7 favorite holiday movies picked by Minnesota film lovers and experts

December 15, 2018

In more than 100 years of moviemaking, Hollywood has produced plenty of holiday heartwarmers: Its a Wonderful Life. Miracle on 34th Street. A Christmas Story. Die Hard. Moviegoers love cozying up with their seasonal favorites. But what if youre looking for something different? What if youre tired of watching the same old movies every year? With hopes of expanding seasonal watch lists, we asked a handful of Minnesota film experts and movie buffs about their preferred holiday fare. Their answers (sent via e-mail) were edited for length and clarity.

Catherine Allan, documentary film producer, retired from Twin Cities Public Television

Her pick: Elf (2003) by director Jon Favreau.

Why its a favorite: The sheer goofy sweetness and hilarity of Will Ferrell as Buddy dressed in a giant elf costume encountering Christmas for the first time in Manhattan gets me every time. I love the slapstick scenes of discovering life on Earth, like when he goes giddily round and round the revolving doors of the department store until he gets sick. Ferrell has the perfect face for projecting a childs excitement about Christmas. I never saw the film when it first came out and only ran across it by accident one night on television. Now I try to catch it whenever its playing this time of year. Like Groundhog Day, the film is a classic with a good script, strong cast and an iconic performance by Ferrell.

Stephanie Curtis, co-host of MPR News Cube Critics podcast

Her pick: A Matter of Life and Death (1946) by directors Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

Why its a favorite: In a melancholy version of a meet cute scene, a dashing British World War II pilot contacts an American radio operator as his crippled plane descends to Earth. Unperturbed airman Peter Carter uses his last moments to quote Raleigh, crack wise about politics, and talk up June, the woman on the radio. Its funny. Ive known dozens of girls. Ive been in love with some of them. But an American girl who Ive never seen and who I never shall see, will hear my last words. Thats funny. Its rather sweet, says David Niven playing the dashing Carter, as Technicolor flames lick the windows of his plane. Its not American movie-star bluster, but a steely English forbearance he displays. I saw the movie for the first time on the big screen at the Oak Street Cinema and fell for the sheer beauty of Powell-Pressburgers Technicolor England and black-and-white vision of the afterlife. But in later viewings, its the witty movies unabashed tribute to virtues of human rights and the special relationship between America and the U.K. that keeps me coming back again and again. There is no snow, no New Years kiss, no family gathering around a tree, but its optimistic vision of humanity working together, marching toward a better world, is a needed vision each new year. And (spoiler) Peter and June do get to meet IRL.

Melvin Carter, St. Paul mayor

His pick: Elf (2003) by director Jon Favreau.

Why its a favorite: This film is a classic holiday charmer for the whole family. Its funny, corny, innocent and magical the best holiday movies check all of those boxes. Our family has great laughs over the jokes and silly situations Buddy finds himself in. Its a great reminder that we should accept ourselves just the way we are.

Favorite line: I just like to smile; smilings my favorite.

Lazerbeak, CEO and beat-maker, Doomtree Records

His pick: Love Actually (2003) by director Richard Curtis.

Why its a favorite: Every. Single. Scene. Is. Memorable. I still rewind the part where Hugh Grant dances through the halls of his new Prime Minister abode to the classic song Jump (For My Love) by the Pointer Sisters. Its become a new family tradition for my wife and I to watch this at some point every holiday season. Aside from being an excellent holiday movie that takes place during the mania that ensues every December, I also wholeheartedly believe that Love Actually is the single greatest film of all time. So you really cant go wrong here.

Tom Letness, owner of the Heights Theater

His pick: Portrait of Jennie (1948) by director William Dieterle.

Why its a favorite: The ravishing black and white cinematography by Joseph H. August, much of it shot on location in New York City. Dimitri Tiomkins score based on themes by Claude Debussy. And the great performances from Joseph Cotten, Jennifer Jones and Ethel Barrymore. If you want something classic outside of the Christmas box, this films message of love transcending time and space should do the trick. But like all classic Christmas tales, its message will only work if you believe.

Susan Smoluchowski, executive director, Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul

Her picks: Wes Andersons The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and Patricio Guzmandaacute;ns Nostalgia for the Light (2010).

Why theyre favorites: I saw The Royal Tenenbaums for the first time on Thanksgiving Day, the year it opened. I was with a lovely, motley crew whose families were dispersed around the world. We popped a turkey in the oven and set off for the theater to see this remarkable film about an eccentric family for which I felt such empathy. I first saw Nostalgia for the Light on the big screen at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. It was so stunning that, when the credits had run, no one in the audience could leave their seats. Its the scenes of the night sky in the Chilean desert, accompanied by the most haunting music. Although it is expressly a political film (about the impact of Pinochets regime), it is really a philosophical musing on time and memory and life and death. The soundtrack is one of the most beautiful in any film Ive seen. And the cinematography makes it unforgettable.

Sheryl Mousley, moving image senior curator, Walker Art Center

Her pick: Werckmeister Harmonies (2001) by Bla Tarr.

Why its a favorite: Its easy to say Love Actually as a British film about the complications of love in stories leading up to the Christmas holiday, especially when everything around the Walker turns toward the British Arrows this time of year. But when I want to sit down and watch a film that shakes my soul, I turn to Bla Tarrs Werckmeister Harmonies. The opening scene that runs about 11 minutes shows a man orchestrating a dance with drunken bar patrons acting out the planets and a total eclipse of the sun, which disturbs then quiets the drinkers. This is truly one of the most amazing unedited takes in the history of cinema. The brilliant sound composition by Mihandaacute;ly Vandiacute;g, with his use of classical music by Bach and Johann Strauss to complement his musical support of the story of a small Hungarian town being taken over by an unruly circus. The films title refers to the musical theorist Andreas Werckmeister whose harmonic principles were seen as outmoded same as with the fading communist era, both needing a new theory of tuning and harmony. If you want to watch a film about love, then stick with Love Actually. But if you want to go on a voyage of wonder as you explore the Hungarian decline after 20th-century changes in Eastern Europe, then Werckmeister Harmonies.andthinsp;

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