Cooper Levey-Baker, associate editor
Everyone knows that Die Hard is the greatest Christmas film ever, the greatest action film ever and a pinnacle of world cinema, right? Glad we agree. But people often forget that the second movie in the series—1990's Die Hard 2: Die Harder—is also a Christmas flick, and while it does represent a step down from the Yuletide glory of the original, the impeccably subtitled movie remains an effective thriller with more than its fair share of quotable lines and insane spectacles.
I'll acknowledge that there's a lot wrong with the sequel. For starters, what are the odds that John McClane and his wife just happen to find themselves in the midst of a terrorist operation for a second time, on the same damn day of the year? And after several viewings, I'm still not sure why that naked guy doing yoga at the beginning pretends to shoot the TV with the remote control, or why, later in the film, it takes approximately 10 minutes for the grenades in the airplane cockpit to explode. But set aside your expectations and you'll discover a winning film that sparkles a little less only when compared to the flawless glow of its predecessor.
Like the original, the sequel works through escalation. The director of the first movie, John McTiernan, didn't return for film two (though he did helm the third movie in the series, the superb Die Hard with a Vengeance), but director Renny Harlin (who later directed Cliffhanger, a true masterpiece) proves adept at building tension by slowly ramping up the stakes through a series of memorable action sequences. The one-on-one shootout in the airport's baggage facility leads to the ambush along the moving walkway (check the pre-T-1000 Robert Patrick), which leads to the cockpit scene, which leads to the icicle through the brain outside the abandoned church, which leads to the snowmobile chase, which leads to the final confrontation on the wing of the 747. (In fairness, that's only the series' second-most impressive wing-surfing scene.) The progression in danger and complexity gives Die Hard 2 its energy, which lags during the sections that serve as mere callbacks to the original. The return of Richard "Dick" Thornburg is particularly distracting and useless.
So throw on your gray "Now I have a machine gun ho-ho-ho" sweatshirt and make it a double feature this Christmas Eve. The sequel ain't the original, but it won't let you down.
Ilene Denton, senior editor
Yes, I know, Thanksgiving’s over, but I have to give a shout-out for what I consider the funniest and most poignant Thanksgiving movie ever made, Planes Trains and Automobiles. I’m sure you remember it: An exasperated Steve Martin is trying to get home to his family in Chicago when a snowstorm diverts his flight to Kansas. There he meets a sweetly crazy John Candy and they pair up to make it home for the holiday. Bring a hankie, ‘cause you’ll laugh and cry.
Hannah Wallace, associate editor
Wallace Christmas tradition dictates an annual viewing of A Christmas Memory, the 1966 film version of the Truman Capote short story. First of all, Capote himself narrates, and the film, which is only about 45 minutes long, adheres almost word-for-word to the original text. Set in Depression-era Alabama, it follows the close-knit friendship between an older woman and a young boy, as they cut down their Christmas tree, plan presents for each other and track down the ingredients for the fruitcakes they send to friends and strangers across the country. (A small part of the Wallace-family allure is that it was filmed in Cecil, not far from where my father grew up and where we vacationed as kids.)
If you can track own the original, un-colorized version (looks like someone’s put it in six parts on YouTube), it is utterly charming and not a little heartbreaking. I dare you not to fall in love with Geraldine Page in the lead.
Megan McDonald, web editor
It wouldn't be the holidays in our house without our annual viewing of Love Actually. The British ensemble comedy came out in 2001 and set the bar for other, similar (and, IMO, lesser) films that have come out in recent years, and it has an A-list cast: the late, great, Alan Rickman, pre-Taken Liam Neeson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Emma Thompson and Colin Firth, to name just a few. And while the scene in which Andrew Lincoln's character, Mark, professes his love to Keira Knightley with notecards on her doorstep is perhaps the movie's most famous, my personal favorite scene is Hugh Grant dorkily dancing through 10 Downing Street to the Pointer Sisters' "Jump for My Love." Who doesn't love a healthy does of sap at the holidays--especially this year?
Kay Kipling, executive editor
I know some people are probably sick of it by now, but I still tune in each holiday season to A Christmas Story, Bob Clark’s film based on stories by Jean Shepherd about Ralphie Parker and his passionate wish for that Red Ryder BB gun. There’s something about the combination of young Peter Billingsley’s eyes behind his spectacles, writer Shepherd’s off-camera voice, the memorable performances of Darrin McGavin and Melinda Dillon as Ralphie’s parents, and the overall slice of early 1940s Americana that just hits the spot, especially with egg nog.