Arts & Culture

Holiday movie & album reviews

By Anna Quercia-Thomas and Lena Wilson

‘Tis the season for snowflakes and Santa, menorahs and mistletoe, earmuffs and evergreens. As you head into the holidays and get into the wintry spirit of celebration, here are some movies and albums that will provide you with an enjoyable way to spend the cold days indoors and get a welcome break from the influx of relatives and holiday parties.

Movies

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

At first glance, a movie about Santa going on trial would seem like a cheesy attempt at an under-budget comedy. However, despite our initial hesitation, we were pleasantly surprised by the charm of this old-timey classic. The movie follows a single mother, Doris, who has raised her adorably small daughter to share her realistic — read, unimaginative — view on the superstitions and traditions of the holiday season. This skepticism is, of course, challenged by the dashing, swoon-inducing, sincere man next door and a kindhearted mall Santa who turns out to be a little more magical than just a man with a beard. Poor old Kris Kringle, however, is brought before a judge for an insanity hearing as a result of his claim that not only is he Macy’s Santa, but the one and only Saint Nick. The court case that follows is an entertaining one. Although the idea of the triumph of faith and love over the impending commercialism of Christmas is centered mostly around perfect holiday morals and cheesy traditions, this movie will keep you entertained and make you want to snuggle kittens.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Jimmy Stewart stars in the holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life"

Following the treacly gooiness of the other holiday movies, this classic film was a shock of cold water. Although it begins with a hilarious exchange between talking stars and galaxies in space far above Earth, the movie sobers, explaining the story of a man who will try to kill himself on Christmas Eve. The buildup to that point is enjoyable and oftentimes charming; however, it was painful to watch as, again and again, the main character sacrificed his own dreams for the good of others and was brought closer to the decision to end his life. If you are looking for a feel-good holiday movie to curl up to with a mug of hot cider and laugh about reindeer, this is not the movie for you. However, if you are up for an excellent balance of amazing acting, easy-to-connect-to characters, and the the simultaneously heartbreaking and fascinating cause-and-effect of an emotional downward spiral, get your tissues ready and be prepared for insightful discussions with your fellow audience members following the credits.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

As zealous fans of the other Peanuts cartoons and movies, we went into this film with high expectations of the hilarity and adorableness of our favorite characters, and we were not disappointed. This movie focused on commercialism, a common theme among holiday films. Not five minutes into the movie, Snoopy is decorating his dog house with strings of store-bought Christmas lights and artificial stars in hopes of winning the contest for best-decorated house in the neighborhood. Although the overall plot was slow and relatively uncomplicated to follow, Vince Guaraldi’s gorgeous jazz score kept us engaged throughout. This movie also raised our awareness of many underrepresented issues such as seasonal depression; phasmaculaphobia, fear of staircases; and the endangered species of magically morphing evergreen trees. Charlie Brown struggles to find the true meaning of the holiday season through his failed attempts as director of a Christmas play and a general case of seasonal depression. At the finish, Linus reminds Charlie Brown of the religious origin of the commercialized holiday, and Charlie Brown discoverswith the help of his friends the importance of the companionship and community of the holiday.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

The Grinch's evil grin graces his green face before his Christmas-spirit awakening.

The Grinch starts off this short movie as a purely despicable, green furry creature with a heart two sizes too small, who wants to rob Whoville of its Christmas cheer. With his dog Max, a blatantly abused and unwilling accomplice disguised as a reindeer, the Grinch slithers, sneaks, and scales into each house of the village to steal away their food, presents, decorations, and wonderfully strange musical instruments. However, this evil plan does not turn out the way he intends. Contrary to the Grinch’s expectations, the Whos are unfazed by their lack of long-awaited material possessions and celebrate Christmas with just as much vigor and joyfulness. Taken aback, the Grinch has a sudden change of heart in both the literal and figurative senses. He becomes the hero of the day by returning all of the Whos’ possessions through a fantastic feat of strength as his small heart grows three sizes bigger — proving that if you want more muscle, moral betterment works more effectively than any steroid. With cute tiny Whos, catchy nonsense songs, and rhyming narration, Dr. Seuss proves once again that he can do no wrong.

Albums

December – George Winston

This piano album is made up of soothing classical renditions of both well known carols and other wintry pieces. The powerful chords and drawn out melodies provide a cozy atmosphere of the feeling of being bundled up inside during the cold months. We recommend this album if you are in a deep, soul-searchy mood and want to relax to the beautiful piano melodies and classical havens. This mellifluous album would serve well as background music for any holiday get-together or quiet moment of contemplation.

A Toolbox Christmas – Woody Phillips

A true example of how holiday cheer can be found in any location, this album features traditional winter tunes played with the contents of a carpenter’s shop. The idea is creative and funny; however, the use of a chainsaw in many of the songs was frighteningly evocative of a brutal murder on Christmas Eve. Overall, the album was cute and original, but not as easy-listening as other common renditions of the carols.

Songs for Christmas – Sufjan Stevens

We had mixed feelings about this collection of EPs. Stevens’s original songs were emotional and pretty in tone, with smooth voices and well-chosen, rich instrumental background. However, his take on traditional hymns and carols was disappointing. Many of these compositions were just off — listening to them was like tasting an overdone Christmas turkey with chocolate sauce, cream cheese, and peanut butter. The harmonies did not hit right. However, the collection contains enough musical gems to tolerate the lower points of our listening experience. It consists of such variety in instrumentation and mood as to keep the listener engaged and interested from beginning to end.

A Charlie Brown Christmas – Vince Guaraldi Trio

We were so impressed by the music from the movie that we had to give the album recognition all on its own. No Christmas can be complete without its dulcet notes of piano and bass topped the soft sounds of a cymbal-heavy drum kit drifting through one’s home. The album’s

Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song is a display of rhyming prowess.

lively, bouncing melodies filled our hearts with inexpressible joy and made us want to dance with Snoopy. Its slower tunes held all the richness of silky hot chocolate, steaming up in aromatic wisps into the cold winter air. All in all, this album has no flaws.

Hanukkah Song – Adam Sandler

This is not actually an album, but it is a song of such merit that it requires honorable mention. Hanukkah spirit is hilariously expressed through examples of Jewish celebrities and things that rhyme with the word Hanukkah. The punny imagery and repetitive rhyme scheme kept us laughing throughout the whole song and added greatly to our enjoyment of the acoustic guitar and hysterically ingenious lyrics. So pour your favorite legal adult a gin and tonic-ah as you listen to this wonderful song about the Jewish winter holiday, Hanukkah.

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