Saturday, December 04, 2021

My Ten Favorite Christmas Movies -- 2021 Update

I made my first list like this back in 2013, but it is high time for an update because I have seen several Christmas movies since then that just have to be on this list, while others have dropped off.  So here we go!

1.  White Christmas (1954)

A team of showbiz stars (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) try to rescue a retired general (Dean Jagger) from bankruptcy by staging a show at his ski lodge.  I've watched this almost every single Christmas season for three decades, and I never get tired of it.

2.  We're No Angels (1955)

Three escaped convicts (Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, and Aldo Ray) try to rescue a bumbling businessman (Leo G. Carroll) from his unscrupulous cousin (Basil Rathbone).  Possibly the funniest movie I have ever seen, and also one of the most heart-warming.  DO NOT get the 1989 remake by mistake.

When a lonely train fare collector (Sandra Bullock) rescues a handsome stranger (Peter Gallagher) from being hit by a train, his family mistakes her for his fiancee.  My favorite romantic comedy, my favorite Sandra Bullock role, my favorite Bill Pullman role, and another of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

4.  It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

George Bailey (James Stewart) decides he's worth more dead than alive, and it takes an unlikely angel (Henry Travers) all of Christmas Eve to convince him otherwise.  There's a reason it's so famous -- it's really that good.

5.  A Christmas Carol (1999)

Ebenezer Scrooge (Patrick Stewart) learns not to be so stingy.  A stellar performance from Stewart elevates this above the usual made-for-TV Christmas movie.

6.  Holiday Affair (1949)

An unconventional sweetheart (Robert Mitchum) and a convention-bound widow (Janet Leigh) work very hard convincing themselves they haven't fallen in love over a toy train, a Christmas dinner, and a very loud necktie.  I love this weird little movie more every time I watch it.

7.  The Holiday (2006)

An unhappy LA woman (Cameron Diaz) trades houses with an unhappy British woman (Kate Winslet) for Christmas, and they find happiness and love in their new surroundings.  Did I mention Jude Law?  And Rufus Sewell?  But my favorite part of the whole movie is everything that involves Eli Wallach's sweet, elderly Hollywood writer.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine) learns not to be so stingy with the help of a lot of Muppets.  My kids really love this movie too :-)

9.  The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Charles Dickens (Dan Stevens) needs money.  And he needs his career to stop fizzling.  And he needs these grumpy characters in his head (especially Scrooge, played by Christopher Plummer) to cooperate.  And he needs people to stop pestering him so he can just write his next book.  I was WAY more charmed by this movie than I expected to be!

10.  The Bells of St. Mary's (1945)

Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is tasked with shutting down a Catholic school run by Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), who is determined to save it.  I like this a lot better than Going My Way (1944), Crosby's other turn as O'Malley.

Well, that's my list!  Did you notice that the posters for two of them mirror each other?  I just think that's neat.  And probably deliberate, don't you suppose?  Anyway, are any of your favorites here?  Got any suggestions for me of Christmas movies you think I might need to see?

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Ending my Autumn 2021 To-Do List

I would have posted this over the weekend, after Thanksgiving wrapped up, if I hadn't been so busy realizing that the cold we'd been battling for a week... was actually Covid.  

So, that's been an experience.  My kids are all over it, aside from an occasional cough or sniffle, and the same goes for my husband.  I'm definitely on the upswing too, just a few days behind them.  None of us were ever particularly sick; it's just been like a cold, except that it lingers on and on.  Like, my fever came back every evening for five straight days.  So far, I'm the only one to lose smell and taste, and that hasn't actually gone completely (yet), it's just gotten very faint for me.  We were definitely blessed with non-serious cases, like so many.

Anyway, I've got a few minutes to spare this evening, so I'm going to report in on how my to-do list went this fall :-)  Here we go!

~ Finish the major revisions of my Beauty and the Beast retelling Fail.  Complete the first round of revisions?  Yes.  Complete the major ones?  Nope.

~ Find that book a title! Fail.  Still no title.  Sigh.  This is a stubborn, stubborn title!

~ Publish a new short story in my Once Upon a Western collection Check! It's called "Who Lived in a Shoe," and my newsletter subscribers got to read it last month.  I'll be working on formatting it for Nook and Kindle this weekend, and I'll post here when it's available.

~ Read The Once and Future King by T. H. White Fail.  I got a few chapters in and just wasn't in the right mood for it, so I'll try it again another time.

~ Read 2 other books for my latest Classics Club list Check!  I read three:

(All book photos are mine from my Instagram)

~ Read 11 books off my TBR shelves Check! I read exactly 11:

~ Read 3 diverse books Check!  I read:

~ Watch 6 movies off my TBW shelves Check!  I watched:

  • Double Wedding (1937)
  • Murder, My Sweet (1944)
  • Nicholas Nickleby (2002)
  • Mr. Soft Touch (1949)
  • The Saint in London (1939)
  • The Saint's Double Trouble (1940)

~ Try some new bread recipes Check!  I tried two new recipes, one for bread and one for rolls.

~ Have friends over for an Oktoberfest celebration Check!  We had a fun time sharing German food and imported beer with a few friends (well, I'm not a beer fan, but other people enjoyed that).

~ Go camping somewhere new Check!  We tried out a campground near our house that does group campsites because we'd like to go camping there with my brother's family sometime.

~ Host my ninth annual Tolkien Blog Party on my book blog Check!  I can't believe I've hosted it for nine straight years.  I'm going to have to figure out something really spectacular to do for the tenth year.

~ Co-host the Glenn Ford Blogathon here on this blog Check!  It was lots of fun :-)

~ Make apple-cinnamon pancakes Check!  They were just from a mix, but still tasty.

~ Make pumpkin muffins Check!  We made a couple different kinds this fall.

And that pretty well wraps up my autumn!  I have launched myself headfirst into the Christmas season, so I'll leave you with this absolutely fantastic video that Cowboy found me the other day.  It mashes up one of my favorite Christmas carols with the Mandalorian theme, so you know I love it :-D

Friday, November 26, 2021

Movie Music: Patrick Gowers's "Sherlock Holmes" (1984-1994)

I've reviewed several episodes of the delightful Granada television productions of Sherlock Holmes cases starring the masterful Jeremy Brett, but I haven't really talked about the music much in any of those reviews.  So I'm here to rectify that today.

A recording of music used in Sherlock Holmes (1984-1994) was released on CD a decade or so ago.  (Granada did two TV movies and four miniseries, all under different names, over ten years.  They're now all just lumped together and called the Granada Sherlock Holmes.  Because Granada insists upon being DiFfErEnT about everything, I guess?)  ANYWAY, the soundtrack is lots of fun to listen to if you're a fan of the show, but I've pulled out a few tracks that I think you'll enjoy even if you haven't watched it.

By the way, if you're a BBC Sherlock fan, the opener for The Abominable Bride (2016) mimics the opener of the Granada Sherlock Holmes series.  Which I find absolutely endearing.  Anyway!  Here's the main theme for the series, all energetic and mysterious and ready for adventure:

Since we're entering the Christmas season now, I thought it would be fun to share "Mr. Henry Baker's Christmas," which is from the episode "The Blue Carbuncle."  I like how it brings in traditional Christmas carols like "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" and "Silent Night," but winds them around its own sprightly themes as well.

And I really like "Irene Adler" from "A Scandal in Bohemia" because it's wistful and yearning, but not maudlin.  It's elegant, even, but with a sprinkling of humor, and builds through some very minor parts to a satisfying, quiet conclusion.

The score uses a LOT of violins and other strings, for obvious reasons, since Holmes himself is a violin devotee.  You can listen to the score here on YouTube, and it's not terribly hard to track down a reasonably priced copy on CD either.

I'm contributing this post to the Celebrate Jeremy Brett Month event hosted all through November by Carissa at Musings of an Introvert.  Check out her post here to see the other entries.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

"The Red Headed League" (1985)

I've always had an affection for the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Red Headed League."  It's one of the first canon Holmes stories I remember reading, and I think still it's one of the best.  (Reportedly, it was a favorite of A. Conan Doyle as well...)

Cowboy and I are watching our way through the Granada television Sherlock Holmes series once again, those absolutely delicious adaptations starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and first David Burke, then Edward Hardwicke as Dr. Watson.  They are a joy and treasure!  We watch one every month or two, making the series stretch out over a couple of years so that we can just start right over again when we finish it, and the episodes will remain fresh and delightful.  

Since Carissa is hosting Celebrate Jeremy Brett Month at her blog Musings of an Introvert all through November, I wanted to contribute a review of some episode of this series, and this seemed like the perfect choice.  So, here we go!

Red-haired pawnbroker Jabez Wilson (Roger Hammond) comes to ask Sherlock Holmes (Jeremy Brett) his advice on a very peculiar problem.  He was offered a place in the Red-Headed League, which he'd never heard of, but which seemed like a legitimate -- if eccentric -- group.  

Membership required him to spend several hours every day at the League's office, copying out the encyclopedia!  For that, he received a rather nice bit of money every week.

But then, the League is dissolved with no warning at all, and Wilson can't help but feel he's had an enormous trick played on him somehow.  It's up to Sherlock Holmes to figure out what on earth was actually going on, with a bit of assistance from Dr. Watson (David Burke).  

If you haven't read the story, look it up on Project Gutenberg or something (it's in the public domain) and spend a happy few minutes reading it to find out how everything winds up.  I am not going to spoil it here.

"The Red-Headed League" was part of the earliest series of Sherlock Holmes episodes with this cast, called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  Jeremy Brett is in his absolute prime here as Holmes, energetic, oozing intelligence, and so charismatic you just can't take your eyes off him.  

While the complete set of Jeremy Brett outings as Holmes has become pretty expensive, you can get The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes on DVD new for less than $20, or used for a lot less.  If you enjoy period dramas, mysteries, or are just a Holmes fan, do yourself a favor and try them!

As I said at the beginning of this post, it's a contribution to Celebrate Jeremy Brett Month hosted here at Musings of an Introvert throughout November.  If you're not familiar with Brett's acting, or if you're already a fan, definitely check out her event to see what other people are posting to celebrate this iconic British actor!

Monday, November 15, 2021

Movie Music: Hans Zimmer's "The Lone Ranger" (2013)

I love this soundtrack. And this movie. I bought the soundtrack shortly after I saw The Lone Ranger (2013) in the theater for the second time.  For the next two years, I never put the CD on my shelves -- it lived in the kitchen, next to the little CD player I use while I'm cooking. I listen to it at least once a month still, usually on those hard-to-get-moving mornings when I need a blend of oomph and comfort to set me on my feet. It shot quickly to the top tier of my list of favorite soundtracks, and I doubt it will ever drop out of the top ten. 

By now, this music courses through my veins. It's become an integral part of my consciousness. So right now, you're going to hear the music that flows through my brain at some point just about every single day. This is what it sounds like to be inside my head, some of the time anyway. 

I'll start you off with "Silver," a gentle, haunting song. It begins wistfully, then builds to a theme of yearning and desire. 

"Ride" starts off sounding like something from one of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western soundtracks. That first 45 seconds of it makes me want to jump on a horse and, well, ride. Ride toward something important, some necessary action. Then it twists, becoming quieter, more thoughtful. Later, it opens up into a sweeping theme that makes me think of wide-open spaces, with no boundaries or limitations. 

And as for the "Finale," well, this is my musical happy place. I can't hear it and not smile, not get cheered up, not start to bounce. You know the familiar "William Tell" theme by Rossini, which the old TV show and radio show used for their theme song -- "Finale" takes that theme and runs wild with it. My absolute favorite part kicks in at 7 minutes when the theme returns off-cadence and minor, and then 30 seconds later these trumpets come in with what I think of as a love song to the Old West. That part makes me ache with joy. 

Happy trails!

(The bulk of this review originally appeared here at J and J Productions on August 31, 2015.)

Saturday, November 13, 2021

"Charade" (1963)

Some people call Charade (1963) "the best Alfred Hitchcock movie that Hitchcock never made."  I can see why -- it's got so many of the same ingredients of classic Hitchcock suspense films.  Exotic European locales? Check.  Confused, innocent person pursued by hitherto unknown Bad Guys?  Check.  Beautiful woman in danger?  Check.  Chic costumes?  Wry humor?  Cary Grant?  Check, check, checkity check.

But I love Charade far more than any of Hitchcock's movies.  In fact, there are no Hitch films on my top 100 list, but Charade is firmly there.  I think that's because there's one key difference between Charade and even my favorite Hitchcock films:  I believe the happiness of its ending.  With all of Hitch's films, with the possible exception of The Trouble with Harry (1955), there's always this lingering... off feeling at the end.  Will the hero and heroine live in peace and happiness now that they're through whatever harrowing ordeal we've watched them survive?  In Hitchcock's movies, the answer is usually 'maybe.'  But with Charade, at least for me, the answer is a total 'yes.'

Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) is suddenly, violently widowed when her husband falls from a train... or is pushed.  At his funeral, some very weird characters (played by James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Ned Glass) show up and behave fairly weirdly near the coffin.  

Then, they start threatening Regina.  They claim her husband had a lot more money than she knew about, and they insist he stole it from them.  The trouble is, no one can find the money.

A handsome, helpful man called Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) helps her out of a couple of jams, protecting and rescuing her from the three weirdos several times.  Peter and Regina had met before, just before her husband died, and she's all to happy to have him around giving her advice and shielding her from harm.

However, things keep getting stranger and stranger.  It's as if Regina is trapped in a kaleidoscope that a little kid keeps turning.  Names, identities, stories, and situations shift without warning, keeping her constantly off-balance.  Without Peter Joshua there to steady her, she would surely lose her footing completely.

Watching Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant together is pure magic.  Grant didn't initially want to make the movie because he felt the 25-year age gap between himself and Hepburn made the film's romance too ridiculous.  The screenwriters added a lot of little jokes about it to appease him, and he agreed to make the movie after all.  Thanks to those jokes, what might have been a slightly weird love story turns into a quirky and charming one, all because the characters acknowledge their age difference and accept it, so we do too.  Completely brilliant.

(Oh, and Regina was planning to get a divorce before her husband suddenly died, so that neatly eliminates any weirdness about her falling in love right after her husband's funeral.  For me, anyway.)

I watched this with my best friend a week or so ago.  I love this movie and have seen it many times, but she had only seen it once and didn't like it.  That made her curious to know why I love it.  I decided it mostly boils down to the fabulous dialog that makes me laugh and laugh and laugh, and the fact that I totally love the two main characters.  The lovely costumes and exciting story are fun bonuses, but they're not what draw me to the story.  I am here for Hepburn and Grant trading snappy, snarky, sassy one-liners and falling in love along the way, and that's all there is to it.

While we watched this together, my best friend commented that she really doesn't understand why Regina keeps trusting Cary Grant's character when his story changes every twenty minutes or so.  He's obviously lying to her -- he admits that repeatedly, and tells her new lies.  Why does she continue to trust him for so long?  I had to think about that for a bit, because it's a good question.  

I finally concluded that she trusts him because his words change, but his behavior doesn't.  He is always, always there for her, ready to help, rescue, shield, encourage.  He cheers her up, makes her laugh, feeds her, comforts her.  His truthful actions speak louder than his lying words, and those are what she trusts.  Only when she thinks she can't trust his actions anymore does her trust in him waver.

(Mild spoilage in this paragraph.)  Also, here's something I never picked up on while watching it all these times, but did while screencapping it -- Cary Grant is nearly always shot facing toward the right of the frame.  That codifies him as being a trustworthy good guy heading in the right direction.  Whenever he and Audrey Hepburn share the screen, he's on the left, looking right, as you can see in my screencaps.  That very subtly lets the audience know that yes, he is a good guy doing the right thing.  Pretty cool.  (It also means that whenever they share the screen, Audrey is looking left and thus signals that she's confused, going backward, or not doing things quite the way she ought, which is also super interesting.)  (End spoilage.)

This is my contribution to the Distraction Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room.  The money in Charade is a MacGuffin because no one in the audience actually cares about it, it's just a reason to have a bunch of guys chase Audrey Hepburn while she trades sparkly quips with Cary Grant.  If you like classic cat-and-mouse movies, but you haven't seen Charade (or haven't seen it recently), it's FREE on Amazon Prime right now!  And it's not expensive on DVD either.

Friday, November 12, 2021

My Last Femnista Post

Yes, it's true.  After ten years of "[b]ringing young women together to inspire and create, through art, fiction, history, and literature," Femnista is ending.  The final issue is dedicated to Things We Love, giving contributors a chance to celebrate one last movie, book, or other piece of entertainment or art is dear to our hearts.

My final article is called "Forever My Favorite: The Man from Snowy River" and you can read it here.