Under the radar holiday movies
With the holidays upon us and many people stuck inside, this might be the perfect time to kick back with some seasonal cinema. But my specialty these days is under-the-radar movies — so we’ll avoid the usual roster that includes George Bailey, Mt. Crumpit, Kris Kringle and
perhaps even Nakatomi Tower.
Instead, here are a few lesser-known holiday picks — two for Thanksgiving and half a dozen others for December.
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Though Turkey Day doesn’t come up till the end,this delightful Woody Allen gem will make you thankful from beginning to end.
It’s the Runyon-esque tale of a low-rent talent scout (Allen, in the title role) who tangles with the mob while serving as “beard” to the tough-talking, no-nonsense girlfriend of a client. Climax features a shootout in a warehouse full of Macy’s floats — with
gunmen and victims hollering hilariously in helium voices. Also with: Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte and Milton Berle. 84 min.
Rated PG for mild language and sexuality.
Pieces of April (2005)
Moving dramedy from director Peter Hedges, with Katie Holmes shining as a misfit daughter who, in a cramped Manhattan apartment, struggles to ready a turkey dinner for her suburban family — including her abusive mother, who is dying of cancer. Co-starring Oliver Platt, Derek Luke and Allison Pill, with an Oscar-nominated performance from Patricia Clarkson. Hedges, incidentally, is the man behind “Dan in Real Life” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” — he’s also father to the redhot young actor Lucas Hedges (“Lady Bird,” “Manchester by the Sea,” “Three Billboards”). 80 min. Rated PG-13 for language, sexuality and very brief nudity.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
A Santa Claus tale for the 21st century: St. Nick has gone high-tech, with an army of North Pole elves at computers, coordinating delivery by a massive invisible aircraft. On one Christmas Eve, just as Santa is grooming his senior son to take over the family business, the youngest Claus (Arthur of the title) discovers that one present failed to reach its intended child. Rousting his irascible grandfather out of retirement, Arthur also enlists a lovable elf, an old-fashioned sleigh and an ancient reindeer to help right the wrong delivery. In this way, “Arthur” is able to feel both futuristic and nostalgic at the same time. Voices include James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim
Broadbent, Imelda Staunton, Laura Linney, Eva Longoria and Michael Palin.
97 min. Rated PG for mild rude humor.
Cash on Demand (1961)
Except for snow and a Dec. 23 setting, this hardly comes across as a holiday film — unless you notice the way it loosely modernizes Charles Dickens’ classic “Christmas Carol.” In this case, the cinematic Scrooge is a cold-hearted British banker who, one busy business day before Christmas, finds himself the target of a clever plot to snatch nearly 100,000 pounds from his vaults. Made on a modest budget by Hammer studio (best known for horror), this real-time drama confines itself to a single set. Its claustrophobic tension relies almost entirely on first-rate performances, highlighted by Peter Cushing in the lead. 80 min. Not rated; very family friendly. Free on YouTube.
Comfort and Joy (1984)
How’s this for an unlikely premise: A popular Glasgow disc jockey, devastated by a recent break-up, somehow becomes the go-between in a turf war between two firms of competing ice-cream trucks — “Mr. Bunny” and “Mr. McCool.” Perhaps only writer-director Bill Forsyth — offbeat specialist who gave us “Local Hero” and “Gregory’s Girl” — could have pulled it off … though he gets considerable help from a charming Bill Paterson in the lead. Great score by Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, borrowing heavily from the group’s hit album “Love Over Gold.” 101 min. Rated PG for language and sexuality. Free on YouTube.
This animated Netflix offering is essentially a Santa Claus origin story; besides lovely offbeat artwork, the film’s triumph is the way its tale of a self-centered postal worker and a lonely old man slowly morph into all the traditions associated with St. Nick. With a whopping and well-deserved 8.2 at IMDb. com (highest rating of any film on this list), “Klaus” is an instant holiday classic. 96 min. Rated PG; very family friendly.
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
“Downton Abbey’s” dashing Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens in this fanciful biopic about the author’s struggle to finish “Christmas Carol” on deadline in 1843. As the energetic young writer juggles family and financial woes, he also dashes about his study, arguing with characters who have come to life from the book. Scrooge is beautifully played by Christopher Plummer. 104 min. Rated PG; very family friendly.
—Editor’s note: All of the above films appear in
Smith’s latest book, “The Best Movies You Never
Saw,” now available online or at robbwhitefan@