend’s enemies try to kill man. It’s got Angelina Jolie, who you know can handle lots of high-powered action stunts, and it’s got Johnny Depp, so the patter can be lightning-quick as well. (I know Johnny Depp keeps me awake.) And, if you’re feeling a little drowsy pre-show, you can always keep yourself occupied by repeating the director’s tongue-twister of a name: Florian Maria Georg Christian Graf Henckel von Donnersmarck. (He just goes by “Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck” for the film.)

I own a lot of pairs of Chuck Taylors. What movie can I wear them to?
Slip on those sneaks and take them to see Somewhere.

This is a Sofia Coppola joint, so you’ll find yourself at home in her hipster milieu—think of the disaffected youngsters in her Lost in Translation or Marie Antoinette (who, in Coppola’s vision, also wore Converse sneakers—see the third photo down). This time, Coppola focuses on an actor (remember Stephen Dorff?) living the fashionable party-hopping lifestyle—which we assume Coppola knows all too well, since she has her own namesake Champagne-in-a-can, after all—and his attempt to maintain that lifestyle while also taking care of his 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning). All the music in film is done by French band Phoenix—we’re pretty sure they have some cool sneakers, too.

My mind was, like, totally blown by Avatar last year. Got anything like that?
See: Tron Legacy

Story and characters don’t mean as much to you as mind-boggling visuals, which Tron Legacy has in spades. I mean, have you seen any of those light-up suits yet? We’ve come a long way in futuristic fashion since 1982. To really make your head explode, you can see Tron Legacy in IMAX. (But I have to remind you that only New Roc City and the Palisades Mall in Nyack have the huge screens you’ve come to associate with IMAX theaters.) Best of all: Tron Legacy stars Jeff Bridges—the Dude! The Dude still abides.

Forget Avatar. My mind was totally blown by Up in the Air instead. What’s out there for me?
See: The Company Men

Wow, you must be fun at cocktail parties. If it’s downsizing dramas you’re into, then The Company Men is your jam. In it, Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper and Tommy Lee Jones all play men who have recently been laid off. I don’t want to spoil anything, but their bosses don’t show up on Christmas Day with a fat goose and an extra lump of coal.

That’s more like it—nice and grim. My friends call me “Debbie Downer,” and I’m looking for a major bummer to counteract all the holiday goodwill.
You’re in luck—there’s lots out there for you. See either Rabbit Hole or Blue Valentine.

Pick your cheer-deflating poison. Are you recently single? There’s nothing worse than being dumped around the holidays. Take your bitter self out to see Blue Valentine, which shows a couple—played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams—at various stages in their relationship, from the cute-happy meeting to the intensely bad breakup. (A juicy tidbit about the film: It recently got downgraded from an NC-17 rating to an R.) If that’s not soul-crushing enough for you, Rabbit Hole is another film about a couple in crisis—Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart this time—only, in this film, it’s because of the sudden death of their child. The play the movie is based on was set in Larchmont—but let’s hope this doesn’t hit close to home for anyone.

I love ballet, but I find The Nutcracker cloying. Do you have anything terrifying, confusing, and ballet-related?
As a matter of fact, I do. See: Black Swan

There are no sugar plum fairies in this, believe me. Darren Aronofsky—who also directed Requiem for a Dream—doesn’t really do sweet and fluffy. Instead, we get a film about a ballet dancer (Natalie Portman) who begins to fall apart under the pressure of receiving a principal role in a big production of Swan Lake. The resulting traumas the poor dancer endures were called a “delirious, phantasmagoric freakout” by the New York Times and “a hallucinatory trip down a rabbit hole that is equally seductive and repellent” by the Washington Post. She may be a ballet dancer, but she can sure sock you hard in the gut.

Are you kidding me? I can’t bring my kids to any of these!
Yikes. It’s not looking good for parents this Christmas. Kids’ offerings are looking especially chintzy. You’ve got the laying-it-on-thick wonderment of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Jack Black’s schticky take on Gulliver’s Travels, or the Hanna-Barbera-meets-the-uncanny-valley mess that is Yogi Bear. Hopefully, you haven’t yet seen Tangled, Megamind, or, if they’re a little older, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. Those are all much better bets.

What are you planning to see this Christmas? Let me know in the comments.

True Grit photo credit by Lorey Sebastian © 2010 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Black Swan photo by Niko Tavernise

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