5 Classic Alternatives To “It’s A Wonderful Life”

It’s the holiday season once more! December 25th has probably inspired more movies, TV specials, songs, and stories than any other single day. But despite this wealth of holiday material, it seems like the same movie is shown over and over ad nauseum come December 1st: Frank Kapra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Now there’s nothing wrong with this saccharin nostalgia trip about thwarted suicide, but in case you’re looking for a new classic this holiday, here are 5 very different ways to celebrate Christmas cheer.

Annex - Davis, Bette (Man Who Came to Dinner, The)_01
The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942)
Got the holiday blues? Look no further than this Bette Davis comedy. Yes, you read that right. The drama queen stars in a Kaufman and Hart slapstick comedy about an overbearing radio personality who breaks his hip and is forced to live with an unsuspecting family over the holidays. Plot devices include a crate full of penguins, an octopus, convicts, and an Egyptian sarcophagus large enough to carry something – or someone – out of the house. This unpredictable comedy may not teach any lasting lessons about holiday spirit, but you’re guaranteed plenty of laughs.

The Lion In Winter (1968)
And you thought your family was dysfunctional. This is a political thriller of one very long Christmas night between Henry II of England (Peter O’Toole), his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katherine Hepburn), and their three conniving sons. It has the distinction of being the first Anthony Hopkins movie, Katherine Hepburn’s third Oscar win, and the film I quote the most. (“What shall we hang, the holly or each other?” “I’d hang you from the nipples, but you’d shock the children.” “I could peel you like a pear and God Himself would call it justice.”) Watch it with your racist uncle to remind yourself that your family might be crazy, but nobody’s attempted parricide. At least not yet.

The Thin Man (1934)And speaking of murder, who knew crime could be so festive? I’ve written about this film before because it is not to be missed. William Powell and Myrna Loy sparkle as Nick and Nora Charles, the perpetually drunk and clever crime-solving duo. Nora Charles is gorgeous and rich, and Nick is as witty as you think you are after three martinis.  Their dinner parties always seem to end with somebody shot or confessing to murder, but at least the drinks get served! (Watch it now Film Fresh!)

The Shop Around The Corner (1940) In case you still miss Jimmy Stewart, here is a Christmas love story made 6 years before the Kapra-corn classic. In this film, Steward plays a man who falls in love with his pen pal, only to discover she’s the coworker he constantly bickers with. With the help of some ice cream and holiday cheer, he tries to win her heart. If that plot sounds familiar, it’s because this film was remade twice: once as the deceptively-named Judy Garland musical “In The Good Old Summertime,” and once as the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks rom com, “You’ve Got Mail.” Although thanks to Google Mail and Yahoo, Tom Hanks’s AOL exchanges are now as archaic as Jimmy Stewart’s snail mail. (You can find all 3 of these at Film Fresh as well)

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
The films on this list have run the gamut of genre, but if what you really want is a heartwarming holiday tale, look no farther than this Cary Grant classic. Grant stars as an angel named Dudley who comes to Earth to help a wavering Episcopal bishop (David Niven) win his faith and his family back. (If this sounds familiar too, it’s because it was remade in 1996 as “The Preacher’s Wife.”) This film has everything you would want from this kind of story – music, emotion, a heartfelt message about the meaning of Christmas, and a musical number on ice skates.

And thus concludes a list of 5 Christmas classics slightly off the beaten path that even the Scrooge-iest among you should enjoy. Have any other Christmas favorites? Share them in the comments below!

For more fun updates, or to suggest a movie, like WRM on Facebook or follow on me Twitter @WeRecycleMovies.

About Anne Marie Kelly

Classic Film history & restoration nerd. Writer of A Year With Kate and Women's Pictures for The Film Experience. Follow me on Twitter @WeRecycleMovies.
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