Wednesday, December 24, 2008

RTR's Must-See Holiday Movies

The RTR household has its holiday tradition of watching two great movies each and every year. You may have the same type of tradition. My neighbors, the Kravitz Patch family, have raved about National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation with Chevy Chase. A former buddy, the Kaviester, was the first to recommend The Christmas Story, which has pretty much grown out of its cult status. Others enjoy traditional movies like "The Miracle on 34th Street," "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," or "A Charlie Brown Christmas." If you have other favorites, I'd like to hear about them.

The two movies the RTR family watches every year -- and recommends to you -- do not easily fit into the slapstick comedy usually preferred by the likes of the Kravitz Patch Family. But these movies are worth a try considering all the mediocre choices you have at the video store.

The first recommendation is not even about Christmas. It is, in fact, a movie focused on the Thanksgiving Day holiday. "Home for the Holidays" is a 1995 release that was directed by Jodie Foster and I consider this an American classic. This is quite an achievement for Foster, an Oscar-winning actress and Hollywood veteran/survivor. Foster does not appear in "Home for the Holidays" but she assembled an all-star cast for the movie, including Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Claire Danes, Steve Guttenberg, and others.

Like any good holiday movie, "Home for the Holidays" is about reluctant family members -- with personality quirks and emotional baggage -- converging on Mom and Dad's house. The many characters in this movie are down-to-earth and believable for anyone who has made that same reluctant trip back home. Foster holds together a great script and acting performances to give us an adult comedy with good humor, emotional nuances, and a timeless message. I still get choked up at the end of this movie.

The producers of the next movie recommendation are, it seems to me, way off in their marketing. "The Ref" is a 1994 Christmas comedy starring Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, and Judy Davis. However, the DVD jacket features Leary on the cover with a gun and two tied-up hostages. At the time of the movie's release, Leary had emerged as a first-rate stand-up comedian and
this movie was early proof that he had first-rate acting skills. The movie, in part, was cashing in on Leary's comedy name and still, to this day, isn't generally well-known as a Christmas movie.

I highly recommend "The Ref" for some holiday cheers. The story centers on a burglar (Leary) who accidentally steps into the Christmas gathering of a dysfunctional New England family. Again, this is an adult comedy that succeeds in painting a picture of the emotions that come bubbling to the surface during family Christmas gatherings. This movie is fun and funny, and fast-paced with a run time of 93 minutes. Be warned, however, that the first third of the movie has some salty adult language, including some choice words right out of the gate. I know the salty language will cause laughing fits for some (like my neighbor Junior Kravitz), but others will need the call for earmuffs (like neighbor Jacqui Kravitz). Regardless, stick with this movie and maybe you will have a new favorite holiday movie.

-- Rico Thomas Rico

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