Story by Curt Holman
In Atlanta as well as any other place that celebrates Christmas, movies are often wrapped up in the holiday mix.
“So much of our enjoyment of Christmas is recreating Christmases past, and we’ll watch a movie because it’s part of the tradition,” says Alonso Duralde, Atlanta native and author of “Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas,” a guide to the films of the Yuletide season. “Or a movie might be on the background while we’re baking or wrapping presents, and we’ll occasionally check in on what’s happening on ‘Miracle on 34th Street.’”
Duralde recalls how Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a disappointment after its 1946 release, became an iconic holiday film when it went into the public domain in the 1970s and 1980s. “I grew up in Atlanta in the glory days of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ being on constantly — it was on Channel 36, on Channel 46 and more. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I watched it from beginning to end.”
Atlanta started another Christmas film tradition in 1997 when the locally based TNT scheduled the “24 Hours of ’ A Christmas Story’” marathon. The stunt’s success and annual repetition turned a lesser-known nostalgia comedy into a beloved entry in the Christmas movie canon.
This holiday movie preview is planned in three parts, with Atlantans specifically in mind: new and classic Christmas movies screening in town, a brief look at recent Christmas fare shot in Atlanta, and recommendations for holiday movies that Atlantans should identify with.
Away in a Multiplex: Screening in Atlanta
If you want to pack up the family to the cineplex, two films have specific holiday themes. The animated remake of “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch” opened Nov. 9 and stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, while “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” re-conceives the classic ballet as a fantasy adventure with Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
“The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992). Parents seeking to give their kids a jokey introduction point to Charles Dickens’ classic tale should embrace this rare chance to see the Muppet version on the big screen. As Ebenezer Scrooge, Michael Caine is the lone human actor opposite the likes of Kermit the Frog’s Bob Cratchit. 7 p.m., Dec. 8. Center for Puppetry Arts Mainstage Theater, 1404 Spring St. puppet.org
“Brazil” (1985). If you think your holidays are hectic, check out this head-spinning satire that pits the dreamlife of an office drudge (Jonathan Pryce) against an intractable bureaucracy. Funny, grim and insanely imaginative, it’s the best film by Terry Gilliam of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Part of the Plazadrome cult film screening series. 9:30 p.m., Dec. 20. The Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. plazaatlanta.com
Leave the kids at home for Cineprov’s live comedic commentary on holiday fare at the Plaza Theatre, with Dec. 6 featuring Mexico’s trippy “Santa Claus” and Dec. 20 the annual “Ruining Childhood Memories” show with classic animated specials.
Home for Christmas: Filmed in Atlanta
“Atlanta has become the new Toronto: ‘Any Metropolis, USA,’” says Duralde. “If you know Atlanta, you’ll recognize it if you see people in movies driving downtown. If not, it looks like any East Coast city.” Holiday movies shot in and around Y’allywood include “Office Christmas Party,” Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors,” the Hallmark productions “Christmas in Homestead” and “Christmas in the Smokies,” and these.
“A Bad Moms Christmas” (2017). The previous movie’s fed-up mothers (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn) take on holiday irritations, including their own moms. “The dysfunctional family comedy is my favorite Christmas sub-genre, and you might find yourself amused by the mix of over-the-top holiday art direction and Christine Baranski’s fearlessly hilarious performance,” Duralde says. “If you liked the boozy ‘Bad Moms’ the first time around, this egg nog-y version might appeal to you as well.”
“Almost Christmas” (2016). A dysfunctional family gathers for the first Christmas since their matriarch’s death. “I think ‘Almost Christmas’ is terrific. It’s a fun, fantastic ensemble including Danny Glover, Mo’nique and Gabrielle Union,” Duralde says.
“It really understands food and the way it plays in traditions: There’s an ongoing story element about the search for the mother’s famous tin box of recipes, and of Glover’s desperate attempts to recreate her sweet potato pie. The film reminds us how food can be just as powerful as home movies or photographs when it comes to summoning the presence of someone we’ve lost.”
“A Madea Christmas” (2013). Tyler Perry’s famous matriarch loses a holiday job at an Atlanta department store and helps out some relatives in Alabama. “Although it shares the flaws of other Tyler Perry movies, Madea is always funny and on-point, and it feels like a return to form for the character after ‘Madea’s Witness Protection,’” Duralde says.
We Wish You a Movie Christmas: Recommended for Atlantans
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987). Alas, few things define Atlanta more than travel and traffic difficulties. If you’ve ever been gridlocked on I-285 or delayed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, you’ll laugh in recognition of Steve Martin and John Candy’s disastrous efforts to get to Chicago for Thanksgiving. (Yes, this is a Thanksgiving movie, but it applies to Christmas travel, too.)
“Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944). Apart from once-in-a-century anomalies like 2010, Atlanta never sees a white Christmas, so we can vicariously enjoy the delights of snowy weather in films like this season-spanning musical about a family in turn of the 20th century St. Louis. “When people get sentimental about ‘the good old days,’ they’re imagining some slice of perfection along the lines of what happens in ‘Meet Me in St. Louis,’” Duralde says. Here, Judy Garland sings the more famously melancholy version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
“Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005). On the other hand, Atlantans can also appreciate movies that play up the incongruity of Christmas in warm, sunny climates, like writer/director Shane Black’s thrillers “Iron Man 3,” “The Nice Guys” and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” in which Robert Downey Jr.’s petty thief gets caught up in a Hollywood caper. “’Kiss Kiss Bang Bang’ gives us one of the sparkliest and most wonderfully artificial LA Christmases ever,” Duralde says. Who says “Die Hard” is the only holiday action flick?
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