Tag Archives | films

Christmas Movies

9_things_you_probably_didn_t_know_about_Love_ActuallyIt’s a few days before Christmas, and I still have shopping to do and presents to wrap.  And cookies to bake. Forgot about that.  So what am I going to do tonight? Watch a Christmas movie, of course.  Because, Christmas movie. Enough said.

In general, I’m a terrible movie watcher, which is ironic for a couple of reasons.

#1 is because going to see a film at the movie theater is one of the great pleasures of my life.  I love every bit of it; buying the crummy popcorn, watching the stupid advertisements, worrying that the people behind me are going to talk all the way through the movie.  There’s something about the good old shared experience of watching a film that I just really enjoy.

And #2 is that I often study–and recommend–screenwriting books to apply to novel writing.  Those screenwriters, man they have structure down.  And structure is one of the hardest things for a novelist to master, at least in my opinion (and I’m fully aware that might just be my issue, though I see it in students and clients as well).   And, yeah, I get it, reading screenwriting books without watching movies is sort of like writing a novel without ever reading one.

But for some reason there never quite seems to be enough time to go to the theater.  And I’m terrible about watching movies at home. I get antsy, for one thing.  But worse is my genetic propensity to fall asleep in front of the TV set. (I can’t tell you how many stellar performances I missed on The Voice this year.) It truly is genetic.  My mother was famous for dozing in her chair watching Frazier, her favorite show, with a stack of half-read newspapers in her lap. My sister falls asleep in front of the TV and so does my daughter, who loves to tell the story of how she fell asleep during one of her first dates with her husband.  He did marry her anyway,luckily.  Putting up with slumbering women is apparently a prerequisite for marrying into this family.  To this day, my husband pretends he believes me when I tell him I’m really not asleep and I haven’t missed a thing.

But Christmas movies.  They are different.  We have several that are required watching every year, and for some weird reason I don’t fall asleep.  I could probably recite every line of every scene of these movies, and yet I don’t get bored and pass out.  Go figure.

I have no idea why I don’t fall asleep during them, but I have been thinking about what makes them enduring, and that is just plain old-fashioned good writing: characters you care about, plot lines that have some teeth.   With the exception of a couple on my list, you could take the background of Christmas out of them and they’d still work.

I keep waiting for Hollywood to come out with a new classic Christmas movie I can add to my list but that hasn’t happened for quite a few years.  In the meantime, here are our favorites:

Must Watch

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. There’s no better way to start the Christmas movie viewing season than with this classic of goofiness which really does exemplify the crazy intentions we set for a perfect holiday.

Elf.  Yes, Elf.  Its a great screenplay and a great cast–James Caan (one of my all-time favorites), Will Ferrell, Mary Steenbergen, Zoe Dechamel. At a dinner party a few nights ago, I was shocked to find people who had never seen this movie.  It really is worth it. (It is actually showing at the Laurelhurst, if you live in Portland.)

Love Actually. If I could only watch one Christmas movie, it would be this one.  Like all things that have to do with love, it is easy to mock. But I love it.  So there. (And if you are a fan, also, here’s a link to some tidbits you might not know about the film.)

Will Watch if There’s Time

White Christmas. I’m not the best for old movies, but I do love this one.  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney–what’s not to like? Plus, the ending where the big door opens up and the snow falls down is one of my favorites.

Meet Me in St. Louis. Not technically a Christmas movie, but still.  I’m not as big as fan of this as some of the other oldies, but my husband loves it so I watch it.  Once in a great while, anyway.

Can Watch Between Christmas and New Year’s

The Holiday.  This was a movie that appeared and disappeared in the theaters, but for some reason I love it.  In some ways it is tied more to New Year’s Eve and though its set at Christmas, there’s not a lot of Christmas stuff in it.

So that’s my short list of Christmas movies.  We’ve managed to watch the first three so far this season. Of course, this year I really am going to the theater the day after Christmas to see the new Star Wars movie.  (I don’t even know its proper name.  Everyone refers to it as the new Star Wars movie.)  And by then I’ll probably be back to my usual falling-asleep-in-front-of-the-TV routine.  But I’ll have had my fill of Christmas movies by then.

So, tell me in the comments.  What are your favorites?  Which movies do you like to watch over and over?

2

Why Going to the Movies is Good for Your Writing

Pink-gold-mirvish-1852743-hIn my last post, I revealed the sorry state of my latest reading.  I've not read nearly as many novels as usual recently.  But one thing I have been doing is going to the movies.

If there's one thing I love to do on the weekends, it is to go to the movies.  I love, love, love it.  Love deciding what to see, buying popcorn and water (it used to be Diet Coke, but I've repented), entering the darkened theater and watching the ads that precede the film.  I love the trailers, and, oh yeah, the movie itself.  I love when the credits roll and you can sit and figure out who all the actors were that you recognized but couldn't quite put a name to.  And I love talking about the flick afterwards.

But we don't go to movies often.  There's always so much to do on the weekends–work around the house and the yard, for starters.  And nearly every weekend we have some kind of family dinner, which requires grocery shopping and cooking.

However, lately, we've been going to films on the weekend, mostly at small, restored theaters in town like the Academy and the Roseway.   We've seen movies old and new, because my movie taste is as eclectic as my reading taste.  And I feel like I've been inhaling story in all its aspects.

This is why its good for writers to go to the movies (or watch them at home, but that's not as much fun).  Because you will learn SO much about how to put a story together while you watch.  When I want to read about structure in the novel, I usually choose a screenwriting book, because these guys have it going on when it comes to structure.  Watching a movie helps me absorb and internalize it. When I read novels these days, I no longer read as a civilian.  I read as a writer, noticing everything the writer did as she wrote–how she plotted, and characterized and used dialogue and setting.  But because I don't actually write movies, I can watch them and just take it all in without stopping to think about every detail.  And as I launch into writing the next novel and trying to figure out what happens and how it all goes together, I'm finding that my movie watching habit is standing me in good stead.

(And I also highly recommend this book, which I wrote about in my last post.)

 Movies Seen

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  J'adore.  Ditto for the first one.  Its a great series.  Funnily and predictably enough, the theater was full of old people.  I read that this movie hit #1 in the U.K. the weekend it was released, shocking the experts.  Because, yeah, there really is a movie-going audience beyond teenage boys.

The Graduate.  The Academy Theater is showing a bunch of old movies this summer, and we couldn't resist going to see The Graduate.  Dustin Hoffman looks about 10 in the opening sequence, but he was 30.  And Anne Bancroft, the "older woman" he has an affair with? She was 36.  I kept thinking what a great job they were doing with the period details–and then I remembered.  It was the period!

Big Eyes.  We watched this one at home, on demand which isn't nearly as much fun as going to the theater, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  It's the story of how Walter Keane took credit for all those awful popular big eyed paintings in the 70s, when his wife was actually painting them.   What I loved was a bit at the end (not giving anything away) that said Margaret Keane, at age 88, still paints every day.  

Mad Max Fury Road.  You guys, this is a feminist movie.  I adored it! Some of the heroines are kick-ass old ladies.  So freaking cool.  As I watched it, I marveled at how they ever shot this thing.  Really fun and worth a couple hours of your time.

And, because this is a post about movies, I thought we ought to at least have a trailer.  But before you get distracted, what movies have you seen recently?

 

8