Saturday, December 5, 2009

Holiday Movies

I have talked with many film historians and "cinephiles" who think the only good movies are those made before the sixties and in black and white. While I don't necessarily agree (after all, there is The Godfather), I do think this is the case for the holiday themed films. Maybe it's nostalgia, better sets and scripts or the fact older films are less commercial and product placement oriented, but the following holiday films are always the perennial favorites for me. (And yes, I left off It's a Wonderful Life and Christmas Story -- for some reason I have never warmed up to those films. Let the comments begin....).

Holiday Inn (1942)

The definitive holiday movie (it even covers Lincoln's birthday and Valentine's Day) complete with Irving Berlin tunes, an idyllic Connecticut setting, Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" and of course, Fred Astaire and the dance numbers. Crosby flees Manhattan to open up a supper club only open on the holidays (hence the name) and vies with his old musical partner Fred Astaire over the affections of a flower girl turned performer, Marjorie Reynolds. The set was reused by Paramount twelve years later for the film White Christmas and supposedly the hotel chain Holiday Inn took its name from the film in l952. A must see.

The cast of Holiday Inn

Valentine's Day sequence with Marjorie Reynolds and Bing Crosby

One of three films that used the song "White Christmas"

Legend has it Astaire took a shot or two of bourbon for each take of the film's "drunk dance"

White Christmas (1954)

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play a successful song and dance duo after World War II who help their commanding general save a failing Vermont Inn and become involved with a sister act along the way. The Vermont Inn is the remodeled Connecticut Inn from Holiday Inn and was to have originally featured Astaire in the Danny Kaye role (who filled in at the last minute for Donald O'Connor).

Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby is full feather regalia

Crosby, Kaye and songstress Rosemary Clooney

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck plays foodie journalist Elizabeth Lane who in actuality, cannot boil an egg. She writes a "Smart Housekeeping" column about her domestic life on a Connecticut farm which is of course all fiction. I won't spoil the rest of the story but it does involve romance and of course, the Christmas holiday in Connecticut. The Connecticut home was the same set used for the film the Katherine Hepburn-Cary Grant film Bringing Up Baby (1938). There was also a television remake with Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson and directed by none other than Arnold Schwarzeneggar in 1992!

Stanwyck with love interest Dennis Morgan in Christmas in Connecticut

Connecticut "house" on the Warner Brothers lot

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle is the classic tale of the "real" Kris Kringle proving he is Santa Claus to a disbelieving special events director at Macy's and her six year old daughter played by Natalie Wood. And here's another piece of trivia, actor Edmund Gwenn who played Kringle was also Santa Claus in the 1946 Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Forever duplicated but none is better than the original.

Natalie Wood with Edmund Gwenn

And if you want to watch something more current on AMC this month there is always....

National Lampoon's Christmas (1989)

While it's not cinema verite', it is hands down one of the funniest holiday films ever made. Chevy Chase as the head of the Griswold family is priceless in his quest for the perfect Christmas -- complete with white trash in laws and a house lit up like Las Vegas (and doesn't every neighborhood have one?) The "squirrel" scene is worth the price of rental alone. And for those who really pay attention to these things, the Griswold house is the same one as the Murtagh house in the Lethal Weapon series on the Warner Brothers backlot.

The Griswold family

and my other personal favorite....

The Holiday (2006):

Two women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) exchange houses during the holidays and love ensues. Jude Law, snappy script, fabulous sets...what's not to love? And thankfully on TBS all month. (See my earlier posts on the design of the film).

Try and have a happy stress free and sane holiday.... January is only three weeks away.

Photo Credits: Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Set Design: It's Complicated

The expanded version of my article on the set design for the upcoming film "It's Complicated" is now available online.

You can read the article and view the slide show (new pictures!) here.

Photos courtesy of Traditional Home, Universal Pictures and Mitchell Johnson. For more of his wonderful artwork, go here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sixties Redux: A Single Man

Yet another visit to the sixties comes to theaters December 11th (limited release) with the debut of A Single Man (Weinstein Company). Set in early sixties Los Angeles at the height of the Cuban missle crisis, the film follows a day in the life of George Falconer (played by Colin Firth), a British college professor who is dealing with the death of his long-time companion. Julianne Moore plays his close friend and London socialite Charley who helps him through the ordeal (and longs to return to a tryst the two shared years ago).

Based on the Christopher Isherwood's cult classic, the film marks the directorial debut of fashion designer and creative director Tom Ford. The leap from fashion to film has certainly been a success for the "God of Gucci" as the film is garnering alot of Oscar buzz since its debut at the Venice Film Festival. And what Ford has done for Gucci will no doubt be reflected in his use of color, minimalism, light and the design of the film.

The style of the sixties have been beautifully captured by none other than Dan Bishop, production designer of the highly stylized Mad Men (and who better?). Firth's character George lives in a Neura-style glass house filled with perfectionism, designer suits, wood panelling and modern furniture. Moore's Charley is total sixties glam from her heavy eyeliner, pastel lipstick and "updo" hairstyles to Oscar nominated Arianne Phillip's Mod costumes (she was nominated for Walk the Line and was a long time stylist for Madonna).

Ford had much input on not only the film's direction but the overall look as well as Moore explains, "From the clothes to the soft furnishings, Tom was very passionate about what you want from a director. George's life was reflected in the modern but conservative furniture in his house and my room was exactly how I imagined Charley's would be. Tom's a guy who looks at the whole picture." And while the film looks expensive, the production and costume designs were done on a budget as Ford painted all the paintings in George's house himself and many of the costumes were vintage.

Ford and Firth

For more on the film, read writer Anne Thompson's wonderful interview with Tom Ford on Thompson on Hollywood.

Photos courtesy of The Weinstein Company - Edward Grau @ The Weinstein Company 2009.