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This time of year people enjoy many holiday traditions. Decorating a tree. Exchanging brightly wrapped presents. Sharing festive meals and drinks.
Thanks to technology—and perhaps the increased popularity of purchasing theater-quality home entertainment systems at Christmastime—one activity is becoming the go-to choice each December for families of all kinds: watching a beloved holiday movie classic together on TV.
Helping sort the brightest and shiniest of festive flicks from the cinematic lumps of coal is film critic Alonso Duralde. The former Arts and Entertainment Editor of The Advocate has just released Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas, (Limelight Editions/Hall Leonard Corporation), a hilarious and informative guide to the best and worst films of the Yuletide season.
Each entry lists the movie’s stars and director, as well as a brief synopsis of the movie, and—in some cases—justification for the movie’s inclusion in the book. Duralde also shares several behind-the-scenes fun facts about each film. Did you know that the actor cast as scatterbrain Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life was also in the running to play mean old Mr. Potter? And despite its Christmas theme, It’s a Wonderful Life opened in theaters in January?
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve always been a fan of the Christmas holiday,” says Duralde on the inspiration behind his book. “I like the spectacle of it, the hospitality angle of it. It’s always been one of my favorite times of year.” The self-proclaimed life-long movie nerd says it was inevitable that his two loves would eventually combine. “There are a lot of movies out there that are either traditional Christmas films that some people might not know about, or are off-the-beaten-path films that people don’t think about when they think about the holiday, but are nonetheless Christmas movies.”
Take John Waters’ Female Trouble. Though the film features only a few scenes set during the holidays, Duralde says it was must for the book if only for the iconic image of Divine knocking a Christmas tree over onto her parents.
“It’s not necessarily the kind of film one gathers the family around the hearth to watch on the 24th, but because it has that moment that is so indelibly Christmas related, it certainly warranted inclusion in the book.” It’s also the only movie to appear in both of Duralde’s book. Several years ago Duralde published 101 Must-See Movies for Gay Men (Advocate Books), another unique and informative movie guide.
His newest Christmas-themed book divides films into several categories—movies for kids, movies for adults, tearjerkers, comedies, classics, among others. Duralde also devotes an entire chapter to nearly two dozen film variations on the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, including a breakdown on the many people who’ve portrayed Scrooge—from Alastair Sim and Jim Carrey to Susan Lucci, Vanessa Williams…and Tori Spelling?
But most fun are the book’s unexpected inclusions. Just as every other holiday—from Halloween to Valentine’s Day to April Fool’s—has been fodder for cinematic slasher fests, Christmas is no exception, so Duralde’s book includes a chapter on holiday horror films. Duralde also unspools some of the most obscure films you’ve probably never heard of. Try Santa Claus, a Mexican kiddie movie in which St. Nick teams up with Merlin to fight the devil. Or Santa Claus Conquers The Martians—it’s all there in the title.
Of course, well-known holiday film fare is included as well. Duralde provides rundowns on films like A Nightmare Before Christmas, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and the “you’ll shoot your eye out” cable classic A Christmas Story. With hopes of shaking up traditional viewing habits, Duralde also expertly expands the definitions that many people have of Christmas movies. After reading Duralde’s take on films like Die Hard, Gremlins, and Eyes Wide Shut, you just may find yourself adding a new flick or two into your holiday season rental queue.
Duralde, who has programmed and presented at numerous film fests across the country, LGBT and otherwise, admits that pickings are slim for gay-specific holiday flicks. He makes the case for Some Of My Best Friends Are…, which he describes as “a delicious early-70s train wreck of self-loathing,” and includes the film in a chapter devoted to films that can only be described as “So-Bad-They’re-Good.”
One film that Duralde particularly likes—and hopes that gay audiences will embrace—Is Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a “terrific tongue-in-cheek action movie” starring Robert Downey Jr. as a petty thief and Val Kilmer as a gay private detective. Duralde says the movie presents “one of the sparkliest and most wonderfully artificial L.A. Christmases ever.”
Like a kid opening gifts on Christmas morning, Duralde found a few surprises while writing his latest book.
Film Critic Alonso Duralde makes a list of naughty
and nice movies for Christmas“I had a revelation that A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Home Alone are basically all the same story,” says Duralde. “They’re all about people who don’t appreciate the experience that they’re in, they get a glimpse of another life they might have had, and that makes them appreciate where they are.”
Duralde says that’s a life lesson that most people enjoy learning all over again each Christmas.
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