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Dad Daze: Can’t-miss holiday films to watch with the family

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 26, 2021

“The Snowman” is a British TV animated short from 1982.  (Snowman Enterprises Limited)
“The Snowman” is a British TV animated short from 1982. (Snowman Enterprises Limited)

Christmas week is synonymous with holiday films. While growing up, my parents and I would experience the familiar classics “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “White Christmas” the final week of each year.

My children also have enjoyed these films, but when we discussed what is on tap as we count down to 2022, we decided to move in other cinematic directions. The following is what we’ll catch as a family. The list is comprised of favorites and offbeat selections.

“The Snowman” is at the top of my daughter Jillian’s list. The animated film for British television, which is turning 40, is simply magical. The 26-minute short is comprised of pictures, action and music. There is no dialogue. It’s the story of a young boy who befriends a snowman, and it tugs at your heart like no other film.

While catching the preview to “Home Alone” in 1990, my friend and I failed to understand why everyone but us were laughing hysterically at John Hughes’ film. But after I had children, it all made sense. My son Milo has often reminded me of the mischievous and resourceful 8-year-old Kevin McCallister played to perfection by the charismatic Macaulay Culkin.

One of our favorite “Home Alone” performances is by the late, great John Candy, who plays a kind polka player who helps the protagonist’s mother reunite with her son. The connection Candy has with the mom, portrayed by Catherine O’Hara, who finally has received her due courtesy of the brilliant “Schitt’s Creek,” is delightful. The SCTV alums possess undeniable chemistry.

Candy is exceptional in a number of holiday films, particularly in another Hughes production, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”

“I think as I learn more about my dad as I get older, I notice there is a fine line between the characters he played and who he was,” actor Chris Candy said while calling from Los Angeles. “There was a way he brought vulnerability and humbleness and love to a part. He brought honesty and a believability to the characters he played.”

“The Apartment” isn’t necessarily a Christmas film, but it takes place on and around Dec. 25. The film features a brilliant script co-written by Billy Wilder, who focuses on love and loneliness, which are holiday staples. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray are exceptional in the comedy, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1960.

Another film I recently revisited, in which Christmas is in the background, is the sorely underrated “Metropolitan.” It’s Whit Stillmun’s 1990 gem about New York rich kids and a working-class Manhattanite (can an average Joe reside in the epicenter of Gotham in 2021?) hanging out during the holiday debutante season. It’s realistic, clever and surprising.

It’s difficult to believe a film featuring Jennifer Aniston and Jason Batman is under the radar, but many missed out on “Office Christmas Party,” which hit screens in 2016. T.J. Miller stars as an out-of-control corporate executive who throws a wild, debauched party to save his company.

Bill Murray stars in the uneven Christmas flick “Scrooged,” but his finest holiday moments are captured in the quirky “A Very Murray Christmas.” It’s a 2015 variety show that doesn’t ever look like it’ll be dated. Guests Rashida Jones, Miley Cyrus and George Clooney jack up the cool quotient. “Very Murray” is fabulous. But of course it’s great. Did you ever meet anyone who doesn’t like Murray?

1995’s “While You Were Sleeping” is the most charming Sandra Bullock vehicle. Sandy B saves a man who was pushed in front of a Chicago El train on Christmas Day. The protagonist has admired the hospitalized gentleman from afar. After blurting out “I was going to marry him,” a nurse takes her wishful desire as fact, and the fun ensues.

Horror and comedy are difficult to blend, but Joe Dante marries the two in a flawless manner with 1984’s “Gremlins.” The film is about a cute Chinese creature dubbed as a “mogwai” named Gizmo who when fed after midnight, or touched by water, gives birth to out-of-control monsters.

1951’s “A Christmas Carol,” the finest adaptation of Charles Dickens’ legendary story, focuses on miserable miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited by the ghost of Christmas past, present and future.

Christmas isn’t complete without one viewing of 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” After Charlie is in a funk suffering from seasonal depression, the star-crossed protagonist tries to put on a play before the always-wise Linus explains the real meaning of Christmas.

There is plenty of terrific holiday fare out there for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy as much of it as possible during the most wonderful time of the year!

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