The holidays bring good cheer, and some of the most beloved movies on the subject celebrate the joy of those occasions. Others, though, tap into the bittersweet side of the season. There’s a little of both in these five selections.
Remember the Night (1940)
Thanks to critic Charles Taylor for recalling this neglected gem. It’s near Christmas and Fred MacMurray’s flinty DA is prosecuting Barbara Stanwyck’s seductive thief. Will Stanwyck’s charms and the yuletide spirit prevail over dreary duty? This sexy heartwarmer can jerk the tears, but with Preston Sturges writing the script, it’s also full of wonderful weirdness.
Holiday Inn (1942)
Can’t leave out this tuneful trifle starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby about a B & B that’s open only on the holidays. Some of it doesn’t age well, as reader Don Caplin points out, especially the blackface routine celebrating Lincoln’s birthday. But any film with Bing singing Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” deserves an annual visit.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Such a classic that only recently have they started talking about a remake or sequel. Though Frank Capra’s tale is about rediscovering the value of life, this is no Hallmark greeting card. Remember it starts with a guy about to jump off a bridge — life is especially wonderful when you consider the alternative.
A Christmas Carol (1951)
Unlike “Life,” this Dickens perennial has seen many remakes, but according to reader Joseph Ferreira this is “. . . the one to beat. Alastair Sim still reigns supreme as Ebenezer Scrooge.” I might add that it also has the most uncanny ghosts; jolly Christmas Present, for some reason, I find especially terrifying.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
Hey, it wasn’t my pick. The topic seemed to touch a nerve with some readers, as other dark choices ranged from “Die Hard” (1988), to “Morvern Callar” (2002), to the remorseless noir, “Blast of Silence” (1961), suggested by critic A.S. Hamrah. But a disturbing number picked this slasher film, the first of many sequels, about an abused teen who celebrates Christmas by dressing up as Santa and killing people with an ax. Ho ho ho!
Spike Lee adds to his eclectic resume with his reimagining of Park Chan-wook’s revenge masterpiece “Oldboy” (2003), which opens Nov. 27. Which of his films do the right thing by you? And, looking ahead another week, Pearl Harbor was bombed 72 years ago on Dec. 7, setting off the War in the Pacific. What are the best films about this bloody campaign? Cast your votes at www.boston.com/cinemania.