2018-19 Wrap Up

Now that Epiphany has arrived, the wonderfully long holiday season has come to a close for 2018-19.  As always, Barbara and I have enjoyed watching our favorite Christmas films and adding some new ones to the watch list.  I have enjoyed posting my thoughts about them on this new blog and especially concentrating on the many fine character actors who helped bring these stories to life on the screen.

As a final post for this theme, let me pull together some different categories.


It is hard to choose between The Apartment and It’s a Wonderful Life.  As pure film, I lean toward Billy Wilder’s satire of 1950s corporate America, but I have a solid place in my heart for Frank Capra’s masterpiece.  So …. let’s split the difference: Best Film — The Apartment; Best Christmas Film — It’s a Wonderful Life.


Choosing the worst film on the list is much easier.  All Mine to Give is all but unwatchable, followed in a close second by Bundle of Joy, which at least had some instructive value in demonstrating how not to do comedy when compared to its original, Bachelor Mother.


Barbara Stanwyck and Jimmy Stewart take the prizes here not only with the most appearances on our watch-list (three each) but with the best performances.  Stanwyck perfected the balance between the hard-bitten sophisticate and the vulnerable romantic in all three of her films: Remember the Night, Meet John Doe and Christmas in Connecticut.  Stewart has more varied characterizations in his three films (The Shop Around the Corner, It’s a Wonderful Life and Bell, Book and Candle), but the sensitivity of his Shop performance and the range and complexity of George Bailey make him worthy of the top prize.  Let me not forget Cary Grant, who also made three appearances on the garland: The Bishop’s Wife, Holiday and In Name Only.  All three performances were great, but Grant did far better films that are not on the Christmas list.


Choosing among so many character actors is even harder.  A trio appeared in five different films, (Cyril Ring, Chester Clute and Fred Kelsey), but their roles were fleeting and nearly anonymous, but let’s give them some credit just for quantity.

My three favorites made far fewer appearances, but they created memorable, distinctive personalities that were essential to their films, so I’ll give this trio a share of the prize.

S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakal had wonderful roles in Never Say Goodbye and Christmas in Connecticut that helped make both films so delightfully amusing.

Charles Coburn shows himself to be a master of subtle comedy in Bachelor Mother and proves to be effectively stiff in the melodrama In Name Only.  Without him neither film would be as effective.

Similarly, James Gleason creates subtle, multilayered characters in his two appearances: Meet John Doe and The Bishop’s Wife.

NEW FILMS: Keepers & Throw Aways

We added 10 new films to our holiday watchlist, but we will probably keep only two for next year. Another three we will likely never watch again. The definite throw-aways are All Mine to Give, Bundle of Joy and Christmas Eve. The keepers are Larceny Inc. (definitely) and In Name Only, and possibly Come to the Stable, The Cheaters and Fitzwilly.  Although we enjoyed Lady on a Train and The Great Mr. Nobody, we weren’t intrigued enough to want to see them again any time soon.


I’m already thinking about how we will organize next year’s Christmas cinema.  It will be a shorter list than this year, since in 2019 Thanksgiving will be late (November 28).  Right now I’m thinking of a hodgepodge of themes, such as films set in department stores, films with intervening ghosts and spirits, films set in Manhattan, etc.  And instead of a daily blog, I am contemplating a weekly post and a short compilation of clips capturing each theme to be posted on YouTube.  We’ll see what happens.

In any event: Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!



When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

We almost always end our holiday film watching with this delightful comedy, because it is the “newest” movie on our cinema garland. Can you believe it’s 30 years old?  It’s also one of only six color films on our list: the others are Comfort & Joy (which usually starts the garland), White Christmas, and a few first-timers this year: Fitzwilly, Bundle of Joy and Pocketful of Miracles.

This year, as we organized our watch list around character actors, it is again appropriate to end with When Harry Met Sally … since it has no character links to any of the other films on the list but still has several nice supporting performances.

Even though it is a “modern” film, this is still a good, old-fashioned movie.  There is a reverence for old films (the repeated references to Casablanca, for example, and even one to The Lady Vanishes) and for classic jazz. The charming “documentary” clips of other loving couples who recall how they fell in love also cement the old-fashioned feeling.  It is a solid, clever script that features the best performances ever by Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal.


Harry and Sally first meet traveling from Chicago to New York in 1977.  They hate each other.  They accidentally meet again five years later and annoy each other.  And five years after that they fatefully meet again and slowly become good friends, fall in love, then out of love, and then on New Year’s Eve fall in love for good.


There are some lovely Christmas scenes in Manhattan, including the Rockefeller Center tree, and the film concludes on New Year’s Eve.  The themes are love and surprising reversals, which certainly connect to the essence of Christmas.


Carrie Fisher (Marie) was the daughter of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, who starred in Bundle of Joy. Carrie was best known as Princess Leia in the early Star Wars films, but she also appeared in Shampoo (1975) and The Blues Brothers (1980).

Bruno Kirby (Jess) played the young Clemenza in The Godfather: Part II (1974).

Estelle Reiner (café customer) was the mother of director Rob Reiner. She appeared in the Mel Brooks-Anne Bancroft re-make of To Be or Not to Be (1983).  She was a respected jazz singer on radio as a teenager and in clubs in Los Angeles in the 1960s.


I couldn’t find a single direct connection to Fred Astaire, but the spirit is there, and the sound track includes “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” the classic Gershwin tune that Astaire and Rogers sing and skate to in Central Park in Shall We Dance.


Beyond the classic love story between Harry and Sally, this is also a love letter to Manhattan, with scenes shot all around that wonderful town.


Look for it to be scheduled later this year on Turner Classic Movies or other channels, as the film celebrates its 30th anniversary.