/Answers: Our Favorite Movies to Watch During the Holidays

eyes wide shut

Every week in /Answers, we attempt to answer a new pop culture-related question. In this week’s edition, we’re ushering in the season by sharing the movies we always watch during the holidays, whether they’re a holiday movie or not.

Chris Evangelista: Eyes Wide Shut

Is Eyes Wide Shut a Christmas movie? I suppose not in any conventional sense, but every holiday season I make sure to carve out 159 minutes to watch Stanley Kubrick’s final film. Eyes Wide Shut features Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman back when they were still married, here playing a wealthy married couple who are settling into the holiday season with parties, gift wrapping, and a general malaise.

Shit gets real, however, when, after an evening of pot smoking, Kidman’s character tells Cruise she had a sexual fantasy about another man. Cruise’s fragile manhood can’t handle this admission of imaginary infidelity, and he stalks out into the streets of New York, Christmas lights and Christmas trees around every turn. His long night’s journey into day lands him at a ritualistic orgy, where everyone is wearing masks and the music is creepy as hell.

What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Other than all the Christmas decor, not much. Yet this film, with its chilly-looking studio backlot streets standing in for New York, and its hazy cinematography courtesy of Larry Smith (Kubrick and Smith shot the film on discontinued Kodak film stock to achieve that that look) just invokes the holiday season for me. It doesn’t really feel like Christmas is here until I watch the film.

Hoai-Tran Bui: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

There’s a reason the phenomenon known as ABC Family/Freeform’s Harry Potter Weekends began with Christmas. Each of the films take place over the length of a school year, with the Christmas holidays often playing a pivotal part in the plot — or at least a pretty setting to which Harry can kiss the girl. But the holidays in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone gets higher marks than the other films because of the astonishment with which Harry reacts to it all: the magic, the trees, the presents, the prospect of having a caring family for the first time. It mirrors the wonder that I first had watching the film as a kid, seeing the wintry castle of Hogwarts brought to life on the silver screen as Hagrid drags a giant pine tree across school grounds. I was only a few years younger than Harry was when I watched Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone in theaters, enchanted by its lavish scope and slightly disappointed by the liberties it took from the pages of the book. I too wanted to celebrate Christmas at the hallowed halls of Hogwarts — only to return to the movie later and realize what a bittersweet two-punch Harry’s whole Christmas episode is. Harry gets warmly welcomed into the folds of the Weasley family, only to later fall victim to the empty promises of the Mirror of Erised, showing his dead parents. It provides a stark reminder of the importance of family, even as Harry struggles to realize who his family truly is.

I watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone at Christmas sometimes for this added layer of wistfulness, but mainly for the nostalgia — to feel as I did as a kid again, experiencing Harry Potter for the first time on the big screen. The series was a formative part of my childhood, and an experience that I inexorably associate with Christmas. Harry Potter always felt like coming home to me. And like Hogwarts, it will always be there to welcome me home.

Ethan Anderton: A Christmas Story

Yes, this is perhaps the easiest answer to the question. The movie is so beloved that there has been a 24-hour marathon of it every year for quite some time now. And every Christmas, I must watch this movie half a dozen times. Some people think this movie is cynical and misses the true meaning of Christmas, but that’s kind of the point. This is the story of an average Midwest family’s Christmas with all the flaws that come along with it. This is a family that doesn’t always get along, with kids who fight and don’t always do the right thing, and that’s something we can all relate to.

While A Christmas Story gets a demotion simply because of the terribly racist use of Chinese characters at the end, their existence almost adds to the depiction of the flawed American family. They don’t quite understand the customs of other cultures, so they laugh at the differences between Chinese people and themselves. That’s not the most desirable quality in fictional characters (or more importantly, real people), but I think that’s kind of the idea. In the kind of America we’re currently struggling with, it’s hard to swallow this kind of ignorance, but from my perspective, this movie is more satire than people think.

A Christmas Story is a purely American Christmas movie, for better or worse. If anything, there are lessons to be learned from this depiction of Midwest middle class. While this is a movie that can be cherished for nostalgic reasons, it’s also a send-up of how American culture has commercialized a religious holiday.

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