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The Merry Moviegoer

Bay Weekly Moviegoer’s not-so-traditional takes on what to watch in the holiday season

      Movie-makers love the holiday season as much as you do. It’s a Wonderful Life and The Grinch are the bare tip of the iceberg. To take you far beneath the surface, I offer a sampler of 10 that prove the winter holidays can be an ideal backdrop for all genres. Take my challenge and dip beneath the surface … 
 
      An American Tail: Fievel Mouse­kewitz and his Jewish family of mice seeking a better life in America is the rare movie that celebrates Hanukah. This heartfelt animated movie and its story about immigration, the power of familial connection and finding your bravery is a wonderful family movie night flick.
 
      Gremlins: The ultimate film about the importance of proper pet ownership, Gremlins features a cuddly critter, terrifying monsters and plenty of snowy mayhem. For Christmas, Billy’s eccentric father gives him a mogwai, a cute little creature with a long list of care instructions. When those rules are broken, Billy unwittingly unleashes Gremlins on the hapless holiday population of his hometown. A few intense sequences in this family classic might be too much for smaller viewers. But it’s a great way to show kids how important it is to take good care of any new pet. 
 
     Joyeux Noel: The holiday spirit briefly overcomes brutality as opposing armies in World War I call a ceasefire and come together to share their traditions and culture. Based on the true story of a ceasefire in 1914, this is a heartwarming war tale about the best and worst of humanity. Watch this for a reminder that even when the world seems hopeless, people can surprise and delight you. 
 
      Lethal Weapon: If Die Hard is indeed a Christmas movie, as many fans argue, then why not this classic tale of a wild-card cop partnered with a seasoned detective who’s too old for this … stuff? You get great action, wonderful writing and a climactic brawl backlit by Christmas lights.
 
      The Nightmare Before Christmas: Tired of organizing a frightening fest every year, the Pumpkin King moves in on Christmas, adding his own spooky flair. Whether you call it a Halloween film or a Christmas film, this great animated movie provides an excellent lesson in celebrating another culture without appropriating it. Younger viewers may find some scenes too scary.
 
      Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale: Not all holiday movies are cheerful. An American company financing a drilling expedition gets more than was paid for when an old man with magic powers is uncovered. This Finnish film about the perils of disregarding ancient lands and customs is a hilarious, bloody take on the true legend of Santa and his elves. Don’t let the kiddies see this one before you take them to pose for holiday photos with Santa. 
 
      L.A. Confidential: This modern noir is one of the best movies of the 1990s. Set during Christmas in 1950s Los Angeles, this whodunit exposes the gritty underbelly of the police, the film industry and the City of Angels itself. The Christmas backdrop reinforces the idea that the city uses its shiny festive veneer to hide a darker truth. It won’t be a movie that puts you in a festive mood, but if you need a timeout from the aggressive cheeriness of the season, this is a fantastic choice.
 
      The Thin Man: A holiday whodunit that is also a classic comedy, this is the movie to watch if you’re a fan of one-liners and martinis. A former detective is hired to solve a missing-person case while on his honeymoon in New York. The result is a nearly flawless boozy cavalcade of witty dialogue and Christmas parties.
 
       Trading Places: This twisted take on the Prince and the Pauper tale is a satiric holiday movie with bite. Spoiled, snooty Louis is framed by his bosses, and street hustler Billy Ray gets Louis’ life. He enjoys the riches until he realizes he’s about to be framed. Then he and Louis conspire to bring down the rich jerks who played with their lives. This hilarious holiday film is not for younger viewers.
 
       While You Were Sleeping: This romantic comedy about a woman who saves a man’s life and is adopted by his family during the Christmas holidays is heartwarming family fun. If your family is getting irritating … or celebrations seem overwhelming … see this for a reminder of why it’s important to connect with family during the holidays.