Holidays at the Movies

When you have the need to use up some vacation time, but still need to work the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, that leaves the week before Christmas as the better fit for time off around the December Holidays.

Before my parents past away, I nearly always spent the Holidays with them. That meant leaving Cincinnati and going to Florida. I would need to find a way to make the time pass in Florida with just me and my parents. They lived near the beach, but not close enough to go there every day. I didn’t and still don’t play golf. They loved golf. I could have some conversation with my Dad, keeping it somewhat intellectual, but that was not easy. Topics of conversation tended to be limited and sparse.

My Dad passed away 10 years before my Mom, so most recently it was just me and my Mom for the holiday. That would be an even greater challenge. As families go, we were better than most at getting along, but that likely had to do with figuring out how to get along more than having a lot in common. As a surprise baby, the age gap and lack of having any kids left the areas of conversation lacking even more with my Mom than my Dad. Talking politics was out. Getting a lecture about how I should go about finding the right girl to date seemed to always lead back to me going to church. I was open about being non-religious, but that didn’t stop my Mom, so that conversation tended to go poorly and I would avoid it or just shut it down if it started up.

Movies were the area we could relate.  My parents were both Depression era babies, so they came of age in the 1950s, but were most certainly NOT part of the Rock and Roll generation.  Their taste in music harkened back to the pop music of the pre-Rock era: Jazz. While my Dad was more into older Jazz (Swing and Dixieland), my mom liked the music she would see in the movies.  She loved the movies.  She loved the movies of her youth and before.  So the 1930s through the early 1960s.  She liked movies after that of course, but the Golden Age of Hollywood drew her in. On this I fully can relate.  I love old movies, especially of that era.

This connection meant that at the Holidays we would be able to talk about movies and old Movie stars and which ones she thought looked ill. My taste in the old movies didn’t cross over completely.  I tended to like John Ford movies or other big classics.  She liked the musicals and romances.  She liked some of the Bogart movies, so that was one place we found common ground. 

This year I’ve made a conscious choice to watch at least one movie a day during my vacation.  I’m not limiting it to old movies, but the majority are and the newer ones take place in the past, so I’m looking backwards across the board.  As I get older I am falling into he cliché of looking back.  After Fifty that is just something people should have expected from a nostalgia centric guy like me.  Also, they should have expected that I would have a list of Movies.  I like lists and if I can create a real one of the movies I’ve seen this week, that gives me a little bit a sense of accomplishment.  I’ve not done much else productive, except maybe getting to the store before the storm hit and getting the holiday meal ingredients all in tact.  Anyway, here’s what I’ve watched. The only order is when I watched them, no other elaborate concept. All but the two from 2022 are ones I had seen before at least several times or in some cases dozens of times.

  1. Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) – Monday started off with the George Clooney nostalgia for Murrow and the 1950s.  The cast in this is amazing. This picture is well crafted, based on history, but takes some license as good literature should.
  2. It Happened One Night (1934) – On Tuesday I was just astonished at how good Claudette Colbert was. This movie has more sexual tension than you could have had on screen at the time.  They pushed the boundaries as much as they dared and made a delightful romantic comedy in the process.
  3. Mister Roberts (1955) – Wednesday’s movie is special to me because it was a movie my Mom got for me at the library to watch as a kid.  Now, for the people younger than me, back in the very early 1980s, this was a rare thing.  My Dad was an elementary school principal and a perk he took was that during summer break or on holidays, he would bring home the electronics at the school.  VCRs were the first things he would bring home.  This was not a VHS or Betamax, those were not something readily available and certainly not yet affordable.  This was the ¾” cassette player.  There were no video stores around either, but the local public library had a selection of a few movies and Mister Roberts was one of them. Our selections were limited, but I remember watching it then 40+ years ago.
  4. Holiday Inn (1942) – Thursday morning I purchased Holiday Inn.  This was won of my Mom’s favorite movies at the Holidays.  She enjoyed Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby.  This movie had the humor and romance that she loved.  It is actually a really funny movie too.  The romance part is a bit corny, but the dancing from Astaire is brilliant and the music is iconic Irving Berlin.  This is one of my personal holiday favorites that I consider a must rewatch each year.  It had been a while since I watched the whole thing, however, from the start.  I had to buy it as it wasn’t streaming anywhere and I was not going to bank on it being aired on linear TV anyplace.  It is an old time movie that is not popular anymore.
  5. Top Gun: Maverick (2022) – Thursday afternoon I ran across a new movie streaming that I had not seen yet.  Going to a movie on Christmas Day was something I started to do with my Mom when cooking dinner was a big deal for her.  She would still do our traditional Christmas Eve dinner, but on Christmas Day she didn’t like cooking.  In the past she had volunteered at her church helping them serve dinner to over 1,000 people every year.  My parents and I did that for well over a decade.  She finally was willing to give that up, but didn’t want to cook, so going out to dinner and a movie on Christmas Day became our thing when it was just the two of us.
  6. The Quiet Man (1952) – Friday morning’s below zero temperatures were made warmer with the John Ford classic filmed in Ireland, showing off the grand colors of the country.  My DVD version is not the best, but it still shows the emerald green of the trains and grass and the red hair of the gorgeous Maureen O’Hara who I would certainly marry if I lived in her era.  The movie is complete with one of the best fight scenes ever filmed and there is even a call out of Cincinnati. The score (soundtrack) is also perfect. Ford often used characters to sing (in a natural way as opposed to a musical) in his movies and the songs were often folk songs adding a traditional salt of the Earth sensibility, but in an approachable and inviting way.
  7. The Maltese Falcon (1941) – Friday night’s feature was truly what dreams are made of.  Yep, this Noir classic, arguably the first noir film, made Bogart into a star. This was John Huston’s directorial debut, and it was a masterpiece. 
  8. White Christmas (1954) – Christmas Eve morning had a movie I watch every year.  It is a Christmas Eve movie must.  Christmas day is too late.  For me this is a very sentimental movie and this year was no exception. I think of my father when singing “We’ll follow the old man.” I think of my Mom when I sing along, in harmony, to White Christmas. We were a singing family and I find it impossible not sing along during this movie. It is a corny movie and I am sure the pretension of some artists would dismiss this movie as archaic and hokey. It is, but that does not take away anything from the simple joy it brings.  Also: This movie is NOT a remake of Holiday Inn, as I have read and even heard on a BBC quiz show recently.
  9. To Have and Have Not (1944) – Early Christmas Eve: dinner and a movie. Just a damn good movie.  It is unrecognizable from the Hemingway novel, so don’t be surprised by the humor.  Lauren Bacall is so young in this, her first movie.  You’d have no clue she was about 19 years old during filming. Stunning, powerful, beautiful, and funny. You could tell Bogart was smitten with Bacall from the start.
  10. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – To me this is the movie to watch the evening of Christmas Eve and that is in part thanks to NBC airing it every year for decades.  I am of course watching it on NBC, not via streaming.  The commercials suck, but that is part of broadcast television that actually has a rhythm I can appreciate. Depending on whether I went with my parents to a Christmas Eve service or not, I wouldn’t always get to see all of the movie. We’d have our traditional beef fondue for dinner and that usually was later at 8, so it was on in the background usually. If you can’t appreciate this movie’s story, you don’t have any sense.
  11. Casablanca (1942) – A Christmas morning treat.  This is my favorite movie of all time and I can watch it over again at anytime, and often I do.  I could just listen to it for the score, but the dialogue is what I love most. I love the words so much. They make me smile.  They are crisp and smooth and rough at the exactly right the times.
  12. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022) – I saved this one for Christmas day.  I was being sentimental again.  One of the last movies my Mom and I saw together was Knives Out, the first in what likely will be a longer series, so this one seemed fitting. It was a very entertaining film.  I could have used another twist, but that’s just my preference.

I think I’ve been avoiding watching a lot of movies. I used to be a regular movie goer, but over the last 5 years or so I’ve had little interest in going into the theatre, unless I was talking my Mom. Some of that is that a large percent of movies don’t interest me. Some of that is me getting older, some of that is the decline of the movies. They are still well made from a production perspective, but there seems to be this mix of being 100% fandom endeavors or just exercises in contrived expressions lacking on being entertaining. I watch movies to be entertained. My brand of entertainment is more on story and the script and less on imagery and experience.

I feel like my Mom would get how I feel, but our generational difference would find different reasons for not likely the new. What I think we both wanted were movies to make us feel good. The simple movie, like White Christmas, would make her feel good. A happy or satisfying ending is what she wanted where they all lived happily-ever-after or the good guy beat the bad guy. I like to feel good with characters with more depth, but I can see myself starting to long to just be entertained. I don’t need a gut wrenching experience where I am meant to see other’s experiences. I’d rather have a story, with good characters, a good plot, and some depth. As I am getting older, I will keep on looking back for that in movies and my Holiday Movie choices will be rewatching many of the movies I’ve seen over the last week. I am set in my ways, but they are ways I respect and embrace. It is a way to remember my parents and their influence on me. I am better for having watched movies with my family, especially as an adult. It is part of me and I like having a something to embrace when I am alone on the Holidays.