Why holiday films are so special to me
Written by Andrew Paduano
Ah yes — the holidays. The time of the year when everything feels a bit better and a bit cozier. When soft blankets of white cover everything (unless it doesn’t snow) and there are assortments of holiday themes around every corner. This is my favorite time of year and it always has been. I understand why people dislike the holidays, but I could never relate. So much comes together to make these times feel special. It’s like a reward after finally conquering the long year. There are so many reasons why I adore the holidays, but one of them sticks out the most: Christmas movies. While there are many good holiday movies, I want to dive into three classics that I enjoy the most. If you haven’t given these movies a chance, I highly suggest making a cup of hot chocolate (and cookies because why not), and getting cozy on a weekend in December to watch them. Maybe they will create some of that holiday spirit you’ve been missing.
“Home Alone” (1990)
Directed by Chris Columbus, “Home Alone” is a comedy about a young boy who accidentally gets left home alone when his big family goes on vacation and has to defend his house against two criminals. As a kid, I absolutely loved this movie — mainly because of the “trap scenes.” Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, sets up brilliant, deadly traps around his house to stop two goofy criminals from robbing him. The first criminal is Harry, played by the legendary Joe Pesci, and the second is Marv, played by the great Daniel Stern (he’s actually the hairy one). What’s better than seeing Pesci’s head get blow torched and Stern getting smacked in the face with a hot iron? Anything? Yeah, I thought not. They also work together perfectly as the “shorter but smarter and taller but dumber” duo. Quips like, “Why the hell are you dressed like a chicken?” and “Why the hell did you take your shoes off?” is pure gold.
Despite its comedy, “Home Alone” is a deeply emotional film. You can sense the main composer, John Williams, everywhere. His score makes the movie even more iconic and memorable. There are also multiple moments where the soundtrack lines up perfectly with the scene. For example, when Kevin happily waves goodbye from his window as Harry is taken away in the cop car, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” plays: “from now on, our troubles will be out of sight.”Perfection. Something wholesome about this film is the “old man” storyline. In the beginning, an old neighbor named Marley is rumored to be a murderer, and Kevin screams in horror every time he runs into him. Before the third act, Kevin runs into Marley at church and they have a conversation about how they both need to be more accepting towards their families. Kevin realizes Marley isn’t so bad and befriends him. What’s amazing is that Marley has a wound on his hand throughout the film that progressively gets healed, most notably when he talks to Kevin at the church. At the very end, the wound is shown to be fully healed. Symbolism, am I right?
Christmas Vacation (1989)
Cue the music! As soon as you hear the intro by Mavis Staples you know what time it is. “Christmas Vacation” (1989) (Taylor’s Version) was directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik. It is about a typical American husband, Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) who struggles with hosting a large family Christmas. The film is a perfect comedic representation of what it’s like to have a hectic family Christmas, an experience that is familiar to many. The A-list actors and directing give this movie the perfect relatable holiday vibes — from Bevery D’Angelo to Doris Roberts. Whether you like the trope or not, Chase does exceptionally well at acting as the goofy suburban husband. Randy Quaid is also particularly amazing as Eddie, the hillbilly cousin. So many scenes that encapsulate the little things in real-life experiences so well. In fact, the whole movie is pretty much that: Clark struggles with putting up decorations (I may just be a klutz too), both grandpas “rest their eyes” on living room chairs, the grandparents ask their older kids about stressful health problems and that one old relative still thinks World War I is going on.
I find it memorable when Clark lights up every millimeter of his house with Christmas lights. In fact, I want to do that myself someday — especially when he takes both ends of the extension cords and connects them together in the most dramatic way possible, finally turning the lights on. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the iconic scene where Clark daydreams about his fantasy crush in a bathing suit while “Mele Kalikimaka” plays, permanently attaching the song to this movie.
The Polar Express (2004)
I don’t know what it is, but the concept of riding on a steam locomotive through the wintery holiday weather while drinking hot chocolate just hits different. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, “The Polar Express” is an animated film about a boy who goes on a train ride to discover the power of believing. Many people say this film has “uncanny valley” vibes because of the old animation style, but I disagree. I absolutely love this movie, and I grew up watching it every holiday season since my grandpa introduced me to it. While it’s not perfect, the animation is surprisingly impressive for the time it was released. Multiple characters were voiced and acted by Tom Hanks, yet they all work well together. And who doesn’t love the iconic hot chocolate song? See what I mean? Hot chocolate is perfect for watching these films.
The movie’s core theme of “believe in Santa” can translate into just believing in general, which is a vague (but important) lesson. I find all the scenes depicting the titular locomotive very good as well. They did an excellent job portraying the power and intrigue of the steam engine with the different shot angles. Most importantly, in one scene, the entire train gets stranded on a frozen lake (yes, I know this is not realistic), and the main engineer has to maneuver the entire train all the way to the other side of the lake. It is truly something you must experience for yourself. Trust me, if you don’t watch the film, just watch this scene on YouTube. Oh, and did I mention the soundtrack is by Alan Silvestri — who also composed music for legendary films like “Grumpy Old Men” and “Back to the Future”? Fun fact: Zemeckis left an easter egg in “The Polar Express.” When the main character goes to pull the whistle, he says the same line as Doc Brown does when he pulls the train whistle in“Back to the Future III,”, which also uses the same exact whistle sound as “The Polar Express”!